When times were tough, she would say, “He didn’t bring you this far to leave you!” Depending on the circumstance, it was exclaimed with joy or stated somberly. But it was one of my mother’s enduring battle cries that was a motto of endurance, to keep pressing forward. Her voice and these words have been ringing through my head.
Another thing she often said was how elephants never forget. Elephants were her favorite animals, and she collected figurines of them, and I continue to collect them to honor her and to never forget.
Ma keeps showing up, her words and the elephants. When my son had a procedure done at a local hospital, he was in the elephant room, which we saw as a sign that she was watching over us, over him.
Earlier this week, son went to daycare for the first time. I fully expected to be a bundle of tears when we dropped him off, but I wasn’t. His teachers at the daycare sent us pictures and updates throughout the day. After we got home, I was looking at one of those pictures closely and noticed something: a painting of an elephant majestically looking over our son as he drew at a table. And here is were the tears came. Ma had shown up again for her grandson.
On this sixteenth anniversary of her death (August 31, 2022), I am choosing to celebrate how she shows up. God didn’t bring me this far to leave me, something I hope I never forget.
I received another rejection letter last week. However, I do not write to you today from a place of despair, but instead hope.
Out of 848 submissions, my book made it to the final round. The words “we want to encourage you” appear in the rejection letter. And you know what? I am encouraged.
These rejections do not define me, even when it feels as if they do. It’s so easy to focus on the one moment and fail to put it in context. I’ve gotten several rejections in this lifetime, but I’ve received several acceptances too, some key important acceptances. Rejections are like the rain and acceptances are the sunshine. We need both for growth.
Coming to the blank page is like an offering to myself. Not quite sacrifice or sacrament. But how I say thank you to myself. God did not design me to be stuck in front of these screens wasting time. I was built for so much more, and it’s time for me to start walking in it.
And here I am. Crafting words and sharing them with you.
All efforts of writing won’t be spectacular, but I can come to the page; I always have something to offer to the page, and that’s an important reminder. It’s the journey, the process, that matters, and that is what I need to remember. In the midst of everyday, I have time to write something. To do a quick freewrite with my students, to write in my journal, to revise one line of poetry or one paragraph of a story. Those are victories too. And should be celebrated.
The art of not being too hard on myself and simultaneously holding myself accountable is hard to master. But I will keep trying everyday. I will keep coming to the blank page.
“Fear of rejection is so deep that many times we just don’t try.” That’s what my husband said to me after I told him about yet another rejection. At least I put myself out there. It’s something. It’s a start.
The same day I jotted the Quick Note on Rejection, I received an email that evening. An affirming email. A Broadcast Journalism student at USC saw my poem at The Art of Being: Woman Exhibit at the Richland Library downtown and wanted to interview me about my poem. Yes. I have a poem, my words are on display at the library. It was the reminder I needed.
A couple of weeks ago Brittany M. Watkins, a visual artist who was visiting the library for a project, invoked my name in an Instagram story post: “Jennifer Bartell, wherever you are, thank you for your poetry. I am certain that it has helped so many and will continue to do so.” Her message made me think of how the poem must have impacted others who saw the exhibit; perhaps my words buoyed them up. This ultimately is why I write.
This is what follows rejection: reminders of my purpose as a writer and motivation to continue writing.
The closing reception for the The Art of Being: Woman Exhibit is Friday, April 8 at the Main Richland Library in downtown Columbia. If you are in the area, please join me and the other artists as we celebrate and speak about our work. The last day to visit the exhibit is April 15.
What I am doing here is writing myself out of despair. Or attempting to anyhow. My book I am trying to publish has been rejected for the third time in two weeks. I’m disappointed. I’m disheartened. I’m disappointed. And questioning my value as a writer. Am I good enough? Am I worthy? Of course the answer to those questions is yes. I know that. I’m just not feeling it right now.
I don’t write this for pity. I don’t write this to wallow in the rejection either. I write it to connect with others who have felt or are feeling what I feel right now. I want to tell you that there is hope, that it will all be okay. But honestly I do not believe that right now. I may believe it tomorrow but not in this today. And I need to sit with that for a spell before I move on. This is something I want to normalize for myself. Admitting when I’m not okay so that I can move through it.
That is correct. There is no hope in this story today. I show off my wins, but not my losses—and, baby, I got the losses! This is my attempt to be transparent with myself. An accounting, a reckoning, a report of my progress, or lack thereof.
Perhaps tomorrow will be better. After all, I did come to the page today.