Wednesday, May 17, 2017

What do you do when the Universe rejects what you thought you were supposed to do?

Fleeting Shadows
A few days ago I received the news that my application to the Squaw Valley Community of Writers had been rejected - again. This is the fourth rejection I’ve received from that prestigious writers’ conference, two for poetry and now two for fiction. Because I know, slightly, one of the organizers of the conference, I also received a personal, apologetic note saying only 38% of the applicants were accepted. Somehow, that made it worse. 4 out of 10 got in and I wasn’t one of the four. I’m not even in the top 40% of the applicants. That stings.

The creative life overflows with rejection. It’s part of the course. We’re supposed to suck it up and keep making our art and putting it out into the world. That’s what everyone says. That’s what I’ve always thought and said. But now I wonder. Now, I’m in this new world, in a new beginning, facing a clean slate. Which way to go?

I never expected this path of writer and artist. Nothing in my childhood labeled me creative. There were no early accolades or unexpected successes. Creativity has been like a quiet shadow that just showed up one day and followed me as I wandered through life. I’ve never known quite what to make of it or if it was even real. For some reason, one of my first poem friends, “Eldorado" by Edgar Allan Poe (printed in full below) comes to mind: 
 ‘Shadow,’ said he,   
   ‘Where can it be—
This land of Eldorado?’

But, no answer comes. I feel like I have journeyed long, in sunshine and in shadow, and still don’t know
if I’m on the right path. The desire to be be a writer came in the fourth grade … also accompanied by
rejection as my first recess play was rejected because no one could read my writing. And, art sprang out
of the dark days after Richard died. No one was more surprised than I when my art showed up on the
walls of a gallery, where it largely remained unsold.

Part of the angst of the creative life … for me … is the belief that art is, or should be, a conversation
between artist and observer. What the artist makes needs to be received, accepted, understood,

But, what if that’s not true?

What if making art is just something we do, like making the bed, cooking a meal, kissing a child's boo
boo, or planting a flower? We do it because it’s who we are. What if the world’s reception is basically
meaningless. Would it change who I am if the great Squaw Valley deemed me worthy of their conference
or something I wrote suddenly went viral or a piece of my art caught the eye of a critic?

I know the answer is “no.” I know what changes me is the act of writing, struggling to tell a story in the
best possible way. What enhances my life is the daily search for beauty and understanding with my
camera and words. What feeds my spirit is that deep intake of breath that happens when I see light
playing with the world or find words tumbling out of my head as if from some other place, bringing me
insights beyond my own puny thoughts. That is the critical acknowledgment, the acceptance and
valuing of a piece of myself that has somehow connected with the Universe through what I do,
regardless of what form that takes.

Poe ends “Eldorado” with the exhortation:

Ride, boldly ride,’ 
   The shade replied,—
‘If you seek for Eldorado!’

My take on this is that whatever I do, to do it boldly. Maybe the creative conversation I seek isn’t with
the world, but simply with myself. I write and make art to know who I am. If others come along for the 
ride, that just makes it more fun. 

Más tarde, por ahora audazmente ir.

Gaily bedight,
   A gallant knight,
In sunshine and in shadow,  
   Had journeyed long,  
   Singing a song,
In search of Eldorado.

   But he grew old—
   This knight so bold—  
And o’er his heart a shadow—  
   Fell as he found
   No spot of ground
That looked like Eldorado.

   And, as his strength  
   Failed him at length,
He met a pilgrim shadow—  
   ‘Shadow,’ said he,  
   ‘Where can it be—
This land of Eldorado?’

   ‘Over the Mountains
   Of the Moon,
Down the Valley of the Shadow,  
   Ride, boldly ride,’
   The shade replied,—
‘If you seek for Eldorado!’


  1. Our creative impulse may be one of the most important qualities we have to help us understand ourselves and others. Allowing that impulse to flourish gives us lives of undeniable richness. "I write and I make art" is what defines you, Joyce. Those are your verbs of choice and joy.

  2. Maureen ... how true. And, in the end it does all come down to what brings us joy. I like thinking about those as verbs. Enjoy your day!

  3. With such strict guide lines for entry into their special world,, what does it guarantee. That your book sells, that people that buy books will buy all of them.. or is it a ribbon as in art? Write from the heart and the people that are interested in what you have to say will buy or enjoy sharing a moment.

  4. Thanks, Viv. Being accepted to Squaw would have been a chance to learn from experts but definitely would not have been a guarantee of anything. Probably time to move on.

  5. And maybe, my friend, it is about the questions... I can feel the disappointment... let it be seen and then see what comes next.
    Miss you!