And even though it all went wrong
I’ll stand before the lord of song
With nothing on my tongue but hallelujah
-Leonard Cohen, Hallelujah
I could give you a list of excuses: I work a lot. I just started my own business. I’m a tutor and a freelance writer, and I have a day job. I went to Italy; I went to Vegas; I went to Giants games (and then cried), I spent the weekend at my best friend’s. I have a boyfriend and a family and a life that keeps me really busy.
And all of it is true. I have been too busy to write.
I have also been rejected.
I suppose it’s nothing to be particularly ashamed of: getting rejected by the New York Times. Twice. And losing several writing contests. And being asked for a revision from a fairly prestigious literary magazine before its editors ultimately said, “It didn’t really work for us.” Then being denied by The Rumpus editors. It’s not exactly like I’ve been aiming low. And I get it: being a writer/human means getting rejected sometimes. But it still feels awful.
So I quit.
It wasn’t a conscious decision. I didn’t stomp off to my room after the last rejection and say, “Well that’s it, I’m done. No more writing for me—it’s too hard.” It was more insidious than that: I just no longer seemed to have the time to write. Ever. It was the kind of decision you don’t realize you’ve made until you start to feel the effects of it. And in this case, the effects were subtle (until they weren’t); they were gradual (until they were all at once). I started to feel this low-level, amorphous anxiety that swam underneath everything I did. I felt, in the most general sense, off. And sometimes the nonspecific kind of melancholy is the worst kind—because what can you do about it if you’re not even sure what it is?
But then, slowly, it began to dawn on me: “oh right–y’know that thing that you feel like is kind of your calling in life? You’re not doing it.” So there’s that.
Rejection sucks. That’s it. You can pretty it up all you want with slogans about getting back on horses or dusting things off or any myriad of other cliches that we say to make ourselves feel better. What doesn’t kill me and all that jazz. But sometimes, what doesn’t kill me does not, in fact, leave me stronger. Sometimes what doesn’t kill me leaves me bruised and bloodied and exhausted. Sometimes whatever this thing is that hasn’t killed me has done only that: it hasn’t ended me. It has left me still here.
Of course, that doesn’t mean that I won’t get over the rejections. Doesn’t mean I won’t go on to be a wildly successful published author and frequenter of the New York Times Best Seller list. But it also doesn’t mean that because I was rejected a bunch of times over the last six months, I’ll be made strong enough to succeed. It doesn’t mean that I’ll succeed at all.
I suppose in the end, it’s a matter of a pause just long enough for the doubt to seep in and spread its poison. Enough things happen–in a row–and the thought occurs: What if this thing that I thought was inevitable, isn’t?
I fear that this isn’t a particularly interesting post, but rather just another insecure, fearful writer/human engaging in some verbal hand-wringing. So in preparation for this post, I looked up quotes about rejection said by famous people who have persevered. I sought out stories about seemingly insurmountable odds being overcome to achieve greatness. I thought about what Thomas Edison said about how each failure of his was a lesson on how not to make a lightbulb. And I’m sure I could cull together a really inspiring post about all that.
But I don’t feel particularly inspiring right now. I don’t feel all that hopeful. I just don’t know what else to do besides write. This isn’t some grand gesture–it’s a small action borne out of resignation and confusion, really.
I’m reading this remarkable book right now called, The Holy or the Broken: Leonard Cohen, Jeff Buckley, and the Unlikely Ascent of Hallelujah, by Alan Light. It’s about how one of the most covered and beautiful songs of all time, Hallelujah, was initially a nothing: recorded on an album that Columbia Records refused to release in the States, by a middle-aged, respected but commercially unsuccessful musician. It’s about how the song tortured Cohen for years before he ever recorded it, and how he wrote over 80 verses of the damn thing. It’s about how it wasn’t until–over a decade later–Jeff Buckley happened to stumble upon a recording of a cover of it, record it himself, and then go on to achieve fame when he drowned at 30, that the song drew enough attention to find its way to the directors of Shrek, who then included it on the soundtrack and cemented its place in pop culture consciousness.
Ok so I guess there’s your inspiring story. But that’s not even the point.
For me, the point is what Leonard Cohen has said about the song:
The only moment that you can live here comfortably in these absolutely irreconcilable conflicts is in this moment when you embrace it all and you say, ‘Look, I don’t understand a fucking thing at all—Hallelujah!’ That’s the only moment that we live here fully as human beings.
It’s not about becoming stronger. That doesn’t always happen. Sometimes, it’s about accepting that not being stronger is ok.
So here, I’ll say it: Look, I don’t understand a fucking thing at all—Hallelujah!