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Fear, Guest Posts, imagination, Women, writing

On Writing and Rejection

October 25, 2015

By Julianne Palumbo

When I was very young, I used to write poems on 3 by 5 index cards and paste them onto the blank pages of a large scrapbook. Then, I’d crayon pictures next to them, half-circle trees outlined in Electric Lime green with dots of Scarlet red apples scattered below. My coloring was never worthy of the 64-count Crayola box that I relished, the untouched points lining up in a progression of vibrancy. Perhaps my poetry was not much better. It looked small surrounded by all that white space. At seven, I hadn’t yet mastered the art of figurative language. A tree was typically only a tree. Once in a while it was its roots and its branches, but always I wanted it to be as vivacious as the colors in that box.

My parents typically dispensed the appropriate amount of praise when I showed them my poems, always willing to read my new creations and to pass them around to collect the obligatory nods and smiles of relatives. It was enough to encourage me to keep writing.

But, I remember one poem I wrote while passing a few hours at my grandmother’s house. I was seven, and visiting her home always left me feeling like I never could really sink into the chairs she covered with dishtowels before our visit. I would roam around her quiet raised ranch, inhaling the scent of cherry tobacco and mothballs, and scouring the shelves of black and white family photos searching for a likeness of my own face. The wood floors creaked achingly under my quiet steps as I peeked into the lifeless rooms upstairs searching for the perfect place to write.

The poem I wrote that day was about best friends, a boy and a girl, perhaps a friend I wished I had. In the poem, the friends played together all day, and then, when nighttime came, the boy stayed over the girl’s house. I remember showing it to my grandmother who whispered to my mom, pointing to my small paper with her curled and spotted finger. My grandmother handed my poem back to me. “Put it away,” she said.

I remember the embarrassed cry that welled up inside when she informed me that little boys don’t stay with little girls and that I shouldn’t show the poem to anyone else. I remember ripping up the poem and being so embarrassed that I had written it. I snuck it into the trash bin under her sink, wishing it would just decompose among the milk cartons and coffee grinds so it would be forgotten.

I’m not sure why I remember this so vividly. Perhaps it was my first experience with writer’s rejection.

But, the pull to keep writing remained strong. I wrote through high school, contributing to my school newspaper and entering poetry contests, but mostly I wrote for myself. My writing was usually well received as youthful writing often is. Adults are happy when a teen expresses herself in writing. No one really pays attention to the words she says or to the stirrings that hide behind them.

I didn’t experience rejection again until my valedictorian address was spread across the chopping block by a Sister of Mercy at the all girls’ Catholic school I attended. Sister Marie said something about my speech not being religious enough before she took her merciless red marker to my manifesto. I had earned the title of Valedictorian but apparently not the right to say what I wanted at the podium. It was my first attempt at the art of compromise, actually daring to remind her that I was writing the speech and that it was important that I believed in what I was going to say. It was perhaps my first chance to be heard by my peers, really listened to, and I wanted them to know me through my words.

After high school and college, I practiced law for many years. Law, with all its terseness and arid sentences parceled out into tiny billable minutes, parched my writer’s voice. I wrote legal and business articles profusely, but my creative side nearly wilted under the weight of all those legalisms. During those tedious days I longed to return to the imaginative and colorful. I allowed myself to think back on my earlier years and to remember myself as a prolific creative writer.

It was motherhood and all of the overwhelming feelings that come with birthing and raising another human being that brought my pen back to the page. The joys and struggles cried to be vented someplace. It strikes me now that an introvert like me suddenly became so comfortable sharing myself with you and countless readers I’ve never met. If you knew me in person, you would know very little about what I need and what makes me happy. If you read my writing, you will know so much more.

We write to be read, to be understood, and to understand. We write because when someone else reads us and processes her own pain, we have given a gift. You are either a writer or you’re not. You either understand the need to put down words or you don’t. You will either read someone’s writing and desperately need to know them, or you won’t.

I found that old poetry scrapbook the other day. It had been tucked into a cardboard box in my parent’s cellar then moved to my basement when they cleaned out theirs. It surprised me to find that the cover was nothing more than an industrial speckled tan with a thin functional bronze frame thoughtlessly surrounding the word “Scrapbook.”

In truth, I hadn’t even filled half of the pages with my index card poems. The fancy gold cover, the gilded tipped pages, and the large satin ribbon of my memory had been imagined. I had remembered the book teeming with poetry that documented a young girl’s life with the mastery of a memoirist. But, the poems that had seemed so large back then were in fact nothing more than a few words written squarely on pre-penciled lines. They contained barely even a simile, and many of them were loaded with treacherous rhyme.

Inside the scrapbook was my old valedictorian address, written in bubbly letters, blue pen on a stack of oversized index cards, tea-stained by age. It’s funny how those two relics of my writing past found refuge together for those thirty dry years. It’s as if they knew someday I’d return to them.

As I opened the scrapbook and turned its thick manila pages, a small creak in the binding reminded me of that old feeling of putting myself out there and having it torn. I remembered thinking that day that I hadn’t meant any harm by my words.

When I decided to leave my law partnership and take up writing again, I also decided that I would embrace the rejection that would inevitably follow an attempt at a writing career. I vowed I wouldn’t let fear of rejection silence me. Instead, I would drink in each word of criticism like it was the last drop of water in my inspirational well.

We face rejection in so many facets of our lives. Why then is it so difficult to stomach when it comes in the name of improving something important to us?

I submitted my young adult novel manuscripts to professional editors and poured over their redlines like they were treasure maps to the spot where my future best seller was buried. I refused to allow myself to feel the sting of their criticism. Instead, I read between their cryptic lines, sifting out any tidbit or morsel that would help me to reach the better writer trapped deep inside of me. I told myself that the editors were not offering criticism to make me feel bad but because they understood the human need to communicate well. They were helping me to reach my goal, and I wouldn’t allow my pride or my sensitivity to silence my own voice.

There are so many good writers out there. And for each of those, there are that many more who are even better. I read those writers like I am prospecting their gold, sifting their gravel through my strainer. Turning and shaking it until I find that tiny glittering bit that will raise my own writing, inspire me to reach deeper, to try harder. With each critique or rejection letter, I strive to glean something, anything that will move me forward even a step.

Then I come across a piece of writing that makes me stop short, hold my breath, and wish I could have put those very words down in that very same way. Pangs of writer envy, I guess, but not in a way that shuts me down, in a way that makes me root for the writer to continue to spread her gift to the world. I realize that I had to write those simple poems about tree branches that dropped apples in order to write the better ones about trees branches that blossomed.

I turn the page in my old poetry scrapbook and lift the tired satin ribbon that marks the page. There, in the center, is a poem about me.  I read it and I know myself.

I am a writer.

Julianne Palumbo’s poems, short stories and essays have been published in Literary Mama, Ibettson Street Press, YARN, The MacGuffin, The Listening Eye, Kindred Magazine, Poetry East, Mamalode, Coffee + Crumbs, and others. She is the author of Into Your Light (Flutter Press, 2013), and Announcing the Thaw (Finishing Line Press, 2014), poetry chapbooks about raising teenagers. She was nominated for a Pushcart Prize for my YA poem, “Stuffing Bears” and received a Letter of Merit from the SCBWI in the 2014 Magazine Merit Awards. She is also the Editor of Mothers Always Write, an online literary magazine for mothers by mother writers.

 

Ring in New Years 2016 with Jen Pastiloff at her annual Ojai retreat. It's magic! It sells out quickly so book early. No yoga experience required. Just be a human being. With a sense of humor. Email barbara@jenniferpastiloff.com with questions or click photo to book. NO yoga experience needed. Just be a human being.

Ring in New Years 2016 with Jen Pastiloff at her annual Ojai retreat. It’s magic! It sells out quickly so book early. No yoga experience required. Just be a human being. With a sense of humor. Email barbara@jenniferpastiloff.com with questions or click photo to book. NO yoga experience needed. Just be a human being.

 

 

Join Jen for a weekend retreat at Kripalu Center in Western Massachusetts Feb 19-21, 2016. Get ready to connect to your joy, manifest the life of your dreams, and tell the truth about who you are. This program is an excavation of the self, a deep and fun journey into questions such as: If I wasn’t afraid, what would I do? Who would I be if no one told me who I was? Jennifer Pastiloff, creator of Manifestation Yoga and author of the forthcoming Girl Power: You Are Enough, invites you beyond your comfort zone to explore what it means to be creative, human, and free—through writing, asana, and maybe a dance party or two! Jennifer’s focus is less on yoga postures and more on diving into life in all its unpredictable, messy beauty. Note Bring a journal, an open heart, and a sense of humor. Click the photo to sign up.

Join Jen for a weekend retreat at Kripalu Center in Western Massachusetts Feb 19-21, 2016.
Get ready to connect to your joy, manifest the life of your dreams, and tell the truth about who you are. This program is an excavation of the self, a deep and fun journey into questions such as: If I wasn’t afraid, what would I do? Who would I be if no one told me who I was?
Jennifer Pastiloff, creator of Manifestation Yoga and author of the forthcoming Girl Power: You Are Enough, invites you beyond your comfort zone to explore what it means to be creative, human, and free—through writing, asana, and maybe a dance party or two! Jennifer’s focus is less on yoga postures and more on diving into life in all its unpredictable, messy beauty.
Note Bring a journal, an open heart, and a sense of humor. Click the photo to sign up.

Binders, Guest Posts, imagination

A Series of Imagined Exchanges With My New Financial Advisor

April 5, 2015

beauty-hunting-jen-logo-black1-300x88By Susan Harlan.

 

“As you’re falling asleep, I’m going to take over your brain.”

“Are financial advisors supposed to do that?

“Yes.”

 

“So what are you hoping to get out of this meeting?”

“Well, my car broke down, so I have to get a new car.”

“And you’d like to discuss options.”

“Yes. I’d like to figure out what I should spend and come up with a budget for the future. But mostly I’m just depressed because I really loved my car. I attached all sorts of significance about where I am in my life to that that car.”

“I see.”

“Her name was Beryl.”

“You named your car Beryl?”

“Yes. Because she was an old lady. She needed an old lady name.”

“Well, we’ll do our best to come up with a plan.”

“I’ll probably still be sad.”

“Probably.”

 

“So where do you feel that you are in your life?”

“Could we maybe start with some smaller questions?”

“Sure.”

 

“I’ve entered all of your information into this budget spreadsheet.”

“Thank you.”

“We can go through it all. Bills, discretionary expenses, what-not.”

“So you can just plug in the numbers and it adds it all up for you?”

“Yes. That’s the idea.”

“That’s very cool.”

“I think so.”

“And if you change a number, it adds it all up again?”

“So you haven’t ever used Excel?”

“I think there was this time that I was working on this thing…well, no.”

 

“Let’s look at discretionary spending that can be cut, and then we’ll turn to your monthly bills.”

“Are you going to judge me?”

“No.”

“You may regret saying that.”

 

“So what is this eBay expense, for example?”

“That was for a couple of afghans.”

“How many?”

“It might have been as many as four. All told.”

“You could probably do with fewer afghans.”

“They were all different colors.”

“Still.”

“Yes, I probably could.”

“And this eBay charge?”

“Vintage cocktail glasses.”

“I see.”

“They were etched.”

“Right.”

“And a yarn painting.”

“What’s a yarn painting?”

“Well, it’s just really a painting, but you know – made from yarn.”

“Right. These could probably be cut. I see a certain amount of money going towards household expenses.”

“Yeah, I get it.”

“Are there other purchases along these lines we can talk about?”

“Well, that one is for a garden gnome named Baudelaire, and that is for a concrete deer and duck.”

“I don’t necessarily need to know about the exact objects – just the category.”

“The gnome is French.”

“So ‘Housewares’?”

“Sort of. But he lives on the porch.”

 

“These are the kinds of purchases you’ll want to be careful about in the future.”

“Yes. I get tempted to buy things when I’m bored.”

“Are you bored a lot?”

“That’s a difficult question to answer.”

“We can come back to it.”

 

“Do we need to factor a gym membership into the budget?”

“No. Absolutely not.”

 

“How much does your dog cost you per month?”

“About $100.”

“So I’m putting that in.”

“Does that make her a very expensive dog?”

“She’s fine.”

“Even a budget dog?”

“Sure.”

 

“Okay, moving into other recreational expenses. Here, we have Netflix. That’s discretionary.”

“Only if you want me to die the death of the wretched.”

“So Netflix stays.”

 

“Let’s take a look at your monthly food expenses. You may not realize this, but you’re spending a lot on groceries.”

“I can imagine that to be true. I eat a lot.”

“I’m sure we can find a way to make some cuts. What’s this bill for?”

“Vermouth.”

“This whole bill is for vermouth?”

“Well, yes. Sweet vermouth.”

“Was it for entertaining? I can put it under ‘Entertaining.’”

“Sort of. I just found a shop that has some very nice vermouths.”

“What are they for?”

“Manhattans.”

“We may want to cut back on the Manhattans.”

“That’s very upsetting, but I get it.”

 

“I see a number of charges per week for $7.36. What is this?”

“Five Guys.”

“The hamburger place?”

“Yes.”

“If we add these up, you have quite a lot of them every month.”

“Hmm. How many are we talking?”

“I’d really rather not say.”

“I understand. I’ll try to eat more sandwiches.”

“Please do.”

 

“So we’ve been talking a lot about patterns in the past. Let’s turn to your long-term financial goals.”

“Sounds good.”

“How do you see the next couple of years? What would you like to be able to do?”

“Well, I want to but a ramshackle, old farmhouse in the Hudson River Valley and fix it up.”

“Farmhouses are nice.”

“Preferably something with a wood-burning stove and peeling wallpaper. Maybe some nice tile.”

“Anything else?”

“I’d also like to fix up a vintage Airstream trailer and then drive it around the country with my dog.”

“This are noble goals, but maybe we could think more in terms of paying off educational debt.”

“Oh, right. I thought you meant, you know, home improvement goals.”

“We can work out a plan for how much money you should put towards your debt, and that will help you to reach these goals. Eventually.”

“Okay.”

“Any other long-term goals?”

“Well, it’s not really related to paying off debt.”

“Okay.”

“I’d like to move back to New York City and be able to go out to lunch everyday.”

“Everyday?”

“Yes, like how all the expat writers went out to lunch everyday in Paris and ate lobster and drank white wine and talked about books. I’d like to have that life.”

“That does sound nice.”

“But without the wars and the misogyny.”

“Naturally.”

 

Susan Harlan is an English professor at Wake Forest University, and her work has appeared in venues such as The Guardian, The Toast, The Awl, The Morning News, Jezebel, Roads & Kingdoms, and Public Books.

Chicago! Join Jen Pastiloff at her first Chicago workshop Aug 22nd! Book early! " It's story-letting, like blood-letting but more medically accurate: Bleed out the stories that hold you down, get held in the telling by a roomful of amazing women whose stories gut you, guide you. Move them through your body with poses, music, Jen's booming voice. Write renewed, truthful. Float-stumble home." ~ Pema Rocker

Chicago! Join Jen Pastiloff at her first Chicago workshop Aug 22nd! Book early!
” It’s story-letting, like blood-letting but more medically accurate: Bleed out the stories that hold you down, get held in the telling by a roomful of amazing women whose stories gut you, guide you. Move them through your body with poses, music, Jen’s booming voice. Write renewed, truthful. Float-stumble home.” ~ Pema Rocker

The 12 Day Detox is here. Sign up now for May 1st cleanse. Space is limited. This detox comes at just the perfect time. Reprogram your body and mind as we move into the new season of spring. This is your time of rejuvenation and renewal.This is not a juice fast, or a detox based on deprivation.

The 12 Day Detox is here. Sign up now for May 1st cleanse. Space is limited. This detox comes at just the perfect time. Reprogram your body and mind as we move into the new season of spring. This is your time of rejuvenation and renewal.This is not a juice fast, or a detox based on deprivation.

Converse-Station, Guest Posts, imagination

The Converse-Station: Katharine Beutner & Kirsten Kaschock.

November 7, 2014

beauty-hunting-jen-logo-black

By Katharine Beutner & Kirsten Kaschock.

Jen Pastiloff here. Welcome to The Converse-Station: A dialogue between writers. With the site getting so much traffic, I can think of no better way to utilize that traffic than to introduce the readers to writers I love. The dialogues created within this series have stayed with me long after I’ve read them on the page. Enjoy! 

Matthea Harvey’s “The Straightforward Mermaid” begins: “The straightforward mermaid starts every sentence with ‘Look . . . ’ This comes from being raised in a sea full of hooks. She wants to get points 1, 2, and 3 across, doesn’t want to disappear like a river into the ocean.” If you were a mythical creature, what would you be? How would you start every sentence?

Katharine Beutner: Kirsten, hello! Thinking this over, I’m surprised that I find it much easier to say how I would start every sentence than to decide what kind of mythical creature I would be. I would start every sentence with “What if–” and sometimes the what-ifs would be marvelous and speculative and sometimes they’d be practical and sometimes they’d be anxious. I’ve cut down a lot on the anxious what-ifs since I got divorced, but they still creep in sometimes.

Since I ask questions all the time, I think I’d be a sphinx, though I’d rather be the guardian Egyptian sort than the riddling kind that has to eat hapless travelers. People tell me I always seem calm and collected, though I find that hard to believe.

What about you? And I’m curious, do you feel a pressure to choose from a particular mythology? I’ve been Greek-mythology-obsessed since I was a kid, so I felt like it would be cheating to claim another source — and I’m really leery of appropriating another culture’s mythology, though for some reason I don’t feel that guilt about Greek myths, maybe because they’ve become a sort of symbolic language for writers and readers in Western literary traditions.

Kirsten Kaschock: Hello Katharine. Lovely to meet you in this imaginary space.

I’d have to be a shapeshifter, skinwalker, facedancer, changeling. A creature for whom metamorphosis is identity. I’d start every sentence as differently as possible, trying on language like shoes. How do I want to move today? I’m not satisfied that my own identity is accurate, so I collect more–writing is a place to do this less tragically than other places. I love my life, just not enough to live there and there only. The thing is, I’m pretty sure when I wear others’ faces, pasts, and bodies—I end up leaving something (my scent? my trace? my soul?) everywhere. P’raps it’s only by being other that I prove I exist? Or some comparable nonsense…

As far as traditions go–dark European fables and folklore are most resonant with me, but you see facedancer up there too (from Frank Herbert’s Dune). I’m fascinated by the mythologies that surround, the ones we are ever recreating. I’m not that interested in writing vampires or zombies, but trying to figure out their function in the current North American cultural imagination… that would be a project.

I have another life where I’ve danced, and being trained in classical ballet and modern dance seeded in me a profound awe of the human ability to transform the self. In the Greek mythology you love (and that my sons are just discovering now), I’m wondering if the everpresence of physical transformation–for punishment or reward or to facilitate seduction–is part of the draw. Some creatures seem simply elemental, others are created or made god. Still others, like the Sphinx, are hybrids. I like what happens to them/me when I think through such manifestations as real, i.e., not (purely) metaphorical. Tell me–in addition to your hypothetical tendencies–does the sphinx-body appeal to you? Continue Reading…

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