Such a beautiful day in early November—sunny and warm with temperatures in the 70s. I’ve noticed a number of people putting up their outdoor Christmas decorations—all right, I’ll admit I hung lights from my eaves yesterday, taking advantage of the good weather, so I wouldn’t have to be freezing in the cold later. Outside of the fact that darkness is falling early, it’s difficult to believe that winter is fast approaching.
For the record, I’m writing this the day after Joe Biden became our president-elect, and Kamala Harris became the first woman to become vice-president-elect. Not only the first woman, but also the first woman of color. This news comes in the gap between autumn and winter. On this summery day before we face the challenges of the cold and gray that lie ahead, we find ourselves in what I’ll call a season of change and a time of hope. The potential disappointments of the future aren’t yet clear to us. Instead, we hold the swell of our faith in what might be. Don’t we want to trust in the better parts of ourselves? Isn’t it only human to embrace optimism and desire?
A writing career is full of hope challenged by disappointment. How do we maintain our optimism when often it seems that everything is against us? I wrote, and gathered my rejections, for a number of years before I got the first, “yes.” The literary journal, Sonora Review, accepted one of my stories. Before that, I’d received a few handwritten rejections inviting me to “try again,” but the Sonora Review was the first literary journal to include my work in their pages. I was thirty-two years-old at the time—too late for a writer, some may have thought—but that one acceptance made me feel as if things were just beginning. All those “try-agains”—all those hours spent putting words on the page and all the times I’d threatened to stop only to find I couldn’t—had brought me to the point where someone finally said, “yes,” and I rejoiced.
I won’t go on to recount all the highs and lows since then. Suffice it to say, I’ve had them in equal measure. I’m sixty-five now, and still the rejections come, and from time to time someone still says, “yes.” When they do, I feel the way I felt the first time, like the world got a little brighter. The “yeses”—or even the “try-agains”—can send us back to our work with renewed dedication and vigor.
Still, the rejections will come, and we have to accept that. We have to see them as opportunities for us to learn what we need to know, even if what we need to learn is that some criticism is worthless. We can thumb our noses at that sort of commentary, the kind that perhaps comes from someone with a different aesthetic or an egotistical agenda, or the kind that comes from an inability to see what we’re trying to do on the page, but no writer ever got very far without opening heart and mind to the hard things teachers, peers, and editors have to say—the things that will make a difference if we’ll let them. “Being ignorant is not so much a shame,” Benjamin Franklin said, “as being unwilling to learn.” If we’re smart, we’ll acknowledge our bruises and then set them aside, so we can continue practicing our craft with passion and conviction. That’s what I wish for us all—that our talents be unimpeded, our desires irrepressible, our hearts and minds open, and our capacity for hope boundless.