Today I made these Parker house pretzel rolls. They didn’t turn out as pretzel-y as the picture. And they might not have been as done as they could have been. Neither of these things kept me from eating three rolls, straight out of the pan, right out of the oven, and burning my mouth in the process. I didn’t make them to “go” with anything. I just made them to see if I could and that’s pretty much what I accomplished today.
Yesterday I bought a car, which is one of THE WORSE THINGS EVER, so all I can say is that it’s done. And I have a new car. A cross-over instead of my old station wagon, which is kind of funny, if you think about it (and I do). I bought my station wagon when I was single and childless. A friend once explained that I bought the car for the life I wanted. Now I’m married with a thirteen-year-old and I bought a smaller car. Nothing we do as humans makes much sense and this is what makes life so interesting.
But none of that is the particular train of thought I sat down to share, which has to do with writing.
Yesterday (or maybe the day before–it’s break, and the days melt into each other a bit, gooey and sticky-like),–I got a rejection. It wasn’t a bad rejection. It wasn’t the worst rejection.* It was a vaguely personal rejection. It contained that lovely phrase, “Please send us more of your work.” So, you know, it was another day in the life of a writer.
Then I saw a writing friend on Twitter tweet about an acceptance from the same journal I’d just been rejected from.** And you can imagine how that felt. Less good than eating a hot Parker house pretzel roll straight out of the oven. Not as bad as having to go buy a car.
Not long before that someone on Twitter talked about being rejected for solicited pieces and that seemed to be a thing that would suck. A new thing on the list of things that would suck as a writer–one that’s still out there, looming in my future. To be solicited and then have someone tell you, never mind. Would that be better or worse than being rejected straight from the slush pile?
I thought, as I do many times, about what the point of it all is. What am I doing here, anyway? Trying to get published. Taking tiny little baby steps forward. Big mother-may-I type steps backwards sometimes. Spending a lot of time with words. Just me and words.
A lot of times, I move through the world imagining there’s a finish line out there as a writer. There’s a place I’ll reach like a mountaintop, and I’ll take a deep breath. Look around. “I’ve made it,” I’ll say. Only, of course, there isn’t. There really isn’t.
And so here’s where the train of thought led me in the end–I’m never going to reach that mountaintop. Writing’s never going to make me happy. This isn’t the first time a train of thought has led me to this place. And it’s not only writing. Here’s a short list of things I’ve realized are never going to make me happy: losing weight, buying a car, going on vacation, getting a raise, finding the love of my life, my cat, eating four Parker house pretzel rolls straight out of the oven, being liked, being a parent, winning an award, making a lot of money and getting a story published. Yeah, that’s the short list.
Don’t get me wrong. Most of these things are pretty good. A lot of them have made me happier than I was before. More content. Fuller and deeper as a person. None of them can make me happy, though. Only I can do that, and even so, not all of the time.
Don’t get me wrong. I like writing. I read a couple of quotes from Susan Sontag recently that sum up a small part of what I like about it. “What draws me very much to writing is it’s a way of paying attention to the world.” Also, “My idea of a writer: someone interested in everything.” I like the way writing gives me a reason to be interested in everything. That’s one thing on a long list of things I like about writing.
But every now and then I have to remind myself, there’s no moment when it will all click together and I will be happy because that’s just not what’s writing for.
* The worse rejection I ever got was an e-mail from Submittable, and all it said was, “The status of your submission has changed.” And when I went to Submittable, my story had moved from “In Process” to “Declined.” Just like that. I’m still mad about it. It happened twice and I’ll never submit to those journals again. Sometimes, I tell myself they did that by mistake. It was an accident, right? Because even Tin House has the decency to write a form letter. Why wouldn’t you write a form letter? Write a gooddam form letter, people! Enough about that.
** Of course, I am not a complete jerk, so I was also happy for this person on Twitter who got an acceptance from this journal. I’m really always happy when someone I know gets an acceptance, even if it was like twenty years ago. We should celebrate acceptances for at least twenty years. Seriously.