Tag Archives: Arianna Huffington

Knocking on the Glass: A Rejectee Copes with Rejection

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Fair warning for the squeamish – some NSFW language today.  Don’t worry, I grawlixed it up for you.

Don’t know about the rest of y’all, but I had a pretty nice weekend – lots of quality time with the wife and kid, getting to see my best friend and his wife and kid for the first time in some months, eating too much, ramping up my vitamin D content by getting out in the sunshine.  And starting to go running again, because yay exercise.  So I’m feeling quite a sense of uplift as the long weekend comes to a close and I pop onto my laptop yesterday evening to check and see if another friend has posted any more updates from his Las Vegas wedding.  Right off the bat I see a notification in my email.  From a literary agent I queried recently.

It’s a rejection.

I’ve done enough research on querying and read enough tweets and blogs and other material by agents to recognize a form rejection when I see one.  It has no salutation and is the usual canned rigmarole about the market being difficult and terribly sorry but this didn’t do it for them.  My shoulders slump and my stomach hurls a tablespoon of acid against itself for about half a second and I sigh.  Intellectual me says, yeah, you don’t really want anyone representing you who doesn’t think your work is so awesome that they would proudly stand between you and a mob coming after you with torches and pointed sticks.  So thank you for your time, fare thee well, best wishes and all that.  Onwards and upwards.

Emotional me thinks otherwise.  Emotional me wants to channel this fictional character and yell, “@#$@ you, you @#$@ing literati latte-sipping snob, how DARE you dismiss my insightful yet entertaining BRILLIANCE without so much as a by-your-leave!!!  DON’T YOU REALIZE WHAT YOU’VE MISSED OUT ON IN YOUR PEON-LIKE SHORTSIGHTEDNESS???”  You know, the pitiful wail of the wannabe knocking desperately on the glass a la Dustin Hoffman in the last scene of The Graduate.  They say you have to develop a thick hide in this profession, but what they fail to mention is that you only callus up by absorbing punch after punch.  And a punch @#$@ing hurts.  It’s not just a quick sting.  It’s a body blow that rings down into your guts and slaps your confidence around like an angry frat boy wielding a wet towel with a bar of soap rolled into it.  It’s the girl you’ve had a crush on for years friendzoning you after you finally summon the courage to ask her out – you question your competence, your very existence as a man.  The same goes with your ability to write after a professional turndown, no matter how inconsequential it might seem.

Sunday night I put together something for Joseph Gordon-Levitt’s hitRECord about The Other Side.  Here is an excerpt from that piece that seems topical given the subject under discussion today:

We will always come up against people who do things differently, who do them better, who are less successful or more successful than we are in our chosen vocation – even in the basic vocation of being human.  In this case, the other side can be a construct of intimidation, a reminder of things we can’t and will never have, of charmed lives beyond our reach via accident of birth.  It can warn us about things we never want, of pitfalls we risk falling into if we are not careful.  It can be a source of incomprehension, a place that is totally abhorrent to our values and our morals.  Yet it can also challenge us by beckoning, daring us to try to cross over.  Forcing us to better ourselves to earn the right of passage.  The choice we have to make is in how we will look at the other side, if it is to be defined, somewhat crudely, as an enemy to be vanquished, or instead as an opportunity to better who we are.  If we are going to look into the depth of the mirror and bare our teeth, or smile and say, I got this.

As a writer, nothing is more intimidating than the blank page.  But second to that is the success of other writers, particularly when you haven’t, at least from your sulky perspective as you pore over that single rejection email, had anything comparable.  Most of us have run into the soul-splintering “That’s nice, dear” from friends and family who think it’s positively peachy that you’re writing a novel but kindly get back to them when you’ve accomplished something quantifiable with it, i.e., made a @#$@load of money.  We’ve also, as we’ve begun to take part in an online community of fellow writers, happened upon that insufferably cheerful blog post that can be paraphrased somewhat like so:  “I worked as a claims adjuster for twenty years and then thought it would be fun to try writing a book.  Two months later I had SEVEN OFFERS OF REPRESENTATION for my story about a privileged yet endearingly goofy girl who just can’t find the right man!”  Sometimes it’s enough to make you want to chuck the laptop against the wall and settle into a monotonous life of trying to accomplish nothing more than finding the last gnome in Fable III, elusive bastard that he is.

I’m glad I’ve started running again, because for me nothing is better for working through anger and frustration.  You channel each pissy thought into a determined flail of your legs and arms and burn the petulance out with each increasingly agonized stride.  @#$@ you, flabby body, @#$@ you, pedantic writing twits, @#$@ you, uncaring literary world, @#$@ you, unfairness of life in general.  You tear through your neighbourhood as the sun rises and hope that the few folks you pass won’t notice the look of homicidal rage etched on your face and call 911.  Finally the app tells you you’re done, and you slow to a cooling walk and realize as you reach your door, drenched from head to toe in eye-stinging sweat, that you have purged those thoughts in a cleansing, cathartic fire.  And as intellectual you reasserts his dominance you realize, in the mode of Jimmy Stewart in It’s a Wonderful Life or Richard Dreyfuss in Mr. Holland’s Opus, that you are a successful writer, and here are a few reasons why:

1.  You covered an election for the largest newspaper in Canada.

2.  The leader of the Liberal Party and the potential future leader of the country liked something you wrote about him so much he shared it with his over 200,000 Twitter followers and thanked you by name.

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3.  Arianna Huffington invited you to write for her online news service.  Pretty nice club to be in, given that your writing hero Aaron Sorkin writes for it too.  And you’ve written 20 more articles for it than he has.  A post of yours was featured over Kirk Douglas once.  YOU WERE PLACED HIGHER THAN KIRK @#$@ING DOUGLAS, the man who broke the Hollywood blacklist for Christ’s sake.  (UPDATE:  And now Stephen @#$@ing Fry writes for it too.)

4.  Rob @#$@ing Lowe thanked you for something you wrote about his character on The West Wing.  This guy.

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5.  A fellow writer whom you’ve come to admire asked if she could quote you on the back of her debut novel.  Um, yeah, holy @#$@ing @#$@balls.

6.  Look at this map.  Look at it.  Every single color on the map represents a country where someone has read something you wrote.  Some of these places don’t even have running water, and yet someone there knows who you are.  (And you still suck, Greenland.)

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7.  You have fans.  Honest to goodness fans.  And they’re awesome and they are always there to prop you up, without fail, when you’re wallowing in a cesspool of self-doubt and flagellation.

8.  A friend once told you that a post you wrote about your father made him want to be a better dad.  And you cried when you heard that.

9.  When you weigh the compliments, shares and positive feedback you’ve received versus the rejections, uninterested shrugs and outright insults, the ratio is still about 500:1.  And when you’ve been insulted, it’s because they didn’t like something you said.  Not one of them said you were a bad writer.

10.  You’re still at it.

Sorry for the diversion down Ego Street there, but these are the kinds of affirmations that writers need to poke themselves with from time to time – that the very act of putting pen to paper or finger to keyboard is in itself a form of success.  Even if nought but a single soul retweeted an otherwise ignored blog post, it should be another brick to add to the wall you’re building to shield yourself against the slings and arrows that will inevitably come as you continue to knock on the glass to The Other Side.  So we beat on, boats against the current, as FSF would say.  Of course I’m going to keep writing, and blogging, and querying, and if I can’t get a single nibble on this novel then I’ll write another one and push the hell out of that one until the glass cracks – lather, rinse, repeat.  I might even query that same agent again someday if I have another project I feel might be more up their alley.  A rejection can be many, many things, but what it NEVER should be is a reason to pack it in, or worse, lash out in anger at the futility of existence.  So have your pity party but wrap it up after last call and get back to work.  There are words to be written, bub.

What the @#$@ is next?

This is your brain on digital media

Arianna Huffington addresses the Toronto Digital Media Summit, photo by yours truly sitting four rows back.

Johnny Mnemonic features a pre-Matrix Keanu Reeves as a “futuristic” (I put the quotes around futuristic because many of the movie’s concepts have grown quite out-of-date) courier whose packages of data are uploaded directly into his brain.  Eager to take on a high-paying job, Reeves’ character agrees to carry more information than his brain can handle.  I find myself in a similar situation after two days at Toronto’s 2012 Digital Media Summit, having assimilated the insights of dozens of expert speakers and panellists, including representatives from Facebook, Google, LinkedIn and Microsoft, on what this whole concept means and where they think it might be going.  The key word there is “think,” because digital media is progressing too fast for the majority of us to simply keep up, let alone predict.  Today’s phenomenon is tomorrow’s relic, and what seems like a ludicrous concept this morning might be a smash success this afternoon.  The statistics are cosmic in their scope:  2 billion people on the planet access the Internet as part of their daily lives.  52 billion pages indexed on Google, 1.3 million articles on Wikipedia, 100,000 years’ worth of YouTube video shared on Facebook in 2011 alone.  Futurist Michael Tchong, one of the featured speakers this past weekend, refers to it as an ubertrend, which he defines as “a major movement, pattern or wave emerging in the American lifestyle that ripples through society leaving many subtrends in its wake.”  Although opinions on how to harness these ripples are numerous, one fact that seems to be shared is the idea that all of this is fuelled by the human need for connection – and kinship.

Associated with that need for connection is the humorous acronym FOMO, that Tchong suggests is behind much of the social media explosion – Fear Of Missing Out.  When so much flies by at lightspeed, billions of times every nanosecond, we are terrified that we might not see all of it, whether it be the latest updates from our friends and family, infinite funny cat videos or actual breaking news.  Texting and driving, Tchong says, happens because some of us have decided that being in touch is more important than being alive.  Perhaps, if one can venture down the garden path of existentialism, for many people being in touch is being alive; this idea of ambient awareness that I have discussed before.  But it is far more than simply wanting to know what’s going on – it’s wanting to know.  Arianna Huffington, who gave the closing keynote address yesterday, referred to her early book The Fourth Instinct, which suggests that beyond the usual human needs for survival, sex and power, there is a hunger for spiritual fulfillment and meaning; to answer that fundamental question of Life, The Universe and Everything (yes, Douglas Adams fans, I know it’s 42, but stick with me here).  Digital media is a sublime leap towards the realization of this answer, because it brings people together in a grand unified search.  This is why I put no stock in the philosophy of every man for himself; the mere existence of the ubertrend under examination here suggests that we are inclined towards a sense of community, of belonging, and that the reason why the technology of information has been the fastest to progress (instead of jetpacks) is because it reflects what we want most as a species gifted with intellectual curiosity.

And as expected, many fear the undiscovered country it is leading us towards.  Misguided approaches to regulate digital media, such as SOPA, ACTA or the Vic Toews nonsense going on in Canada, are the last refuge of an old guard longing for the simplicity of the era when everything could be explained as God’s will.  Ironically, that fear comes from the very same place as the curiosity that drives the democratic exchange of ideas as exemplified by digital media.  When information rested only in the hands of a few, those few were respected and admired as learned leaders.  The more the truth spreads, the less those people are needed – the influence they have built for themselves, out of this same, basic longing for community, diminishes as others cease to listen to them, until they are finally left alone, and forgotten.

So what then, in a nutshell, could you say is the biggest takeaway from my massive data intake of the last two days?  Certainly enough thought to chew on for the conceivable future (and more than a few blog posts I’m sure), but above all else, reinforcement of the notion that a global community, a global family, is not just a pipe dream of a few starry-eyed prognosticators, it is a place we are going whether we like it or not.  Our existence as individuals in a population of 7 billion mirrors our tiny earth adrift in an incomprehensibly vast universe, and just as each of us longs to find meaning as part of a family, our entire race hungers for meaning within the endless dark.  Why are we here?  Maybe Cousin Phil has an idea – check his status update.  Connection, knowing that we are not alone, is tremendously liberating – it reassures and emboldens us to take the next step.  Host Rob Braide of Galaxie Radio kicked off the conference by invoking the analogy of a drunk who drops his keys on a dark street and wanders to the safety of a street light instead of looking for them straight away.  The connection provided by digital media is that light.  And the more light the better.