I sure wish I had something like that.
Imagine it, a pulsing force field that surrounds you like a bubble, maybe humming a bit like a light saber. I picture it blue, but yours could be just about any color you want. I imagine criticisms and rejections hitting it and making a sound like, “PEW, PEW, PEW!!!” as they bounce off the sides. Mmm. Anti-Rejection Shield.
Instead, I feel a little more like this:
I had many rejections in my early years (oh, so many), but the one I remember with most clarity — aside from little Kenny Sours’s sacrificing our nap time hand-holding for the company of boys who hated girls — is in sixth grade. Everyone was “going out” with someone. Why we said it that way when clearly no one actually went anywhere is beyond me. But I watched the two giant blonde Pauls and their girls, I watched Riky and his gaggle, Kurt and his swooners as well as their female counterparts Kim and Joanna and Taylor. I enviously stared after them as they traded chewed gum (??!! It happened) and sat against the wall holding hands at recess.
But I was bespeckled and had a mouth full of shock absorbers and other torture devices, and while I dreamed of dressing like Claudia Kishi from The Babysitters Club (which was the only example of fashion I remember from childhood), I mostly just looked like I shopped at Goodwill. Because of course, I did. We couldn’t afford anything else. Needless to say, I was not so much this —
I was more like…..this:
So when one of the giant Pauls came up to me in the yard at recess one cold Montana day and screeched, “Will you go out with HAGAN!?!” I immediately said yes, even though he was about five inches shorter than me. He was nice and quiet, and why not?
Because kids are jackasses, that’s why not. Turns out, it was a joke. So you can picture spotty, hardware riddled, very out of style 12-year-old me now covered in tear streaks and probably some snot. My dreams of a 90s grunge montage to Hagan and I switching gum and holding hands and me wearing his black Adidas coat I so envied evaporated with the laughter of some particularly nasty pubescent boys.
I think Hagan felt bad about it. He was nice to me in the lunch line that day. I also don’t think it was his idea. His friends had it out for me for years — I’m sure they’d be happy to know I remember it all with such crystalline purity, even if I’ve mostly forgiven them after they got a little nicer in high school (coincidentally AFTER the ten pounds of metal were removed from my mouth and I spent a jarring six months on Accutane not getting pregnant and started buying my own clothes).
Needless to say, I’m no stranger to rejection.
At the age of 12, which is by all accounts a dramatically fragile time of life, I don’t know if I even had my couch fort to protect me. Now, fifteen years later (egads), I’m preparing to face a whole new world of it. The kind where I’ve spent hundreds and thousands of hours pouring my stories out onto paper to be scrutinized by people.
So I plan to approach it in three different ways. Behold:
1. Deflect it. My humming, “PEW! PEW!” shield. This I will wear at all times to deflect the worst of it. The bad reviews. The hate letters from people saying I’m a pagan/heathan/anti-god sort of person who clearly stomps on kittens with glee.
2. Embrace it. This is more meant for the kind, helpful sort of rejection that is actually constructive criticism but always feels like rejection anyway. Embrace it until it makes me better — that’s the plan. I’ll even tack this sort up on my wall. Maybe even frame the best ones.
3. Endure it. In spite of the fact that the grade 6 joke on me has haunted me more than a little over the years, I have endured it. I am even Facebook friends with Hagan, who probably doesn’t even remember what happened. I’m even Facebook friends with a couple of the other perpetrators, who will remain nameless — that is a little surreal. If I can handle the amount of torment I experienced in grades 6-10 at the hands of a herd of people I’d like to think were raised by scavenging coyotes for those years, I can handle literary criticism. I may not be Stephen King who was christened into that stalwart ability by a 200 pound babysitter named Eulah-Beulah farting on his head and yelling, “POW!” — but I’ve garnered my own strength through the years.
And so you see, gentle viewers, we can deal with rejection. And be very, very thankful that we are no longer twelve.
***A quick note about the history in this post: I in no way wish to replicate any chagrin I might have felt in my past in any person of said past who might stop by and read this. Feel free to laugh at my expense — I wouldn’t have posted this if it wasn’t an invitation to do so. I also don’t want to demean my years spent at Florence-Carlton Elementary/Middle/High Schools — they were certainly formative, and if it weren’t for one eighth grade writing teacher (ironically named Ms. Wright), I would perhaps not have ever found the confidence in my written voice that propelled me to write my novels. And Mr. Kuchel’s high school bio allowed me to sleep through my college intro class because he’d already taught me all of it. I’d also like to say that a few of my tormentors did eventually apologize to me somewhere around graduation, which I think shows that we can blame pubescent hormones for most pre-teen cruelty.
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