Rejection: A Love Letter
In this piece, Bianca—who is now interning for Bomb Magazine—writes about her first professional rejection as a writer. My heart cries for her, my young protégé!
In fourth grade I got dumped at recess. We had been dating about three months, and from what I could tell — what with my nine years of shrewd emotional experience — we had pretty decent chemistry. We made each other laugh, we weren’t terrified to speak the way my sixth grade boyfriend and I would be, and in the third week of our love affair, we were the sparkplug of an epic grade-wide water fight. It made us infamous. When Language Arts resumed afterwards, a teacher aid ushered me to Mrs. O’Toole’s office (seriously, that was our nurse’s name) to borrow clothes because my diminutive nipples were visible through my white tank top. I probably loved it. I know Rich did. That was his name, Rich Damato. The nice Catholic Italian in an all-Jew neighborhood.
He ended it in the middle of the soccer field, my girlfriends and his buddies congregated on the sidelines, awaiting my ignominy. I exited stage left with a bowed head and watery eyes, nurturing rejection like the quintessential drama queen I was back then. Even though part of me was truly pained, most of me relished in the attention pity affords — a quality I’ve worked to rid myself of over the years.
This self-improvement has been helped along by the fact that I’m no longer subject to such public rejection. As I’ve gotten older, rejection has become more private — one of God’s pardons for adulthood, perhaps. Your tests are handed back face down; you’re college rejection letters addressed to you. You’re iPhone informs inconspicuously that you’ve lost Words With Friends to stranger, 67zd_kj900m. It’s too loud in the bar for anyone to have heard that girl say, “Definitely not … but sorry.” You’re laid off in your bosses soundproof, corner office. And your breakup transpires mono-e-mono, on the bed you’ve shared for three years, with no one to console you but the person from whom you’re departing…
Suddenly the soccer field feels very far away…
Until you do what I’m about to do now, which is publicize my first major career rejection. A few months back I had applied to an internship at a new online magazine, Psychology Tomorrow, focused on the intersection of art and psychology — an intersection right up my alley. The editor, a prominent psychoanalyst, e-mailed to let me know that the position had been filled, but that he was very moved by my cover letter and would love to meet to discuss a column I might be interested in writing for. I was elated.
After two follow up exchanges we met at The Norwood Club, a private establishment frequented by rich artists. I was excited. I laid my outfit out the night before. I brainstormed questions he might ask me. I formulated pitches corresponding to the column, entitled, “The Patient’s Room” — an exploration of one’s experience of therapy (my favorite activity ever).
The club, located in an assuming, unmarked brownstone where the Village skims Chelsea, emits professionalism unbefitting for a mere 23-year-old like myself. French doors opened to a modern-Victorian salon, decorated in ash gray and beau blue and antique fuchsia. Heartbreakingly tasteful art (I wish I could tell you whose) adorned the walls, which rounded at the northeast corner to make room for a capacious mahogany bar, behind which stood a natty gentlemen, in a perfectly unironic bow tie, who served me the best lemonade I’ve ever had. I felt grateful, but, perhaps naively, not undeserving.
Stanley Siegel and I, along with his managing editor, Matthew, had a lovely conversation. It culminated, inevitably, in a miniature therapy session that I was ever thankful for — never am I as loquacious as when I am before a shrink. In the end, we decided that I’d submit a piece on transference between therapist and client, a subject with which I was well-acquainted after hiring my therapist in LA, a broad shouldered Afro-Carribean man with eyes that make everything seem diaphanous.
(This is actually my friend, Sidi, a man with a similar gaze and a talent for graffiti art. You’ve probably seen his tag, Leghead Loves, around SoHo.)
Over the next two months I wrote and rewrote an article that ended up too literary and slightly platitudinous for the magazine. Stanley wrote a very kind e-mail, thanking me for the energy that I clearly put into the piece and explaining why exactly it wasn’t right for Psychology Tomorrow. I received the message via my phone while dining (if you can call it that) at a corny dive bar in Westhampton where I was fittingly drinking a Bay Breeze and listening to a grisly live cover of Travie McCoy’s “Billionaire.”
I slid the phone over to my sister, attempting to mitigate the disappointment by dispersing it. Tears welled. I could have cried. But I refused to excuse myself in order to ball behind the port-o-potties under the censorious gaze of blonde nineteen-year-olds in jean skirts and pink tube tops, sporting boyfriends on steroids who squeezed their muffin tops like they were circumferential asses. No, that I would not do.
Instead, I ordered another Bay Breeze, stuffed my face with fried food, and committed, more than I ever had, to success. Professional rejection, more than personal or educational, made me realize just how essential failure is to achievement. How important it is to, as Carolyn See said in Making A Literary Life, “make it part of the process.” It’s the age old story with any dualism that you can’t have one without the other.
That rejection is there to more brightly illuminate its counterpart: a triumphant writing career, and the realization that Rich Damato was a fucking bonehead.