Let me admit right here, at the start, that this is about a so-called “luxury problem.” Some might even accuse me of a humble brag. Be that as it may, this is my current reality, and I’m going to share it.
Not including my excellent day job, I am blessed-cursed with dual creative talents. I am a published, award-winning short story writer with a dozen of my word-babies printed in a variety of literary journal. I am also an award-winning fine art photographer whose work has been included in more than 20 juried shows in galleries from Astoria, Oregon to Boston, as well as points in between.
I am grateful for the recognition and support that my writing and photography have received. God knows, I’ve been working at both for a long time, honing both crafts. Yet, events yesterday put into sharp relief an issue that I have to work through.
Specifically, I received notification that one of photographs had been chosen by Cheryl Zibisky to be part of Yeiser Art Center’s Art Through the Lens 2019 show in Paducah, Kentucky. I also received two notifications, via Submittable, that the two stories I have “making the rounds” were rejected by two journals. These are my only two completed stories (I have two more nearing completion) that I have been submitting for more than a year. Each has more than 40 rejections. If you are not familiar with the literary journal rat race, this is not uncommon. I have an acquaintance who recently admitted that his stories routinely experience approximately 100 rejections before they find a home.
This leaves me intensely happy and dejected simultaneously. I can’t help it. I’m greedy. I wanted positive news for both endeavors. But I am reminded of something that I believe I heard Mel Brooks say in an interview: “You have to follow the laughter.” That’s comedian-speak, but when applied to my situation, I have to follow the acceptances, which right now are mostly with my visual art. But, I can’t give up on my written work. I’m committed, if disappointed.
I think of my two talents like two celebrities living in my head. Each is successful in its own way. But their career arcs look very different. They do not track with each other. For a while, back in the 80s and 90s, my creative writing was surging. I won the Missouri Writers’ Biennial and had stories in the aforementioned literary journals, including two in the local treasure, River Styx. I was named “St. Louis’ Most Underrated Writer” by the Riverfront Times. During this time, there wasn’t a silver gelatin photograph of mine on a gallery wall, anywhere.
Fast forward to the last two years, and it’s been photography’s turn to shine. In addition to achieving the Toy Camera Trifecta, I have had photographs in several other shows, including Art Saint Louis’ “American Conversations,” St. Louis Artists’ Guild’s “The State of Our Shared Land,” and The Foundry Art Centre’s “Architectonic,” to name some local shows. Two stories snuck into print as well, one in Thoughtful Dog and the other in Elder Mountain, A Journal of Ozarks Studies, but the photography was the dominant force.
My celebrity talents, like many power couples, are constantly competing with each other, one trying to outdo the other. Right now, photography is shouting “Na-nee Na-nee Boo Boo” to the words. My rational mind knows that trying to get short fiction printed is a brutal process. Accept it or stop. Still, my emotional mind is bruised by so much rejection, reminding me of a lyric from “Memory of a Misspent Youth” by Clap Your Hands Say Yeah: “…And there's a permanence / To the memory of a bruise…”
My conclusion is that each of my future short stories (which are not embraced as quickly as they once were) will be as a monument to slap after slap of rejection. It’s hard not to be bitter, even when the acceptance letters finally come.
As I write this, I realize what a fortunate twit I really am, a snotty sot. My work, on both sides of the creative aisle, will eventually be accepted somewhere. And, I admit, that it is the “doing” that is the most part of these endeavors, not the needy-need to be selected for display or print. There is no way “out” for challenge of offering creative work to the world. There is only a constant “through” it. Unlike a good day job, creative work takes time, and resources, and unrelenting commitment — all for little chance of anything more than acceptance; certainly not monetary rewards.
Cue the Serenity Prayer: ”…grant me the serenity to accept the things I cannot change…”
P.S. That sheaf of paper in the typewriter has my working version of “Welcome to the New Madrid Triangle.” If you’re a literary editor, let me know if you’re interested. It’s almost available for publication. I’m accepting bids now…