Show me that smile again

As a part-time, work-at-home freelance writer, I often find myself in a childcare pickle.  Such as last week, when I unexpectedly landed a pitch with a very short deadline and had to stand on my head and juggle childcare with two hands and a foot in order to get into New York and conduct the necessary interview.  So that I could write and revise the two articles I sold in January, my husband took over all the post-kids’-bedtime chores, I stepped over screaming toddlers to get to my computer, and I once again did not get my lip waxed, although now the hair is so long I can simply tie it back in an elastic and throw it over my shoulder.  Things get complicated around here when I actually sell work.

But it is much harder when I don’t.

Because it hurts when I don’t, given that my self-esteem is held together with two toothpicks and a strip of masking tape.  And, unlike people who are in offices or quiet studios or whathaveyou, I do not have the luxury of hurt feelings.  Because I get the emails with the rejections while I am on the internet looking for a phone number of a karate studio and Lilah is scaling me as though I am a mountain and Benjamin is asking if he can use the large knife to chop onions and Zachary is doing his homework perfectly except that he is writing 31 and 41 for the numbers between 12 and 15 and I am not correcting him even though it takes all my strength to stop myself from doing so.

I can’t tell them that I am sad about a rejection because it is so foreign to their world that it would be meaningless.  I can sit for a moment, once I’ve removed the knife from Benjamin’s hand, and feel it, but I only have a moment because there is most likely an ass out there I need to wipe.

I have an old, old friend I only get to talk to every few months.  He is an academic, which is the profession I was pursuing back in the day when I was all career-minded and shit.  And, when we talk, I often express my envy that he is on this career path, towards all things bright and shiny.  And he tells me, “From where I sit, you have it all.”

He reads my blog.  Maybe I make my life seem more glamorous than it is.

My friend is of course right.  I have a husband who takes over all the evening chores after a long day at work when I have a deadline.  I have some childcare help to allow me to do part of my writing.  I have a more or less financially secure life (she knocks wood).  And I have three lovely children, who, despite driving me three types of batty, are absolutely delectable.

Nonetheless, I take the rejections hard.  Because, the truth is that I have to start selling to bigger name publications if I want to establish myself as a writer.  The competition is fierce, and I am not Faulkner.  I have a certain facility with language, a sharp sense of humor, and a willingness to bare my ass in public, but I am without two things:  I have a hard time coming up with ideas, and I lack the self-confidence to think anyone gives a shit about what I write.

When I ask you all to register your undying affection for my writing at polls like the one over at Babble, I am doing it because without those strokes, I ain’t gettin’ much lovin’.

The rejections and the acceptances roll in more or less equal numbers, but it is deceiving, because I lack the imagination to find new places to submit.  I am not much of a saleswoman because I don’t really believe in the product.

After that moment on the couch, I get up and finish chopping vegetables with Benjamin, who has insisted we will be having stir-fry for dinner.  I have convinced him to go with carrots and broccoli over apples and potatoes, but other than that he has planned the ingredients himself.  Then I take Lilah and him for a little walk.

He babbles on and I go on auto-pilot, inserting the correct answers when I need to.  “Mommy?” he says.

“Yes?”

“I love you.”  I stop walking and lean down.  I pull Benjamin into a hug.  As we walk on, he doesn’t know I am crying.  I am crying because I know that there are different kinds of success, and I just need to keep remembering that I am choosing this one.

That doesn’t mean that I don’t mourn the loss of a more traditional form of success or wonder if I am choosing this path because I doubt my ability to make it on the other.

25 responses to “Show me that smile again

  1. She Started It

    Oh, this was lovely. And I feel your pain. I have my precious 6 hours of childcare a week, but it’s hard not to have more to write.

    You do have such a wonderfully supportive readership for your blog, though. Perhaps that can help ease the bite of rejection?

  2. Would it scandalize you to know that I like your writing much better than Faulkner’s? I’m pretty sure he never made me laugh and cry within the space of a few lines.

  3. One doesn’t always, necessarily, only get one and not the other. The kids are only little for a while.

    The blogging and the comments don’t make you feel clearly that you are captivating and worthwhile as a writer?

    I like you better than Faulkner, too. 🙂

  4. While I don’t always agree with your opinions, you have to be a good reader to make me follow you (w/o knowing you!)

  5. YOUR self-esteem is held together with two toothpicks and a strip of masking tape? You don’t read that way at all. You surprised me!

    I get what you are saying. I often feel like I can’t even do something simple because the kids are so demanding right now, much less do something “big.” I really try to stay content in the moment. I’ve raised one child, who met me at a cafe today and bought me lunch and what I would not GIVE to be with her again for just 15 minutes as a 3 year old. It makes me tame that impatient “I need a life too” voice when my current 3 year old is clinging like a monkey.

    Your writing is amazing and you are still young. You will do this thing!

  6. I feel your pain, because I have to read the rejections the same way. And it really does sting.

  7. I dunno. Just the fact that you even found someone to pay you money for an article is pretty impressive. I wouldn’t even know where to begin. You’re totally out there selling youself.

  8. As a work-from home, struggling artist, I feel your pain. There’s a book called “Art and Fear” that I always open and read at random during dark hours. It’s geared specifically toward artists, but I think the principle might be the same for writers, you should check it out.
    As for the kid situation, it’s just 1/3 of your pain I feel. But the rejection/self-worth/trying to pursue your dream department, I understand that. It’s hard. But what else are you going to do? Certainly not stop writing, right? Keep pushing and try not to compare yourself to other writers, and their success (or failures). There will always be someone better off or worse off, and it will make you vain or bitter. I remember that from some Latin poem, Desirata, I think, that McGlaughlin made us read Junior year.

  9. I keep reading. And will.

    Ahhh, success? My definition is ever changing and truthfully, sometimes I wonder where that ambitious 20-something went, but often, I honestly don’t care if I ever find her again. Maybe I will want to when my kiddos are older. Perhaps not. No regrets on the work front.

    In the meantime, my husband has made the courageous leap to full-time writer (and nearly full-time dadding, too). I am trying to remain calm and supportive. He’s very talented and I believe in his work. I don’t, however, believe in the publishing industry necessarily recognizing talent and good work. Another weird wrinkle/dynamic is that we have a bro-in-law who is a HIGHLY successful writer (read big dollars) so that’s just a strange lens to have held up….

  10. … acceptance. nuf said.

  11. Those last two grafs. Ouch.

  12. This was so excellent. Lovely, and honest, and I can SO identify. As a freelance writer from home and conflicted mom, as a blip on that Babble list … just as a person, doing her best. You articulated it wonderfully. Thank you.

  13. Rejections, yeouch, yeah, I get it. I really do. And I’m sorry. That Babble list is BS and you should know it. I know it’s not that simple and it doesn’t mean squat when I say that, but it’s true. The clicks are there for advertiser revenue and to encourage us to invite people over to increase their profits.

    I’m sorry, Em. Rejection sucks, no matter what. It’s even harder when it’s writing, which is so personal.

  14. Aw, girl. I don’t want to do the whole “grass is always greener thing” but if it is any comfort those of us in offices don’t necessarily have the ability for hurt feelings either…I have had a truly horrible week at work and yesterday was so bad I had to leave work because I will NOT cry in the office bathroom – will NOT. I walked home crying my eyes out and telling myself alternately that no job was worth this misery and that I am not going to the let the corporate man defeat me.
    Rejection comes in the work force too – justperhaps not in such black and white print as the kind you receive…

  15. I was just thinking too of the sacrifices I have to make for my child. But I was also thinking how she will grow up so fast and then I will have more time for other things, for my own things, but she will want less time with me. She won’t need me to be her best friend and her savior anymore. So it is a balance of good and bad at each stage. Lilah will not hang onto your leg demanding your attention nor will your boys want to come up with dinner recipes when they’d rather be texting their friends or whatnot when they are older. So appreciate what you have now and later you can have all your alone time that you want. Once you lose their baby years you never get it back.

  16. I so understand this, E. Maybe far more than I would have 2 years ago. When marketing yourself, it’s hard. It’s so much easier when you are *insertimpressivesoundingtitlehere* from Company X. You have an automatic identity, automatic worth to others. I mean, who would want just ME?

    – Your Sister in Toothpick Self-Esteem

  17. Yes. And yes. Such a delicate balance. How to be fulfilled with my career life…yet still focus on these tender years with my little ones that are already going by so fast. I’m forever navigating this. Yet happy I choose it.

  18. “The rejections and the acceptances roll in more or less equal numbers, but it is deceiving, because I lack the imagination to find new places to submit. I am not much of a saleswoman because I don’t really believe in the product.”

    If you are getting as many acceptances as you are rejections, that seems like an unambiguously positive sign to me. That’s a much better ratio than most writers. And the fact that you are getting acceptances from the same places multiple times is not a bad thing; it means you have editors who are fans of your writing.

    In other words, I think you’re selling a much better product than you realize.

  19. Voted, gladly.

    I don’t like Faulkner’s writing very much. I do, however, like yours.

  20. Those “I Love You”s go far. Mom’s need to hear more of them. Maybe then we wouldn’t question our choices quite so much.

  21. Hey Emily, I’m really busy but I read your blog almost every day. And even if I go days or weeks or (once) months without reading I think about your words a LOT. I have my own three kids but I think about Zachary and I swear it brings up all the pain from when my own big kids were little. Do those other kids really like him? Are they only coming over to play with my kids’ toys? Do their moms want to be my friends? Am I actually worthy of being friends with their friends moms?
    My point is, if you weren’t a pretty great writer I wouldn’t think about your words for five minutes after I read them. I think you are a great writer and you have a real ability to draw people into your world.
    I have an idea about your marketing too. Why don’t you tell your loyal readers what kind of things you’re writing and see if we have some ideas? We might surprise you.

  22. well said.
    I feel ya, sister.

  23. i’m in the same place, em.

  24. I pledge my undying love of your ability to put words together in a voice I can ‘hear’ is your very own. And a wonderful voice it is too.