Is it okay if I paste this here? You know, for posterity, as if it were taped to my high school locker?
Dear Melissa Uchiyama,
Thank you for sending your writing to Modern Love. Although I don’t find your essay right for our needs, I’m grateful for the opportunity to consider it. I regret that the volume of submissions we receive makes it impractical for me to offer editorial feedback.
Daniel Jones, Modern Love editor
It’s here, proof that I jumped into my own deep end, that I know how to press “send”.
This is the form rejection letter I receive this morning from my phone, while climbing out of bed. It’s from the eminent Daniel Jones of The New York Times’ Modern Love section. It is for writers, an, if not the, esteemed pinnacle of publications. More than 47 book deals have transpired because of the work of these writers and the discoveries made by agents and publishers. Whoosh, they just get picked-up. One story even became a TV show, another, a musical. Modern Love is the magic promise that a simple submission of 1700 words, max, could lead to supermodel-dom of the writing kind. A whoosh and a sparkle and voila. Arrival. You could suddenly be Kate Moss to the adjective. Lauren Hudson to a story’s sense of place. All it would take is “Yes, we received your email and we love it.”
I’m always the positive type. I figure that despite all of the warnings, while the editor receives over 5K submissions, yearly, giving my story less than a 1% chance of being picked, I tend to figure “I have it in the bag”. Because maybe I have yards of ego, deep wells of positivity, or just a simple hope. I’m the one, come most birthdays, who walks into my home fully expecting, bracing for everyone to jump up from behind couches and curtains yelling “Surprise!” I take hopes and cast them out like they’ll really happen. I can tend to feel disappointed. Maybe this is “Modern Love”, too, the constantly re-evaluating our expectations and seeing the real life emerge, instead.
I guess what also has me pouting is this: my real life Modern Love story seems rife with all the makings of a “picked for TV drama”, certainly to me. (And I say this with love!) We’ve got conflict, voice peeping up through rising action, all of the sunset talk of South Florida, our wedding, and then packing for a life in Tokyo. A bouquet and tears. A coming and a going, all noted with such attention to detail, I perhaps could have become a dentist with the same amount of craft and fervor. Or at least a functioning receptionist with whiter teeth.
Maybe I just want to tell my story and share our complex, but exuberant marriage. Maybe I want to shine a bright bulb on a certain issue. It isn’t just about ego, because heaven knows, most writers take a beating in the comments section. I want the chance to share.
This is a disappointment, that the prospect of winning or landing a spot in this column could make all of the difficulties of my Modern Love seem even more “worth it”, using some form of tangible, writer-speak. Like monetizing past pain. Like an actual silver lining one can frame and flaunt on their resume, in gold calligraphy pen. A ladeling of actual gold, plunk, on top of my story. Certainly, such acceptance would validate actual writing skills and boost me to a higher rung.
Many active writers suggest that we all immediately have that backup plan, the outbox for our next submission try. Hmm, but it’s already seen several rejection letters…
This one, The Times, was so built up that the silly, immature part of me actually thinks the editor may actually write back in five minutes to say, “Wait! How did I let this one slip by?” I wanted this editor to fall hook, line, and sinker, with my words. I wanted to be captured by The New York Times, clinking Pinot Noir with husband, editor, and readers, worldwide. We’d collectively swirl the glass, inhale, and enjoy every note. All because I tried.
It’s pretty easy to get hooked to those affirmations, perhaps forgetting the jewel that is “writing for the sake of writing”. Sometimes the desire to be published is as strong as my impulse for sugar, or coffee, or an “I love you.” The habits of any person, any artist, mother, architect, gardener, you name it, must be honed, edited, even cut off if there is to be growth. It’s always a coming back to the process, not just some trophy, but an inner resolve at the drafting table. The work of editing and mining and bringing up the feelings and details that spawn a book. I guess I do want it all…the inner and the outer things coming together. I believe it’s called glory. And persistence.
Don’t know where I’ll go next with this piece, but to live the life we have, that’s the thing. To spin gold, to squeeze those lemons, to take joy in the best gifts we’ve been given, that’s what I’m up to and that’s what I’ll write, acceptance or not.