This week I received a rejection letter for my last submission. There was once a time when I would have been devastated. I hardly even blinked when I opened this one. It's not that I've become immune to disappointment through Rejection Letter Repetition so much as that I've made a discovery in the past year--publication doesn't seem to be what matters so much anymore.
I began sending out poetry submissions 10 years after finishing my degree. It was 10 years before I felt I had anything worthy of sending. When I did finally begin submitting, the first 4 things I sent out were accepted. One of them was promptly nominated for a Pushcart Prize. I walked around stunned and not a little afraid for months. It made me nervous, quite frankly. I tend to hold as suspect the literary taste of anyone who is quite so eager to get their hands on my poetry. Perhaps I was a little disillusioned, too. It was supposed to be harder than this. Whatever the reason, I submitted less and less often, and the burning drive to Write Poetry has settled into gently glowing embers, while the drive to Publish is rapidly becoming nearly non-existant (although, the perceived obligation to Unload Some of These Poems cluttering my hard drive does occasionally annoy me).
I thought I knew what I wanted: genuine poetic skill on the professional level, a writing degree, literary publication, a decent regard for my work from other people whose work and/or literary opinion I valued. I worked hard for years amid intense concentration, pulled hair and occasional tears. I desired it earnestly, achingly. It was a large chunk of who I thought I was, who I'd labored diligently to become. And to some degree I evidently succeeded. Why, then, the definite diminishment of desire instead of an increased wish to continue?
We yearn for something, set ourselves to accomplishing or acquiring it, and then stand befuddled, holding it in our hands, staring at it as if to ask, "How did I get here, and why did I think I wanted this?" before shrugging and tossing it over our shoulders or perhaps relegating it to a scrapbook or the attic of our lives. Are we so fickle? Do we really understand our own hearts so little?
I like to think that each friendship we pursue in our lives, each career or personal goal, each whatever-it's-been that we've worked for, deeply yearned for and sought after, has held some factor consistent with an overall longing of our hearts, a longing that is, perhaps, too big or too complicated to be comprehended at once. If so, then the question is not, "Is this all there is?" but "What part of this could I not imagine having lived without? What element has made (or has the potential to make) all the striving worthwhile?" There, I think, is where we'll perhaps find an answer that begins to satisfy, and where lies the possibility of beginning to understand what it is we truly desire.