When I was an undergrad student waiting with baited breath to hear back from graduate schools, time stretched on and on - seconds became hours became years. I remember the first acceptance coming from Loyola University in Chicago. I was walking home when the email come across my phone screen, and I let out a long exhale, knowing that I was going somewhere, no matter the nature of fates that were sealed in letters from other programs.
Looking back at that time, I realize I was set up falsely to believe that the world was mine - I received acceptances to all 5/5 programs I had applied to, got my top graduate assistantship, and landed a number of other leadership opportunities throughout grad school. It’s not that I expected to get everything that I wanted, but I also rarely anticipated the sting that comes along with rejection.
I would feel that sting regularly and more intensely in the years that followed. Just recently I was sent a rejection notice from one well-known writers’ retreat, and was waitlisted for another after having been denied last year. I was accepted into the Kearny Street Interdisciplinary Writer’s Lab for the summer, and will spend my Saturday mornings in writing intensives.
But back to the rejection. When I was rejected last year, I immediately teared up, began to question the quality of my writing, wondered what the point of even trying was anymore.
This year, as I smiled sadly at the email stating that I had been placed on the waiting list, I thought, “well, that’s better than last year.” When asked by a loved one why I posted an image of the rejection email on social media, I responded that I was proud that I had tried. Small gestures representing my growth and maturing in handling rejection.
The difference between these past few years was felt everywhere in my body. There was no hollowness in my chest or wringing of hands. I did not question my skills in writing - I acknowledged that I applied to a program along with the best in the craft. I allowed myself to feel the disappointment that was appropriate for the moment without telling myself stories about my worth and capabilities.
I am learning to embrace rejection as an important part of life - which is helpful as a writer, I’m told, but I know that it doesn’t just apply to professional endeavors. There are plenty of people in the world who will not care for me for whatever reason, and I won’t be able to do anything about it. They will reject me, and even though it’s hard for me to not feel liked, it isn’t often about me (and when it is, I know it). I will be rejected by dream jobs, by publishing companies and writing retreats, by lovers and friends, and so on.
But what does rejection teach me? What is the sweet part, the gift?
The gift is realizing that I get to continue to grow and push myself to be better for the next time around (if there is one). The lesson is learning to remain present while waiting with baited breath. The sweet part is knowing that I am still worthy.
For Philando, for my pops, for all Black parents.
nearing father’s day,
she watched the world do nothing
for her daddy’s blood.
I don’t remember the exact age that it sunk in that there was something about me and my family that would leave us with targets on our bodies. I just remember a string of memories and the feelings in my father’s voice. The rage he tried to keep controlled like low tremors before a massive earthquake.
Like when he and mama took us to see a house in some suburb of Michigan where the real estate agent with translucent skin and a stretched, terrified, and empty smile told us we “weren’t what she expected.”
Like on one weekend he had us and tried to take us to get pizza. And we stood waiting for ten, fifteen, twenty minutes in the Pizza Hut lobby before he stormed us out.
Like when we walked through the parking lot back out to his truck where someone had written “nigger” in the dirt and grime.
Like when during one of our road trips, a trucker spewed out something about “blacks” or “niggers” and “silver back gorillas” over the CB radio and papa spat back, “you are the ones covered in hair and flat lips - so actually you are the monkeys” and slammed the radio down. And the hot asphalt rage could melt away the frame of the truck. And we all sat in silence.
Like when my father gave my brother dashikis and kente cloth to wear and they called him a monkey. Like when he taught us about how Black folks invented blues to channel our hurt. Like all the times he brought laughter to our hearts even though he was sick to death of this shit.
And so when the spirit breaks again, like stained glass, it almost comes as a surprise that we can still feel it breaking.
Like when I touched down in St. Louis to see my father for Thankstaking and we listened to our “justice system” reach a non-indictment verdict for the officers that killed Michael Brown. And I looked over at pops with tears in my eyes to find him solemn as the grave, unsurprised, calm. And then I looked to the window, where my seven year old brother was jumping up and down excitedly, and something inside me broke beyond repair to know that he is not safe.
But I stretched a smile and picked him up in my arms and held him close while I walked into the house. Miles away, Ferguson erupts in hot asphalt flames of rage and despair. And white families are quick to point out the “savagery” they somehow failed to see in leaving a slain 18-year-old Black boy on the street pavement for hours.
And a year later my father silently drives me down W. Florissant with the same look on his face. Quieting the rage of centuries of this fucking bullshit. And I know. I understand.
At some point the heart keeps breaking until the scar tissue around it becomes numb to touch.
When Alton’s youngest son broke into tears of unimaginable loss. When Philando’s baby tried to soothe them with words of calm and comfort as he bled out in the front seat for all the world to see. And she is far too young for broken spirits but somehow will learn to carry on with one.
nearing father’s day,
she watched the world do nothing
for her broken heart.
musings of a Black, queer and genderqueer activist, educator, musician.