My first moments of 2017 were spent walking through the snow covered woods of northern Wisconsin. A small group of us had driven up to a friend’s cabin for the weekend, and on the morning of the new year I was the first one up so I decided to go for a long walk by myself. It was a wonderful holiday — no next day hang over, surrounded by good friends, snuggled with the man I love — a holiday I would have killed for in previous years, but yet a heavy sadness hung on my shoulders and in my throat that morning as I stomped through the snow. I had big goals for the year ahead, and I already felt like I was behind in achieving them. I hadn’t taken enough risks or been bold enough to put myself out there, but I couldn’t get where I wanted unless I did so. So, looking up at the white-topped trees and the gray sky, I made a promise to myself that I would try. I didn’t have to succeed, but I had to try.
Now, I sit in a coffee shop in northern Chicago two days before 2017 finally comes to a close, and I look back at that promise to myself. Did I truly try?
2017 was not an easy year. The political atmosphere has overwhelmed me, and some days I can’t turn on the news or social media. People are angry and quick to judge and condemn. The basics are partisan. Kindness and love are hard to find. On top of all of that, I am bombarded with guilt that I am not doing enough to fall on the right side of history. It’s not an exaggeration when I say that sometimes the headlines make it hard to get out of bed.
On top of that, though, I’ve had some personal setbacks. E lost his job several months ago, in a massive organization-wide layoffs, and it’s been unbelievably stressful for both of us. Our lives are on hold until he can find work, but every lead and flicker of hope has turned into a dead end so far. He is doing everything people have advised him to do — networking events, use connections, ask CEOs out for coffee — but no offer has come. While we are stable now, our finances look scarier and scarier each month he goes with out work. And, then there is the emotional toll of being told no over and over again. He does his best to weather each hit, but it wears us both down. E is an incredibly talented, smart individual, and it’s heartbreaking to see him passed over and over for jobs he would love as well as jobs he is overqualified to do. It’s not fair, and all the thoughts about why it isn’t fair works me into a panic. Sometimes, I take his rejection worse than he does, and then he is forced to comfort me, which makes me a horrible partner. We have had so much joy this year, from adopting our dog to getting engaged, but him not having a job has clouded the happiness.
While I am still gainfully employed, I’ve had my own rejections this year. This summer, I finished my book and I sent pieces of it to more than 30 agents. Only one responded to say she wanted to see more but later passed on representing me. I also applied to a pitch contest in which I would work with a mentor to improve my manuscript and then to agents, but none of my selected mentors were interested in seeing more. I also submitted short stories and essays to several literary magazines and contests, all of them coming back as nos. And, I started pitching editors to drum up some freelance work. Again, none of them wanted my work. I know that rejection is part of being a writer, and yes I’ve heard the stories about Stephen King and J.K. Rowling, but you can only have thick skin for so long before you start doubting your abilities. I have a long personal essay that I think has the potential, but I have delayed finishing it because I am not sure if I can handle rejection of something so intimate.
Then there is my hip issues and essentially losing running this year. Even two months after the surgery, my hip still hurts every day. I know it will get better, but it’s been a full year since the hip pain started, and I just want to hit the Lake Path and run until I can’t hear the doubt in my head.
It feels like it’s been a year of rejection: rejected from having a comfortable life where I don’t worry about an unexpected bill, rejected writing, rejected body, rejected kindness and compassion. I even thought about titling this post “Year of Rejection,” but I kept thinking about my resolution to try.
In the woods that morning, when I vowed to try, I was mostly referring to my writing, noting that I had few rejections to my name because I hadn’t aggressively submitted my work. But the try was also a bit vague. I wanted to be less fearful and more vulnerable in many aspects of my life, not just writing. I wanted to show up.
Even with all the dark parts of this year, I did try. I tried a lot. I called my senators and representatives repeatedly. I flocked to the streets to scream and make my voice heard. I donated to causes I believe in. I reached for E’s hand when it would be easier to close him out. I was his shoulder when he needed it. I counted my blessings when I could have counted what I have to go with out. I pitched editors at my favorite magazines and websites. I leaned into my truth, putting it into to words. I wrote a book and I sent it to other people to look at it. My body told me it need to heal, and I listened.
2017 was also a really good year — I was present when several of my friends got married, I took E on his first trip overseas, I gained another nephew and a new niece, I watched great movies and read inspirational books, I saw my absolute favorite band in concert, I traveled to two new countries, I got on stage and told a story I hadn’t spoke of in years, I wrote a book, E and I adopted a dog, I spent long and wonderful nights with friends and family, and I said yes to a forever life with E.
And, I did what I set out to do this year. In hard times and good, in small moments and big, I tried. I started letting myself be really seen and leaning into the uncomfortable. As the year ends, I will again try to see how all the setbacks and rejections have actually move forward. I tried, therefore, I am better than where I was.