Sleeping With Rejection


My father-in-law passed away this summer. He was a  creative guy, who started an alternative school and an alternative newspaper in Providence in the 70s, wrote a weekly column on language for the Seattle Post Intelligencer, and went on to publish several books, both traditionally and independently, as well as create a documentary film about a multi-racial summer school he ran at Yale in the late 60’s. As long as I knew him, he was always working on something, literally until the day he died.

He was not, however, always happy with the results of what he had created. He quit running the alternative school after a couple years when he encountered too much resistance from city bureaucracy, the newspaper folded, his column was never syndicated, and all the books he self-published had first been submitted to traditional publishers large and small. Despite the overlap in our careers, he and I rarely talked about rejection and acceptance. When we did, it was uncomfortable and unsatisfying, like talking about a murder that had never been solved.

My wife and I have spent the last few months cleaning out his house as we prepare to sell it. The other day we were taking apart his giant, converted waterbed so it could be more easily hauled away. We discovered that the bed came with its own set of drawers, which I assumed had been meant to store clothes as a space-saving bedroom feature. Instead of socks and underwear, we found letters in them. Letters from syndication companies regretfully thanking him for his submission; from universities where he had been hoping to rejoin the ranks of higher education; even from film companies for a script he had written about the first woman to run for president.

I’m not saying the rejection he’d been sleeping on for thirty years killed him; he was eighty-five. But when I found those letters, I did recognize in them the temptation to hold onto rejection. That he had likely forgotten the letters were there was even more familiar. It is easy to memorialize pain without realizing we are doing so, letting it occupy spaces in our hearts and minds meant for other things simply because we don’t understand it. So we live with it, live with it so regularly that we cease to recognize pain as pain, instead just calling it life, until we awaken from that dream to who we actually are.

If you like the ideas and perspectives expressed here, feel free to contact me about individual coaching and group workshops.