An overbearing college girlfriend, let’s just call her Princess, once hurled a package of frozen hamburger at me (pre-vegan) while we were standing naked in the kitchen. Somehow, her dinner preparation got entangled with my attempt at foreplay, and my reluctance to make a salad made her highness angry. Fortunately, she was a lousy aim — the mammoth meatsicle went wide right a la Scott Norwood. However, her insistence that I comply with her demands, to the point of violence, really spooked me, and put the kibosh on any desire I had the rest of the evening for shtooping.
My unwillingness to submit to another’s demands extends to other aspects of my life, especially writing. Like most creative people, I shun authority and structure. I write what I want, when I want, and at the rate I want. I can write a graphic rant about a colonoscopy (done that) or the philosophical implications of a dangling testicle (done that, too). I can be (or at least try to be) Stephen King prolific — he’s written more than 50 novels — or, in contrast, one of many one-and-dones like “Invisible Man” author Ralph Ellison.
But paradoxically, as much as I take pride in tying myself to nothing or no one, as a writer I freely and completely give myself away when I send out my work, be it a one-page essay or a novel-length manuscript, for publication. With the act of submitting the work, I hand over control to an editor, often blindly, on the other end. There’s a good chance I know little or nothing about his or her interests or competence. This puts me in a highly vulnerable position. And whether the editors are literary sages or bags of hammers, they often just muster a reply of “not for us,” or nothing at all, to my submission.
Yet, despite the impersonal rejections — and having no idea if the recipient of my manuscript read beyond the first paragraph — I have an insatiable need to submit more. It’s not that the rejections don’t hurt. They do. In fact, they hurt more than the occasional acceptance feels good.
I do get a lot of satisfaction from the process of crafting and completing an essay or a story, but the real reward is publication. I want people, lots of them, to read and hopefully enjoy my work. That’s what gets the dopamine pumping through my brain. And that’s why I keep submitting. I live for the promise of a “yes.” Paradoxically, the “yes” never feels as good as I think it will feel, but the pursuit of “yes” — oh baby, that turns me on!
Perhaps a truer artiste is satisfied with just the masterpiece itself, the self-affirmation that they reached some pinnacle of genius and creativity. They’re perfectly happy to stand alone in a room simply admiring the beauty of their painting or sculpture.
Me? I am just a little whore flagging down johns on a street corner. “Hey, baby? Wanna read my essay? It’s tight in all the right places, and the ending will make you scream.”
I blame my unquenchable desire to submit on my first-ever creative-writing submission. On a whim, I sent a personal essay titled “The Further Adventures of Eczema Boy” to The Washington Post. The health editor rejected the piece, but said it was “better than most.” I didn’t think much of it, and just went on with my life. I was new to the submissions game with no expectations.
But miraculously, about a week later, he contacted me again, unsolicited, to say he wanted to run the piece as a health-section cover story, if I could expand it from about 1,200 to 2,500 words. The editor wanted me to include more clinical information in addition to my snarky reflections on crusty scabs and oozing lesions.
The knowledge that thousands of Washingtonians would be reading my essay was intoxicating, and from then on, I was inexorably hooked on submitting my work for publication to all sorts of magazines and Web sites — from Clean Sheets Erotica Magazine, which ran my piece on mating grasshoppers, to Towing and Recovery Footnotes, which carried an essay on my spontaneously combusting Volvo.
But there was nothing quite as thrilling as the exposure I got from that first Washington Post publication in summer 2000. I imagined Bill Clinton in the morning sitting on the presidential can, reading my story. “That eczema boy is pretty funny for a guy with bad skin,” he might have chuckled in his folksy Arkansan drawl, before embarking on his day.
Though I published many essays and commentaries since “Eczema Boy,” they never came so easy. I had to endure the agonizing, iterative process of submission with frequent rejection.
Even Bill Clinton, former leader of the free world, was, despite his power and authority, often put in a submissive position, forced to reconcile his agenda with the desires and opinions of innumerable politicians and heads of state. Inevitably, he had to face rejection and failure. Bill’s submission to his misguided libido was arguably his greatest downfall. After eight years as president, he’s best known for his affair with Monica Lewinsky, and, of course, lying about it.
Though Bill had to endure intense public ridicule for his promiscuity, I am sure he also had to submit to the wrath of Hillary. Though she took the highroad when addressing the media about his philandering, I bet Bill saw his share of flying frozen foods — much more than I ever did. And to make matters worse, Hillary was certainly a better aim than Princess was.