Thomas Sullivan: REJECTING REJECTION, SKINNY SKIING GANGNAM STYLE & SARAH McLACHLAN
You can’t teach originality, because that’s copying it. You can’t memorize inspiration, because it’s a feeling. You can’t plan insights, because they are discoveries. But you can set the atmosphere, strip away obstacles, and begin meaningful exchanges where creativity can take place. That’s what your questions do for me. Whether they are narrowly focused on the act of writing or as broad as the content of writing itself, you help me free associate this thing called life. And that’s really how anyone should practice art. Not by chasing creativity as if it were a set of rules, but by throwing out rules that stifle how one observes, analyzes, imagines and communicates. Thanks for kicking the door open for me. Here are some of your latest Q’s…
Q. [Palm Springs, CA and Ventura, CA]: Do you listen to music while you write?
A.: I’ve tried it. Works unevenly for me. Yes, it fires emotions, but sometimes – especially at night – I write too emotionally as it is, not to mention that the emotional tones can get wildly mismatched. I mean, would you want to describe Christ bearing the cross to Golgotha while listening to the “Hokey Pokey” or Joan of Arc burning at the stake while Peggy Lee sings “Fever”? Comes the dawn and you’re leaning on the delete key, wondering how the world’s most pathetic imbecile hacked into your computer and messed up all the sterling prose you thought you wrote the night before. Of course, music can add a dimension of feeling that might be missing in the cold dispassionate light of that dawn, but it tends to dampen down penetrating insights – that is, it would if I had any penetrating insights. So, language-wise, my metaphors may be enhanced by music; but rational flow not so much. Grant Soosalu, the brilliant Australian behind the book and concept mBRAINING, would probably see in this the various possible alignments of gut-heart-head brains (there is neural tissue in all three places). Managing the creative flow between one’s instincts-emotions-logic might be affected by music. And for me in writing, gut-heart-head translates most easily into feelings of courage-compassion-honesty.
Q [Zhejiang, China]: What wisdom did 2012 bring you?
A: Hmmm. How about a two-way tie for first place? Wisdom #1, it is not cool to dance “gangnam style”on cc skis. Works OK going uphill (to a verrrry sloooow rrrhythm), on account of you’re skating bowlegged anyway, but downhill will earn you a face plant if you fail to bail on the beat. Wisdom #2, never buy software from Nuance (Dragon et al), because once they get you on their list they will track you down and never, ever stop making nuisance sales calls, despite disclaimers.
Q [Multiple sources for this next frequent question. Given the nature of some of the issues that have blossomed here, I’m not always sure whether it refers to writing or personal relationships, so I’ll try to answer both.]: How do you handle rejection?
A: A slap in the face, rejection is pretty close to Hurt #1 for the home team. And rejection tends to linger. So the first task is to get past being overwhelmed and blindsided by it. Usually when you pare it down, it loses some of its sting. Instead of being an assault on your core identity, it may simply reflect practical realities that have nothing much to do with you personally, or it may reflect ulterior motives/needs/deficiencies in whoever is judging you. But go easy on that last. If your knee-jerk reaction is to reject the rejecter, it may only reveal your own insecurity. Ask yourself, does devaluing them simply unmask your own immaturity, subjectivity or perhaps narcissism? Taking your bat and ball and going home serves only to keep you out of the game.
So, staying above your emotions gives you a shot at learning and growing from an honest rejection. And I have to say, that in matters of business – even in something as subjective as editor/writer reaction – the people who judge have little incentive to be dishonest. They may be very wrong, or more often too rushed to grasp potential and possibilities, but they would probably very much like to be accurate and honest.
Doesn’t matter whether they are right or wrong in the larger picture; they are absolutely right in so far as their own particular tastes/needs/opinion are concerned. If they are purporting to represent the judgment of third parties (reader reaction to your latest novel, for instance), you may be able to argue them down, but remember this: between two people, that which requires persuasion can never be freely or voluntarily given. One might almost add honestly given. That may not make a difference in matters of logic, but it pretty much always does in matters of emotion.
So, OK then, what if the thing you want isn’t straightforward, as in practical business? What if the thing you want is emotional or hard-wired or governed irrationally, as with rejection in a relationship? Highly individualized answer here, based solely on my atypical way of thinking.
When it comes to rejection in relationships, maybe it isn’t how you handle it but how you use it. I’ve never feared rejection. I’ve feared not knowing I was rejected. Moreover, the few times I’ve felt truly drawn to a woman, I’m quite sure that her attitude toward me had no effect on my attitude toward her. Which I guess is good and means I’m not in junior high. But it’s always puzzled me that most people seem to stand on pride or play a game of quid pro quo. When you hear Bonnie Raitt sing “Love has no pride,” or Sarah McLachlan surrender with “…into the sea of waking dreams I follow without pride,” there’s a reason for that acknowledgment. Pride is a non-starter because you already know that the potential for romantic idealism isn’t there. Which is why rejections that try to recoup lost pride are really only about self-love.
Most people can get beyond that kind of Rejection 101 given a little time, but a slightly more complex reflex has also always puzzled me. The way I look at it, in a relationship gone south, no one is ever wrong for rejecting you! It’s a feeling, not a contract. You can’t guarantee a feeling through a contract. And if the physical rejection is based on an actual feeling, then it’s a postscript to something already lost. Pretending the erosion isn’t real means living a delusion. Seems to me that’s like hanging onto a castle of sand by converting it to a castle in the air. If someone you love finds the courage to tell you they don’t love you, some part of you should appreciate their honesty and be grateful for their desire not to waste both your lives. And if you are just as honest, your feelings for them won’t change based on being rejected. That’s the key to accepting reality. Because if you’re not capable of loving them independently, what was valuable to you about their love in the first place? Slavery? I understand I’m defining a romantically ideal standard. But that strikes me as no more unrealistic than trying to survive over and over again in a fractious relationship. You may win the moments that way, but eventually you lose the years.
Speaking for just myself then, I don’t want to win, persuade, or hold captive anything having to do with another human being’s will. If there’s nothing wrong with being rejected, there’s nothing wrong either with wanting only that which comes full-strength and voluntarily. I don’t want to live as an object lesson of one-size-fits-all social values or a role model for someone else’s expectations. I’d rather be a role model of my own courage and honesty. Maybe giving rejection every chance to win on its own without resistance is really the only way to let love be self-proving. Sometimes the best defense is having none. Or as the love of my life and I used to say, “If you have to ask for love, it’s too late to receive it, and if you have to compete for it, you’ll never have it.”
Q [Bretagne, France]: In all your travels, your favorite country, please?
A: Really don’t travel that much. Don’t need to. But I love Norway. Just as Minnesota has always felt like my inevitable home even before I came here, Norway and things Norwegian excite me. Stunningly beautiful vistas (see photo above and check out cruise footage up the west coast of Norway if you want a preview of what heaven looks like).
Q [Springfield, VA]: Did you make any New Year’s resolutions?
A: Dozens, hundreds…well, one. Posted this on FB: RESOLUTION 2013! To recognize the good I can do. To enter wherever there is courage and honesty. To live, love, laugh NOW and not let a single sun set on the unfulfilled promise of a dawn.
Thomas “Sully” Sullivan
For Kindle and pc users: http://www.amazon.com/Dust-of-Eden-ebook/dp/B008MQW9Z8/ref=cm_cr_pr_pb_i