It is mid-March and the postman is chugging up the road as
I write. Today's raging snowstorm reminds me of the day decades
ago when, after a snowy ride home from work, an acceptance letter
waited for me in the mailbox (March 2005 Judy's Journal).
It is true that acceptance feels better than rejection. If
I allow myself fifteen minutes of consolation when my work is
rejected, then it makes sense to bask in the warmth of acceptance
for at least that much time, no matter what John Ashbery meant
when he wrote the above words.
At first glance, there does not seem to be a lot to learn from
either one, except to say that all acceptances (or rejections)
are not equal. Acceptance of one's artwork or writing is the
result of others' valuing of it, so I can say this much: my
work satisfied a particular and frequently mysterious set of
criteria. As with rejection, there is very little revealed in
written notifications. Therefore, depending on how much I know
about the publication, the competition, the editor, the juror
or the screening committee, I usually have no way of teasing
out the meanings behind their decisions. It seems as futile
as guessing what remains hidden behind Door Number Three.
So what have I noticed about acceptance? First, my relationship
with the judge/editor will be extended briefly. It will not
include acting upon my first impulse, which is to find her or
him, and at least shake hands. If acceptance comes in the form
of a telephone call, I can at least express myself more completely;
I have been known to scream, laugh, and cry-sometimes all three.
After sending my biographical information, artist's statement,
and/or permission to publish, weeks or months pass before the
exhibition or the poem's appearance in a journal. What I have
noticed is that once I am standing at the reception talking
with another artist, or am finally holding the journal, the
sense of exhilaration has long gone. I might carefully examine
the rest of the artwork exhibited or read everyone else's work
except mine. I do not take the opportunity to second guess editors/judges
and figure out where my work fits into their scheme, or even
what the scheme was in the first place. After writing this journal,
my plans now include taking some time to think more about this.
Second, after looking back at poems and paintings that were
accepted years ago, I have noticed how my work has changed.
Seeing its evolution through the lens of acceptance makes me
grateful that someone would even consider my earlier work. In
other words, the longer I write and paint, the more I appreciate
how much there is to learn and the fact that I am learning some
of what there is to know.
When I type the credit into my résumé, I feel
the closure of acceptance. But what does my work being in a
journal or exhibit really mean? I believe that what I am learning
about art and writing is cumulative, so learning my craft becomes
the more important part of the creative process. The accepted
work becomes one link in a large chain link fence. More instructive
were the failures, the multiple drafts, the layers of paint-gone-wrong
under the ones that went right. Editors, judges and jurors do
not see those failures, only the more successful results that
I have decided to send them.
Up to this point, I have focused on acceptance by others. I
will end with the following question: where does one's acceptance
of one's own work fit in? William Stafford said, "The assessment
of the product is something that happens after you've done it."
Self-evaluation is a continuous dance of acceptance and rejection.
I can do the steps in my sleep. However, I will never get accustomed
to what happens when a piece is completed, and I feel that it
is one of my strongest artistic expressions to date. I tremble.
I know that when I return to easel or computer, I will think,
"That might never happen again. I will get lost in improved
technique, balanced phrases, and killer last lines and not be
able to produce something fresh, something ripped from my insides,
something unexpected. Something to which John Ashbery might
say, 'You went beyond what you knew was praiseworthy. You kept
at it.'" In other words, I need to examine and trust the
creative process and know that acceptance is not the end of
anything, but part of a continuum.
If you have stories or strategies that help celebrate acceptance
or even put a sober face on it, send an email message to me:
May's journal will be an "Amsterdam Diary" because,
finally, I will be going there. Canals, tulips, museums-all
waiting for me and my clunky, black museum shoes.