Long ago, my grandmother peeled oranges for me — and by peeled, I mean stripped bare of rind, fascia, fibers and membranes until the bulbous cells underneath lay exposed and quivering. When I began to submit my writing to journals, I, too, felt stripped and offered for casual consumption.
I’d been writing my whole life, but in unpredictable bursts recorded on post-it notes and backs of shopping lists and even paper plates — little releases of a pressure cooker valve allowing me to function again when my throat felt too tight, my stomach, too constricted. And then, the pressure would rebuild.
The gradual movement of my writing from disposable dinnerware into computer files and a daily practice challenged and provoked me, but also allowed me to choose proactively where in my life and mind to dig and explore, where to shine light and hope as I wrote. At long last, I felt I was occupying myself, stepping into integrity and knowingness.
While I felt wonderment at all this road granted me, a side path continued to catch my eye and beckon darkly. I disregarded it. I ignored it again and again.
But I knew what it called me to do: submit my work.
* * *
Did I really have to cross the line I’d circumscribed around my writing life? The very idea filled me with dread, conjured up tentacular beasts in my psyche and foretold bloody battles. But instinct told me the process would be worth it — if I could survive it.
At first, the lessons were benign, even universal. As I received my initial feedback, I began to comprehend the enormity of my learning curve with respect to the craft of writing. I began to understand the practice was more demanding and exhausting than I’d anticipated. I would need more endurance. More tenacity. A much, much thicker skin. I also found reserves of energy and optimism (not to mention skin) that I’d never known existed.
But then, more personal battles commenced. As rejections rapidly accumulated, I experienced a feeling of perpetual internal scrubbing. The act of submitting my work seemed to be wrestling my numerous neuroses simultaneously — I envisioned hundreds of nanites released into my brain, methodically correcting misfiring systems as they crawled. My head, my whole body, hurt all the time.
I saw my desperation for affirmation, realized that my sense of self-worth was dependent almost entirely on the approval of others — approval that was not forthcoming. Each rejection felt personal, visceral, like a judgment rendered upon me. I had to learn, for survival’s sake, that, despite my plethora of flaws, despite any dearth of talent and skill, I was nevertheless worthy of occupying space, of expressing what I needed to express.
I saw my pathological need for control. I wanted to hold each editor by the shoulders and explain what each line, each sentence meant and what incidents from my past had informed it. Eventually, I had to accept that my words might be disliked, brutally misinterpreted, or not understood at all, yet they needed to be released to the universe anyway.
I saw how well justified many of the rejections were. My own judgments upon others, my many and varied jealousies, my inability to achieve complete authenticity: all prevented me from translating my thoughts adequately into words, from harnessing and conveying truth.
Now, in the face of all of these beasts (whose heads are lopped off, only to grow back just when I believe them conquered), I feel a continuous impulse to close down and protect all of my vulnerable parts. The mother of all battles is to stay open, open, open in the face of all the defeats, to continue to submit, submit, submit.
Slowly, I have come to understand. To submit is not necessarily to surrender, tasting dust and defeat. Rather, it is an offering of one’s own particular concoction of shame and valor and pain and insight to others, as an act of love. I am not the orange, sacrificed to appease monsters unknown. Instead, I am the grandmother, offering all that I am capable of, in the best way I know, with hands open.
Notes: Initially, I found it difficult to cross the line from writing for myself into submitting work to publications for consideration. However, making that crossing elevated my writing journey in ways that were both unexpected and necessary. The process of submitting required me to face my fears and flaws, to examine them carefully, and to redefine what "submitting" meant to me.