Songs for the Struggling Artist


Rejection Season Has Begun
May 5, 2017, 11:28 pm
Filed under: Rejections | Tags: , , , , ,

It’s that time of year when rejections pop up like pansies.

Four rejections* to follow..

 

Residency Rejection

On the application, it said something like, “This residency is for emerging artists. What is your definition of emerging and why do you identify as such.” (I’m paraphrasing. I don’t remember the exact wording) Now…I’ve written about Emerging Artist stuff before. And if you’ve read that, you know that I’m not so keen on being called an Emerging Artist.
However, this seemed like a great writer’s residency through the auspices of a writer’s advocacy group so I had to fill out the application.

I struggled with how to answer this dumb question. Because why are you asking me, Writer’s Organization? It doesn’t matter how I define it, since in order to qualify for your little prize, I have to fit YOUR definition, not mine. Why don’t you tell ME how YOU define Emerging Artist and THEN I can tell you if I qualify? If I don’t, I can save my time filling out your silly form.

I knew I was being asked to do some sort of explanation of my own emerging-ness. I felt like I was being asked to first define my lowliness and then sink into it, to somehow ingratiate myself to a panel. I’ve done this before. I have bent to the sense of the question. Tried to frame my answers to the likings of artistic committees. I do it all the time, in fact.

But because they so directly asked this question that I have answered truthfully and honestly for myself of how I define an emerging artist and whether I identify as such, I couldn’t resist just putting in an edit of that blog. The one in which I stated how definitely I do not like to be identified as an emerging artist and what I think it means. I just – laid it out. Because fuck it. I wasn’t going to get that residency anyway – and rather than just stop my application half way through, I thought – “Ah, what the hell. Maybe a little cold water truth telling in an application will feel good.”
And it did.

The rejection notice came a couple of months later. And maybe it was just my perception but that rejection letter was one of the most ingratiating I have ever seen. The two things are probably unrelated. But it somehow pleases me to think they are.

 

Nancy Quinn Fund Rejection 2017

 

The very first grant my theatre company ever applied for was this one for $500 and we got it. The restrictions of this grant now are such that you can only get a small percentage of your budget with it…so 16 years later, if we’d gotten this grant, it would have been less than the very first grant we ever got. It’s also one of the most extensive applications.

 

Why do I keep applying for these? Well I often don’t. But – it’s the sort of grant people ask you if you’ve applied for when they’re trying to be helpful. In a way, it seemed easier to go through the reams of paperwork than to explain to people how not worth it it was going to be. I figure, if we got it, it would be a good seed grant for others. We didn’t get it.

 

 

Edward Albee Residency 2017

 

I’ve been doing this rejection project long enough now that I have several annual rejections. It would be funny to mark time by rejections. Like – this isn’t April, it’s Edward Albee Residency Rejection month.

 

Another Residency Rejection

 

The rejection notice seemed to beg us to understand that they received 200 applications so we’re supposed to feel bad for the people who had to make this decision because they had so many things to read, I guess?

 

Anytime I read a rejection notice that tells me how many applications they received and how hard it was to make the decision, I just laugh and laugh.

 

Really? I’m supposed to feel better because 190 other people get rejected too? I’m supposed to feel less rejected because it was hard for you to do the rejecting? Please.

 

Imagine this were dating. And a person you asked out said no. And then they said, “I had 199 other people ask me out so you can understand that I had a hard time when there were so many other more attractive people than you.”

 

Um. Thanks?

 

This is not news, I’m sure, but almost every rejection letter I’ve ever seen is designed to make the person doing the rejecting feel better, not the rejectee. It’s logical. But it still sucks.

 

*Wondering why I’m telling you about all these rejections? Read my initial post about this here and my patron’s idea about that here.

 

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Reframing Rejection

Getting up the energy to apply for things can be really challenging. Whether it’s grants, fellowships, residencies, festivals, contests, publications or production, all applications amount to buying into RENT SEEKING, an economic concept (There’s a great podcast about it on Econ-Talk .) This is all to say that applications are highly inefficient way to distribute resources. When I’m the person expending all the effort to apply, it can sometimes be very hard to motivate spending the many many hours of work for either no return or very little return, especially when I weigh it with resources spent. Because of this, I’d severely slowed down on applications like this round about the time I went to grad school. Until last fall.

A year ago, author, Monica Byrne published her rejection list (called her anti-resume) on her blog. It is an extraordinary document – and one of the things that particularly struck me about it was the sheer quantity of places she’d submitted her work. She endured a STAGGERING amount of rejection and just kept applying to things (theatres, literary agents, residencies, magazines, prizes.) After reading her list, I decided I need to up my game and apply and apply and apply to everything, no matter how many resources I wasted in this process. I was a flurry of applications this year, of all kinds, and I was pretty proud of myself for doing it.

Then a few months later all the rejection letters started to roll in. Some of them were more disappointing than others. But they were all the same. No, Again and again. Grant? No. Fellowship? No. Residency? No. Prize? No. Production? No. Writer’s Group? No. An endless parade of No, from many different avenues.

The applications were for me, for my company or some combination of the two. It’s a whole lot of No. One day, I got three rejections in a row. One in my mailbox and two in my email. And from an economic perspective, this is ridiculous. If I’d gotten paid for all that work, I’d have a decent salary. (Shame I didn’t!)

But from another angle, these sorts of attempts are the only way to transcend the artistic ghetto I’ve found myself in and I probably just need to keep applying to things until something hits. Byrne submitted hundreds of applications before they started to hit and once they hit, the odds went up and she started to hit more and more. At least that’s what it looks like from her list.

The trick for me now is to try and figure out how to continue to motivate myself to apply even when the odds aren’t good, even when rejection is almost a foregone conclusion. Could I switch my thinking to see if I could get as many rejection letters as possible? Have each rejection be a celebration of some kind?

When I did a lot of auditioning, I sometimes managed to think of those auditions as my job, to see the audition as the performance, as the end goal and not an attempt for something beyond it. It helped. Because I like performing.

But I’m struggling to find a way to convince myself that filling in applications is the end goal, because I don’t enjoy filling out applications. And while I love writing, I don’t enjoy writing artistic statements of varying word/character counts or plot summaries or answering “Why I want this residency” questions.

Every time I spend hours (or days or weeks) filling something out, I have to convince myself I really want to get that thing in order to write convincingly about it. And every time I don’t get it, it becomes harder to apply to the next one.

So I’m in search of a re-framing device, some way to have receiving a rejection letter be good news and affirming. In their book Switch, the Heath brothers talk about Triggers (setting up an automatic response to something.) I want a new trigger for rejection letters. Some way to tie pride or contentment or some positive emotion to receiving them. I thought about getting myself an ice cream every time I received a rejection – but I really don’t need THAT MUCH ice cream. There are the writers who wallpaper their bathrooms with rejection letters – which I would totally do – except that 90% of my rejections come in my email now. And I’m not printing those things out just to smear paste on them or tear them up.

The Heath brothers also talk about this idea of an elephant and a rider, that when we’re riding a (metaphorical) elephant, the emotions of the elephant really determine where we go, that the rider can only do so much when the elephant’s emotions get involved. So I’m trying to figure out how to motivate my elephant to do something that generally makes me feel bad and somehow find a way to make it feel good.

Have you solved this? Suggestions welcome. I can’t imagine I’ll ever be in a position to be able to avoid applying for things altogether. So I need a way to make peace with the labor of applying and the rejection that comes after.

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