November 13, 2006

On receiving a rejection letter from a publisher

It should be hard to write after receiving a rejection letter. What's hard, in truth, is writing about anything other than the letter. I'm not new to it. It's not the first one I've received - I've had two projects turned down previously, by everyone I sent them to. One became a self-published book. The other, pace Samuel L Jackson, nothing. They were both to have been books on football: eventually I found it hard even to be in the sports section of a bookshop, where all I could see was shelfloads of books which should never have been written in the first place, and a space, after Hornby, where my name might have been.

That's how you feel, for a while. You tell yourself it's not the only publisher to receive your proposal - and there is, at least, one more to go - but in truth, you feel like you do when you get a job rejection letter. A rejection letter for a post you should have got. Logically, rationally, you can tell yourself it's just a matter of time, you'll get one in the end. But you feel, logically, rationally, that if these people, even these ones, turned you down, there's no reason you should be accepted by anybody else. It's ten years now, since I last wrote a book. I am not enveloped by optimism. We are interested in your proposal, but it's not quite the same as what we normally do. Yes I know, it's a bit different, that's the whole point of my writing it. Thank you for your proposal, best of luck in trying to place it elsewhere. It is too tiring a dance: too familiar a dance.

So I sit in front of the PC, browsing the internet, feeling sorry for myself, remembering when I last received rejection letters. When I was living in Newcastle, finishing my Masters, living homeless and cooped-up in the YWCA, trying to get a job in libraries. I had fifty rejection letters in the end. Each one expected, each one anticpiated, yet each one weighing as heavily as it would have had I expected otherwise. This stretched over a period of about four months. I couldn't write more than two or three application forms a week, as each fresh rejection letter sent me into gloom and made it impossible, for a while, to complete any new applications.

Even so, eventually, I had written so many application forms that I had perfected the content. Each fresh one was basically a copy of the last, adapted purely to the layout of the application form and the specifics of the job. The phrases, claims and self-description were identical: there was no further work to do, no further thought required. Eventually, motivated by gloom, motivated almost by its demotivating effect, I started composing a standard rejection letter too. Standard but bespoke, saying what a rejection letter really meant to say. Or what, when feeling sorry for myself, I thought they meant to say. Or what I thought I meant about myself.
Dear ejh

We are writing to express our delight that we are able to reject your application for a post within our organisation.

We understand that you may feel disappointed by this rejection and we would be extremely pleased, to the point of jubilation, if this were so. We wish to make it clear that causing you personal unhappiness is a goal towards which we attempt to strive and we are delighted if we are able to achieve it.

Frankly though we must tell you that we were extremely disturbed that you should have considered applying for a post here and we are conducting an urgent review of our systems, personnel and procedures to ensure that such a thing never occurs again. Even the thought that you might have liked to be associated with us fills us with a feeling of self-loathing that is only partially ameliorated by the joy we feel in turning you down. We feel slighted, but worse than slighted. We have been insulted, but worse than insulted. We feel dirty. But worse than dirty: we feel unwholesome.

Please stay away from us in future. Do not apply for any post with us again: do not even look at any job advertisment that we may issue. We will be changing the personal specification of all future vacancies, at all levels of our organisation, to make it clear that you (and you alone) are excluded from consideration.

We hate you. We have always hated you.

You are mediocre in everything except the degree to which you are vile. You are not worth the time which it has taken to compose this letter: yet if you received a thousand letters like it, the accumulated contempt would be less than you deserve. You are without merit. You are entirely lacking in admirable qualities and there is no objectionable characteristic which you do not possess.

We wish you no success at all in your search for another vacancy. We can think of nobody, no matter how loathsome, who has sunk so low that they deserve you as a colleague or an employee. Whoever knows you, goes near you or thinks of you is permanently damaged and discredited by the experience. The very planet on which, to its misfortune, you now stand, will forever have the fact of your existence as a blemish on its own. You, sir, are revolting.

We sincerely hope that you are no longer alive to receive this letter. If indeed your regrettable existence continues, let us at least hope that it is terminated as swiftly and decisively as was your application for employment here, which, as I say, we are utterly delighted, thrilled, excited - and gripped, by an intense and lasting sense of rightness, to be able to reject.

Yours etc

November 10, 2006

Another November 10

I woke up suddenly, with a banging in my head, as if something were inside and fighting to get out. It was about three in the morning: at that time I often suffered from insomnia, but this wasn't the sleeplessness of nagging thoughts, of trying to read with sleep just out of reach. This was pounding, crashing, an unreleaseable scream.

It was the screaming that you make when you need to know an answer and there is no answer you can bear to hear. You need to grasp, and cannot grasp: you need to know and do not want to know. So there is a banging in your head, you flail about, lash out in all directions for want of a target you can hit: until you are exhausted, when you stop, and wait until your energy is restored until you start again. And as you sleep, your energy and your thoughts return to you, until you wake, three o'clock in the morning, with a pounding head and the need to shout and scream.

I went into the bathroom and began to hit the walls. When the walls would not move for me, I picked up objects, plastic bathroom mugs, toothbrushes, small things, pitiful things, and threw them at the walls. When they would not break, I ran out of the room and ran downstairs, and walked in circles in the sitting-room, clenching my fingers, muttering like a madman, speaking in rhetoric. I shouted why? and all its variations, as if it were a curse, as if it were a condemnation: as if it were the kind of mantra with which one fills the head, as if in saying it I could avoid hearing the answer to the question that it asked. I say I shouted: I do not know, in truth, whether I shouted or whether the world outside my head were silenced by the pounding of the thoughts within.

I paced and circled: she came downstairs and saw my circling. She spoke, not having spoken until then, not truthfully, not everything. There's something I have to tell you, she began, and told me everything I already knew.