Enforced Optimism

25 June 2002

I read Joe Haldeman's newgroup posts, and the latest one included this: "The big stack of mail that was waiting was sorely lacking in both book contract and large checks." Joe, I know just exactly what you mean. Hmm. Although perhaps the context is a bit different, one might suspect.

I had to laugh (several times, actually), because Evan has been reading message boards from people who are afraid that the D&D setting contest Wizards of the Coast is having is going to compromise their creative soul. And there were people posting that they were sure they could make $120,000 from their worlds, easily. Oh, easily. Certainly. And anyone who tells them it isn't that easy, well, they're either pessimists who are kept down by their own attitude, or they just don't have the talent. Nobody actually says the latter, of course, but they talk around it.

We all want to believe we're more talented than the average slush pile schmo, a cut above the rest. Probably several cuts. We all want to believe that when Datlow's rejections say that our stories were good but not quite great enough to buy, that means that oh, gosh, they were on the verge of greatness, and she was so sorry about it she spent the whole evening cursing her budget and wishing that the universe was structured differently just so that she could buy from us. We want to believe that everyone who takes awhile to respond is weighing our every clause and comma, appreciating every word we included and every word we cut.

It would also be nice to believe that everyone who passes us on the street is nearly blinded by our beauty, that every joke we make at parties is so memorable that passing strangers will quiz each other to find out our names and remember them, that our houses contain just the right mixture of taste and whimsy so that anyone who entered them would immediately fall in love with our charm. But you know what? Most of us know that's not how it works. And most of us manage not to go around telling the world that it will, any day now.

So it's generally amusing to run into people who do.

Yesterday I tied my record for rejections in a month with 24. The previous record-holder was March. I told my mom that I was trying to see that as having taken more chances and/or made more opportunities. And that wasn't 24 different things -- some things managed to get rejected more than once in the last month. But still. It seems like a lot, and it seems like not very many. I have these strange ideas about what's "enough" rejections. It has more to do with specific pieces than with the total. Unfortunately "enough" rejections means "the number of rejections it takes to get to someone who will accept the piece." So that's a little, well, circular. Also sometimes it makes me feel like I'm running repeatedly outside in storms, carrying a lightning rod and shouting, "Come on, damn you!" And a few times, I've been struck with the lightning, but mostly I just get wet and occasionally a bit chilled.

Ah well. Yesterday I read Nathaniel's Nutmeg, which was interesting, an historical work on the spice trade between England and what we'd now call Indonesia and Malaysia. Some Dutch stuff in there, too, and wow, was it bloody. I was a little disappointed in the ending -- there wasn't really a good wrap-up, just "and then this happened, and then they stopped." But it was still an interesting read. Now I'm reading Kate Wilhelm's Justice For Some. I know, I've been on the hugest Kate Wilhelm kick for the last few months, but I figured out that I liked her, and that's what libraries are good for. Well, one of the things. It's a lot easier to go on a new author kick at a library than with books you buy. Cheaper, too. And that woman has written a lot.

I like discovering prolific people. They make me happy because then I have lots of books to catch up with. Also because they give me hopes for the future. Also because I love the long lists in the front of the later books, the "also by" lists that let me drool over titles I haven't found yet.

I try not to drool directly on the books.

I also like reminding myself of things I like. Sort of an enforced optimism. Ooh, ooh! David and I went to Bonanza St. Books yesterday after lunch (because Miss Jasmine The Sweet Kitty was causing me to be rather more phlegmish than usual), and I found a book called The Northern Crusades, about the wars of conversion in Finland and Estonia! Woohoo! Also I found a Finnish phrasebook for $3.50, so I bought that, too. Flipping through it, I found my first Finnish sentence: "Minua heikotta." "I feel faint." Unfortunately important for me to know, as I tend to pass out at the drop of a hat. Also I found a 1902 English to Danish/Norwegian dictionary, from before the spelling reforms in Norwegian. It was two volumes and most lovely, but I did not buy it, since we need a couch. (It was $25, so it didn't cost the same as a couch. But you know what I mean, I hope.)

So. More work today, and groceries. I'm hoping to get plum tomatoes and plumicots and French bread to reinforce my enforced optimism. And perhaps I shall get around to making Dragon's Breath, which I was going to make last night, only nobody was here to eat it with me, so I had pesto mushroom scrambled eggs, which were nice. I like those, too.

Sometimes I remind myself of things like this through gritted teeth, but it seems to work at least a bit regardless.

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