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Amber Paulen

Spring, Rejection and Levin

The trees out our window, the ones that run along the church of San Clemente, are budding into their leaves in irregular patches. The windows are open and the breeze is as warm as the insides of our apartment, not really warm, but warm enough and not cold at all. For a moment, everything seems evened out: half-leaved trees, not really warm, not really cold. (But if you’re visiting Rome from Michigan, the weather here would already seem hot!)

Last week I sent out some essays that I had been working on and received an email two hours later that read, politely, “No.” I have to think that it was a bad match between my essays and the magazine more than any internal problem with the essays, but still, the “no” hit hard and reminded me why I haven’t sent out anything in years. Rejection is something that you have to get used to as a writer and if you stop sending things out, the callouses on the skin soften and rejection hits painfully all over again.

About a month ago I started re-reading Anna Karenina. When I picked it up I was reminded of Lake Bracciano in summer, where I first read most of it. The water on my skin, the sun and the chunky uncomfortable sand. Re-reading has been revelatory because I’m no longer impatient to get to Anna’s story. I can also enjoy Levin’s. Early on Levin proposes to Kitty (perhaps half his age) and gets rejected and the rejection shapes months of his life, almost a year. He’s so ashamed that Kitty said “no.” And as a reader we know that he could go back and talk to Kitty without shame long before he actually does. This weakness of Levin’s to be so wounded (was Tolstoy like this too?) harms any progress that he could make in the direction of Kitty.

The best recourse I’ve found for rejection is sending out the essay, the fiction piece again, like a boomerang. But also, a healthy salve is when people accept not even the same piece but something else. And so this past week I was offered more responsibilities with Eating Italy, and I’ll be managing their blog and writers, a bit of an editorial position you can say. It takes a kind of faith in that a rejection can be evened out.


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