We call it Rejection Season; small theater companies have gone through the submissions received earlier in the spring, larger organizations have finally gone through the onslaught of submissions they received back in the fall, and their emails have all gone out. Once upon a time, they would have been form letters and rejection slips, which a frustrated scribe could tear up, or crumple up, or use as an impromptu wall decoration, or the like. Nowadays, the rejection slips are digital, and thanks to social media, our frustration and resentment at receiving them is communal. We all tell each other when we get them, lament our fate, and wonder just who these chosen few are who manage to make it past these unseen gatekeepers.
That’s how it was for me for a while, at any rate. A few years ago, however, I realized I’d past beyond an unseen, never mentioned threshold. When these companies posted their lists of winners and finalists and semifinalists, great litanies of names other than my own, I began to notice that there were more than a few names which I recognized. Some of them were writers I’ve encountered once or twice, not necessarily my candidates for Great American Author, people whose inclusion might make me ruefully shake my hand. But only rarely. (I promise.) More often, I’d notice that the list of finalists for any given opportunity would include a friend of mine. And since they’re friends of mine, I knew their work was pretty damn good. (I have standards.) So I’d join the chorus of congratulations on their Facebook pages, and then open up a new browser tab to check my email, find my latest rejections waiting for me, and curse my fate at not being able to join my friends in their rarified new eschelon.
These aren’t the noblest of sentiments, but they’re familiar to all writers; we’re all in the same boat. But all these reactions are contingent on receiving a rejection in the first place. Which, of course, all writers do. A lot.
Until we don’t.
I’ll mention the exact details in a few weeks, once everything is finalized, but a few days ago I received the news that my new short play The Mascot Always Pings Twice is receiving its debut production. Not a developmental reading, a production. It’s just a weekend festival in August, but it’s an actual, professional production. Meaning that they selected my play (and some cool other plays) out of a few hundred submissions, and are producing the play themselves (no self-producing for me on this one), and it’s a full production (no semi-circle of music stands here), and I’m getting a check. I did it. I pulled it off. I’m living the dream.
And I have no idea what to make of this.
Am I still allowed to be upset at other rejections when this company has said “welcome, Michael, you’re awesome?” Can I keep commiserating with my friends? Is there some hitherto unknown champagne lounge where all the playwrights who actually get accepted for productions hang out? And I’m fundamentally the same writer I was a week ago, before I’d been notified that a check for my work was on the way – is this imposter syndrome settling in? That won’t prevent me from depositing the check, will it?
These are all unfamiliar questions for me, as I enter this strange new territory. Fortunately, there are bound to be more rejection emails waiting for me to restore some equilibrium.