STUBBORN

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I suspect some not entirely desirable character traits must be genetic. They persist, despite one’s own good sense and determination to bring some moderation to their expression.  Being stubborn is one of mine.  I can’t trace it back very far, being the only child of immigrants.  But my mother was no pushover on any number of issues I would have preferred she be more compromising about when I was growing up. And if anyone said anything with which my father disagreed, don’t think he was willing to discuss it.  I can hear him now:  “I’ve got news for you, mister.”

[Then I married a man as stubborn as I was.  (Two such men, actually, but I only had children with the second one, so it’s him of whom I speak.) Our older son got it in spades. During his adolescence, our dinner table was often where rock met hard place while his father and brother rolled their eyes — me being the rock, he the hard place.  Although his children are still both under ten, I understand that even now neither of them is a piece of cake to persuade. But, like many old people, I digress….]

Getting old does soften you, though.  As your energy level drops, so does the number of things that seem worth taking a stand about.  You begin picking your battles. Why get all worked up about A or B or C and shorten your lifespan?  Which brings me to the real subject of this piece:  a world many of you have probably never heard of unless you’re an American or Canadian aspiring or established writer — the world of the “literary review.” Most, although not all, literary reviews are associated with universities or colleges, appear two or three times a year, can usually be found only in university or college libraries, and offer their select readers poems, short fiction, “literary” non-fiction, and sometimes reviews and/or art work.  They pay little or nothing, but they do offer the writer appearing in their pages publication credits that may open the door to the next publication credit. They are therefore deluged with thousands of unsolicited submissions, otherwise known (but only unofficially) as “the slush pile.”

When young, I always thought I was going to grow up to be a writer.  I grew up to be many things, and wear many hats, but “writer” wasn’t one of them, mostly because I also always seemed to need to be making pesky money. Then I retired from practicing law (the last of my serial paid professions) and had time and a new iMac desktop, and began to write short pieces of non-fiction, and guess where I sent them.  I would send them out two or three at a time, usually by snail mail because that’s what was then required, wait patiently to be rejected, and (because I was stubborn) try again.  And again. And again. This was between 2008 and 2012. Eventually, I had a file drawer full of form rejection slips, or printouts of email form rejections, and only one acceptance — from an online magazine of the arts for women over sixty.  So with the wisdom of age I stopped being stubborn about being printed in a literary review and began to blog instead.

An acquaintance with some experience of literary reviews has observed that each one is like a private club. You need to be a member or to know someone in order to be fished out of the slush pile and read by an editor. So when I met someone else who knew such a someone at one such prestigious literary review and the first someone offered to put in a word for me, I sighed and polished up a new piece to the first someone’s liking. Then the first someone put in his word, and the second someone (at the review) emailed the first someone that they’d be on the lookout for my new piece. And a month (instead of three months) later, I received an anonymous form rejection — not even from the second someone — by email.

The wisdom of age goes just so far. Then the old genes kick in again. The first someone’s second someone didn’t want it, didn’t think it was “right” for his prestigious little review that most people who aren’t writers have never heard of?  Well, I was going to show him! Borrowing a phrase from one of the dingbats seeking the Republican nomination (I forget which), I was going to “carpet-bomb” the literary review world with my piece!

And so, dear blog readers, I have just spent nearly all of the past four days compiling a list of sixty-seven literary reviews and then looking up each one on the internet. That was in order to determine whether they were still up and running (two or three had ceased to exist); whether they accepted electronic submissions (f**k mailing paper copies with cover letters and stamped self-addressed envelopes); whether they print non-fiction; whether they are reading in January and/February (some stopped in December, others won’t begin till April 1, or June 1); whether they accept simultaneous submissions or require you to wait around the five or six months while they consider what you’ve sent before submitting it somewhere else. When I had done all that, there were twenty-four functioning reviews remaining on my list with electronic submission portals still open (plus the one for women over sixty, which I’m saving for later). Some charged $3, but what the hell.  For each, I had to create and record a password, upload the piece, write something in the “comments” section of the submission form, and record what I’d done in a small notebook, so I would have a record of where I’d sent the piece in the extremely unlikely event I get a bite and have to notify all the others that I’m withdrawing the submission.

I know this is nuts, and nothing will come of it, and I shouldn’t have wasted the four days, but I loved the expression “carpet bomb” (as long as the “bombing” is harmless), and I don’t like being pushed around. If I get twenty-four rejections, at least no one can say I didn’t try. It’s not often a person with “old old” on the horizon gets to be so satisfyingly stubborn.  It feels really really good!