“You do not write the best you can for the sake of art, but for the sake of returning your talent increased to the invisible God, to use or not use as He sees fit.” –Flannery O’Connor
I remember sitting in the post office parking lot that day, the heat of mid May filling my car as I weighed the stuffed manilla envelopes in my palm.I’d just graduated from my MFA program and was excited to send my first batch of poems to my favorite journals. I looked through the packages one last time before licking the seals. I was finally sending my poetic babies out into the world.
My poetry thesis mentor had warned us that rejections are par for the course. He said that if we got one acceptance out of fifty submissions, we were doing well. I remember thinking then that this was a sobering reality, but more sobering was the way I felt when the rejection slips trickled in, one by one, through snail-mail and email, after months of waiting for a response. I call these rejection letters “slips” because they are just that–a small piece of paper cut-out, preprinted, and impersonal, stating something along the lines of “We are sorry to inform you that we cannot accept your work at this time.” I once got a rejection email in Wingdings font, as if to say, “We deem your work so bad that we can’t even reject you in legible writing.” Whatever the method, all rejections read the same way: “Thanks, but NO.”
I used to save my rejection slips in a little folder on my desk, like sad little souvenirs of my writing journey, markers of failure and motivation to keep plugging away. As much as I knew to expect rejection, it didn’t make it easier. There were many moments I felt as Natalie Goldberg does when she writes: “This is stupid. I am making no money, there’s no career in poetry, no one cares about it, it’s lonely, I hate it, it’s dumb, I want a regular life.”
Over the past couple of years, in the midst of navigating the infuriatingly subjective writing market, I’ve found myself frequently coming back to the same word: FLOW. It’s one of those words I kept hearing from friends, podcast gurus, books, and pastors, over and over again. A convergence like this usually makes me feel that God is trying to teach me something.
When I think about flow, I think of moments in the operating room when all the staff is in sync, communicating without words, moving to the beat of the surgeon’s music, carrying out our fine-tuned roles like a choreographed dance, which results in a life-giving surgery for our patient. I think of the times when I pray and feel the energy of God’s Spirit strengthen and speak to me. I feel it when I create a nice meal for family or friends. I feel it in the mysterious process of writing, when the words come from some untouchable place inside of me and end up saying something I didn’t expect.
Flow is both in me and through me. It is energy and movement. It originates from a source way bigger than me, yet it somehow comes from the deepest part of me.
I mention all of this because I have spent years of my life struggling with rejection slips– not just the literal ones, but the figurative ones–the ones I perceive to be a “No Thank You” to who I am as a person. This goes way beyond a poem, and yet it is what a lot of my poems are centered on. It is really about my true self and how I’ve rejected her. It is the place from which everything else in my life flows. Ah, there’s that word again.
I’ve been listening to a series of podcasts by Rob Bell about the ancient wisdom tradition in the book of Proverbs. In a recent episode, he was talking about “the divine flow that undergirds everything, that surges through all of life, including each of us.” It informs who we are created to be and how we are meant to live out that design on the deepest level. This part of us is independent from possessions, accomplishments, and circumstances. He says, “You have this true self that is boundary-less, infinite, and indestructible–there is the you that isn’t playing a game, it’s not trying to impress anybody, there is the you that is the you before there was anything else.” This is the true self, and it is rooted in Christ.
I used to work with a surgeon who said that at age sixteen all he cared about was what other people thought of him, and by the time he was thirty-six, he didn’t care at all. This man was famous for lacking a filter, which made him wild and unpredictable to work with. He was also incredibly offensive. But one thing I learned from him is that I had room to loosen up a little. What if I was just myself, without over-thinking whether people would accept or decline me like a piece of writing?
I turned thirty-six a few weeks ago. I still have a long way to go, but I am starting to get a better grasp on who I am and what I’m about. The more I accept myself–especially my inner, awkward poet–the less I perceive every relationship, encounter, or rejection slip as a threat to my delicate psyche. When I follow my God-given flow, I feel unshakable in the gifts I’m meant to offer this wild world, regardless of whether they are accepted or declined. As Soren Kierkegaard says, “And now, with God’s help, I shall become myself.”
Elizabeth (Libby) Kurz holds a BS in Nursing and an MFA in Creative Writing. Her work has been published in The Poet’s Billow and Relief Journal. After years of moving cross-country with the US Air Force, she now resides on the coast of Virginia with her family. When she’s not reading, writing, and keeping tabs on her three kids, she works as a registered nurse in the cardiac operating room. She is a self-proclaimed coffee snob, wino, and beach bum, who appreciates finding meaning in the ordinary moments of life. She occasionally writes at www.libbykurz.com.