I entered a contest this month to win free tuition to the Writing by Writers workshop in Boulder, Colorado this March. The rules? The “short short” story could only be 250 words long, and must mention either a Volkswagen beetle, an actual beetle, or the Beatles.
The workshop is being taught by Pam Houston, Benjamin Percy, and BK Loren. Tuition is $850.00 for three days. I really wanted to go!
But alas, it was not meant to be. So not only was today the day I watched Peyton Manning and the Broncos get killed at the Super Bowl, but it was also the day my “short short” story was rejected. (And the contest deadline was only yesterday– February 1st!! That is some quick turnaround for a no!)
Granted, being rejected is nothing new, and certainly not something I would mope about. Life in itself is much harder to take than any single rejection, especially after a week that felt like this:
I’d be the guy on the left, of course. The one losing.
Though, to be fair, life is a constant winning-and-losing thing, never wholly one or the other. It’s just that receiving large doses of pain all at once can make it seem more like a losing thing, which is the essence of bummer-dom.
Not that losing this writing contest threw me into a state of bummer-dom. No, the reality of this rejection was the more acute awareness that rejection is nowhere near as painful as other aspects of life, especially when the words “family,” “extended family,” and “probate” are involved. That’s the magic mixture for Hell. If you’ve ever managed a probate case, you know what I’m talking about.
But here is the thing about pain. All pain. Any pain. You have to DO something with it. Ignoring pain is deadly. Ignoring mental pain can kill your soul. Ignoring pain in your body can lead to death.
By Friday afternoon, I was ready to do something with my pain. All those hits coming at me. I was ready to cancel them out.
So I found this video on YouTube. “Best Motivational Video Ever of 2013.” And I totally fell in love with it. Running time: seven minutes, eight seconds of Pure Awesomeness.
My favorite, favorite quote from this video is delivered by Sylvester Stallone. I love the life story of Sylvester Stallone. Talk about grit, perseverance, determination and drive. He’s incredible. Here, he’s being quoted in one of the movies he’s starred in (sorry, I don’t know the title of this movie, but I know this segment is used in a lot of inspirational videos) and it’s just a magnificent piece of writing.
He talks about how life will beat you to your knees and keep you there “if you let it.” He also talks about what cowards do: point fingers, and blame other people for where they are in life.
So on Friday afternoon, watching this video, I stopped huddling on my knees and stood up. Because no matter how much cowering you do, the hits just keep coming, and it’s better to take them standing than down on your knees. Better chance of avoiding at least a few of them when you’re up on your feet.
And two days later, I just watched Peyton Manning take the pounding of his life. How can anything really compare to watching Peyton Manning get killed at the Super Bowl? Brutal.
So here is me not down on my knees– just like I know Peyton Manning won’t stay down on his knees, he’ll recover from today, and he’ll keep moving forward. Cause he is awesome like that.
My story might have been rejected, but I can still share it on my webpage. No, that won’t get me into the workshop, but it’s still a celebration– it’s still me saying, “Hey! I don’t care if this story was rejected! It’s awesome!”
So here is my story, which wasn’t good enough to win me a place at that workshop, but is still dark and beautiful and good.
I rode with my father once a week to the junkyard, in the days when we lived in Gypsum, in the year before he died. His teeth were already gone, his green eyes full of misery, his face broken and scarred as ancient Samurai armor. My small presence beside him made everything worse, but I didn’t know that. Not yet.
When we stepped out of the truck, he always sent me away, and I would begin a collection. What I found my last day in the oil puddles and weeds: a blue shard of glass, a wheat penny, a tiger lily, a beetle. I did not collect whispers yet. Or secrets.
My father walked the aisles of old metal and stopped in front of a Cadillac without any doors, its frame sunken into the earth, the dome of its roof an arbor of rust. Beside the Cadillac was a black Barracuda, and my father rested his hands on the engine, staring into the wreck.
He took a Leatherman from his pocket and removed each of the spark plugs, placed them into my hands like gunmetal diamonds. Don’t lose those, he said, his smile now as bright as a djinn’s.
I never saw the small plastic bags in his jacket, or the money tendered in shadows when we came to the junkyard. But we both carried our treasures back to the truck, fate tucked in a pocket or clasped in two hands, and rode home into eventide, into dark.