I know it’s late March and around this time New Year’s Resolutions are getting dropped, but I wanted to share one of mine that I’m still plugging away at.
First, I’m excited to share my thoughts on New Year’s Resolutions and fresh starts in general. I love New Years. I love cracking open a fresh planner. I love color coding my calendar. I love mapping out the steps to a new me. A better me. A bigger, stronger, faster, smarter me. I. Love. New Years.
I come up with a list of resolutions as long as my arm and sincere as my dog- and my dog is made of rock solid hope and enthusiasm. Thus, I leap into the new year with gusto, tossing my hat jauntily into the grey cold of winter like Mary Tyler Moore, armed with a handful of highlighters and that fresh planner I mentioned earlier.
I know the statistics, and I follow typical patterns of burnout and failure like many people do. I have made my peace with this. My attitude is that if I enjoy the fun of imagining my improved self, where’s the harm in that? And besides, if I drop my resolutions after a few months, that’s a few months of progress I made, right? For an easy and popular example, if I aim for a 90% improvement in my eating habits and achieve only 15%, that’s still a 15% win. And if I embrace the fun of beginning improvements like this, those 15% gains will stack over time. With this attitude- if I may brag a little- I can now do a full on handstand for a few seconds at a time. It’s not the most amazing feat of acrobatics you’ve ever seen, but it is better than my awkward, flailing kick-ups against the wall that I started with last year.
This year I’m taking a different approach, I’m going to try to fail twelve times. I was reading about how John Grisham had his manuscript for the Pelican Brief rejected 64 times (or some crazy, soul-crushing number like that) by publishers before it was finally accepted and he became a famous author. That’s a lot of rejections. I’ve heard these sorts of numbers before and always thought of these sorts of efforts as pretty badass. I value perseverance, but in my life this has often meant perseverance in a defensive way- staying the course on one’s commitments in spite of setbacks and duress. The persistence it takes to have a manuscript rejected 64 times seems much more proactive. Thinking this over has lead to the realization that no one is fighting me in my efforts, and thus my efforts must be proactive in nature in order to succeed.
The thing about being an artist, is that although I feel that art is incredibly valuable to the world, the nature of making that which is not in existence is that no one misses it if it doesn’t happen because they don’t know it’s an option. Another way of saying this is that there’s no awareness of a loss of something that never existed in the first place. No one would ever know they were missing out on the writings of John Grisham had he given up his efforts to publish. In musing on this, maybe it’s time for me to become a little more badass.
The parameters of this exercise are as follows:
- Each month I will apply for things. This includes shows, competitions, residencies, commissions, grants, asking to use spaces/times/audiences for workshops (this one is very mindfulness-drawing project specific), etc.
- If I get accepted, I can celebrate and then refocus on meeting my rejections goal! I get to participate and get another notch in my working artist belt.
- If I get rejected I can celebrate a fresh star on the failure tracker I drew on the front of my planner.
Therefore, as I’m accepted to things, I need to keep applying for things because my highest goal is to fill up that failure tracker. Also, if I get accepted too much, it means I will need to set my sights higher in order to reach my goal. I suppose conversely, if I get rejected too much I can use that information to calibrate my submission efforts.
The goal is to turn rejections into a sense of progress. Although many of these opportunities I’ll be trying for are a zero-sum game (I will either be accepted or not accepted) my artistic life as a whole is not. At the end of 2018, I will have progressed to a certain degree- this is a given because I am always progressing- but whether or not I was able to participate in the larger community will be determined by how much try to participate in it. Another idea I tell myself is that the entities to which I’m applying won’t (usually) know where my own level of confidence about my request is at. My work will or will not be a good fit for the opportunity and I will be selected/not selected on that basis.
So now we’re at the end of March, and I’ve managed to make some progress on getting rejected. I keep tossing my Mary Tyler Moore hat into the air still and looking over residency applications. I have only one rejection tallied on the tracker so far (a residency), and a new piece in a show in Buffalo, NY, and another application in limbo- waiting on acceptance or rejection in the next few weeks. In the meantime, I have work to do.