I applied for something. It was one of those long-shot things that there was absolutely no way I was going to be called back about, and I only started the application because a friend challenged me to do it. But the application was long and involved, and by the end I hoped I would hear something. And I did. Almost immediately. I rose through several levels of approval that required more information, more paperwork (including an NDA), more interviewing, and then I would be left in silence to wait. Suddenly, I was flown for a whirlwind interview, met some in-charge sort of people, was even hugged by one of them... and it was all over. I waited, rather anxiously. And, surprise, I was not selected. I am not new to rejection, but this felt like a big blow because I had gotten so far and I had mentally cleared time and space for this project to happen. It felt perfectly timed with both of my kids starting school and was likely to help my currently struggling career. Now, of course, I have the cleared time and space for other things, but sometimes it can be hard to swallow rejection and move on. This is especially true with social media, where people are constantly announcing grants and commissions and book deals. It is rare that someone lets on that they were not selected for the residency they applied for or that their grant was denied and it can be hard not to compare my own failings with the successes of my internet peers.
I have been rejected from plenty of things that I have applied for, more than I can even remember. It is true that this is all part of having a creative lifestyle. Other people need to have some interest in what you are creating or you need to locate the people who would be interested. I find this tedious. I don't enjoy filling out forms and gathering letters of recommendation or writing and writing and writing about projects that may never come to light because I need someone else's time, or money or space. In the past six years I haven't done much of this. When I have a few childless moments to devote to my studio practice, those moments were spent actively making something. I had to be strict with my schedule to have those few moments at all. Not applying for things means not being rejected, but it also doesn't make for the most exciting resume. I've participated in projects only when someone else has approached me, and those experiences have been great. But, now what?
Last time I felt a hard rejection like this was in graduate school when I applied for a materials grant to purchase equipment the school did not have. The grant was given each year, and in my first two years of school a few of the same favored grads had received it to purchase common supplies (I won't go into grad school politics here, but...). I worked hard laying out explicitly how the money would be spent and provided a clear outline of the equipment's intended use. I read other proposals and it seemed that not being selected just wasn't possible. Of course, the day everyone received their notices about the grants, I heard nothing. I was angry. I felt invisible (more invisible than the macho painting department normally made me feel). I was already in the studio all day and night, leaving only to teach and eat dinner. I looked around my studio that day and decided I was going to double down, go bigger, and louder, and shinier than everyone around me. That same day I hauled lumber back to the wood shop and conscripted a friend to help me built four foot by eight foot panels--three of them--and began to sketch out the pieces that would form my thesis show and change the way I was working for years to come. If they hadn't wanted to notice me before, they were going to fucking notice me now. I was going to use the most obnoxious craft supply I could think of: glitter.
Once I got going on that new project I couldn't stop-- it was intense and meditative and sometimes maddeningly slow. I worked only with glitter and Elmer's glue for the remainder of my time in grad school. Though I can trace this devoted burst of change to being rejected, my creative impulses took that energy and funneled it somewhere else. My love of mastering a new set of skills and experimenting with materials took over. I can honestly say that rejection inspired and changed me. Not every rejection causes this response, but rather than sulking in I do prefer to think I can work harder and push myself forward so that in the future my acceptance to rejection ratio changes.
So, what happens this time? I'm feeling a similar sense of drive after this particular rejection. I had reserved time and I intend to use it. My goal is to continue to apply for things, continue to accrue rejections, and continue to work. Today I walked right past waiting house work and planted myself in the studio for four and half uninterrupted hours. I worked the entire time and it was slow and glorious! Last night I sent off a quick and easy application for something I am not likely to get, but I need to start applying again. I'll let you know where this particular rejection inspiration leads me in a few months.