My mother used to eat apples straight through the cores. I don’t know if she still does, but I remember her crunching every part with her back teeth when my sisters and I were kids. Naturally, we asked her why she did it. We knew the seeds were chewy and tasted bitter because we’d tried them ourselves. And the fibrous tissue at the apple’s center was disappointingly unlike the crisp sweet flesh we loved. Hard to grind, even harder to swallow.
Our mother’s reply was that she didn’t like for things to go to waste.
I am my mother in ever-multiplying ways. I don’t eat apple cores, but I, too, have learned to feel uneasy when I see things going to waste. Maybe that’s why I tell my kids about each rejection letter I receive after sending in a story to some literary something or other.
It happened today:
Thank you for sending in your piece. We really enjoyed reading it, but it wasn’t for us. Please keep sending us your work.
With superior intelligence,
The Secret Literary Highbrow Society
I read that email, and then I sat my kids down and told them about it–about how I felt when I read the words ‘not for us’, about what I was tempted to think about myself as a writer, about what I know is actually true, and what probably isn’t. And I made myself say out loud that a letter like that (or several), won’t make me give up. Though rejection always hurts–sometimes like a bee sting and sometimes like childbirth.
I tell my kids about the times I get the “no dice” response, and not just about my success stories, because I don’t want those bruised moments to go to waste. I want them to see me disappointed but persistent, so that someday, when they’re trying to do something that feels beyond their reach, something that requires them to be tough, to have a willingness to flop or look silly or feel sad or foolish occasionally, they won’t give up.
So here I am eating the seeds. They taste bitter, but I’m not spitting them out.