FAKE NEWS, ALTERNATE REALITIES, & SELF-DOUBT – HOW A LONG-LOST REJECTION LETTER ROCKED MY SOCKS OFF

 

For 3 years, I’ve been spending 6-8 weeks at home, 3 days on the train, 6-8 weeks across the border with my mom, 3 days back on the train… And repeat. I’m so fortunate to still have Mom to read old family letters in German to, to have 2:00 brunch and play MadLibs with, to share the odd wry comment or giggle.

It’s quite a switch from her house to mine, and every time I get home, the forest of books and undergrowth of paper/s seems to be, well, flourishing. This last time, it was suddenly too much.

Within 12 hours of getting back, I’m clearing off shelves and emptying drawers; inspecting one note or form or clipping at a time; determinedly filling the recycling bag. Until I find this:

 

Okay, wait—

This was the Enizagam Fiction Contest.

2013.

Fiction Judge Sarah Shun-lien Bynum.

I submitted my story Child.

Child WON that contest.

It was published in the next issue of Enizagam.

I was there in Oakland to read at the launch.

(I have a photo—I can prove it!)

I take a deep breath and read the letter again. ???

Maybe… as we leave years and layers of documents to their own devices, they begin to get seriously bored? Start joking around with each other? Come up with alternate versions of reality, parallel possibilities, some good old fake news?

I mean, I won, yes?

I DID.

Reading the letter to my son now, I’m beginning to veer ever so slightly off base: “You remember when I won, right? You read the story. Remember how… I mean, look, the issue’s right here on the bookcase with my other publications!”

Um. The issue’s not there.

For a moment, I really do believe in an alternate universe where:

Child went unrecognized.

I was advised to try again.

(Maybe I was kidding myself.)

(Maybe none of my writing was any good.)

(Maybe I wasn’t even a writer.)

Doubt. A growing dizziness. In self-defense, I go to bed.

*  *  *

Middle-of-the-night realization, verified early the next morning:

Of course—I submitted 2 stories to that particular contest.

 

 Rent Asunder was, in that disconcerting letter, the one enjoyed but not accepted.

Child made it.

Reality rules.

Place of Departure

 

Schenectady, N.Y. to Walpole, Mass., Philadelphia to Chicago to Kansas City… As a child, I had no say, saw place as something that might not last, escaped into the unfailing world of books.

Finally, then choices ― Vermont for college, Italy like home rediscovered, and graduate school in British Columbia leading me at long last to a place to stay, a place to write about and to stand up for. Though I’m first and foremost a prose writer, it is in poems that I freeze-frame lake and log boom, new moon, clear-cut cedars, still-tall pines and the Friday night sidewalks of skid row Vancouver.

And yet, after decades, BC has quietly begun to serve also as the template for my novels and stories, providing an achingly beautiful place of departure for the ravaged world of my climate fiction. Even as we who live here simultaneously spoil and protect it, BC becomes ever more my platea, the open space that sustains me, from which I declaim the truths I have the honor of glimpsing in sea and fellow place keepers and wide wide sky…