On Rejection and Overreaction

Last Friday, on Facebook and in text messages with friends, I overreacted to the rejection of my latest play by a theater where I’ve done quite a bit of work. I dove head-first into my yawning chasm of pain and wrote, rather dramatically, that I was, “rethinking my life, all of it.” I said a lot of things, a lot of self-absorbed, irrational, and quasi-delusional bullshit. The friends that took the time to respond, bless them. The friends that didn’t, bless them, too; to my knowledge, no one “unfriended” me, even though I might have deserved it.

About the only thing I said during that tirade that I'm actually proud of was, “rejection should never stop hurting. If it does, you didn’t care about the work enough.” It’s a bit dramatic, but I think it’s true.

I don’t know why they rejected my play, and I might never find out. The truth of the matter is that there were a lot of other original plays pitched at the same time I pitched mine, and that I’ve had a play produced there in recent memory. That might be it. They might have loved the damned thing and just had to make a hard choice. Or, they might have hated it. I don’t know.

What I do know is that, for better or worse, I put everything I’ve got—all my hopes and dreams—into every piece I send out into the world. And with this piece, that was especially true. That’s what made it hurt so much.

When I began writing Nothing But a Number, it was primarily an exercise in writing a vehicle for a talented actress friend of mine who I thought deserved a nice, juicy role. But, halfway through, my yarn about becoming a grandparent when you’re young, before you’re ready—halfway through, it started to mean something more.

This year marks the twentieth anniversary of a rather frightening time in my adolescence when both of my then-living grandparents were in the hospital at the same time. While my grandmother would eventually recover from her hospitalization, my grandfather died later that year. It was a life-changing event for sixteen year old me, and it’s something I’ve struggled to cope with ever since.

I’ve been lucky that my grandmother has lived in relatively good health in the interim. But this past Christmas, she was hospitalized and it looked like the end. I was in the middle of writing Nothing But a Number when all this was happening.

While Grandma pulled through and made progress here and there on the hard road of recovery, I attacked my play with renewed vigor, imbuing it with the spirit of this amazing lady who has been, at many times in my life, like a third parent to me. She and I lived next to each other in the upstairs of the family home for years. I’ve gotten some amazing stories out of her. Nothing But a Number was and is for her.

Even though it was never likely, given that her tentative recovery has seen more downs than ups, that she would ever see the play, even a video recording of it that I might bring to the nursing home where she lives now, I dreamed—secret optimist that I am—of somehow making it happen. I dared to dream, and I dreamed too hard.

That the play will not be staged now, at least not any time in the near future—that feels like I’ve failed not only myself, but also my grandparents, to whom the work is dedicated. It’s a silly feeling, an overdramatic feeling, but that feeling is who I am. And rather than be ashamed of it, I felt like sharing it with you, dear reader.

Rejection hurts me so much because that’s me on the page, along with my name and my characters. That’s not how anyone else sees it, and that’s fine, but I couldn’t do what I do any other way. What it took me a lot of soul-searching to remember is that I’m the odd duck here, and that no one making this decision saw it as a personal one, no one except me.

And that’s my problem, not theirs.