Tag Archives: Valhalla

The cell phone is dead; long live the cell phone.

This week I found my cell phone in the bottom of my purse clutching a tiny empty bottle of Valium and displaying the text message GOODBYE CRUEL WORLD.  Rest in peace, valiant purple Motorola flip phone, and feast well in Valhalla.

So, I have to get a new cell phone, and I am facing a dilemma.  I know that the days of having a plain flip phone with number keys are over, because people keep texting me, and texting them back takes me like twenty minutes without access to a keyboard.  I am always tempted to call people back when they text me to expedite the proceedings, but then I never do, on the off chance that they are messaging me from a movie theater or a funeral.  So, I surrender.  I need a phone with letter keys.  Really, I should get an iphone.  Yet I pause at the threshold of such an acquisition, like a tremulous virgin unsure whether the man to whom she is about to give herself is the right one.

The iphone is a wondrous invention.  Ever since my husband acquired one, his patience knows no bounds.  Because of this thing, he can sit in perfect calm while I agonize for twenty minutes over whether I want the blue dress or the red one, while I get fidgety when he does the same thing with USB drives at Fry’s.  He says I should get an iphone for the tranquility of our marriage, and I agree.  So, why so much anguish and hand wringing?  I do have a reason, but it makes me sound about 200 years old.  Please loosen my corset, I feel I am about to suffer a paroxysm of the vapors.

When I am at home, I am almost never separated from the electronic teat that is my laptop.  I keep it by me even when I watch television, should I want to look something up on google or read a funny article during a commercial break.  The only time I am apart from the world’s sum of knowledge in aether form is when I leave the house.  If I get an iphone, I will lose this last disconnect.  The aether will literally be on me at all times, inescapable.  Frankly, I fear this.  There is a crotchety old lady inside me who insists that occasional boredom is good for the soul.  Perhaps she is not entirely wrong.  Why would I ever stare dreamily out the train window when I could have my nose in some engrossing app?  My husband says that an iphone would be good for my writing because I could take notes whenever and wherever an idea strikes me.  My response: but an idea will never strike me again!  I will be too busy looking at LOLcats!

So, you see my quandary.  But what quandary is that?  My fate is inevitable.  The aether reaches for me and already I feel myself swoon.

In Valhalla there are no rejection slips.

So, a while back my agent sent a pdf of my novel to The New Yorker with selected passages highlighted she thought could be used in the magazine.  Unsurprisingly given my fresh fish status, the NYer editor did not bite, but sent my agent the nicest possible rejection notice.  I will go ahead and include it:

Shapiro is incredibly talented and this is quite a debut, but we didn’t see any way to excerpt from it, unfortunately—the pieces you suggested are strong but fragmentary—and we felt that she wasn’t quite ready for the top-20 list, though she’ll in all likelihood make it there eventually! Thanks, anyway, for sending it over; it was a pleasure to read. Stay in touch if she writes any stories—or if anyone else crosses your mind for this issue (or any other).

This is a stage in a writer’s career: flattering personalized rejections with an invitation to submit again.  This is, in itself, an achievement.  As far as I can tell, a writer’s career looks something like this:

Stage 1: uncontrolled production of thousands of pages of crap.  The afflicted asks herself, “why am I doing this?  I must be some kind of blithering masochistic idiot.”

Stage 2: some small moment of recognition.  The afflicted may be told by a writing instructor that she is good, or get into an MFA program.  The afflicted begins to submit work places, receiving a veritable avalanche of rejection slips that have been xeroxed so many times that the type on them is actually degrading.  The slips are literally slips, as the writer is not yet worth the expense of an entire sheet of paper–that is when the submission is ever acknowledged at all.  Often silence is deemed a sufficient rejection.  The afflicted may sometimes doubt her own existence, and asks herself, “why am I doing this?  I must be some kind of blithering masochistic idiot.”

Stage 3: repeated near-misses.  The afflicted may impress a writing instructor who will ask her to submit a story to his new literary magazine, which he is starting with a big-name editor who will subsequently not like the work in question.  The afflicted may start seeing hand-scrawled notes on rejection slips that read “good work” or “submit again.”  She may get requests from agents to see her full manuscript, which will inevitably get turned down after months of anxious fretting–but sometimes the agents may say something nice about it.  This cycle of crazed hope/crestfallen disappointment may last for years, and the afflicted will ask herself, “why am I doing this?  I must be some kind of blithering masochistic idiot.”

Stage 4: someone says yes.  The sky is ripped open, angels sing; the afflicted is elated that she hasn’t spent the last few years/decades/epochs talking to herself like a ranting homeless person.   At some point she actually said something, and someone heard.  This in no way means the cessation of impersonal rejection slips, which make the one acquiescence seem like some sort of perverse fluke.  The afflicted will then worry endlessly about being unable to make the magic happen again, and will ask herself, “why am I doing this?  I must be some kind of blithering masochistic idiot.”

Stage 5: in Valhalla there are no rejection slips.

Through all these stages, the afflicted keeps writing anyway, though she is too close to her own stories to be able to see that, in their slow way, they are getting better.  Improvement is like erosion: you can’t see anything happen, but if you take a measurement ten years later you have an inkling that, maybe, something did.