On the Outside, Looking In (1)
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Being a writer is something that I have dreamt of being for almost three decades, now. Despite the unfocused aspirations and unexplored identity of my youth, I knew I had to express my thoughts and ideas in words. That belief seared across my brain like cigarette burns on a coffeehouse table. Don’t get me wrong, my initial attempts to write failed, miserably, and you couldn’t even pay me to read a book. The depths of my laziness astounded even me.

My intrigue with the written word came about in a rather non-traditional way: Charlie Rose. Apart from the rather strange May-December, platonic bromance vibe between us (well, my TV), the main appeal of staying up until 3 AM to watch his show centered around the writers he often had on as guests. My first glimpse into the lives of the literati, I knew right there and then that I had a place in that world. Quick-witted and wickedly smart, they saw life in ways I never dreamed possible. I wanted to be them.

Fast-forwarding five years and four college majors later, I decided that I would study English. Yes, I wanted to explore my dream of being the next Bret Easton Ellis but, mostly, I wanted the car my father bribed me with to FINALLY graduate. Regardless, it ended up being the best move I ever made. I fell in love with E.M Forster, J. D. Salinger, and Milan Kundera, wrote short stories, analyzed literature, and–best of all–discovered poetry.

It was after the first haiku I ever wrote (“Gossip”) that I realized that verse lurked inside of me. As a result, I got some focus and knew that one-day writing poetry would be a passion of mine. Life happened, though, and that dream, much like my previous one, dissipated into the murk of this young man’s mind, one that engaged life, helter-skelter.

Two decades later, I found myself back in the classroom, again, this time pursuing a master’s degree in English. Lots of things had changed. I developed focus, created a solid career in Social Services, and, eventually, matured into the professional my parents always hoped I would evolve into. I was dissatisfied with life, however, having never pursued my desire to write, which left me full of angst and disillusionment. Pursuing my graduate degree was a way to rectify this, returning to my long abandoned past and reclaiming my birthright. Again, another solid life-choice.

I ended up taking some Creative Writing courses, both of which had heavy poetry components. It didn’t take long before lines of verse from the past began to flood my brain, forming poems, right and left. The door had finally opened and, bravely, I walked through.

I began to write with courage, not caring about workshopping my work and facing the critiques of others. I explored the darker and more sensual aspects of my psyche and dared put them down on paper…and it felt good. Creativity began to pulse through my body and stir a hunger in me to continue on, even after my classes were over. The world seemed bigger all of a sudden, as well as my place in it. Inspired, I knew I had found my muse.

So, I gave in to her and the words kept flowing. In intermittent spurts of creativity, I would create five or six poems at a time. Inspiration would hit me at the oddest times, while driving, showering, even teaching a class. For the first time, ever, I felt like I had to write: it became more important than sleep and, sometimes, eating. It felt right.

The decision to try and publish my work was a “no brainer.” I read somewhere that you are not a writer if you don’t publish (or at least try to). Criticism didn’t deter me, much, as I fielded plenty of that during my workshop classes. That helped ease the stings of submitting my work, but only some. Rejections from publications carried with them determinations that I wasn’t good enough, not a real poet. This was a time of courage, though, so I did it anyway and in spades.

I sent my work everywhere. Reflecting, the process was exciting and completely empowering. Those submissions felt like “my work” and they had a purpose. Gladly, that feeling has never gone away. That’s why I am so eager to get submit my work for publication, even before the proverbial “ink” has dried. Despite the thrills, things cooled down some. A waiting period exists after submission, as your work sits in someone’s inbox, waiting for review. If I remember, correctly, it was a couple of months before I received my first response. Rejected.

Amazingly, I handled it well. It happens. After all, I was just starting to carve out a new identity for myself, as a poet. Then, more came. At this point, the egg started to crack.

The notifications were all polite enough. They thanked me for my work and insisted their rejections didn't reflect, negatively, on my talent as a writer. However, the words "doesn't meet our aesthetic" kept popping up, over and over. Assuming I was at the receiving end of literary snobbery, I did my best to stay positive, girding my loins for more to come. It did, twentyish--maybe thirtyish--times over.

Feeling a bit dejected, I continued writing. One day I came across a small press, online--Expat Press. On a lark, I submitted a couple of poems and a short story that I wrote during one of my graduate classes that semester. Well, not even four hours passed before I received an email from them. They said that they loved my work and wanted to publish it that very day. They referred to my poems as "delicious." It was a hell of a "cherry high!" I was so proud.

I was floored, amazed, and thrilled--all at the same time. Most importantly, I felt validated as a writer: I felt legit. At that moment, I realized that feeling meant something to me, coloring how I looked at my craft and myself. Despite this success, the rejections continued to come in. They all seemed the same, lauding my talent but citing conflicts with undefined "aesthetics."

Not too long after the first acceptance, I submitted to another online publication, Terror House Magazine. I sent them some other poems that I had previously written, along with some brand-spankin' new ones. Again, in a matter of hours, I was accepted for publication. The ecstatic feeling returned. Not resting too long on my laurels, however, I thought about all this and what it meant. I took a closer look at the publications that had accepted my work and realized that they published "outsider literature." On one hand, I felt like all the...Continue Reading

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Ibrahim Oga      3/05/19 10:23 AM

I find the first paragraph so relatable.

David A. Estringel      3/10/19 8:42 PM