on finding “Mistake” in my mailbox
They sent Mistake on purpose. Mistake, the poetry chapbook they published, the title of the collection they chose.
Make stuff, send it out. Sometimes I send the stuff itself – poetry manuscripts, DVDs. Sometimes I send the plans to make it happen – descriptions, to do lists, sketches. A feedback loop of non-response, acceptance, rejection.
I keep a semipublic sketchbook on this blog, on flickr, bits and pieces go to google+, to the Facebook page. The undialogue of ‘like’ing and +1-ing. The undialogue of no negative feedback. People are afraid of hurt feelings, people are afraid of alienation.
I found Mistake in my mailbox. Meredith Stricker’s manuscript won the 2011 Caketrain poetry chapbook contest. My entry did not. Glancing at a poem here, a poem there, her manuscript won it worthily, the work looks excellent. Right up my alley, too. I’m looking forward to reading it.
The nice thing about submitting work to poetry markets? So often they send content to read later. Not so much with the art shows, or the galleries. What did they do with that proposal, I wonder? That’s the non-response black hole the polished, tightly edited paperwork and supporting documents and DVDs go to. I have the delivery receipts. Blank refusals of no answer.
The editors, curators, gallerists I have enjoyed working with most have a useful etiquette for critique, for saying ‘no’. They provide some insight into why – “the inconsistency of your punctuation use tells me you haven’t figured out what that communicates yet”, “we like to publish work with stronger emotional punch”. That provides some insight into how to adjust my approach. At least, my approach to them.
What do I want for the work? Do I want it to be that way? I fold the critique back into the dough, as it were, and keep making.
A young musician struggling with how to get his creative life moving asked me what to look for in a creative relationship. I said, “Find a bass player that can tell you ‘no’ in a way that works for you”. He thought about it pretty hard. Apparently the kids these days like to take their ball and go home when the friends they play with give critical feedback.
I found Mistake in my mailbox. I had the privilege of starting to learn how to make at a very, very young age. I was four. Violin is hard. I was lucky, I had really patient teachers who validated my person while teaching my clumsy hands and wrists. I was lucky. I decided that my hands made the mistake, not me, when I had a tough teacher from second through 7th grade. (Thanks Mrs. Brandenburger!)
Mistake. Does mistake carry blame so our hands don’t have to? Its cousin, Accident, also a common target for our negative emotions keeps our egos blameless. Both mean our skills lack, not us. They can be a common foil for not developing our skill. We have to come back to the workbench, the practice room, the studio, to keep making.
Keep practicing. Keep sending. Excellence will follow. Or, what is good will find the right pair of eyes, the right set of ears. Some day, I will find my chapbook in the mailbox.