On Rejection and Moby-Dick, Expanded

Drawing of a white whale

(artwork found here)

Rejection and Moby-Dick seem to have little in common,unless we discuss how many of us in high school rejected reading Melville’s masterpiece. I did.

But I have had cause to read (not re-read because I never got past the first three pages in high school!) Moby-Dick. Day before yesterday I finished reading Tom McCarthy’s C. A book without much plot nor character development, it is a meditation on technology and mourning and the meaning of meaning. McCarthy is a confident, compelling linguistic virtuoso.

I found myself mesmerized by his prose. How did he do what he did? His herculean feat of meaning (or not) made me realize for the first time that literature can also be about not much happening. But even with the not much happening, a reader can still learn about the human condition. This completely blew my mind. I wanted more!

As I am want to do I scoured the interwebz for more information about McCarthy. My treasure hunting was rewarded with an online journal article describing McCarthy’s ideal syllabus. Moby-Dick is on the list. Off to the library I went to check it out. If I wanted to write like McCarthy, or, at the very least, construct complex novels with breathtaking sentences, then I needed to do the work of reading the Big Ones.

Avoiding the difficult task of concentrating through excruciatingly boring prose or hard words, well, I realized, I had to suck it up. A writer is only as good as what she reads. If I don’t read the hard and great stuff – the stuff that will be remembered and studied 150 years from now – then I will only ever be so good. Writing takes quite a bit of effort for me. Since this is so, I want to maximize my chances for impact – shoot for the moon and all that.

I felt proud of my willingness to push myself through my learned aversion to the Big Ones. My own commitment to writing is growing without self-flagellation or practiced avoidance.

Then writerly rejection visited yesterday. The details aren’t as important as how I responded to the rejection. Once I received the confirming email, I strolled over to our one, new!, bookstore in Ann Arbor and bought four brand new books. All of them are suggested on Mr. McCarthy’s list. I rarely buy books now. The number of books I’ve purchased then never read could fund a down payment on a used car. The mystical transmission of McCarthy’s list and C joggled around my brain and resulted in an unwavering belief that purchasing these four books is exactly what I need to do for myself as a writer and as a way to say Yes in the face of this rejection.

Rejection makes me bonafide as a writer. If I’m not receiving rejections I’m hiding my writing. If I’m not reading books like Moby-Dick, Gravity’s Rainbow, The Sound and the Fury and Heart of Darkness, then I’m hiding from my own potential. Rejection and sweating through a long, discursive text filled with obscure maritime vocabulary and archaic English phrasing are simply what make writing the thrill ride of a life time.

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4 Comments

    1. Wil,

      As the Irish say, I was gobsmacked reading this. I will have to rearrange how I fee about tedious tasks, for once and for always. Tedium/brilliance. Two sides of the coin. As I said, gobsmacked.

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