Like an itch I can’t scratch, distraction is a dodgy shadow on the edge of my periphery.
I pull back my arm and send a dart spinning through the dim light of a basement room. It stabs into the pale of the blank wall.
My eyes narrow. Nothing? Wait…
There it is. Just an edge. A thin black thread of something waves and stretches in a still, windless room. One corner of my mouth edges north in recognition of a success.
Waiting for rejection mail sucks. And meanwhile, I can’t concentrate on any. thing. else.
Last weekend, I sent an essay to a reputable blog accepting submissions. The piece was good. I spent several days on the preparation process, writing, polishing, stepping away, then returning to edit with fresh eyes. The story was sound, the voice was strong, and the subject matter was in line with the blog’s upcoming series.
This isn’t the first time I’ve submitted to them — but it could be the first time my work is accepted. Or. One more ‘no.’
The weight of that settles into my shoulders, travels down to my stomach, and sits there, like a leaden taco.
Nervous fingers trace another dart. I exhale, and my body feels tense. I’m not alone.
In motion before I even realize it, I send a second projectile into the smooth sheet of wall. About sixteen inches to the left of the first, and down a bit. More thin blackness.
I know there are reasons behind my inability to focus, and they add up to more than mere anticipation.
One theory is that my stuck-ness originates with a fear: maybe this is all I’ve got.
I fear that I can’t write anything better than or beyond this.
The fear is normal. And, false.
I’ve proven to myself over many years and across many platforms that, yes, there is more in the well.
For some reason, the fear never leaves for good.
The dark threads, three in total now, writhe against the light backdrop. Each end hangs taut, not loose. Attached to more. A more I’m revealing, strike by wicked strike.
Part of me doesn’t believe I’ll get rejected this time. The work was as good, or better, than other pieces I’ve read from the publication.
That’s going to make it even harder if I’m wrong, and they don’t want it.
I’m down to the wire now — submissions will be accepted or rejected today and tomorrow.
I hate this.
Couldn’t…couldn’t I just not care?
When the next dart lands, I feel jolted. Almost in slow motion, two separate lines merge, and become one. Apparently the dart touched down at an invisible point of connection. The pieces of a puzzle are coming together.
Part of me grasps at confidence in desperation. This piece was a first elementary stab at The Book Dream.
Over the course of several years, the topic has slowly, warily, poked its head out of the shadows. I can only see a few features, but I’m sold. I need the message. The world needs it. This is what I’ve waited for for years — not an idea that merely appeals to me, or that I think I could chat about, but one I’m living into, and passionate about. It’s what I needed three years ago.
And so what happens if the message doesn’t resonate with anyone? What if the admin thinks it’s useless, or inaccessible? What if it does get published, and impacts exactly no one?
This matters to me.
Yet, it’s still not the answer — the simple fact is that the demographic served by the blog may not be the right audience for the message.
There’s more to my angst than this.
My heart is pounding, a heavy hammer alternately beating out excitement and utter terror. There are seven black darts stuck into the surface across from me, and each point is holding lines in place, lines that are stretching out and into one another. Creating shape.
Why do I care so much? Logic tells me there is a bigger reason than disappointment at play.
Why do I want my work to be accepted so much?
Understanding bubbles to the surface.
I want it because acceptance of my work feels like acceptance of me.
It feels like a stamp of approval. A badge that says “you’re good enough.”
It feels like white-out on a map of all the places I didn’t fit, and didn’t belong.
It feels like being seen.
Yeah. It matters because it means I matter.
But…does it really?
Neck. A right shoulder. Waist. Wrist.
It’s a body. A shape housing serpentine soul.
My grip tightens on the two darts left. I’m hesitating. I could walk away. Right now. Out the door, up the stairs, back out into the street, and never come back. And never see It.
No. Too late. I came to find answers, and I’m not leaving with less. I fire another dart.
Bodies have names.
Why do I connect my own mattering to an incredibly finite, terribly limited response to 1300 replaceable, re-writable, re-workable words?
Why does the worth of the work, not to mention the worth of the woman in the mirror, feel like it’s hanging in the balance?
This is the voice of a lie, one so strong it has ensnared the whole of humanity since Eden.
It’s the lie that whispers my worth is found in productivity, in achievement, in success, in the appraisal of accomplishment.
I am equating the value of my person with the appreciation of my abilities.
And there she is.
The lines have all connected, and the outline of the body stands out in stark contrast against the white wall.
We’ve met before.
Once again, the monster of Misidentification stares me in the face.
Funny, she changes place, form, and hiding place, every time. Sometimes even names. Fear. Doubt. Insecurity. Need-For-Approval.
But never tactic. Her M.O. remains constant.
Link how much I’m worth as a person to the work I can produce, the deeds I can do, the good I can generate, the difference I can draw out of my little plot of life. Connect personhood to achievement.
And, as long as I believe it, Misidentity wins.
Welcome to the try-hard life, the Kingdom of Hustle, and the race to a finish that doesn’t exist.
I’ve left this game. Threw out the cleats, burned the jersey.
Every once in a while, I get blindsided again, and fall back into forgetfulness. But when I figure out that I’ve been tricked into playing a game I cannot win, I get to quit.
And I will, every time.
When my identity stems from anything less than my intrinsic worth as a human being, my monsters will always walk one step behind me. There is no escape.
As long as my identity is based on doing, and not first being, I will never walk free.
I watch the creature struggle against the darts. It’s all over. Exposure means her power is defunct.
With quick strides, I cross to the wall and yank the northernmost dart out, grasping the edge of the outline between my fingers. The threads go limp.
One by one, I rip out the arrows. When I’m finished, the strands are crumpled into a pile at my feet.
I win this round.
Whether that email states rejection or acceptance, I don’t have to let it get a say in my creative worth.
My identity as a writer cannot and must not be built on the fickle foundation of acceptance. My identity as a writer must be birthed from an understanding that creating is simply one tier of a multi-layered whole.
It’s amazing how quickly I forget this.
The writer does not equal the person; the person simply writes.
And the person is secure, a beloved, delighted-in, grace-drenched daughter of God. To find security and acceptance in anything less than this kingdom identity is to settle.
Writing is part of the package. Writing is a significant role to be filled in my life. But it’s one of many, many others that I have filled and will fill.
I cannot write to be accepted. I write because I’m already accepted.
I step out of the stifling shade of the basement, right out onto a crowded city street. The sharp coldness of the air burns my lungs, and feels electrifying.
For a moment, I simply stand and watch, a single drop in the ocean of humanity. Then I step out and turn right, joining the waves washing up the street. I don’t have to be seen. I don’t have to do. I don’t have to earn my worth.
It’s simply mine for the knowing.