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Embers ~ April 2023
A story about rejection and a shift in perspective
For those of you who have been following Fifties by the Fire, you are most likely familiar with John Lightle’s photography. John and I are in frequent communication, often collaborating by pairing prompt ideas with pictures. Recently, John shared a story with me, and I think it’s perfectly relatable for any writer, artist, or creative. I was so moved by it that I wanted to share it with you today.
The photo you see above was John’s entry in McKinney’s juried art show, in which they would announce their large purchase and permanent collection piece. John was one of twelve finalists selected to attend the event. Unfortunately, John’s photo wasn’t selected as the winning piece.
We’ve all felt the sting of rejection before.
When John shared the news with me, I was absolutely gutted for him.
After getting to know John, and becoming familiar with his work, I had it in my mind that he would win, without a doubt. I thought the universe would respond and act accordingly.
But that’s the problem with art in all its forms: it’s subjective.
Later that night, John spoke about the loss with one of his mentors, an artist named John Domont. Domont talked John through the judge’s selection process. At the end of their conversation, Domont gave him the best possible insight:
“Appreciation for your work comes in small waves.”
The next few lines are quoted from John in his email correspondence with me:
“I had to take that statement out for a walk that night. Ponder my place in the world with it.
Monday a classmate bought a print from me.
A friend's daughter asked me to reconsider and photograph her wedding.
A neighbor came over and asked me to cut some 45-degree angles on some wood he's using to make a chalkboard for his kids.
The classmate that bought the print found the image on 50's by the Fire. She liked "Blue Valentine." OK, she loved "Blue Valentine."
She found it through you.
Appreciation for your work comes in small waves.
I need to keep things in perspective.”
I relayed John’s story to my wife and found myself getting a little misty-eyed while telling it. Maybe the universe had listened, after all. Perhaps this small wave of events was the proof in the pudding.
Despite our losses, our rejections, and our “almost got it but not quite” responses, we must keep going. We owe it to ourselves to keep putting one foot in front of the other in the hope that one day we’ll get there – we’ll get it right.
John’s experience – and John’s Domont’s words – has directly impacted me and my perspective.
I’m writing a story for my five-year-old daughter with her feedback and suggestions. (It’s about a magical library, in case you’re wondering!)
I’m writing stories that I enjoy and publishing them here at Along the Hudson.
And I’m getting to know some wonderful people through this platform.
During my correspondence with John, I received a message on one of my stories, “Nights in Uganda,” from last August. It caught me off guard because of the timing.
A woman namedhad reached out to me, asking to publish my story through her not-for-profit organization, the Wallobooks Project. The goal of her organization is to create storybooks that can be printed on a single sheet of paper and folded into eighths. These tiny stories are beautifully illustrated – and they even come with a QR code to scan and listen to them in audio format. Most importantly, these storybooks get sent to impoverished children living in India. Their schools do not have the resources to purchase books or learning materials.
I was able to connect with Swastika over a video call and she explained to me her goals for my story and the goals of her organization: building low-cost libraries for children and bringing the magic of stories into their lives.
Though I will never meet these children, I can’t help but feel the ripple effect of John Domont’s words: “Appreciation for your work comes in small waves.”
Maybe, just maybe, the universe is pointing me in the right direction, too.
Special thanks to my friend John Lightle for his permission to share this story, as well as(who writes excellent short fiction over at ) for passing my name along to Swastika Gurung.
And thank you to everyone who reads, writes, or comments on Fifties by the Fire. I think it’s a wonderful way to celebrate the art of short-form fiction and share our stories together. (And thanks, John, for the beautiful prints!)
Finally, if you have a minute, take a look at WalloBooks to see the beautiful and important work they do. And maybe instead of buying that morning coffee, consider helping them build some magical storybooks for kids.
Thanks so much for being here.
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