Thanks but no thanks

Hi. I’m Ronald the Raccoon and I like rabbit heads.

Good morning from Rockford. It’s the kind of cold and sunny day that feels like neither spring nor winter. It’s just “March” and I like March.

I received a rejection email this morning. It was a “thanks but no thanks” for a short play I submitted to a theatre festival. Rejections are common occurrences for me and for many writers I know. Though I’d rather my plays get accepted, there is something comforting about rejection. Rejection means you’re trying. Rejection means you still have things to learn. Rejection means you aren’t afraid to be challenged.

Shortly after I read my email, it was time to walk the dogs. Barbara pulled on the leash and aggressively sniffed through a pile of old mildewy leaves. Before I could stop her, she immediately chomped down on something the size and shape of a flattened loaf of bread.

“Barbara, drop it.”

She didn’t. She never does. Usually it’s just a piece of bread that somebody threw out for the birds and she’ll swallow it before I can retrieve it from her mouth.

This time it wasn’t a little crust of bread. Barbara’s “treat” was sticking out both sides of her mouth. I “bagged” my hand and worked to unlock it from her jaws. It was a stiff, decapitated rabbit.

“God, Barbara,” I said. “So gross.”

I managed to wriggle the dead animal from her mouth and we walked home in utter shame and disappointment. I properly discarded the remains and as I capped the garbage can, I wondered why so many people think dog-walking is pleasant when it’s actually disgusting. And that’s when I remembered the first time I laid eyes on a decapitated rabbit.

This goes back several years when I was an editor for a local literary magazine. The judges had just selected ten winners out of probably a hundred entries for a poetry contest. There were always more rejections than winners and it was my job to send out the dreaded “thanks but no thanks” email.

I’d like to tell you that most poets handled these rejections with grace, but they didn’t. Whenever I sent those emails, my inbox would fill up with ridiculous requests for feedback, assurance and ego-stroking. I could always count on at least one full-blown temper tantrum email and countless passive-aggressive emails, all longer than the poems they submitted.

That evening, I received a particularly scathing email from a disgruntled poet:

“You’re a fucking idiot! You wouldn’t know a good poem if it hit you in the head!”

He expressed so much anger and profanity that I was actually frightened he was going to come harm me. I found it hard to sleep that night.

After tossing and turning, I got up earlier than usual and took my dog for a walk. We had barely made it out the front door when I saw a freshly decapitated rabbit in our front yard. I had never seen such a thing before and felt actual terror. I immediately thought it was the disgruntled poet’s way of sending me a message:

“Publish my poem or you’re next.”

I was legitimately afraid he was in the bushes with a machete. I ran back inside with my dog.

Even though I Googled “decapitated rabbits” and quickly learned that a number of animals in the food chain prey on rabbit heads, I was scared for days. It seems silly now, but I wasn’t sure if the dead rabbit was the work of the poet or nature.

Since then I have lost count of how many times I’ve spotted rabbit remains in the neighborhood. I’ve also lost count of how many rejections I’ve received. And I’ve lost count of how many nasty emails I’ve received. What can I say? I’ll continue to receive these “messages” for the rest of my life, but I promise not to lose my head over them.

Thanks for reading. -Connie

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