I’m heading to the post office again, the sweat sparked by the outdoor oven of a Tucson summer meandering down my back, the manila envelope in my hand gently thrumming my thigh in rhythm with my expectant stride.
I love this moment of physical embarkation: the expectant three-block stroll; the tactile weight of hope in my hands, my message in a bottle; the feeling of tangible accomplishment, of being the architect of my desired future. Somewhere in the not-distant future, I will recall fondly the days of printing, packing and mailing my work, and will miss this ritual as I miss the ink stains from Sunday newspapers on my fingers.
The quest for publication is similar to the demon highs and lows of my teens and 20s, chasing affection in the validation of the crowd. “Look at me dance; I’m pretty, so pretty in my leather pants and red ruffled shirt, just like Bono; love me, please love me.” The editor, after all, is another woman I’m trying to seduce, a poker face I’m trying to read. In my post office journey, I’m spinning myself like a top into the night and hoping for luck when the lights come up.
The importance of this act of physical submission is the public declaration of intent, the neon-lit billboarding of aspirations. The ease of online supplications in this era of free Submishmash-ing—those effortless, rash, one-click 3 a.m. transmissions—is an enemy of the writer’s ego. The anonymity heightens our sense of seclusion, allows us to deny our calling, cultivates that sense of hobby-dabbling that many of us nurture because of the subconscious belief—born, in my case, of the Midwestern Protestant work ethic—that writing isn’t a real occupation. The online submission is the effortless, lazy satiation of a Saturday night on the couch with pizza and ice cream, whereas the stroll to the post office forces us to abandon our hermitages, to move forcefully into the world, declaring our unabashed lust for literary glory.
Guilty admission: I frequently hear the funk-stroll beat of “Stayin’ Alive” as I make this journey. My actual “walk” is different, as I try to harness the surging nervous energy, forcing myself into a slow strut that fully inhabits the confident muscularity of the moment.
The essays are delivered to the literary gods in meticulously constructed packets. My attention to these creation-rituals is not so different from my Friday night prep as a 22-year-old: styling my hair, picking just the right outfit—eye-catching, shiny, tactile—to attract notice.
First, the cover letter, laid out on my desk like a shiny silk shirt, the content adjusted for the stature and gravitas of the entity from whom I seek publication, and replete with verification of other pretty people who have validated me: “has danced with _______ in the _________ anthology; has danced with _____ in the ________ Review.” My skin buzzes, and a crackle builds in my blood as I finger pages, work printers and staplers, attach paper clips—a creeping expectancy similar to the electricity that fueled those old Friday night rituals of shave, shower, floss and gel. Tonight could be the night. Then the manuscript, all its pages paper-clipped together into geometric perfection, borders aligned with a gentle tapping on my table. Clean, razor-sharp edges of intent. This could be the one. Finally, the self-addressed rejection envelope—a last precaution, counterweight to the hopeful necessity of the wallet-condoms at 22. My “A” game is signed, sealed and ready to go. Anticipation of limitless possibilities, of a great un-met love waiting to soothe me with the sweet caress of validation.
This manifestation of my desire is then tucked into the manila envelope with the empty corner expectantly awaiting the customized postage courtesy of the nice lady at my local post office, the smiling gatekeeper of the literary nightclub, who takes my postage fees as cover-charge, her worn, gentle hands the final stage in my prayer, my offering to the capricious, busy gods of literary love, her adhesive stamp the waxless medieval seal granting my missive safe passage through the kingdom.
Now dance and wait, spin and twirl—and pretend that I don’t care.