happy new year

h č-b — “find your people”

A mentor of mine once described the approach that he and his contemporaries used to take when they wanted to get an article published. They would put their manuscript in an envelope and send it off to a journal. If the article was rejected, they would take the returned manuscript out of its first envelope and put it in a new one, freshly addressed to another academic journal. They would repeat this process until the article was accepted. I sometimes tell this anecdote to my own students now as a parable of persistence (although in my version the manuscript doesn’t stay the same, but gets revised in response to the feedback within the rejection).

The moral of the story seems ultimately to be that there is a place for our work out there, somewhere. And: rejection is never a definitive judgement of value. But an important part of this tale is the fact that not everyone can receive what we want to give; not everyone can hear what we want to say. In fact, it is not only a parable of persistence, but a parable of calibration. The message here is not only (or necessarily): keep trying and you will make it, but: keep looking for the people who are ready to hear you, to engage with you, to work with you. In the parable of calibration, the act of realignment happens on an internal level as well as an external one: internally, we can look at what we have made and investigate the possibilities of adjustment; externally, we turn to look for receptive collaborators — people we can fruitfully be in conversation with. I think now about the times in my life when I have offered up something and met a brick wall — and at those times, the brick wall was all I could see. I didn’t consider that I could turn slightly and take another path, or even that there were any other paths. Instead, I saw the blockage as evidence of my own failure. This is a very lonely place to be. But a manuscript in a new envelope will eventually find a reader.