When I was a kid, I was in Girl Scouts. Not long enough to get the grown-up, cosmopolitan forest green Junior uniform, but for a few years in the first couple grades when being a Brownie was as good as extracurricular got. I have scattered memories of earning a few of those badges, like painting a bird house for Carpentry that in just the last couple years finally rotted away from my parents’ backyard, and building some kind of house with straws and marshmallows. But what I remember most is Cookie Time, that blissful introduction to entrepreneurial skills and capitalism. My dad and I attacked our neighborhood with baked goods, me pulling a red wagon and wearing you-can’t-say-no pigtails, him jotting down orders and keeping the checks safe in a Girl Scout-issued manila envelope.
The one time, the one interaction out of several hundred, that I can remember frame-for-frame, word-for-word, took place when we had a table outside our neighborhood Thriftway store. You know the gimmick: smile, ask if you’d like some cookies, dare you to say no. Dad taught me the rules: only ask a person once, and only when they’re leaving the store. So, like everyone leaving the store, I asked one particular woman if she’d like a box of Girl Scout cookies. She was probably 50, maybe early 60’s, with a grandmotherly cadence.
“Ooh, I bet my little friend would like some cookies,” she cooed in a sticky, condescending voice you get used to hearing from time to time as a kid. “What kinds do you have?” I ran down the list. “Oh, those are all so good, I think I might want them all,” she said with a grin. My heart lilted at the prospect–had any Girl Scout ever sold a box of each to just one person? It was the Great White Buffalo of cookie season. She asked how much they were, and I replied.
“And tell me, little friend, would you like it if I bought all those cookies?” I nodded with all the enthusiasm I dared not name.
“I bet you would,” she said, and with that she shifted her eyes away from me to the horizon beyond her cart, and walked out into the parking lot, straight to her car. I thought maybe she was grabbing her wallet, or making sure she had room in the back of the minivan for all those cookies. She got in, turned the ignition, and never looked back.
I kept waiting, feeling anxious and befuddled. Why would she get me all hyped up and then bail? She was coming back, right? Other customers kept streaming out of the Triftway’s automatic doors, but I kept staring at the road, waiting for her to return and set the story straight. Even the next weekend I thought she’d run up, “thank goodness you’re still here! I got lost on my way back from the bank!”
Of course, she never did, and the reason why haunted me. Had I done something wrong in our brief exchange? Had I missed something, a clue to what she really meant? Was I a fool for misunderstanding?
The cookie story has bubbled back to me in recent months, during a small ordeal I’ve had with a big publishing venue. Without naming names, this is a publication you read. Your mom and brother and college roommate probably read it, too. One of those places that has recognition even for those outside of writer circles and academia. I queried them back in the late summer, proposing a piece about unemployment and outsourcing told through the experiences of my middle class family (which, like the rest of the country, is quickly losing that designation). I sent the letter off with scant hope, knowing how many they must receive, and content with myself for at least making the effort.
I was floored the next day, when a reply appeared in my mailbox from the editor his/herself. “I’d love to read that essay. Please send.”
I’d love to read it, too! It just doesn’t exist.
Cue Hannah Horvath panic.
I got home from work and wrote nonstop. I poured out the whole essay that had been slinking together in my head all day, pulling together the threads and points I had willed myself not to forget. Late that night, I had it, and when I once-over edited, I had that rare feeling that “this is actually good. This could be good enough for Unnamed Really High-Profile Publication. I would read this, dammit.” A brilliant, trusted friend read it the next day and gave me an encouraging blessing. I proudly attached the Word doc, and I waited.
For two weeks.
I couldn’t stand it; I had to ask. Politely. “Just checking in to see if you’re still interested. Thanks for reading!” I braced myself for the non-reply, but another did show up the next day. “Definitely interested! We have the next couple of pieces lined up though. Can I send you edits next week?”
CAN you?! I agreed, that would be fine and great and happy, and I sat back from my laptop and breathed it in. I was going to be in Unnamed Really High-Profile Publication.
I mean, I thought I was.
The next week came and went. A month passed, then two, and three when my agent sent a follow-up. S/he didn’t reply to either of us. Still hasn’t. I watched that big, giant “get” strut out into the parking lot, and turn down the road.
Last night, I sent the piece out to a smattering of other publications. The feeling was metallic and bitter in my mouth, the admission of defeat, that I wasn’t going to be part of URHPP. I felt it brush against my fingertips, and then fall away like the nothing-stardust it was in the first place. Had I cursed myself, remembering the face and tone of that woman, doubting the fulfillment of the dream from the first inquiry? What, again, had I done wrong? How did I fuck it up?
I doubt I’ll learn why URHPP put me on Ignore. I mean, short of flying to New York and holding the office hostage until someone hands over line edits (which totally hasn’t crossed my mind, I swear). Maybe it was too similar to something else they were running, or they decided to go in a new direction, changed their spam filter settings to block some other annoying Blankenbiller and lost me through the cracks. I know I should feel good about how far I came–that they did, out of thousands of emails, reach out to mine. That they did like the piece. That their interest drove me to create an essay that another place might like and give a new home.
I know these are all truths, but I’m still disappointed. I’m frustrated with having to start from scratch, try to re-place work I thought was going to launch. Disappointment is such a woefully inert piece of being a writer, at least one who decides to fight in the crowded Ring of Death for a few unpaid credits. I feel like shit, and my only consolation is that I only told the most knitted-intimate of my circle, a little esteem insurance against Gross Pity at Sudden Neglect. On weeks like this, it pulls me down. I can talk a big game about perspective, the stuff my core still knows is there, but my heart is bruised. I wonder if “keep trying” is the right answer, if “try at all” was what I was supposed to do in the first place.
What I will remember, when I’m out of my funk, is that the bad and good come at us beyond our control. Some of the bad things turn out to be veiled blessings, while good news turns sour, or never pans out at all. You have to be ready either way, to shine or get back up. I can keep fixating on that woman’s minivan, or I can smile, and watch the next car roll up toward the store. “Would you like some Girl Scout cookies? Or an essay?”