Memoir: The Blessed Curse of Rejection

As a Bookworm turned Athlete turned Actor turned Secretary turned Producer and everything else in between, I’ve had more than my unfair share of rejection. There is something about the business of show that allows a specific disgrace in the constant desire to be pigeonholed while remaining an individual, a true artist.

One of my favorite things and my least favorite things to receive are letters about my writing and/or my grant applications, both of which are by far my best art forms, and the hardest to take critique from.

While I believe it is important to take and utilize constructive criticism to the fullest extent, without emotional attachement, I really can’t stand anybody talking shit on my writing.

Taste levels and marketing aside, I know my shit is brilliant.

All of my English teachers growing up DEMANDED that I become a writer, most stating that I already was one – and I remember the superfluous amounts of ink that was penned at the bottom of my papers from an early age, proud educators in disbelief regarding my talent, knowing my potential had already exceeded itself.

Except for that one bitch.

In 10th Grade (age 15-16) I was in the accelorated learning program (always ahead of myself) and I was excited to be taking a rigorous English Literature course at this new school that I had transfered to.

Knowing full well I was hot shit and had never scored anything below an A- in any of my reading/writing classes (one year I flubbed an assignment that I had no interest in, it was some book report for some book I opted not to read but wrote a noteworthy paper about it anyway), I was ready to take on the beast of intensive reading, writing and learning.

Wouldn’t you know I was up against my first (of two) feminist teachers who held every single human on earth with a penis in utter contempt.

Needless to say, I did not earn an “A”  and it was a constant battle with this man-hating woman to prove to her that she should have felt blessed to witness my genius. She was not impressed.

The blood red slashes on my papers brought tears to my eyes, and she taught me one of the biggest and overused words in my vernacular “superfluous” (see above) – in a scathing comment on my style of writing. She was also one of those cunts who thought it proper to tell me that you should never start a sentence with a preposition. But it was her that had the last laugh when I jokingly riddled all of my work with this anarchy.

One of the most embarassing moments of my life happened in that ball-buster’s class. We were assigned to choose one of Emily Dickinson’s poems and arrange some sort of musical accompaniment all while memorizing and singing said poem live in front of the class.

First of all, I have never, ever, since that time seen a more heinous assignment doled out to students.

Second, it brought me pain in so many ways because not only did it bring up two of my greatest fears: public speaking/singing and defiling the work of my idols, the financial aspect of arranging for a tape was not feasible for me. I was going to a middle-class, pretty diverse school and I was in the honors class with all of the rich kids. I made due, but the whole process and outcome was a nightmare.

I learned a lot from that anus face. She was the hardest teacher I ever had, and her persistence in kicking my ass made me such a better writer, but at the same time, I was so spoilt from all of my previous praise, I learned the valuable lesson that writing is an art and it takes a lot of technical skill and it swings furiously between objective and subjective judgement.

Emily Dickinson


I have a vault full of innumerable amounts of “NO” from people, places and things where I have applied for my work.

When I first started taking my writing seriously, I was young and nieve and did the numbers game thing, throwing my work everywhere without much desire for applying myself in a more poignant manner in the platforms I chose to hopefully present my work. The first two years I received an astounding amount of accolades, and then once I crafted my work and developed my own style and voice, I got picky (rightfully so) and my “YES” number went down considerably.

But like that twat with the red pen, I became more enlightened and determined when it comes to rejection. To quote a friend, “I don’t know how you do it!” when I tell him about the true life of a starving artist, everyday hungry for an outlet, doors slammed in the face and all that, your feet sore from stomping the pavement (or in most cases, cobblestones).

Here is the first major rejection note I received in Berlin.

I have been going through some old emails, devouring all the subject lines, and really thinking about how much I have put myself out there – and I forget about my success when I am at the throes of the constant job of looking for work. There have been pangs of disappointment, here and there and there and here, in regards to all of those things I really wanted and thought I was a perfect fit for…

Hello, DeVaughn,

I hope you are enjoying the fine weather in Berlin. Ugh!  Winter seems to have started.

Well, I’ve read into Act 2 of Frank. I don’t think it’s ready to be read before an audience.  I can give you some feedback. I won’t continue reading at this point.

First of all, the play seems to me to start too early in the story.  Having people arrive for a party is rarely as interesting as people being at a party. You might get the people into a room and start there. (I’ve done this “everyone coming to the door” thing myself.  It didn’t work for me either.)

The conversation is all pretty banal.  You might think about what you are trying to say and then see if there’s a more interesting way to have them say it.  As you know, theatre is not about “capturing” some moment in time, but rather about creating a dramatic moment. Make the impossible probable, not the improbable possible, as Aristotle suggests.

There’s no real tension between any of the characters. All the characters are pleasant. We hear about a nasty woman, but that’s in exposition. There’s no tension even between Peter and Frank because Frank is drugged. There can be no authentic emotional tension when someone is drugged or drunk. So we may think what Peter was doing was reprehensible, but that doesn’t mean we feel much tension about it.  Furthermore, it’s a flashback, so strictly speaking I’d call it “exposition.”

I think the characters lack real depth because of the time you waste bringing everyone in.  There’s a lot of talk of cupcakes and shaving one’s balls, and so forth. I suggest you get rid of that and instead of wasting time trying to banter, have them say things that reveal themselves to us.  We need admirable traits and unattractive traits in each of the characters for them to be believable.  I am fairly confident you are striving toward a traditional, American realist play here.

The apple cart needs to be upset early in the show for the audience to have any interest. The setting and the people might be curious, and even nice enough to have as real friends, but not really compelling.  If you are familiar with the term “establishing scene” then you probably know that it’s short and should end with something that disrupts the status quo.

You also try to have too much happen in the first act. We don’t even meet Carl until he’s breaking up with Frank. It may be an unpleasant way of being broken up with, but it’s not really very dramatic if we don’t already feel something for Carl.  Again, I think your main problem is that you’ve started the play with this “coming to the door” business. (Your second problem is that everyone is too nice. There are no sparks flying.)

If you re-write this taking these considerations into account, I’d be happy to read it again.  If it would help you to talk through anything, let me know.

Keep writing!


Picture 21

It took me over a year to read this in its entirety.

Even now – I just skimmed.

But after I finish this sentence, I am going to go back to the beast, and realize that his taste was not finding my feast delicious, and try my best not to take it personally because I knew he wouldn’t like my work anyway because in our first conversation he quoted Aristotle to me and I think that redefining conventional theater structure is more important than regurgitating the classics and I don’t really give a damn what anyone says but real, visceral dialog about shaving balls and cupcakes is funny and much more in enjoyable to people than oedipal tragedies that are strict in structure and stale in intent, unless of course you are a pretentious asshole.


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