Publishing Failure and She Was Just Seventeen

Colgate Plax Mouthwash Alcohol Free

Colgate Plax Mouthwash Alcohol Free (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

I’ve been feeling like a failure lately because my essay, “Claudia Songs,” has been rejected so many times. I log onto Facebook and see so many of my writer friends publishing, some often, some sporadically, but they are publishing. I’m happy for them, especially for the ones I know personally but still, that feeling of failure, “not good enough,” wants to creep into my writer’s soul.  The newer versions of “Claudia Songs” are still out there with about five journals, but I don’t know if the essay will get taken. A friend said to me, “Sometimes you have to send a piece to a 100 places” before it gets taken. Well, I’m nowhere near that. I probably have only sent “Claudia Songs” to 10-15 places, and most of those places were reading an earlier version of the essay.

My friend, I don’t know if she wants to be named here, also gave me permission to stop trying to publish for the next several months.  “Focus on the one project you want to work on most and write it as if you were writing to your ideal audience. Do that for six months and see what happens.”

What great advice. I’m trying to take it. It’s hard because I want to keep up with my friends. I try to remind myself that if I were to list all the publications I’ve had over 25 years it would be a long list. While not all of the publications were “creative” or literary in nature, many of them were. But it all feels so few and far between and I seem to have an emotional need to publish now to feel successful as a writer. Never mind what I’ve published since my twenties. Yesterday’s news, as they say. And I’m 50 now, and I don’t have a book.

“Focus on that one project for several months,” she said again, “and write your blog, especially if you can find a way to tie it into the project.”

It’s great advice, so here goes: I will try to focus on the “monologue” aspect of writing that I’m so interested in. In that spirit, I’ve signed up for a full weekend workshop with T.M.I. (Too Much Information) out of Rosendale, NY, to learn more about how to craft a monologue from the essays I write about my life. I’m truly looking forward to the workshop because the abbreviated version at the Woodstock Writer’s Festival was so great – one of those workshops where you are encouraged to keep going rather than having your work analyzed to shreds. And then you get to “perform” the piece at the end of the weekend to an audience.

The women’s weekend retreat is being held at the Lifebridge Sanctuary in the Catskills of New York. I will post a picture so get ready to lose your breath. It’s a gorgeous venue inside and out. If you’re in the Catskills the weekend of July 21-22, please come see the performance on Sunday night.

This is the Lifebridge Sanctuary near Rosendale New York. I think I’d try to sneak in here for the workshop even if I wasn’t a writer.

I will try to tie my blog entries into my focus on the monologue, when I can. Here is a draft of a short piece I hope to turn into such a monologue, when I truly learn how to do that:

She Was Just Seventeen

(Inspired by the Beatles Song, “I Saw Her Standing There.”)

Plax. Red fucking Plax. I’m on a mission. It’s nearly midnight. My old lady mother wants dental rinse, red dental rinse.

“Miss? Miss?” I call. The young girl behind the counter looks up at me after a pause and an inspection of her black nail polish.

“What?” she asks.

I want to mock her and say, “What? What? Is that your generation’s shorthand for ‘How may I help you?’” But I keep quiet, afraid that any verbal conflict will lead me to wring her neck and leave her dead behind the counter.

A dead checkout girl will not lead me to Red Plax, and if I don’t come home with it, my elderly mother will sigh that sigh that makes me want to crawl out of my skin, that “I’m not happy with my life” sigh. I don’t ever want hear that sigh again, the way I never want to hear another ABBA song.

“Where is the red Plax?”

The cashier gazes at me, twirls her hair with her left forefinger and thumb, nearly assumes an intelligent expression on her face. She’s probably trying to guess my age, some middle-aged woman who is interrupting her adolescent reverie. Is she dreaming of Justin Bieber? I note a little upturn of one side of her lip. She has nose piercings. Probably not Bieber.

“What’s red Plax?” she asks.

“It’s for your teeth.” Don’t they train these people? Her long brown hair now rests on her overdeveloped bosom. She shows amazing cleavage for a girl her age.

I move my eyes from her cleavage to the countertop, blue, and then to her eyes, also blue, and wait for an answer. No one else is shopping at midnight in Rite Aid, so, we are alone. The mood is a showdown.

She twirls her hair; I twirl my anger. Who will shoot first?

“Aisle seven,” she says finally, upturning the other side of her mouth. Is she smirking?

“I’ve been to aisle seven. There’s only green Plax in aisle seven.”

She remains silent. Maybe she’s thinking about red Plax in the storage room. Maybe she’ll reach for the keys and take a look.

“Can’t you buy green Plax?” she says.

I note the cigarette display behind her, the rows of colorful Bic Lighters. I calculate the seconds it would take to jump over the counter, grab a lighter, and set her hair on fire.

Instead, I stand there, not budging.

She seems to have depleted her well of helpful suggestions.

“Look again,” is what she comes up with.

“Fuck this,” I say under my breath, but I follow her direction and turn toward the aisles. I suppose it’s possible the red Plax is hidden behind the green bottles. I head across a clean white floor. I walk past the cards and gifts, the stationary and school supplies, the deodorant and feminine hygiene displays, and again, I find the sign for aisle seven: Dental Care.

I behold a long, dizzy row of all things dental: Crest Toothpaste in a thousand variations, teeth whiteners behind locked glass cases, denture cream, dental floss, tooth brushes, and plaque removers, including green Plax. I kick a few bottles off the shelf. I see not one red bottle. I kick a few more bottles of green Plax to the floor. Oh, hell, I kick about thirty of them and the bottles lie on the white floor like dead soldiers.

Let the little cleavage-ed bitch pick up the bottles.

I turn myself around and prepare to walk up to that little twit and scream at that dumb ass little highness that there is NO RED PLAX. But maybe I should leave? Go to Walgreens? CVS? As I walk back along the gleaming white floor I look up at her and say quietly, “No red Plax.”

She shrugs her shoulders, reads a text message. I want to murder her. I guess her age to be seventeen. I guess her mother to be younger than I am, probably not even forty. I look at her brown hair leading to her breasts and wonder if someday she’ll be looking for red Plax for her 80 year old mother who insists on spending money on this shit, even though her teeth are brown and dead and nothing will bring them back. The counter chick with the cherry pop lips has no clue that she may be me in forty years.

I want to explain all of this to her, the aging, the generational evolution – or the collapsing order of things, like when you’re mother gets so old she becomes your child. If your elderly kid screams for red Plax you must find it. But I don’t think she’ll understand.

“Buy some red Plax for this frigging store,” I say to her as I approach the exit. She shrugs again. She really couldn’t give a shit. She was just seventeen.

You know what I mean?

If you didn’t enjoy theblog, maybe you can enjoy the song.

About Cindy Zelman

Creative and Freelance Writer
This entry was posted in Aging, Caring for parents, Getting Older, Idiots, Performing, The Beatles, Uncategorized, Writing, Writing Conferences, Writing Retreats and tagged , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , . Bookmark the permalink.

12 Responses to Publishing Failure and She Was Just Seventeen

  1. Deanna says:

    I saw the rite aid showdown like it was happening before my eyes. Thank you for sharing. I also agree with your friend. Sen the peice 100 times if you have too. A failure means you are not trying. I truly believe that the only way to fail is to give up. FrOm what I read and learn of you through the blog, you are nowhere near a failure. Keep up the good work!

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    • Cindy Zelman says:

      Hi Deanna,

      Thanks for being such a constant source of support for me, both as a writer and as a person. It means a lot to me that you read my blog, think about it, comment on it, and notice what I’m doing well. It takes a real friend to be that vigilant. I’m glad you could see the Rite Aid showdown, hahaha… And I will keep at “Claudia Songs,” until it’s published. You’re right. Failure means you’re not trying. Hugs to you. Cindy

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  2. Faye says:

    Cindy, I recently took several months off from sending anything out to be published. I realized that I needed a break from the pressure and the rejections. It’s so easy to get caught up in the pressure to publish, and to feel like a failure. I battle those feelings, too. After a few months, when I was ready, I re-sent a few things that had been rejected from other journals and sent out one new piece. But I needed to give myself that break. Sometimes you just have to give yourself permission to do that. One suggestion is to put Caludia Songs away for a while. Look at it again in six months with fresh eyes and an open mind. Joy Castro has given me similar advice in the past. Sometimes time does the trick, as you sharpen your skills on other work and let go of pre-conceived notions about a piece. Your blog posts are full of lively scenes and great stories. And you’re excited about monologues. I think it’s a great idea to give yourself permission to pursue something you enjoy that inspires you. While you are celebrating other friends’ publications sincerely but with understandable mixed feelings, keep in mind that those other friends might be following your blog and wishing theirs was half as good, and might be incredibly envious at your courage and the way you are getting yourself out there and attending workshops and making great connections. And they’ve probably been just as low with their own pile of rejections. Your path is your own, and you’re blazing a heck of a trail. I respect and admire you.

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    • Cindy Zelman says:

      Hi Faye,

      That was such a nice comment that I’m not sure what to say. You have lifted my spirits on a weekend when they are very low. Coming from you, such kind and complimentary words mean an awful lot. I also take your advice seriously. I will try from now, and for the next several months, to forget about publishing and focus on my blog and on the development of my skills in writing and performing monologue. And yes, I’m happy to file “Claudia Songs” for awhile. She was such a bitch, anyway. 🙂

      Thanks again, Faye. You’re a great friend and I admire the path that your blazing also.

      Cindy

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  3. mapake says:

    Cindy,
    In my humble opinion, this was the best blog since I started following you. Your stories are like short movies in my mind. Maybe you should be writing a script for a movie instead: “The Cindy Story” or something like that. LOL! Seriously, though, you are a very talented writer. Rejections are part of the game, part of life, more accurately. I say do both: focus on the blog, but don’t give up trying to publish, “Claudia Songs.” It sounds like whoever that “bitch” was, she had an impact on you and you need to see this through. Just my two cents. By the way, what did you mean by “Claudia Songs are still out there with about five journals”? Does that mean five publishers are still considering it? If so, there’s still some hope, right?! By the way, who’s the audience for “Claudia’s Songs”? Is this a love story? A revenge story? A cookbook? What? Maybe focusing on that might help guide you to the right publisher. Again, in my humble opinion.
    Kathie

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    • Cindy Zelman says:

      Hello Kathie,

      It’s always such a pleasure to hear from you. It’s so great that you enjoy my blog and keep coming back. That helps so much with my feelings of rejection.

      You ask good questions about Claudia Songs, questions that if I answer for myself, may help me to make it a better essay and more publishable. It is “out” with about five literary journals right now. It’s been rejected by several already, so I don’t hold out much hope for it in its current state. My friend Faye suggests I put it away for several months and I will take her advice. I will look at it with fresh eyes and see what it’s lacking in terms of being publishable toward the end of the year. Asking some of the questions you did will also help me in that way, so thank you.

      Briefly, it’s a the story of one of the loves of my life, a love that went awry, a love that was a train wreck and I should have known it, but pursued it anyway – this was in the 1990s. It sounds kind of cliche and maybe it is. Maybe it’s just not such a compelling story on paper as it was in my heart. I’ll figure that out over time.

      Thank you for caring and reading!

      Cindy

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      • mapake says:

        Cindy,

        As always, thanks for replying so quickly. I would like to stay positive and believe that one of those journals will still pick up “Claudia Songs.” I remember the 90s well. I think we’ve all had at least one of those fast and furious love affairs that burn up our hearts and then we’re left with nothing but a scorched memory. Hell, if no one wants to publish it, post it here. I’d love to read it. It sounds compelling to me!

        Kathie

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      • Cindy Zelman says:

        Hi Kathie,

        Sorry it took me a little longer to reply to this comment. It’s been such a busy week. I spent the entire day cleaning the house so next week when I take an extra long weekend, I don’t have to think about it.

        I appreciate your faith in my writing. Even if those journals don’t pick up “Claudia Songs,” that just means it isn’t ready yet to be published. I will put it away for a few months and work on other projects. I would love to see it published someday. I’d probably jump for joy. I don’t think the essay represents my best work, but it’s one of my most heartfelt stories. Someday.

        As for publishing it here, I may do that if it gets rejected from those other five journals because by the time I send it out again, it should be changed enough that it won’t be considered “already published,” on my blog. Some journals don’t care if you publish your stuff on your personal blog, but some do.

        It’s great to hear from you, as always, Kathie. Stay in touch!

        Cindy

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  4. Geenie says:

    Ok, now I want to murder the checkout girl with the nose piercings and her amazing amount of cleavage for a girl her age…. It was very much like a movie playing in my head. It would make a funny movie, especially the parts where it would cut to you setting the girl’s hair on fire, then back to you standing there 🙂 There is no question that you are an excellent writer. I have faith in you! Love your blog, you know all this already. xoxoxoxxx

    Like

    • Cindy Zelman says:

      Hi Geenie,

      I miss you so much and I’m so sorry I’ve been so bad at keeping in touch and keeping up with your blog. I’m overwhelmed these days. I’m thrilled to see you here in my “comments.” Ha, I’m glad you got into the story of my walk through Rite Aid and dealing with that little twit behind the counter. You, like a few people, have said they can “see” this little story like a movie. It gives me hope that maybe I can write more “scenes” and start to tell stories more visually.

      Thank you for the nice words about me as a writer. Your words and faith mean a lot to me. I like writing this blog and will focus on it more, I think, along with the monologue, because they are two aspects of writing that I find rewarding right now.

      xoxoxoxoxo to you.
      Cindy

      Like

  5. This is very good, keep working on your craft, don’t give up. I will keep reading.
    Janet

    Like

    • Cindy Zelman says:

      Hi Janet,

      Thank you so much for reading and for your encouraging words. Believe me, it helps so much to hear people say these things to me.

      I appreciate that you took the time to read and comment and hope you’ll come back.

      Take care,
      Cindy

      Like

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