Reflection: Liz Axelrod

Forget your personal tragedy. We are all bitched from the start and you especially have to be hurt like hell before you can write seriously. But when you get the damned hurt, use it—don’t cheat with it. —Ernest Hemingway

If you start with a bang, you won’t end with a whimper. —T.S. Eliot

“Every disappointment is an opportunity in disguise. You’ll overcome this and move on to better things.” This is what your friends tell you when you get those awful declines and rejections. Yes, it may be true, and yes, it may help to soothe the deep hole under the diaphragm that gets larger with each letter, each ending, each failed appointment, each time we’re told, “So sorry, yes, you were excellent, but there were others before you, better candidates. Yes, you’re at the top of the list, but we only have so much room. Try again next year.”

I ask myself each time I’m rejected by a literary journal, magazine, an online outlet, a reading series, the school I love, the men I want to loveWhy continue? Why not just give up and settle?

But this is what scholarly pursuits, writing, and I suppose even life, are all about—blind submission, acceptance, rejection, not-so-blind submission, rewards, and then some more rejection.

Since I read my first book and put my first words on the page (in red crayon), I’ve been on this path of exquisite torture. For every success, for every featured reading and published piece, there are seventeen rejections. A professor once told our class she papered her bathroom wall with her rejection letters. She has two published novels now and a slew of awards, so I guess the effort was well worth it. But how do we continue to find the courage to put ourselves out there and keep from falling into the pit of desperation and despair? How do we handle the fact that this is a solitary effort and maybe only a handful of our contemporaries understand even an inkling of the pressure? I’ve written way too many poems about why I drink too much, and my self-medicating habits don’t even come close to those of some of my fellow writer friends. There are days I throw my hands up in the air and want to scream when the words won’t come, and days when I sit and stare at the blank page, eyes and fingers crossed.

However, this is not about success or failure; it’s about lessons learned, and the will to go forward. It’s not about intelligence, ego, jealously, or empathy. It’s about shared experiences with fabulous, talented professors and fellow students; and mostly, it’s about growth. During my time as Editor-in-Chief from TK to TK, our 12th Street team grew tremendously and two issues. We sat at the table together and drank wine, pored over submissions, devised our strategy, and then worked to create the best undergraduate literary journal in the country (as awarded by AWP in TK year). We have much to be proud of and will be leaving a strong legacy to uphold.

Always be a poet, even in prose. —Charles Baudelaire


Liz Axelrod is Web Editor and Poetry Reader for LIT, the literary journal of The New School’s Master of Fine Arts in Creative Writing Program. She received her bachelor’s degree from the Riggio Writing and Democracy Honors Program and was Managing Editor of two award-winning editions of 12th Street, The New School’s undergraduate literary journal, and Editor-in-Chief of Her work has been published in the Cat Oars Fiction Collective, Lyre Lyre, 12th Street, Rumpus, Brooklyn Rail, and Electric Literature. She holds an MFA in Poetry from The New School Graduate Writing Program.

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