The Rejection Project

Woof howdie, was last year a tough one. We all have different hows and whys, but almost universally, last year pummelled us. We stumbled into the corner of 2021, like the underdog in the third act of a boxing movie, and no one was there to squirt water in our mouths and tell us we had one more round in us. Because maybe we don’t.

That said, I still want to write. I write for the same reason I clean my house (sometimes)—because my life makes more sense when I do.

I was cleaning my house last week when I came across a pile of papers from about 20 years ago. They were rejection slips from magazines and literary journals. I save all the paper. It’s a thing. I don’t question it too much. Most of these rejections fall into what I’ll call Writer 1.0. I was young. I was trying to write and share it with the world. I had some small success, along with lots and lots of rejection. It’s the nature of the thing. 95% of the responses the average writer gets are rejections. At the same time, my disabilities were kicking my ass, especially my cPTSD and my depression. I ended up hospitalized and survival became my main focus. I wrote as I could through all this, but in the end, there was a multi-decade gap where I knew I was a writer, but I couldn’t access publishing.

A few years ago, I hit Writer 2.0. The circumstances, some privilege, my persistence, the opportunities, they all came together. Now when people ask what I do, I say I’m a writer. I have another job I do that I enjoy, but I’m a writer first and foremost.

Still, writing last year was hard. Often impossible. I follow lots of writers and the struggle was ubiquitous. We couldn’t find the time, the motivation, the words. We were stuck.

The Rejection Project is my plan to un-stick. I’m going to create a piece to submit to every single place that has ever rejected me (that still exists). Why? Because it gives me a framework to create. Because even if a piece is rejected, I have something I created to add to my to-be-submitted pile. Because it’s funny. Because I like a goodly hunk of these markets. They do good work and publish the creations of folks I admire.

I also plan to share the journey here because why the heck not? I can think of no better way to approach 2022 than to turn rejection into creation. Join me if you’d like. Let me know how it goes. We can have some fun, pen some prose, and make it through to 2023, one rejection at a time.

What Language Our Survival Speaks

Hello good folks (and auto-follow bots). What a noisy, quiet year. Noisy on the input, quiet on the output. Almost every writer I know or follow has spent some (most?) of 2021 living on the writer’s block. I am not immune. I’ve lived there, too.

Just as the year closed out, however, I finally felt that spark. It turned into this piece for the Spoonie Authors Network. Called Welcome to Disability (a House with Infinite Rooms), it’s my letter to the folks with long Covid who are just finding themselves in our ranks, though I think it can speak to anyone who exists in this space called Disabled.

I hope to have more to share soon. I hope you are well. I hope whatever it is you love to create is only hibernating in these wild times. I hope. I hope. I hope. Because I can’t fathom the alternative.

Buy Me a Coffee at ko-fi.com

Dear Danny Tanner

In memory of the ersatz father figure I visited on Friday nights, here's my most rejected poem. Enjoy.

Dear Danny Tanner,

I know that this is sad
but will you be my dad?

I could be so bright and keen
almost like a normal teen
hang with bleach and Mr. Clean

I could press your fancy shirts
learn how starch and cling-spray works
label all my linen drawers
help you with your Sunday chores
live with you on
all
four
floors

I could help you
(oh so gently)
leave the closet
I’m intently
leaning closer for a word
that says you’ve heard my prayer
I promise I’ll be there

Forever
(just like Jesse said)
you’ll make me jam on whole wheat bread
we’ll read The Body Politic
and buy me binders and lipstick
I’ll help you choose your hottest pic
and write your dating ad

yeah

I know that this is sad
but will you be my dad?

Creative Commons Licence
This work is licensed under a Creative Commons Attribution-NonCommercial-ShareAlike 4.0 International License.
Buy Me a Coffee at ko-fi.com

Pushcart Prize Nomination

It was a delight yesterday to wake up and find out that one of my creative non-fiction pieces had been nominated for the Pushcart Prize. Titled Death Is a Way to Come Home: Rituals for the Estranged, it appeared earlier this year in the heart-rocking collection All My Relations published by The Talbot-Heindl Experience.

I readily admit that between recovering from Covid and hitting the busy season at work, my writing has taken a back seat (if it was lucky enough to get a seat at all). I never begrudge myself these pauses. I’m learning to trust my muse when it rests. Still, this nomination is a bit of a tonic. It came at the right time. And it’s very, very appreciated.

Group Homes, Death, Myths, Madness, and Rediscovering Reading

Welp, it’s been a while since I updated my website. I’ve been busy surviving a whole, actual, ongoing pandemic. It’s a thing. You can probably relate. Since my last update, lots of works that were in the pipeline have come out, so with only…

this much…

further ado…

here they are!

Apparition Lit, the funky independent, speculative lit mag that published my flash piece Seeking Same a few years back, shared my new essay about rediscovering reading after being diagnosed with Covid. Called When We Lost Touch, it’s—at heart—a love letter to the literary community and anyone who is creating art in this impossible time.

Stone of Madness Press picked up my stream of consciousness poem, Familiar, that tries to explain/invite people in to a moment of cPTSD-related panic.

Anti-Heroin Chic shared my group home story-verse about the moment I realized the grass on the other side can be a pretty, green lie. You can read Untended here.

Like everything helmed by Chris Talbot-Heindl, All My Relations is a gorgeous, honest collection that spends time in the concepts of death and loss without losing sight of how delicate and necessary mourning can be. My piece, Death Is a Way to Come Home: Rituals for the Estranged, is a creative non-fiction essay that visits the ways I’ve learned to mourn my estranged family members.

Finally, the minison zine’s mythology themed 12th issue includes three of my pieces: heroes villains, my creation myth, and ra was the sun god. Each poems is made up entirely of lines that are also anagrams of the title. I like to give myself a challenge.

That’s all for now! Hopefully I can find the spoons to get back to writing and submitting soon.

Centring our creative community

This week, I’m giving a boost to a new anthology called It Gets Even Better: Stories of Queer Possibility. I backed their Kickstarter, so my copy just arrived in the mail! It’s full of speculative lit featuring all kinds of Queer stories. It takes Queer-friendly space literally and I love it. You can buy it as an eBook, paperback, or audio book here.

Buy Me a Coffee at ko-fi.com

A Questionnaire for Reporters Writing About Folks Experiencing Homelessness


CW: homelessness, violence, illness, hunger, food, institutionalization, cPTSD, medication, psychiatry.
  1. What’s the largest bruise a security guard has left on your body? Could you draw it back on from memory? Is it tattooed in your brain, even as it’s faded from your skin?
  2. How many tuberculosis tests have you had to take? Can you count them on one hand? Do your hands still shake?
  3. Which item that you sold for food do you regret the most? Or have you learned that regret only comes in moments of quiet? Do you avoid quiet so that you can’t hear your stomach or your knees or your spine play the symphony of privation?
  4. How many times has your life been reset to zero point? If it happens again, will you cry or have you spent all your tears? Do people tell you that you are strong when really, you’re just not dead yet?
  5. How many flashlights have shone through small windows at you while you tried to sleep? Did it jar you awake? Did the subsequent nightmares feature every terror you’d run away to escape?
  6. What was it like cutting your meds in half to make them last longer? How many months did you have to save for a therapy session? What did it feel like when the therapist cringed while you described your life?
  7. What is the coldest your toes have ever been? How many days did the ache linger? Does a drop in temperature still make you panic?
  8. Will you tell the truth when the kid at the kiosk in the mall asks you why you even want this job? What address will you put on the application? Can you wear a retail-ready smile for ten hours after figuring out which play structure in the park offers the most cover from the rain?
  9. How many times has someone watched you use the washroom? How many case workers have laid hands on you? How young were you the first time you were under the care of someone who saw you as consumable?
  10. What makes you think you’re qualified to tell our stories?
Creative Commons Licence
This work is licensed under a Creative Commons Attribution-NonCommercial-ShareAlike 4.0 International License. Buy Me a Coffee at ko-fi.com

Writing Recap

It’s nice to be back to sharing my writing again. I was fortunate to have three selections come out recently.

The first seems a bit on the nose, all things considered. It’s a poem that I wrote for an anthology called A Drunken Midsommar, featuring pieces inspired by the film Midsommar. Called How to Deprogram Yourself after Leaving a Cult, it explores what it takes to undo the programming of belief. You can download the eBook here, or buy it as a paperback here.

The second is a series of three minisons (14 letter poems) that were included in The Minison Zine’s fairy tale themed issue. I don’t create visual poetry very often, so this was fun to do.

Finally, my horror flash fiction piece, Where Suctorial Insects Abound, is part of The Periodical, Forlorn: Vampires Rise Again. It’s a short piece, but it has bite. Or maybe sting is more accurate. You can buy the issue here for $2.99.

Enjoy!

There Are No Demons

Heads up to those reading this: I mostly use this website to talk about my creative efforts. This isn’t that. This is a personal piece of writing I’ve done in solidarity with others speaking up. I wan’t to make sure you are jumping into this from an informed space. I’m also including links to the RAINN helpline, the Trevor Project helpline, and this list of global crisis lines, in case they are needed.

TW/CW: Child sexual abuse, homelessness and precarious housing, homomisia, suicide, neglect, religious abuse, exorcism (yeah, it gets weird).

With all that in mind, I’ll begin.

When I started to write this, I was sitting in my backyard. Small birds danced in and out of my yard-sale bird feeder. Like most of the objects in my personal sanctuary, the bird feeder had been lovingly sanded down and given a fresh coat of paint. I find satisfaction in rescuing discarded things and offering them another go round. I believe—maybe to my own detriment—in second chances. When I was very young, I believed in infinite chances. Circumstances have required that I pare that down. 

Between bird visits, I was reading articles about restorative justice on my phone. I sought answers to the not-yet-fully-formed question that (my partner pointed out) was taking up far too much of my bandwidth.

The question is nebulous and too broad to ever answer: What is the right thing to do?

Here’s the deal (and this is where those trigger warnings I mentioned above start to kick in):

A grown man who was a once a precious child shared a recounting of a church leader abusing him.

(I find, already, a challenge in communicating this. There are so many adjectives that we use to describe the sexual abuse which adults inflict on children. Devastating. Horrifying. Heartbreaking. I don’t think any of them nail it. Is there a word big enough, and yet precise enough, to describe what a recounting of abuse is?)

A grown man who was a once a precious child shared a devastating, horrifying, heartbreaking recounting of a church leader abusing him. He also talked about the church’s response and the further devastation, horror, and heartbreak it caused.

When I think about the church, I’m suddenly inside a red brick building that smells like lemon soap and everyone’s best Sunday perfume. I’m walking on the orange carpet to find a seat in the section where the youth group sits. There are hymnals, but most of the songs we sing are projected on a screen using overhead slides. No PowerPoints yet. This was the 90s.

You know it’s a cool church because they have a band. You know it’s a serious church because the head pastor used to be a scientist. You know it’s a patriarchal church because all of the elders (like a board of spiritual directors) are cis men. That’s still true. They recently voted, again, against allowing anyone of another gender to serve in this role.

For a most of my high school years, I loved this place. My first visit came when a classmate invited me to a youth event. When she moved across the country the next year, I just kept going. They couldn’t get rid of me. My home was full of abuse and chaos, but here there was a promise of found family and of shared goodness. Here there were cookies for snack and sometimes concerts in the sanctuary. Here there was an all-powerful something-or-other that could hear my prayers.

My question—what’s the right thing to do?—they had an answer for that. And it was a magic answer. It was an instant answer. It was an answer that I could get for a few words, though I’d have to commit for my whole life. And I wanted to.

This is all part of the puzzle as I try to figure out the right thing to do. 

I’m not going to drag this out. I’ve known since that very brave man spoke out what the right thing to do is.

It’s to state unequivocally that I support him. It’s to make sure he knows he’s not alone. And it’s to share parts of my experiences at RAC, in the time and way that I’m able, so that other people can see that there are more of us.

I don’t know why numbers change things when it comes to organizational and institutional abuse, but they do. We know that the more people come forward, the less folks get to act like nothing happened.

Something happened.

(Look at me, using the passive voice.)

The something is abuse. And it didn’t just happen. An individual chose to do it and others colluded to cover it up. It’s part of the history of that building, that organization, and that community.

To clarify: I’m not a christian now. I exist in that wonderfully queer space between atheist and pagan that allows for ritual and wonder but doesn’t require promising bits of myself to folks who wont take care of them. One reason I’ve been slow to respond is that I know non-christians, like myself, who challenge churches are easily dismissed. So are queer folk. We don’t exist in their moral hierarchy. They’ve got a holy edict and I worship good karaoke and bad thrift store finds. I’m a very different human than I was when I sounded the alarm about the layperson youth leader who harassed, groomed and solicited me. I can’t fit back into their boxes and they likely won’t be willing to visit mine. We’re at an impasse.

I’ve emailed the organization—The Clergy Abuse Resource Team (CART)—that the larger governing body set up to take in reports of abuse. I’ve not heard back from them. Please know that I am resisting making a CART before the horse pun.

I also have no faith (in the practical, not the mystical sense) in any of the other systems in place to seek something called justice. The police are not a friend to survivors. The courts are not a friend to survivors. The press is not a friend to survivors.

I also hesitate because in the branching history of my existence, this isn’t the most rotten branch. What happened at RAC, it’s not small potatoes, but they’re in a pretty big bushel.

When this potato hit, I was a precariously-housed teenager who travelled from a different city on two bus services. I did it to keep this church in my devastating, horrifying, and heartbreaking life. I mean, it was also a normal life. It wasn’t just me being sad and destroyed. I was in high school when Boyz II Men were a thing. It’s hard to be sad listening to those harmonies. I, with my off-brand walkman, spent way-too-much of my almost-no money taking those buses to RAC. I did it because after losing my home, my school, and my mental health, I couldn’t lose my church too. I couldn’t.

Long story very short, because the details don’t serve me shared here: A layperson youth leader (like a volunteer, but with a degree from a bible college) saw this busted, destroyed, occasionally suicidal child and thought…

Actually, I have no idea what he thought. I used to obsessively read anything I could find about why grown folks hurt kids. There are myriad reasons and I’m not qualified to say what his were.

I can say it sucked. It mirrored my experiences at home. I’m not going to oversell it. I got out of it better than lots of others. But yeah, it sucked. There’s no cautionary tale here. Don’t accept a ride home from an evening church event with a youth leader? Was I any safer on the late night bus? There were no safe options for me. I don’t believe in safe options. They don’t exist. Vulnerable people, especially once someone has abused us at home, get targeted over and over in life. We often don’t have the skills or resources to seek justice. And what even is justice? They (whoever they are in any situation) know that we lack credibility because our society’s metric of credibility also sucks. They choose us precisely because of this.

It all sucks.

(But I have a backyard now and sparrows come to my bird feeder and that doesn’t suck. My current life is full of things that don’t suck.)

But this? This sucked. And what happened after was worse.

Almost immediately, I reported it to the church leadership. I earnestly believed something would be done.

They told me he’d repented and…

That was it. It was over. The head pastor, when I tried to push for more, gave me a look that read disdain. Pure disdain. He was having none of it. There was no sympathy. Not for what my life was like. Not for this added chaos. Not for any of it. I can bring up the look in those eyes. I have a picture of them in my head. If I ever felt the need to remind myself how little I mattered, it’s the picture I’d go to.

The church’s response was to send me to see a counsellor. 6 separate individuals told me I should go see this woman. I thought it was a sign from god. More likely, it was coercion and manipulation. These were folks I trusted, though, so I went.

The counsellor worked out of one of the side offices near the youth pastor’s. By counsellor, I mean a woman who possibly didn’t have any official counselling training. She was your average church lady. Floral dresses. Pageboy cut. Motherly in that way that straddles the line between caring and deeply punitive—heavy on the punitive. She told me the problems with me (yes, the problems were with me, apparently) were caused by demons (no, I’m not kidding). If I wanted to extricate myself from their corruption, I had to take a course from her in spiritual warfare. It’s why, she insisted, this type of thing kept happening to me (hello passive voice, my old friend).

Why is this the worst part? Because it made a sort of sense to me. People did bad things to me because I housed a bad thing. Many bad things. Bad things that might have come to my family eons back that were passed to me via generational sins. And my own, of course. Hadn’t I used a magic 8 ball? Or done yoga? Listened to Prince? Hadn’t I had impure thoughts? If I purged all those things, and let her cut the tendrils the demons had tied to my soul, the bad things would stop. I’d also be saving my future, non-existant children from the same fate. I stuck it out until the end, through an exhaustive, multi-week recounting of every way in which I was bad.

At the end of the course, she prayed over me so the demons would be gone, taking all those pieces of me with them. Years later, I’m still trying to get some of those pieces back.

Sometimes I joke with friends about my exorcism. The idea is bizarre. It’s a shorthand for how different my reality was. I was taught that demons were coming in the cracks—and I was mostly cracks. My emotional well-being was like the San Andreas fault. I could have been a rooming house for demons, had they been a real thing. 

What stood out to me the most was the heat and the wetness of her hands when she laid them on me. That ubiquitous floral dress. The scab where she’s dropped a curling iron on her arm. My discomfort with being touched. I did it, though. I made it through the course (yes it came with photocopied homework). I let them try to get rid of what was wrong with me. I was on board. The problem was me and I was working to fix it.

When I saw the youth leader in church, I learned to turn panic into disassociation. I didn’t tell any of my contemporaries. I performed in plays and sung in choirs and dropped whatever change I could gather in an envelope to tithe for the right to share space with the man who’d hurt me. I even applied for church membership.

I could say something about how hard it is to leave abusive spaces. I could make a quip about Stockholm syndrome. Really, though, I still wanted that family. I wanted a tether, any tether, to stop me from falling away.

Do I need to tell you that they rejected me? I guess I was a liability. I was a problem child and I just wouldn’t go. Remember what I said way back at the beginning about second chances? I really believed that someone, maybe a group of someones, would make it right. They’d make sure I had a place to live and food to eat. They’d make sure I was treated like what they’d preached I was—a child of their god.

Shoot, I wasn’t anyone’s child. I was no one. I drifted off into being no one.

Within a year, I was living in a group home. That summer, I went to my first Pride event. That’s where I started to find my family, in bits and pieces. The PFLAG tent had a hug-a-mom section and suddenly there were hands around me that felt loving. I still had issues being touched, but this was like coming home. I drank. I danced. I lauged. I celebrated everything I’d been told was wrong in me.

I’m solidly middle aged now and that year feels like a death. I’ve had a few years like that. Trauma survivors often do. A version of me that believed in demons died. There were no demons. There were only people playing the part. There were only systems that tied sex to shame and holiness to gender and I had to exorcise them. I did it with theatre and sunshine yellow wall paint. I did it by slowly figuring out how to engage in community without anyone steamrolling each other. I’m still working on how to be a friend. I’m still trying to figure out what the right thing to do is.

In this case, the right thing to do is to say to my very new friend these words:

You are not alone. You are precious and brave and hilarious. I respect you so damn much. I’m glad you kicked at this door. I’m sorry you had to, and I’m sad that so many people will probably be walking through it. But we’re here together now. You. Are. Not. Alone.

And I guess that means I’m not alone either.

Resilience

Hello all. I have two more days until my Covid quarantine is over and I can walk in the sun again. This bug is no joke! I can’t remember the last time I was this tired.

Still, it’s also National Poetry Month and I was fortunate enough to be invited to share some words with the League of Canadian Poets. The first piece is an essay, 18 Interpretations of Resilience. It’s an odd year to spend time thinking about resilience. I tried to be honest about the ways the concept has helped and hindered me. The second piece is a poem, Avocado. This is both one of my favourite poems and one of my most rejected. In retrospect, that feels right for the theme.

I’m off for a nap (lots of those right now). But be well, drink lots of water, and hug your humans.

H. E.