Screaming Into the Wind: Sisyphus and the Publication Cycle

Screaming Into the Wind: Sisyphus and the Publication Cycle

Each attempted publication is met with a predictable series of emotions that remain exactly the same no matter how unlikely (The New Yorker) or how likely (brand spanking new startup magazine) I am to win editor approval and impending publication. At this stage in my life and career, I am perfectly happy to trumpet my rejections as well as my successes. I am content with this because it means that I have succeeded in the task of shoving my work into the face of someone much more important than I in the world of literature and publication, breathlessly screaming “LOOK AT WHAT I DID!” Which for me personally, is an action that is fraught with terror and a deep sense of insecure mania.

In his 1942 essay The Myth of Sisyphus, Camus reflects on the Grecian tormented figure and his punishment to spend the afterlife pushing a boulder up a mountain, only to have it roll back down again as soon as he reaches the top. In this, Sisyphus is presented with the option of either attempting to instill order on his punishment, believing that he would succeed if only he rolled the boulder up the hill in the precise manner which is demanded by the Gods or the universe at large. It is this reaction to his situation that truly makes it hellish, as he is doomed to live forever doing an activity that require tremendous physical exertion but also overwhelming mental distress and self-blame. However, Sisyphus is presented with another option. If he can accept that the human condition is to struggle perpetually without any hope of lasting success, and accept that his own task is essentially meaningless, than Sisyphus can achieve happiness.

In the past half-decade of my extremely short lifespan (since the age of sixteen) I have written over 1,000 pages of material. In less than a year for a freelancing job writing essays for Chinese academic students, over 300 pages were produced on topics ranging from an analysis of ancient tombs to business proposals. The above background for the adorable kitten with the trombone is my Submittable page, where for small fees I send out my work to open submissions and competitions for established literary magazines. Each time I send out my work in this context I am propelled into a state of hypomania where I will pace laps around my home, panting heavily and pausing every so often to either hop in place or punch the air like a prizefighter. When the status changes from “Received” to “In-Progress” and I know my work has been assigned to an actual human being, my emotional state intensifies. When the status switches to “Declined” I take a brief mourning period of a few hours before realizing that this means I can now revise with a fresh perspective after several months of waiting and send out this copy to a new magazines.

Regardless of what I do, what I do not do, I understand that whatever happens with me or my work it is essentially labor without a greater cause. There is no formulaic route to my own success, even those who have succeeded in undergoing massive endeavors that have changed the world only changed it momentarily. Repeating the same action compulsively without any perceptible change in results is on its own, an absurdist act. But still, I like to imagine Sisyphus happy.

The Great Wall of Rejections

They just don’t want what I’m selling.

They being the myriad of literary magazines I have sent my work to countless times, from [PANK] to Tin House to subTerrain to Carve. Short stories and poems, quiet reflections.

The publications boast several different nationalities and styles, graced with teams of editors that have decades on me. They’re inaugurated. They’re in the industry. They’ve got something I don’t.

That has to be something that I can handle, lest the jealousy render me motionless. At a certain point it becomes necessary to roll straight toward rejection motivated only with the knowledge that if I stop moving it’s forever.

Conservative estimates tell me that I will be rejected for publication at least eighty times before my work is published, with many authors pushing one hundred. I repeat the mantra to manage this mass of unpaid labor in cover letters written with love, in hours of research, in the inevitable of rejection.

They just don’t want what I’m selling.

There is comfort in accepting the negative, pushing forward with the expectation of nothing. Habitual rejection has become the norm, haplessly dotted with a few merciful moments.

I printed out my rejection emails in Times, the titles of the magazines bold in Impact. Cut them up slim. Arranged them above my workspace, all of those words that almost were, those apologetic emails talking about the idiosyncratic nature of editors or the volume of submissions. With each new rejection I am one step closer to acceptance, right on cue at the eightieth attempt.

Essays for the Chinese Academic Diaspora

Essays for the Chinese Academic Diaspora

Through an established company, I write an average of four academic essays every week, totaling generally around ten to fifteen pages. Our clientele is completely Chinese, with the general consensus that the manner essays are written in China is vastly different from the analytical, hyper-structured style common in the United States. Or New Zealand. Or the United Kingdom. Or any other Western school.

Essays in China tend to value items such as storytelling finesse, artistic use of words, and professors judge regarding the overall beauty of their finished project. This contrasts starkly with the highly regimented, formulaic approach Western academia has taken. The vast difference between these two approaches to essays should be no surprise given Chinese isolationist tendencies and difference structurally between America’s phonetic vocabulary contrasted with China’s symbolic.

In regards to our clients, I have nothing but the utmost respect for them, because they’re managing to do something brave and terrifying. Almost all are international students who have managed the gargantuan task of becoming somewhat proficient in the English language and been accepted to study abroad. The schools they attend range from Harvard to Arizona State University, from University of California Berkeley to the University of Aukland, and beyond. Meanwhile, I only have fluency in a single language and a grab bag of phrases in several others.

Out of all the questions friends and family ask about my job, the most common is: “Can’t they just write the essays themselves?”

The short answer is obviously, “Well they could, but then myself and everyone who works with me would be out of a job.” But the longer answer is more nuanced than that.

Most college or University students have at one time or another encountered an international student. Lauded by the administration to represent diversity in the student body, considered somewhat of a mythical presence by the less travelled students around them, and somewhat out of their element.

Chinese students represent a growing minority in student politics, a presence that has taken a sharp increase in recent years. Students in China are trained under a regimented academic system that values dedication, humility, and the ability to continue working from the early morning to late into the night. Under these values, Chinese students are not defined by an unwillingness to work and achieve. But they are highly competitive, and their willingness to succeed in their academic environment goes beyond something many Westerners can understand.

Many students continue placing orders into the writing system well into the summer, evidence of their willingness to continue in their studies when many have stopped for the season. The bulk of these come from Chinese students located in United States universities, where students come to escape the rigidity of the Chinese system.

Most recent data from the 2013-2014 academic year shows that over 274,000 Chinese international students chose US schools. Chosen so they can decide their own course of study. Chosen so they have the freedom to work wherever they choose following their graduation.

While this may be considered by many to be a violation of academic standards, how they choose to use the material they request is up to them. I remain along for the ride, absorbing coursework on everything from finance to urban planning to modern politics in Tibet.