Got a rejection letter from Composition Studies
yesterday for an essay I wrote about teaching the personal essay. The first review letter was at least kind in its rejection--gave me some things to think about in an encouraging way, a way that made me think that maybe, just maybe, I might have something to say on the subject.
The second review letter, though, was just plain mean and seemed to glory in it. "I have read your paper with mounting annoyance." Great way to start a review. Thanks.
"What's your point? Or points? Yes, I know that a personal essay doesn't necessarily have to have a thesis, but what's it about?" And then the reviewer goes on to make more mean commentary in a way that suggests he (it can only be a he, says S.) knows exactly what the essay is about.
There's a point in the essay where I talk about the ways that I've told so many of my students stories about Annabelle--but that last semester, I found that I had stopped doing this. This was curious to me. The reviewer wants to know how "knowing about Annabelle, the cutsiefied canine, will help your students to write better, rather than to encourage them to exchange sentimental anecdotes or write them and thus to use them as a substitute for the hard-edged critical thinking you appear to advocate via the discussion of Ways of Reading." Um, hi, I think the point I was trying to make, oh friendly person, was that something happened last semester that made me stop telling so many Annabelle stories. I'm sure everything you
do in the classroom, every word you say and every story you tell helps students to write better.
Jesus H. Christ on a popsicle stick.
The first reviewer understood my essay as a whole. The second reviewer nitpicked this and that, enough to fill up two single-spaced pages, but never acknowledged that the essay has a point but maybe I wasn't as successful as I thought I was in making that point. No. What matters is that every word I say in the classroom is not directed toward helping students write. Because sometimes I want them to see me as a human being. Which is what I'd like to believe about this reviewer, but it's hard.
I know how bitter I sound. And it's not just because I was rejected. It's because I was rejected in a mean-spirited way, and the person who wrote that review cannot be held accountable. If this were my first piece sent out for publication, you can be pretty damn sure I wouldn't be sending anything else out anytime soon.
I'm not giving up on my essay. I'm taking the first person's advice and reworking it.
I was pretty down yesterday because of this. Not only did I feel like a bad writer, I felt like a horrible teacher, what with spending so much time talking about my dog instead of teaching students how to write with "ease, elegance, and grace." But then S. pointed out just how poorly this review itself was written--all over the place, unable to see the whole for the nitpicking parts--and I felt a little better. If there's one thing this reviewer could learn from the personal essay, it's that in order to be taken seriously as a writer, you've got to at least show some inkling of a willingness to implicate yourself in the faults that seem to lie elsewhere. Ending your review with "Best wishes" ain't gonna cut it.