by Elizabeth Austin
Everything I know about rejection in writing I learned from being a Philadelphia Eagles fan.
Hear me out: I know this is probably not the space for football talk, and I’m even more aware that there’s no place for the Philadelphia Eagles anywhere outside of Philadelphia. We’re a niche group, tied to our fellows through fierce dedication and a widespread public misunderstanding of our passion.
Above all else, we fail a lot.
I’ve been watching the Eagles fail for nearly a decade, and quickly got used to maintaining the customary level of enthusiasm season after season despite, well, everything. When I began submitting my work to publications, my mentors primed me for the worst possible outcome. They maintained how tough the writing world is and how difficult it is to see success. All of this would prove to be true, but very little of it would impact me in any negative way.
My first rejection was the equivalent of cannonballing into the Schuylkill River in January. The editor of the magazine I had submitted to wrote me a searing response. “Don’t quit your day job,” he advised. It stung, but it wasn’t devastating. I had been there before—not with writing, but with the eager hopefulness I bring into every new Eagles season. I recovered the same way I had each year before: I collected my little bubble of persistence and sent out six more submissions.
Prior to 2018, the last time the Eagles had won a Super Bowl was in 1960, before it was called the Super Bowl. We’ve played in three total and have lost two. We’ve had so many upsets, it became a trend to start off as die-hard screaming fans early in the season and turn into raging infernos by the end of November.
Winning in Super Bowl LII was everything Eagles fans could have ever hoped for. It’s been called one of the greatest football games ever, with legendary plays and a triumph over the status quo. I never thought we’d do it.
We didn’t make it this year. Our heartbreaking loss to the Saints sealed us off for the season, but no one picks themselves up after a fall better than someone who’s used to hitting the ground. It’s the same strange relief I feel after a rejection pops up in my inbox; it’s an answer, in one form or another, and a chance to start over. It means I have a piece I can then send out to other publications. It is renewed possibility.
There is an art to rejection. How many times have I written a poem, labored over it, polished it, sent it out into the world so sure of its place, only to get it back marked in red ink or tossed away altogether? I can tell you it’s almost as many times as I’ve watched my Birds file off the field, heads shaking, all of us at home saying, we’ll get them next time (or some profane variant of the sort).
My friend from up north says Boston sports fans have gotten so used to winning that they’ve come to expect it. Any other team would give their ACLs for a season like the Pats had this year, but in Boston it’s just the same-old.
Victory is sweet; I know that firsthand now. There will never be a Super Bowl win like our win in 2018, just like there will never be an acceptance letter quite as cherished as my very first one. But I don’t want to become disillusioned. I don’t think it is the Philly way to become accustomed to success, and while this often makes us the butt of every joke, I prefer it so. I do not want to ever come to expect success. I hope it always surprises me.
Work and endurance are the two vertebrae in the spine of achievement; showing up, day after day, or season after season, and not getting bogged down in the mess of the losses are acquired skills. A few good friends can go a long way, too: people who are fighting the fight right alongside you (or an entire city that has always bled green no matter how many rings were brought home). There’s something to be said for the bonds of community through hardship.
I don’t know if we’ll ever win another Super Bowl. Maybe next season. Maybe in five years. Maybe I’ll be long gone before the Lombardi Trophy returns to Broad Street. It’s going to take the right game, the right weather, the right team, the right play, the right pass.
Yesterday I got my fifth rejection from The New Yorker. I’m going to wait the customary six months, and in September I’ll send out another batch. Maybe the next submission hits that sweet spot: the right time, the right reader, the right editor, the right poem.
Here is what I am certain of: none of this would be possible without the foundational act of simply showing up. I have to love the work enough to fail and keep going. There is an essential belief that is necessary in order to continue, the bright faith that one day my aim will hit its mark.
Elizabeth Austin is a poet, photographer, and visual artist. She holds an M.F.A. in Creative Writing from Vermont College of Fine Arts. Her work has appeared in the Schuylkill Valley Journal, See Spot Run, Foliate Oak, Driftwood Press, Anti-Heroin Chic, 3Elements Review, and Sybil. She currently lives in Newtown, Pennsylvania, with her two children. Find her on Instagram at @elizabethbeingqueen.