Upon coming home from a recent vacation sans computer, I had quite a bit of catching up to do: tasks for my day job, my editorial work for Literary Mama, and my monstrous heap of email, which included a message from another literary journal, declining to publish some of my poems.
I’ve been keeping a rejection tally for almost as long as I’ve been submitting my work for publication. I adopted the idea from a friend, who figured that she would only be able to face the risk of rejection if she pretended that rejection was her primary goal. Since 2015, my work has been passed over 243 times. Although I’m still waiting for responses on several submissions that went out more than a year ago, I’m confident that I can clear the 250 mark this fall.
I’m so used to absorbing rejection by now, logging my failures is a mundane business, just part of tracking the status of my submissions. Still, there’s also something to be said for keeping up on those numbers to keep oneself humble. Parenting and writing are quite the power couple in that respect: both are ongoing exercises in humility. Being dragged down into the dirt gets old in both cases, but I think I’m a better person for knowing, always, that I’m never above critique, and that success relies on a confluence of factors, many of which are ultimately beyond my control.
Humility might seem an old-fashioned virtue, antithetical to self-esteem or empowerment, but its absence in the news reminds me regularly just how important it is. As the mother of boys, I feel a particular urgency to instill in them a healthy humility, a counter to our culture’s tendency toward sexist egotism (aka toxic masculinity). I want them to appreciate the limitations of their knowledge and experience, the narrowness of their privileged purview, and the pernicious ubiquity of the lie that if we protect ourselves as individuals, we won’t have to suffer for the degradation of our society.
Although motherhood can restrict our view of the world, especially in the early years, it also expands our perspective and teaches us to look more deeply inward and more carefully outward—and to do more with what we see. That’s both empowering and humbling, and the work in Literary Mama highlights that complex contradiction. In this issue, through stories, poems, essays, conversations, and reviews, we see women struggling—with their past choices, with the absence of choice, and with their place in a world too much in the habit of using, judging, discarding, and ignoring them. I hope that these struggles, predominantly human, though also maternal, will widen readers’ horizons—especially the horizon of empathy, which can never be too broad.