I suspect that has to do with opportunity cost. As mentioned in my “Hall of Fame” column a couple of weeks ago, job-seeking, when I was 25, was a game of numbers. I applied for every job I was vaguely qualified for, and whatever rose to the surface stuck. If I interviewed with J. Crew, Graybar Electric or Abacus II (all of which I did, by the way) and struck out, well, that was fine because I knew eventually I’d find something. These days, I have traveled so far down a relatively narrow path that only a handful of jobs open up each year, so each one is exponentially more important.
The same goes for personal relationships. That cute girl saying “no, thank you” at the junior high dance stings a little, but there are a lot of fish in the sea. A school in Ogden, Utah, made headlines a couple of years ago because it required boys and girls who attended their Valentine’s Day soiree to say “yes” if they were asked to dance. Some parents were disturbed by this, saying it removed their children’s “agency.” As someone who didn’t get picked for kickball much and knew better than to ask a cute girl to dance, I’m not sure how to feel about that. There’s a part of me that always believed if I could just get a chance to show how charming and witty I am … But there’s also a part of me that wonders if it wouldn’t just engender false hope and make the ultimate disappointment even harder to take.
When you become a writer, your life turns into one big junior high dance, except that you are required to ask every single cute girl to dance until one finally says “yes.” When I write an article, I generally have a publication or two in mind and a list of three or four less likely but still viable candidates. An article titled “A Homesteader’s Guide to Pocket Knives,” for instance would likely be written with “Backwoods Home” or “Mother Earth News” in mind, but with a bit of doctoring could also be pitched to “Men’s Journal” (“A Gentleman’s Guide to Pocket Knives”) or “Popular Mechanics” (“A Handyman’s Guide to Pocket Knives”).
Complicating matters, each publication has its own way of handling solicitations. “Backwoods Home” wants to see the whole article upfront, while “Mother Earth News” prefers a letter outlining the piece in two or three sentences. It’s a lot to go through for the opportunity to have your work dissected and your dreams crushed.
The next line of that Todd Snyder song is, “I wish I could show you how you hurt me in a way that wouldn’t hurt you, too.” And that’s really the tricky part, isn’t it? We walk away from the dance, or the interview, or the mailbox with a hard little lump in our hearts, and if we cannot find a way to remove it, eventually, the whole heart goes hard.