Thursday, December 10, 2009


It’s wet and cold here in San Francisco, 50º F. Raised in Ireland, I’m no stranger to wet and cold. It’s less than 30º F in parts of Ireland right now, and in recent weeks the country has endured devastating flash floods.

I remember as a child I would hang out the laundry in our back garden, on our red-rope line, to dry. Clothes that often grew soggier from the downpours and dirty-all-over-again from the smog and the ashes from chimneys, that weighed-down on that clothesline until they were mired in the dirt of the garden below or were whipped off by the high winds and scattered. Clothes that stiffened and cracked, spray-painted with frost. And all that was in summer :-). I have acclimated and softened, evidently, because this much gentler wet and cold of San Francisco make me miserable.

I admit the ongoing battery of rejection these days also adds to my misery. I submit little anymore, aside from a handful of older, longer stories that I have worked incredibly hard on and that I believe in. I hope I can find a handful of editors to also believe in them EVENTUALLY. Responses are sloooooow. My writer’s inbox averages two emails a day now. Time was … I can’t seem to focus on any new work these days either.

I also admit that I have stopped reporting my rejections (and my last two acceptances) to Duotrope. I have never used Duotrope to track my submissions/responses and suddenly it seems a little futile and self-indulgent to post an acceptance just to see “Congratulations! Ethel Rohan.” I also now can’t bring myself to report all my rejections because it only compounds my misery. Am I bad? I think this is me breaking-up with Duotrope. I feel more break-ups coming on.

Here’s a quote from Dave Eggers's excellent book Zeitoun, a non-fiction account of the harrowing experiences of a New Orleans contractor, Abdulrahman Zeitoun, and his family during and after Hurricane Katrina in 2005. The sense of transcendence in this book, and this following quote in particular, have stayed with me, protect me from the many elements, comfort me like a mother’s hug:

“If he can picture it, it can be. This has been the pattern of his life: ludicrous dreams followed by hours and days and years of work and then a reality surpassing his wildest hopes and expectation.
And so why should this be any different?”


  1. Yes, isn't it pathetic that 41° can bring out these miseries? It's 37° in Glasgow right now, with a wet misting fog. I KNOW it's much worse there than here, but I am whining, a little, at being so unexpectedly cold.

    Here is a poem I read in recent miseries, and it... helped. A bit. Mainly, just the swing of the words was beguiling:

    And the Cantilevered Inference Shall Hold the Day
    - by Michael Blumenthal

    Things are not as they seem: the innuendo of everything makes
    itself felt and trembles towards meanings we never intuited
    or dreamed. Take, for example, how the warbler, perched on a

    mere branch, can kidnap the day from its tediums and send us
    heavenwards, or how, held up by nothing we really see, our
    spirits soar and then, in a mysterious series of twists and turns,

    come to a safe landing in a field, encircled by greenery. Nothing
    I can say to you here can possibly convince you that a man
    as unreliable as I have been can smuggle in truths between tercets

    and quatrains on scraps of paper, but the world as we know
    is full of surprises, and the likelihood that here, in the shape
    of this very bird, redemption awaits us should not be dismissed

    so easily. Each year, days swivel and diminish along their inscrutable
    axes, then lengthen again until we are bathed in light we were not
    prepared for. Last night, lying in bed with nothing to hold onto

    but myself, I gazed at the emptiness beside me and saw there, in the
    shape of absence, something so sweet and deliberate I called it darling.
    No one who encrusticates (I made that up!) his silliness in a bowl,

    waiting for sanctity, can ever know how lovely playfulness can be,
    and, that said, let me wish you a Merry One (or Chanukah if you
    prefer), and may whatever holds you up stay forever beneath you,

    and may the robin find many a worm, and our cruelties abate,
    and may you be well and happy and full of mischief as I am,
    and may all your nothings, too, hold something up and sing.

  2. Two emails a day is a lot compared to make inbox these days. Sloooooow, indeed. I've never used Duotrope. It seems confusing. I used to keep a notebook of submissions, but I don't even do that anymore. Meh. I just keep it all up in the ol' noggin. Keep submitting, Ethel...

  3. If you lived as a child in Ireland, do you have an Irish accent? My responses have been slow as well. Do you think there are more people submitting?

  4. My theory: The online litmag world shifted a little bit this fall. That first week in September felt like a massive litmag release event, and I suspect the delays are part of the ripple effect.

    Short version: Just when one gets used to things, they change.

    Hang in there!

  5. I just now listened to your reading of Iron for the Soul on Word Riot. I don't know why I had not run across it previously. Exquisite.

  6. i'm sort of in the same boat....not checking duotrope much nor reporting much.

    i think part of writing is this weird sense of unease. the five years off from writing i rarely felt so "odd"

  7. ooooh, killer use of nor.

  8. Hi Ethel,

    If it will make you feel any better - I have three pending submissions. A whopping 3! haha, yeah - I've slowed down too, but I feel good about it, because I think it is okay to let the waves of creativity rise and fall and sometimes we need the lull, the break, especially during cold and dark seasons when our bodies crave a warm cup of tea, the smile of someone who loves us, and permission to let the dust within us fall softly and collect without feeling we need to make everything shiny for others to see. It is okay to dim the lights, use our "to do lists" as kindling, and be hot wax poured into the mold of our skin - in a month or two, we'll cool, light up, and glow like a lighthouse guiding our dreams ashore. But, when we are recharging our batteries...we need to unplug from the things that drain us.

  9. Thanks all for commenting.

    Tanita, thanks so much for Blumenthal's poem. I especially liked :and may whatever holds you up stay forever beneath you ..." Lovely.

    Eric: I will go on, thanks, and right back at you. It's both our gift and our bain :-)

    Aubrie, I have never had a strong Irish accent. I wish I had that lovely brogue, but alas ... too many elocution lessons from those nuns as a kid that leveled more than my accent ...

    Erin! Erin! How lovely of your to stop by. Thanks for the encouragement :-)

    Gabriel, what a kind and generous note. I'm touched. Thanks for your reading time.

    Hey, hey, David. Ah, yes, not so "odd" but perhaps not so alive either? That's what keeps me coming back for more :-)

    Paula, it's always great to hear from you, thank you!

  10. Ethel,

    I don't use Duotrope except to find swift venues. I send stuff to those first. My patience for waiting is thinning out.

    For that reason, I feel I have to report my own successes and failures--to help keep the Duotrope stats as true as possible.

    And no way can I keep track of submissions in my head, but a simple spreadsheet seems to work okay.

    As editor of CPR, I try to keep response times short since I personally understand the angst of waiting.

    For all the darkness I exhibit in my own work, I realize this life is all we can ever know for try to enjoy your holiday and the days in the rest of your allotment.

    P.S. Thanks for the part of your fine work you've sent to CPR. I will keep a light on for more.


    Barry Basden