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Reality Writes -- Brief 7 -- Write the perfect rejection letter


Like Ethan Hawke’s messages in Mission Impossible – sort of -- (but with fewer car chases and no lethal assassins) -- the daily writing challenges we’re set by London drop into my Gmail account with precise regularity.

‘Your mission, Dougie Herd, should you choose to accept it, is …”

Titus -- directed by Julie Taymor (1999)

Today we’re asked to write (as an act of Zen-like acceptance or Shakespearean revenge – think Titus Andronicus) the perfect rejection letter.

Our challenger speculates that as wannabe writers we may have received one or more of such rejections. Well, is the Pope a Roman Catholic and do bears …?

You know how that one ends. In the woods.

Our challenge-setter wants us to be gracious. He encourages us to write a rejection letter of such perfection that when “you finish reading it, you feel without a doubt, this is the best decision for the good of humanity”.

Not.

Going.

To.

Happen.

Truth is, I’ve received few rejection letters for my writing. That’s not because the world can never say, “thank you Douglas -- but no thank you”. Basically, it’s because the voice of a doubtful wee devil who lives inside my head usually whispers quietly into my ear whenever I’m on the verge of sending something out.

The wee devil laughs gently – sometimes snorts and sniggers – then softly speaks. “Really?” he says, “you’re going to send that to Curtis Brown or Overland or the Edinburgh Review?” So, I send out nothing.

No submissions equals no rejections. This strategy results in a perfect score. Nul Points (as we say in Eurovision).

But – in the land of The Literal Challenge -- I must submit something by 10:00 a.m. UK time or be expelled. Cast out like the wretch I am. Left to fester and moan on the barren island of my own disappointment at yet another failure.

Like Philoctetes (if you know your Sophocles).

Mulling over my task, it didn’t take long before two people popped into my head. Maybe they could help me reflect on the idea of rejection (rather than letters of that ilk) because rejection comes in all shapes, sizes and forms.

Wendy McClure.

Friedrich Neitzsche.

Most people don’t know Wendy McClure from a bar of soap. I haven’t seen Wendy, not spoken to Wendy nor had any contact with Wendy in over fifty years. We have not rediscovered one another on Facebook. (Not yet, anyway).

When we were both eleven years old – or maybe twelve – we attended the same secondary school in the Royal Burgh of Bearsden which sounds quite grand except it was basically a dormitory town of Glasgow for the moderately affluent new middle class of the 1960s.

We moved to Bearsden in 1963. Took possession of a brand spanking new, three-bedroom, semi-detached town-house built by the John Lawrence Company.

Mr. Lawrence was Chairman of Glasgow Rangers FC (of which the Protestant half of my family approved. The Roman Catholic half less so, to be frank). As the religious divide suggests we were, in some ways, not typical of Glasgow’s extended families in the 1960s. The split, however, may partly explain what attracted me to Partick Thistle Football Club as a boy: the absence of religious sectarianism plus the colourful red and yellow shirts the players wore. If the team was – let’s be fair – pretty ordinary when it came to playing football, well ... that’s just the price you pay for your principles.

Do eleven-year old boys have principles?

Anyway, I loved growing up in Bearsden. We were a genuinely happy family. Except when the Old Firm played one another at Ibrox or Parkhead (aka Paradise).

But back to Wendy.

I quite liked Wendy (in a pre-pubescent, 11-year old boy’s gormless way). I came to understand that Wendy quite liked me.

In the awkward and embarrassing way in which such business was conducted in those days my people spoke with her people and after some infantile too-ing and fro-ing it was agreed that Wendy could be persuaded to attend the end of first year dance with me – or was it second year?

It really doesn’t matter which year it was.

This much is certain, though. Dancing would be required.

If there was no catastrophic failure of gormless boy meets divine girl – a boy’s inability to perform the Twist adequately, for example -- it might not be wholly inconceivable that a boyfriend / girlfriend agreement could be entered into at some point in the after-dance future.

My eleven or twelve-year old self was – as we did not say at the time and no one says any more – stoked. Over the moon. Made up. Ten feet tall.

Some weeks later, however, Wendy spoke with me. Rather awkwardly she explained that, after all, it would not be possible for her to accompany me to the end of year school dance. Nor, I was further informed, would it be possible for the boyfriend / girlfriend thing to come to fruition either. Ever.

“Why?” I politely enquired (there were neither tears nor a tantrum but that doesn’t mean they did not rage within. I was, after all, 11).

Wendy explained that it wasn’t me. (And how many times have we heard that in the last 50 years, Douglas?)

In this case, however, I may indeed have been blameless. It turns out it was Wendy’s father’s fault. He is a man who was then – is now -- and always shall be known to me as Mr. McClure.

Wendy explained that her dad had got a new job. The family was moving to England (of all the places one’s not-yet-girlfriend could go to!). Wendy wouldn’t be attending the end of year dance. Ergo, no boyfriend / girlfriend thing could ever develop.

The school bell rang to signal the end of morning playtime. We parted.

I was devastated.

How do I know? Because here I am, 51 years later, writing about it in response to a writing challenge about rejection letters.

I didn’t even receive a rejection letter. Was it even -- technically speaking -- a rejection? I don't know. But I can tell you this. I knew -- at eleven years old -- that my life was already over.

Enter Friedrich Neitzsche.

Possibly misquoted, Friederich may or may not have said or written (in Twilight of the Idols in 1888) something like, ‘That which does not destroy us makes us stronger’.

Well … do you know what I think about that Mr Neitzsche?

Bullshit, is what I think about it.

Wille zur Macht bullshit.

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