As days stream by, I’m juggling sincere attempts at applying the Rejection Challenge to my professional life with my much stronger impulse to engage in ridiculous exchanges with total strangers. Look for a medley of both below!
DAY SEVENTY-FOUR (THURSDAY 1 JUNE)
DAY SEVENTY-FIVE (FRIDAY 2 JUNE): ASK LOCAL RESTAURANTS TO HOST ONE-DAY MINI-RETREATS OF YOGA AND LUNCH/SNACKS/DRINKS
I have this great idea for expanding my summer yoga offerings in the Hamptons. People love their yoga, but they also love:
Time outside, preferably by or in the water (pool, bay, ocean)
Good food, prepared by someone else
An excuse to drink in the middle of the day
Hanging out with fellow yogis and gabbing about their kids’ summer camp adventures, where to get the best sushi, the merits of gluten-free and paleo, the weather past, present, and to come, Netflix must-sees
An excuse to opt out of their daily routines
So I decide to offer some day and half-day mini-retreats, where we do yoga overlooking the water, savor a healthy lunch of local fare and wine, maybe head out on a sailboat or paddleboards, devote some time to meditation and creative visualization (focused daydreaming). Drop the kids at camp, indulge in a few restorative hours, and pick ’em up feeling relaxed and refreshed.
I’m sure that lots of local restaurants will be eager to open their facilities to such events and create the midday meal for us, all during hours when they are usually closed.
Well, you would think . . . but I probably got more rejections here than in the entire Challenge. I started with places owned or run by friends. Most turned me down flat out, claiming high-season overload and a host of logistical and staffing issues that never crossed my mind. The one enthusiastic response faded when my friend talked to her husband (the owner) and circled back with the news that he was in up to his ears managing two restaurants, one a recent startup, and simply could not add another obligation to his bucket list. Places not run by friends never even got back to me.
Another great idea bites the dust.
(Rejections: 8, Acceptances: 0)
DAY SEVENTY-FIVE (SATURDAY 3 JUNE) SEND YOGA BUSINESS PARTNER A LIST OF ACTIONS NEEDED TO GET OUR MINI-RETREATS PLANNED
While the venue rejections are still rolling in, I’m back and forthing with a yoga teacher friend who’s agreed to help organize the mini-retreats. I asked her because she used to run major events for a local vineyard and possesses organization skills and experience that would impress most CEOs. What I didn’t count on? She quit her job to devote herself to teaching yoga full time, and now her time is consumed getting her own business up and running. So I optimistically send a list of action points (hers and mine).
When I run into her next, she says she’s been super-busy and also trying to follow up but not getting anywhere either.
(Rejections: 1, Acceptances: 0)
DAY SEVENTY-SIX (SUNDAY 4 JUNE): SUGGEST TO EAST HAMPTON ART DEALER THAT I DO A SITE-SPECIFIC INSTALLATION AT HER BARN OR AN EDITION OF MULTIPLES. PROMISE TO FOLLOW UP WITH AN EMAIL.
As you can see, I’m back to applying Rejection Challenge to my professional life. This time, I’m trying to jumpstart my languishing art production by engaging the art dealer mentioned above who expressed interest in showing my work. While I know my works on paper are a nonstarter in her climate-uncontrolled summer barn space, I figure maybe I can create an installation or a limited edition of objects to be sold or given away. Like the edition idea, as could be a win-win, providing a broader publicity reach for her nascent business.
To be fair, it’s her day off, and we cross paths when she comes to my yoga class, so maybe not best place to discuss art business. But I get a predictable, inscrutable, noncommittal “Hmm, I’ll think about it.”
(Rejections: 1, Acceptances: 0)
DAY SEVENTY-SEVEN (MONDAY 5 JUNE ): FOLLOWUP EMAIL REQUESTING SITE VISIT TO ARTBARN
I follow up on the installation proposal with a friendly email asking if I can swing by the art barn to have a look and start brainstorming ideas. I mention that I’m off to Australia soon and would like to be able to work on designs while traveling (thinking it’s always good to put a deadline on requests to elicit a prompt response).
I assume she’s maxed out with her existing roster of summer events, which include a fundraising auction at a local art space in a couple of weeks. Still, I’m frustrated when others are unwilling or unable to operate on my schedule and my priorities.
Writing this, a dark cloud passes through my mind: if I go back through the past seventy-some days of rejections, I’m pretty sure I’ll find that none of the ones aimed at advancing my career bore fruit. This depressing conclusion seems to reinforce my all too deep-seated belief that reaching for things that really matter has never worked out for me. From here it looks like the Rejection Challenges only took flight when I was doing something pointless and goofy and hence had nothing to lose. If there’s a life lesson in here that I can use, I’m still looking for it.
Standup comedy, anyone?
(Rejections: 1, Acceptances: 0)
DAY SEVENTY-EIGHT (TUESDAY 6 JUNE):
PART ONE: ASK DAR FRIEND ABOUT COLLABORATING ON A BUSINESS PROJECT
While my DAR application languishes under a pile of summer “to-do” papers, I have succeeded in making friends with one member who lives a few doors down from me in New York City. She’s about my age, recently widowed, and retooling her psychotherapy practice to focus on helping other women retool their careers.
It strikes me that I am in the business of retooling people’s bodies, which ends up retooling their personalities and shifting their priorities, often resulting in major life changes. Witness yours truly, who started out as an artist and literary critic and ended up a yoga teacher! So I propose to her that we collaborate on some kind of dual-modality programming that gets at women’s minds through their bodies and bodies through their minds.
She loves the idea.
Nothing comes of it.
Conclusion: single businesswomen are maxed out, time- and energy-wise. Yours truly included.
(Rejections: 0, Acceptances: 1, in spirit but not in practice)
PART TWO: ASK SOMEONE ON THE SUBWAY WHAT THEY DO FOR A LIVING
City subways are a fascinating lab of interpersonal boundaries and the crossing thereof. For starters, from stop to stop we are crammed against a completely unpredictable, ever changing assortment of other sardines. We end up grazing up against or plastered to the body parts of people we would never touch in a normal social interactions. We can stare unabashedly across the aisle at people’s faces, bodies, outfits. We can read over their shoulders. We can eavesdrop on their conversations.
We can even initiate conversations, from the harmless, “I can’t believe we’re waiting for Signal Problems again!” to the more engaging, “How is that book? I’ve been meaning to read it.”
So the subway seems a great place for rejections. Today I decide to ask someone what he or she does for a living. I’ve learned that setting context is everything, so I’ve been waiting for the right moment for this one.
There I am, on a crowded 6 train headed down Lexington Ave in the late afternoon. I’ve been on my feet all day, teaching and walking and teaching and walking some more. Thus, when someone offers me a seat, I’m tickled. I swoon down onto the hard, cold plastic seat with a contented sigh.
The guy next to me tosses a knowing smile. He’s dressed in work clothes, complete with tool belt and hardhat.
“What do you do for a living?” I ask.
He offers a one-word answer that I can’t quite decipher through his thick Spanish accent.
“Construction?” I wager.
After a few exchanges and some creative gesturing, I realize he’s saying, “Buildings.” Yup, construction.
He doesn’t ask, but I feel the urge to bond and respond, “I teach yoga.” He gives me another big grin and repeats, “Buildings.” So much for the international language of friendship. I’m not about to start demonstrating yoga poses and clear out the car, so we sit out the rest of our shared journey in silence.
DAYS SEVENTY-NINE, EIGHTY, AND EIGHTY-ONE (TUESDAY 7 JUNE THROUGH THURSDAY 9 JUNE): NYC ROUNDUP/CATCHUP. *I’M MAXING OUT THE RANGE OF OPPORTUNITIES PRESENT IN NYC BY COMPRESSING 3 DAYS OF REJECTIONS INTO ONE. BUT COUNTING THEM AS 3 DAYS, CUZ I’M THE BOSS AND I DESERVE A BREAK ABOUT NOW.
DAY SEVENTY-NINE (TUESDAY 7 JUNE) ASK HOW TO COUNT TO 5 IN AS MANY LANGUAGES AS CAN FIND. Korean, Thai, Chinese, Hindi
New York City is a true melting pot, but the melting is far from done. We’re not a smooth, creamy bisque but a lumpy stew of unassimilated ingredients. Which is one way of saying, no one speaks the same language, or no one speaks the same language in the same way. I’m astounded, for instance, at how many Yiddish, Spanish, and Chinese words have crept into my vocabulary in the past two decades. I should probably be just as concerned about how many good English words have dropped out.
I also remember my philosophy professor, a fund of fascinating random observations, remarking once that the one thing everyone does in their native tongue is counting. So I decide to learn how to count to five in as many languages as I can within easy walking distance of my apartment.
First stop, a deli on my way home from teaching in Chelsea. The counter staff is all Latino, so I’m gearing up for uno, dos, tres, but things are moving slowly on my breakfast order, so I advance to the checkout to pay while they finish up. Turns out the manager is Asian.
“Where do you come from?” I ask.
He eyes me suspiciously, like maybe I’m from ICE. “What is your first language?” I clarify, flashing one of my disarming smiles.
“Ah,” I say, sounding (hopefully) intrigued, though in fact there is nothing particularly intriguing to me about his home country, about which in any case I know pretty much nada. “Can you teach me to count to five in Korean?”
He looks a little confused, so I prompt him by showing off how I have learned to count to five in Mandarin during my many trips to China. “Eee, rrr, san, se, whoo!”
This either stirs his competitive national spirit or assuages any fears that he’s dealing with a wacko. He pops up his right hand, fingers spread, and we start counting. The first three numbers roll off my tongue no problem, but four and five just sound like gravel. The same issue has weirdly warped my Mandarin: I can say “Hello! (Neehow!)” with ease, but the word for “Goodbye” is just impossible, so I slip into the popular Chinglish heard on all city streets from Shenzhen to Shanghai: “Bye bye!”
Anyway, one down. I amble along to a Thai restaurant, and ask someone who looks like the manager to teach me counting. He’s obviously got more important things to do, and gestures impatiently to one of the kitchen staff. “Ask him!” and he’s gone.
Luckily, the kitchen guy seems more than happy to take a break and tutor me. Of course I’ve completely forgotten the Thai numbers, but we have a smiley exchange as I fumble along.
I cross Sixth Avenue and enter a pizza joint. Italian? Spanish (judging by appearances)? In any case this is one sullen mid-morning workplace. The two guys behind the counter greet me with hostile hang-dog faces and only shake their heads mutely when I ask if anyone speaks Italian or Spanish. Off I go. I’ve got more important things to do than be rejected myself.
Next door is one of those Grab ‘n Go, Seven Eleven-type shops. The guy behind the counter is Chinese, so I teach him how to count in Mandarin. Woohoo! Twenty trips to China have paid off in concrete skills.
Finally, I swing by the corner newsstand where, predictably, the Southeast Asian clerk speaks Hindi (many, many New York newsstands are run by Indian nationals). As he’s teaching me the Hindi, I realize that I already know how to count to five in Sanskrit, which sounds a lot like the Hindi (to me, at least). So I rattle off eka, dwe, trini, chatwari, pancha, much to our mutual delight. I top it off with stories of my grandparents’ time as missionaries in India, where my father was born, and tell him that my grandmother became fluent in Urdu. Nice cross-cultural leveler. For once I don’t feel like I have to apologize for being a token white girl in a multi-culti city.
DAY EIGHTY: ASK PEOPLE OUTSIDE MAGNOLIA BAKERY WHAT THEY BOUGHT
This one should be pretty straightforward. I’m just supposed to ask someone leaving a store what they bought. Magnolia Bakery landed on every tourist map when its cupcakes got featured on Sex and the City. For a while there, it was common to see a movie-length line around the corner on weekends just waiting for a sugar fix. Something about the retro recipes (lots of sugar, Crisco-laden icing in pastel shades, and colored sprinkles) just won people over.
Of course, nothing in my Rejection Challenge–or my life, for that matter–is straightforward. So when I ask a German couple what they bought, the woman waves some kind of half-eaten pastry in the air but admits, “But it didn’t come from this store!”
Whatever, I tried.
DAY EIGHTY-ONE: ASK PEOPLE IN “USELESS” STORES WHAT THEY ARE BUYING/WHY THEY CAME IN
Every neighborhood (or shopping mall) has at least one store that makes no sense. In the West Village we’ve had a men’s suit outlet store featuring suits that must be 50 years old (and which, it turns out, is a mafia front) and a store that sells soaps that look like cupcakes. There’s a store that repairs and sells antique watches but is never actually open, and a place that sold only bubble tea, long before anyone knew what that was.
The Australians have taken the oddity concept to new heights: a respectable looking mall I visited in Melbourne had entire shops of chochkes that make Hello Kitty look tasteful.
Even more baffling is the odd-concept store that actually attracts real people. The current one on Christopher Street is a Swedish candy store. I don’t naturally associate Sweden with candy (Amazonian models and lilting accents and progressive politics, but not sweets), and in any case this white cube is antiseptically empty except for a row of bins along one long wall. I’ve never been tempted to enter. Still, I see tourists with guidebooks making a beeline for the place, so clearly word has gotten out.
So I go in to find out what it’s all about. Alas, there’s only one little boy and his mom in the place, and he seems as baffled as I am about what’s on offer. It takes some serious coaxing from his mom to get him started at all, and I quietly wonder whether it is she who will also be doing the eating.
It doesn’t seem worth asking them, but I’ve been loitering long enough that I feel like I ought to buy something. I look of course for Swedish fish, those gummy red things that sliver down your throat. In the process I discover that they sell all kinds of things, including chocolates. My next concern, this being the West Village, is that there are no prices on anything because it all costs an arm and a leg. So I cautiously fill my bag with a handful of gummies. Turns out I had nothing to fear: total cost, 63 cents.