A Long Fall from the Top of a Tree

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Today's guest post is from the talented Darrelyn Saloom. Follow her on Twitter. To read more from Darrelyn, click on "Guest Posts" under the Categories head on the left nav. Pictured above: Sisters Jane Ellen Wilkerson Kane (1951-1983) and Darrelyn on a typical summer day (1966).

One of the most painful parts of being a writer is rejection. But is it a bad thing to be rejected? Or is it a gift of navigation? Did the editors not understand your brilliance, your humor, your fate? Was that it? Or did you rush off a piece that was unpolished and would not fit their criteria in the first place? I tend to think it’s the latter. And I’ve often made that mistake.

The first rejection letter I received sent me into a funk for weeks. But what pulled me free was to think of my sister Janie. And the time we spent in trees. Which may seem like a stretch, but it is, after all, the characters, settings, events, and perspectives that make a writer’s story unique. Only my memories can be divined for solace as I think.

So I thought of the day on Sunny Lane when Janie scurried too high in a tree. A middle child and fearless tomboy, she spent most of her time outside, with me (the youngest) trailing close behind. On this day though, unable to follow, I stopped halfway as she climbed and climbed to the top of a tree. And then I heard a snap, a whoosh, and a thud. And then silence.

When neighborhood kids realized what happened, they scattered about the yard and shrieked. In less than a minute, someone ran towards the house for my mother. But for the first few seconds after Janie hit the ground, time blurred as in a dream, and then stretched into long minutes of utter stillness and quiet. In other words, I freaked.

Janie slipped in and out of consciousness for over an hour. We kept a vigil round her bed, cool rags upon her head. (Parents didn’t rush off to hospitals in those days.) When fully awakened, she remembered nothing of her misstep: the snap, the whoosh, or the thud sound she made. Bruised, sore, unsteady on her feet, she viewed the fall not as an accident, but a defeat.

As dust scattered sunlight to paint the sky pink, my sister and I returned to the tree. And I watched as she rose with determination to sway and wave from the top down to me. Up and down she climbed a number of times for her own satisfaction. But with each ascent she carved an indelible lesson: Get up! Get up! And refuse to be beat!

And though it may be a cliché, with its ups and downs and bruising mistakes, a writer’s life is like climbing a tree. So I’ve had many occasions to remember that day on Sunny Lane. With every blunder and rejection, I summon Janie’s inspiration: the gift of navigation. So I revise and rewrite. And refuse to be beat.