My apartment has a tiny kitchen. Like many apartments within a reasonable price range for a twenty something young professional the apartment itself is small, even though it’s a one bedroom, but the kitchen in this case is exceptionally and unreasonably tiny. The stove and oven are the smallest available at Ikea, with a double sink sitting flush between the two walls. There is one large window instead of a wall. A wooden slab is balanced over the right basin of the double sink, with a collapsible drying rack above it. There are two mounted cabinets on the two walls (one I use as a pantry and the other to store dish ware) and a glorified dorm room refrigerator and freezer, complete with another wooden slab to create something like a countertop. My three pots and four pans hang on racks above the stove. Then there is an open doorway out into my living room.
People put a lot of things on their refrigerators. Collections of magnets or photographs or report cards. Mine has a random set of magnetic poetry, with the same poem I composed my first week in the apartment. There are tiny square magnets that my best friend made from photos we each posted on Instagram and sent to me in a birthday basket last summer. I have a “Read On” magnet that’s circular and bright red. There’s a postcard my mother sent me, from our home in New York, with the famous photo of Edna St. Vincent Millay in the gardens at Vassar. There’s my initial rejection letter from the Iowa Writer’s Workshop. The zip code must have been printed wrong, and instead of simply reprinting the letter someone cut out a teeny tiny sliver of paper with the correct zip code to paste over the mistake. I had heard that year that the rejection letters for the fiction applicants had a typo in them. Many people commented on that, as if to say they deserved a spot at the workshop simply because they would never make such a huge mistake. As if to say typos only happen to terrible writers.
Many people that year (and every other year I’m sure) set themselves in a frenzy over the paper clip versus staple argument when it comes to mailing hard copies of a writing sample. When I filled out my applications and sent off my sample I used staples without even thinking about it. As soon as I discovered the lengthy debate in Facebook groups and on the infamous Gradcafe I started to think maybe I really was on the outside of this culture. Clearly there was a lot I didn’t appear to know about the application process. Or, clearly there was a lot I didn’t think was crucial to the application process, office supplies being just one. But when the rejection letter arrived in my mailbox that spring I didn’t blame it on the fact that I used staples, or start wishing that I had used a paper clip instead, like many other people that year did. Consoling one another with comments meant to be complimentary, but in the end really just end up sounding arrogant and lame. Blaming a rejection on anything other than the quality of the work submitted is a disservice for everyone.
Despite my tiny kitchen and my pint sized refrigerator I thought it was worth making space for the letter. The rejection letter I knew would come for me just as surely as I knew I would apply to the program to begin with. It means nothing, and it means quite a lot to me. It was valuable enough not to discard with stale rice and avocado skins. It was valuable enough not to file away in some folder or envelope, never to be seen again in the depths of my filing system for electric bills and grocery store receipts. Like everyone else I hoped it wouldn’t come, but like everyone else I assumed it would.
It occurs to me from time to time that my original intent for posting the letter was to work as motivation, a kind of reminder to spur the writing process along. Much like, earlier that same year, I made a spreadsheet with accompanying lists and scribbled notes cramped along a single sheet of paper from a yellow legal pad. I took this sheet and used surgical tape (the only tape I had in the apartment) to hang it on the top half of the mirror in my bathroom (which is slightly smaller than my kitchen if you wanted to know). Every morning as I brushed my teeth I was reminded of each school, each application, each little task that still needed to be completed before I could sit back and let the anxiety of waiting fully flood me. It was a reminder, and it helped.
Maybe the hope behind keeping the rejection letter close at hand, but still somehow hidden in pain sight, was that it too would be a reminder and that it would help. Maybe having one or two of these letters is a rite of passage and maybe it means I should call it quits while I’m “ahead”, but that doesn’t satisfy the urge to write, to create something, to participate in this craft. My apartment has a tiny kitchen and it’s nice to know that a piece of snail mail found a home in it.