Prompted by Bobby LeFebre
On Medium: “On Rejection & Denial,” by Suzi Q. Smith, in response to Tilt West Roundtable: Rejection & Denial.
Human beings are fragile, self-absorbed creatures constantly defending their ever-so-important need to belong. We—the creatives, the artists, the writers, the thinkers, the performers, the makers, the doers—are often the worst kind of fragile. No matter how reclusive or introverted, or special or esoteric we think we are, we innately crave attention, acceptance, recognition, and to be understood.
We want to belong somewhere. Even if that somewhere is obscure and underground or popular or counter-culture, we seek these spaces and places consciously and unconsciously, and our personal, professional, social and creative identities are often shaped by our perceptions of where we are and whether we belong. We want our work and lives to be relevant, seen, consumed, critiqued, and celebrated. We want to leave our mark, our name, our cause, and our stamps on this big, big world that, through denial and rejection, often reminds us just how minute we are.
Denial and rejection hurts. Literally. Scientists have deduced that the same areas of our brain become activated when we experience rejection as when we experience physical pain. Denial and rejection aggressively untethers our connection to belonging. It often leaves us angry, unsettled, disorganized, and with bruised feelings. Humans are victims of socialization. We have evolved to perceive denial and/or rejection as the highest form of ostracization, which often leaves us floating on islands of self-pity and self-induced identity crisis. These old tropes have taken on new connotations in the digital age. Look at social media. Our Facebook pages are litmus tests for self-worth. People post things and then feverishly rush to see how many “likes” they have received; “likes” are acceptance, while lack of “likes” feels like rejection. What about the phenomenon of the “selfie,” or dating sites like Tinder? We live in a world that conditions us to constantly seek acceptance from external sources, bombarding us with overstimulation and hamster-wheel progress. Even if you are not incarcerated by the social prison of social media, you may know what it feels like to be an artist receiving a rejection/denial letter in the mail. Or to be stood up for a date, or walk around the city you’ve lived in your entire life and feel as if you do not belong. You may know what it feels like to be a woman in world of patriarchy, or queer in a heteronormative gender binary, or a person of color in a sea of white privilege and white supremacy.
What happens when we are denied and rejected? How much of who we are is dependent upon how others see us? What happens when the word “no” penetrates the softest and most vulnerable parts of us? What is really happening when we get denied and rejected, and more importantly, what do we make it mean in our own minds?
Who gets to tell us where we belong? What power structures and institutions and social norms hold the keys to the doors we bang upon? What canons do we see ourselves in? What canons have left us out on purpose? Do we find ourselves acquiescing or carving? What paradigms and hierarchies leave us reaching for the status quo? If the bar is set without you in mind are you still hustling to reach it? Can denial and rejection ultimately lead you to finding your audience?
What happens when our manuscripts, our art, our skin color, our politics, our ideas, and our histories are denied and rejected? Do we continue to knock on closed doors, or build new houses? Where/when/how have you experienced denial and rejection and what does it mean to you?
About the Prompter
Bobby LeFebre is an award-winning writer, performer, and cultural worker from Denver, Colorado. He is a two-time Grand Slam Champion, a National Poetry Slam Finalist, an Individual World Poetry Slam Finalist, and a two-time TEDx speaker. His work has been showcased nationally and internationally on NPR, the Huffington Post, and The Guardian, and the LA Times. LeFebre has performed at hundreds of cultural events, social actions, detention centers, conferences, and colleges and universities across the United States and abroad. He is co-founder of Café Cultura, a non-profit organization that uses poetry as a tool for youth development and he is also founder of #WeAreNorthDenver, a grassroots and digital campaign dedicated to using art as an entry point for discussing gentrification in Denver. LeFebre has been named a 100 Colorado creative by Westword Magazine, is a National Association of Latino Arts and Cultures fellow, and has recently been appointed by the Mayor of Denver to serve as the Co-Chair of the Denver Commission on Cultural Affairs. He holds a bachelor’s degree in Psychology from Metro State University and a master’s degree in Art, Literature, and Culture from the University of Denver.