A class on how to fall down

On the art of recovery in an industry rife with rejection.

A class on how to fall down

 On the one hand, a class on how to fall down is a pretty specific request. Our student has not asked for a class on how to jump, or how to simply fall. This is not a request for Skydiving, Bungee Jumping, or Rappelling; our student does not appear to be seeking adventure. It’s not even a request for how to land – which implies landing on one’s feet.

On the other hand, our student might have meant “how to fall down” figuratively, rather than literally.

Myself, I prefer this interpretation. Writers, after all, are notoriously unhappy with or at least unconvinced by reality and are therefore partial to the metaphorical, the speculative, or even the wackadoodle interpretation over the literal one. Long ago, in high school biology, the teacher asked us to write a “definition of life.” I wrote a brilliant philosophical exposition on life – on the meaning of life, on value fulfillment, on our possibly immortal souls. This was a biology class, though, right? The teacher read my response out loud in a blatantly smirky tone and then asked the class, “Who can give me a literal definition of life?”

My response at the time was abject humiliation – a type of falling down if ever there was. My response now would be: Who cares? We obviously exist. I don’t need to define that. I’m more interested in what our existence means; what it implies. I’m more interested in that drain. What’s down there, anyway?

If you are a human being, it seems to me you should learn how to fall down in both the literal and the figurative senses. If toddlers are any measure, it appears we are born with the correct instincts, but by the time we’ve grown up, we’ve forgotten how it’s done.

I myself am oldish (though not yet elderly) and by now have had quite a bit of experience falling down in both the literal and figurative senses. Much of this is just normal human falling down, but I feel that being a writer has given me more experience than average. If you are considering becoming a writer yourself, you should know that writers are subject to quite a lot of falling down. This can be shocking at first. Your beloved, amazing novel is rejected. It is rejected again. By failing to pursue a respectable career, you fall down in someone’s expectations of you. This someone is usually a parent, a teacher, a spouse, or an older sibling – or all four if your fall is really spectacular. Your novel is rejected again. Your poems are rejected. Your queries to agents are rejected.

Twenty years ago, I could have used a refresher course on how to fall down. Now I could teach one.

Or this: You had a respectable career, but you relinquished it in order to have more time to write, and your income falls way, way down. You fall down in your rent payments or in the eyes of the credit bureaus. You take a humble job to pay the bills and your ego – which has been reminding you with increasing anxiety that the window for respectable careers won’t stay open forever – falls off a cliff.

Twenty years ago, I could have used a refresher course on how to fall down. Now I could teach one.

The first thing you do is you trip up on something: your art doesn’t sell, the audience snickers, you are turned down by a publisher, a lender, a boyfriend, or a dance partner. You go down. You’re startled for a moment, until you realize you have had an upsetting incident. You wail. You find someone to give you a kiss, which may or may not help. You feel you might as well die now because life is so awful. You wallow in this feeling for awhile. There is no time limit on this stage, but eventually you might remember to play a Louis Prima tune, which nobody can resist.

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You can’t go wrong with “Pennies from Heaven.”

 

—Annie Sheppard writes novels and speculative nonfiction mostly, as she is not entirely convinced by reality. Her work has appeared in Phoebe Journal (winner, 2016 Nonfiction Contest), McSweeney’s Internet Tendency, and Fourth Genre (runner-up, 2018 Steinberg Essay Prize). She lives in Oregon.