One of my very favorite songs to listen to when the kids were younger was the catchy “They Might Be Giants” tune, “NO!” It opens with this: “No is no. No is always no. If they say no, it means a thousand times no.”
Pretty good preparation for life, methinks.
We face a lot of rejection in this space called life. Doors close, doors slam, doors sometimes smack us in the face and leave our noses bruised and bloody.
In my line of work, NO comes more often than not. It’s the downside of being an artist. NO, I’m not going to represent you. NO, you didn’t win that literary contest. NO, I’m not going to buy your book. NO, you’re not ready for prime-time. NO, NO, NO! (“Finger pointing, eyebrows low, mouth in the shape of the letter ‘O’…”)
And in our personal lives… NO, you don’t get to have the father who sticks around and the stay-at-home mother and the 2-story house with the pool. But you know what you do get? A beloved Mom who works her ass off at 3 jobs to give you all the opportunities she can possibly offer. A husband who loves you unconditionally and raises your own kids like you dreamed about being raised. A step-father who enters your life at your most volatile teenage stage and wholeheartedly embraces you (and helps you perfect a wicked jump shot). A fun-loving, giving man you get to meet after you turn 40 who serves as both treasured friend and father-figure.
You get more than you could have ever wished for.
This week, I auditioned for a local theatre production. You know what I got? NO! Granted, I was ill-prepared, it was a last minute decision, I’d never before laid eyes on the script. But still. NO always has a bit of a sting to it. There’s ego involved. There’s pride. And I wanted to meet some new people, was interested in expanding my repertoire of Southern friends.
After I got the NO, I checked my status in the “America’s Next Author” contest. I’d moved from #18 to #38 to #2 to #82 to #129. Holy shit! That’s a downward trend if I’ve ever seen one. And yes, IU and Pre-Calculus, I know all about downward trends. It was a NO kind of week, on every possible level.
Sometimes I actively search for a NO to avoid what I should be doing. Remember when I decided to go back to work full-time with 4 kids at home while Chris was a high school principal working on his doctorate? Remember when I volunteered to direct our summer theatre production of Charlotte’s Web and coach a 10-and-under softball team during that same time period? This play audition was probably similar, an avoidance tactic of sorts. I need to finish my “Three of Eva” edits. They’ve been promised to multiple people. Getting a part in a play would have given me a valid excuse to extend that deadline… again.
More than the NO sometimes, I think it’s the YES that scares me. Achieving our dreams can be daunting. Reaching our goals is sometimes a bit scarier than the climb itself. What happens when you get there? What then? I don’t know, but I’m most definitely not going to stop trying. Maybe I’ll throw in more than a little self-sabotage along the way, but I’m never going to be content to just be content.
When I was young, I thought that my big YES was going to be as a famous singer. Then I thought it would be as a professional female athlete. Then as a writer. But perhaps my big YES is far different from that. Perhaps my big YES is producing George who might someday save American healthcare with his Body Zipper invention or turn the interior design industry upside down with Meat Wallpaper. Maybe my big YES has been in being a good mother, a true friend.
And I can never lose sight of every beautiful YES I’ve already received. Soul mate husband, 4 fabulously fun and healthy kids, dear friends who lift and love and laugh and cry with me, 4 years of high school varsity sports and a trip to AAU Basketball Nationals, a touring spot with the Ball State Chamber Choir, 26.2 miles completed (slowly, painfully, but done nonetheless), a Midwest Writers Fellowship, theatrical performances (especially the one in which I got to kiss my future husband on stage), Honors College, sorority sisters, a lacrosse grant, enough freelance writing gigs to help support this hungry, ever-growing troupe. Love, love, and more love. Those could all have been NOs. But they weren’t.
Whatever the YES looks like, I think I’m already receiving it, have already received it, am in the process of receiving it. Sometimes it just arrives in disguise. The more I’m able to let go of what it’s “supposed” to look like, the more it feels like the gift it truly is.
And if we never heard NO, YES would lose a bit of its magic, wouldn’t it? A NO means I’m still reaching, still trying, still pushing, still challenging. In this life — the only one I’ve been gifted with — I’d much rather face a succession of NOs than live a lifetime of meh.