I guarantee you have asked this question at least once in your life.
“Why not me?”
The answer may not always be what you want to hear. The other day, I submitted a story to a website that was calling out for short story submissions by unpublished authors. The selected finalists would win a cash prize and a shot at being published by an acclaimed UK publishing house. I did my social media citizen duty and forwarded the competition to the few fellow writers I knew would be interested and even posted it on a couple of WhatsApp groups. What followed was- rather interesting.
Most of the members of my writing fraternity decided not to participate due to their schedules but one fellow decided to try a hand at it. He confessed to me that he had never had any real experience writing fiction and the closest he had come to publishing was when he read his brother’s article in an online magazine. I was at a loss at how to react. Why would you participate in something you don’t know? It would be like me turning up for WNBA tryouts when I am not American and can’t even successfully toss a piece of paper into a dustbin a foot away from me.
Regardless, I encouraged him. We exchanged stories and while his were good reads, I absently scoffed at his kindergarten attempts at short fiction. They lacked the flavor and glamour that I am used to. His work read like that of a primary school composition and I felt that mine were something worthy of a Nobel Prize in Literature. I am sure you can see where my story is headed.
When the time came, we each submitted the stories we were satisfied with. Considering my experience with story submissions, I exiled it from my mind and dutifully went back to the dredges of my broke existence. He, on the other hand, went down on his knees in prayer every sun something. Rise, set, scorch. He didn’t care. He prayed. He chewed his nails in anticipation. Seriously. Once, he ended up accidentally spitting them in my hair.
Weeks later, the finalists were announced. As is the current state with everything else in my life, nothing happened for me. But he, a first timer, was in the list of honorable mentions. His name was there on a shortlist of 25 people who were not impressive enough to win but were talented enough to be names to watch out for. He called me, jubilant and ecstatic. While I stared in shock at the bold, italicized letters of his name on the website- mocking all my hard work and celebrating his raw talent. I felt like a fraud. I felt like a fool. And when he asked me why he couldn’t find my name, I was damn near suicidal.
I congratulated him with a brief text after hanging up and was not able to talk with him because of the choking envy. How was he, an amateur writer, able to get his story so recognized? I, who has been writing since I became aware that pens were not chew toys, got an email thanking me for my participation and asking me to try again next time. Patronizing bastards. I couldn’t help but wonder, WHY NOT ME?
There comes multiple times in the course of fulfilling our ambitions that we will have invisible shortcomings that prevent us from getting those promotions or jobs or becoming a bridesmaid. It could be that you have a personality that makes your boss throw up in his mouth a little every time you show up. It could be that everyone else was more qualified than you. It could be that you are too fat to be a bridesmaid. It is most annoying when you don’t know why and you can’t ask.
There is no dummy’s guide on what to do when overlooking happens and you have no clue why. I wish these story people had a system where they could send you a report of what you could have possibly done wrong so you could fix it or ignore it. When I submitted my first manuscript, I got a 5000 word report clearly outlining what was wrong and sometimes- not often- right about every section in my book. And to be honest, after reading it and attending a meeting with that editor to iron out my “problems”, it was very fortunate that I didn’t have a loaded gun or a Flying Squad officer to assault near me.
I hate not being perfect. And I hate it even more when I don’t know what it is I am so imperfect in. At this point, I am coming to the startling realization that I will never be perfect. I will never fix everything that is wrong with me. I will never be excellent. I will never have everything go my way. So all I can do is wish, pray, work, whatever peels the grapes. Maybe one day I will be a literary finalist. Keep writing or die trying? Perfection is a lifelong dream anyway.