Freeing Your Courage
What you seek is seeking you.
A Fairy Tale
“The Owl,” a little-known, yet in some ways all-too-familiar, Grimm brothers tale begins with “one of the great owls” from the woods seeking haven in a local townsman’s barn. At dawn, the owl doesn’t leave her newfound perch.
The servant who first sets eyes on her is so alarmed that he announces a monster has arrived in the community, and news of the great horned visitor soon wreaks havoc on the town. Townsperson after townsperson, each bearing arms, attempts to slay “the strange, grim creature,” only to flee the barn in terror. Eventually, even the mightiest warrior loses his nerve at the sight of the secretly bewildered animal as she resorts to rolling her eyes (presumably the third eyelids that owls have), ruffling her feathers, flapping her wings, harshly snapping her beak and crying “tuwhit, tuwhoo” — at which the warrior nearly faints, falling back to the rallying crowd. The townsfolk then accuse the monster of poisoning and mortally wounding the very strongest of men among them. “So,” the tale concludes, “they set fire to the barn at all four corners, and with it the owl was miserably burnt.”
Of course, the story’s ending is both credible and eerily predictable. The owl, long associated with wisdom, intuition, magic, and vision, is a target from the start, its large presence perceived as both startling and strange. Each witness views the creature as a threat, and each agrees with the unsettling being’s destruction.
What Scares Us: Some Thoughts on Navigating Rejection
I read “The Owl” while researching my second novel, on the heels of receiving several publishers’ rejections of my first. Bewildered, I was tempted to view my spurned manuscript like that unwelcome bird — a doomed creation, too strange and grim for a major house to take a risk on. Over the years of visioning, researching, writing, and revising that novel, I had found reason to believe in its worth — not just to me, but to others. Several readers, including an established novelist, a teacher, and a prominent literary agent, had rallied behind my work. Buoyed by their support and guided by my own strong intuition, I had taken the risk of leaving a twenty-year teaching career and leapt faithfully to the rafters of a new life. Over five months, I had reworked the novel with an editor. I’d invested time in taking my historical research further, and consulted an addiction specialist to verify the realism of my protagonist’s interior life — something I’d worked hard to establish. After the agent read my revised copy, she praised the work (which meant a lot, coming from someone who does not readily pay compliments), and I (ha, ha) visualized an immediate sale. When rejection e-mails followed, it took strength and mental conditioning not to see them as swords and flames.
If I read “The Owl” as a metaphor for my novel (or, worse, for me) — a victim of external forces — I knew the bird had no hope of flying. At times I began to doubt my work, replaying critics’ words in my mind. It was tempting to leave the file in the drawer.
What happens when a sensitive and committed creative person experiences rejection? And why begin a book on unblocking, developing, and trusting creativity with such a story? Of course, the answers to the first question will vary widely, depending on who is being asked. In this chapter, I’ll show you the answers of two people — the young and vulnerable person I once was and the more consciously focused and resilient person I became — in order to illustrate two very different possibilities. In so doing, I hope to show the reason for beginning what seeks to be an uplifting and motivational book with a barn burning.
Illustration credit: Chum McLeod
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