267. Disappointment

The shortlist for the 2014 Scholastic Asian Book Awards had been announced a couple of hours ago.

Johann’s Fantastic Adventures Through Time did not make the list.

But you would’ve guessed that. Otherwise, this post would be titled very differently, wouldn’t it? We’re smart people. We know how to make educated guesses based on past experience and the limited knowledge that we have. When every person’s intelligence and focus can only go so far, it’s really a wonder how far we have come as a species.

We’re smart people. We know whether the odds are in or against our favor. When I was hacking away at the words and scenes for the story, putting in the hours and the concentration to make it work, I thought that my chances were pretty good. I thought that the sentences flowed well, that the story was solid, that it was overall a good piece of writing. I thought that the odds were in my favor – I might be bestowed the honor of winning the award, but I might at least have a shot at the shortlist, right?

But I guessed wrong.

It’s part of life, you see, this business of making mistakes and being wrong. Sometimes, you get it right, and it’s all fine and well. But most of the time – the times you wish the world would just crumble and disappear away – you get it wrong. Most of the time, things don’t turn out the way you want it to, and you begin to wonder what gave you the audacity to hope for so much.

It’s one of them moments. I’m wondering what made me think I stood a chance against the great writers of Asia, when I’m not even a contender in the local scene. But that’s foolish thinking. I’m not sure why it’s foolish, but I’m sure it is. There’s a gap of information there just waiting to be filled, but maybe another day.

So yes, disappointment. I know its bitter taste. I’m familiar with the dull pang deep in the center of my chest. I felt it in 2008, when I flipped open the school magazine’s pages and didn’t find my story inside. I felt it in 2012, when my script wasn’t selected for the Short + Sweet Festival in Kuala Lumpur. I felt it last year, in 2013, when my short story didn’t make it into the Manchester Fiction Prize’s shortlist. Eh, I felt it earlier this year, when not one, but 2 of my stories didn’t make the cut into 2 different anthologies.

Mr. King, ever a source of good writing advice, told of his first rejection experience: he wrote the rejection down on a piece of paper, hammered a nail into the wall, and stuck the paper onto the nail. He did this for all his subsequent rejections. By the time the rejections were so heavy they took the nail right off the wall, he was already making good headway as a professional writer.

See, I don’t think disappointment should ever be a reason to stop hoping. There are some who would believe that. They’ll tell you that when you expect nothing, you don’t get disappointed with anything. But I think that’s a terrible way to live: what is there left when you have nothing to hope for? Disappointment is a byproduct of it. It puts a real dampener on your mood, yes, but I think I’d rather continue on hoping.

If you’re going to get disappointed 9 out of 10 times, let me tell you this: when that one time comes that your hope actually pays off, you’ll realize that the 9 disappointments were really just potholes along the way. No one, I think, have ever reached the finishing line of the marathon and told themselves that the last 42 kilometers wasn’t worth the triumph. In fact, they’ll tell you that pride comes from overcoming the obstacles. We love the light because we know the darkness. We rejoice in victory because we know the taste of disappointment.

What I do have now is a 42,500-word manuscript just waiting to be polished up, and I think it’s plenty good for a manuscript submission somewhere else. Maybe not Scholastic Asia – they’ve already made up their mind. But so many people out there – I’m sure someone would appreciate it.

As for myself, nothing I can do but keep writing.


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