So, my delusion was lifted that day. You could also say that my dream completed its drawn-out withering and finally died.
In psychotherapy, I sometimes tell people uncomfortable things about themselves that had been subconscious for them. It can lead to their temporary unbalancing. It’s usually premeditated, always done with care, and certainly isn’t mean-spirited. Is a surgeon’s incision mean? There are other analogies, of course: a distance runner’s increased fitness after a coach’s killer workout; a student’s improved writing after a teacher’s monstrous red pen. I cut to the bone with truth. Sometimes I unbalance clients so that they will embrace change. It’s often necessary for healing to begin. If we’ve already bonded and joined as a team, and they remain engaged, they emerge less conflicted. They are psychologically healthier human beings.
That last literary rejection was one of scores, but it was the most profound. It shocked my subconscious with truth and unbalanced me. It wasn’t only the worst rejection but was also the last because I determined that it would be. When you endure a death by a thousand lashes, there needs to be a thousandth lash, even if that last lash is spent on the corpse of a failed writing career. I thought the only control I had, the only way to be safe, was to put up an impenetrable wall, to go into a hermit-like seclusion similar to Salinger’s in New Hampshire, except I’d produce no fiction at all, not even for imagined readers after my death or for editors, agents, writers’ groups, car trunks, or even just for myself. I’d been beaten down to a cold surrender after a handful of decades.
I could no longer delude myself. It was devastatingly clear that my fiction, although not exactly bad, was not good enough. I could no longer fall back on my delusion that I was too cutting-edge or another misunderstood talent. Clearly, I’d only worn my novelist color like the emperor’s new clothes. So, I wouldn’t stand before their judgment or offer my stories for their cruel dissection.
I was, at long last, defeated.
At what point do dreams become delusions? When we believe in a dream that never materializes, do we then become delusional—like praying for health when surgery or oncological interventions make more sense? I’m not talking about bizarre delusions that are clearly implausible, such as thinking that a stranger had removed my internal organs and replaced them with someone else’s without leaving any wounds or scars, or that replicas of ourselves walked among us like Stepford Wives. I’m talking about nonbizarre delusions.
A delusion is nonbizarre when it involves situations that could occur in real life. For example, publishing a novel—I knew for a fact that some people published novels. So, I didn’t give up for over forty years. But forty years is a long time to hold on, right? Sure, to a sequoia, forty years is a yawn and a stretch, but to a housefly, it’s an eternity. To me, forty years was a lifetime.
I’d been going through the five stages of grief for years and didn’t realize it until then: denial that I’d forever be unpublished, anger that I kept being rejected, bargaining with my writing style and inappropriately contacting editors. That morning I moved into the final two stages: depression when I realized I’d never publish a novel and finally acceptance that my dream was dead.
I was certainly old enough to have realized my dream, and if not, old enough to reevaluate myself through midlife eyes. I would not disappear for days in a dissociative fugue state or have an affair with someone half my age. My midlife crisis was acceptance that I’d never publish a novel. That meant that that morning, I lost hope and would write no more.
That means I stopped treading water.