Lee Wochner: Writer. Director. Writing instructor. Thinker about things.



Here’s something that’s never going to get old:  that little lancet of joy when I learn that something I’ve written has been accepted. I just had a short play chosen for a festival in San Diego in February. (More about the particulars of it another time.)

Let’s be honest:  most successes, when you dig deeper, are countervailed by many, many failures. If I’ve never been quite as dogged as Thomas Edison (“I have not failed. I’ve just found 10,000 ways that won’t work.”), I nevertheless got used to rejection early on. At age 11, I started sending short stories off to magazines such as Ellery Queen’s Mystery Magazine, Alfred Hitchcock’s Mystery Magazine, Asimov’s, Analog, Magazine of Science Fiction & Fantasy, and the like, and just as quickly, they’d come back, but even then my response was akin to: “Wow! They wrote back!” I was thrilled when some assistant would scribble a note onto the form rejection letter, as the time some kind woman wrote, “But thank you.” I still think about her. (Thank you, unnamed kind woman.) I never got rejected at school dances, because I just liked to dance, and would dance with all the girls — the big ones, the small ones, the pretty ones, the homely ones, the popular ones, the shy ones — in sixth grade, it just seemed wrong to leave any out. When I started actually dating, girls felt freer to reject me if they liked, and that seemed fine because there were others to ask. I wasn’t emotionally invested in it; I just wanted to go out with a girl and see how far I could get. (Results varied.)

When I started to get published, first in fan publications, and then with non-fiction and fiction in magazines and newspapers, it was thrilling. I liked opening a newspaper and seeing my byline. I liked getting some obscure little magazine in the mail and seeing my story (or, gasp, poem!) in there. Then I fell into the theatre and here’s what I discovered:  that live audience response trumped printed byline. How could seeing my name in print in a magazine — perhaps read, perhaps not, by unnamed and unknown people far away — possibly compare with actually being there when a live audience laughed out loud or was visibly moved by my play? One night, during a performance of my play Happy Fun Family, a woman literally Fell Out Of Her Seat laughing. To this day, I love her. Night after night, when women would sob at the end of About the Deep Woods Killer, I felt golden.

Rejection has never really bothered me. If it stings, it subsides almost instantly. I’m fortunate all around:  I’ve got a strong family, terrific friends, and the trappings of a pretty interesting life that I’ve snared and dragged back into my den. But acceptance is obviously preferable, especially acceptance of a play, which means that there’s going to be another audience experience with one of my plays, and if I’m even luckier, I can be there for it.

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