Welcome to the home stretch of my Rejection Challenge. I had initially proposed 100 days of rejections, but somehow it topped off at 90. I consider this fortuitous, as I’ve heard that it takes three months (90 days) to adopt a new habit.
Have I been successful? Do I foresee a pattern of rejection seeking in my crystal ball?
Not clearly, or not yet, as it will take some time for me to assess if and how this little experiment has seeped down into my consciousness or unconsciousness deeply enough to change my behavior.
However, one thing is immediately clear: I’m more willing, even eager, to engage people. I’ve always been generous with a friendly hello, a comment about the weather, or something reasonably noncommittal. But the playful and ridiculous nature of many of my staged rejections actually took a lot of planning and careful execution. I had to envision specific kinds of people in specific situations, playing out specific roles. Within that, I had to look for individuals who might be willing to step out of their prescribed roles. So I honed my observation skills; I got a lot of practice in reading people. I trialed and errored my way through engaging with people on their own turf. In thinking of often silly ways to get them thinking outside the box, to lure them out of their little worlds, I got more interested in them. I’m still thinking about many of these people weeks and months after our brief encounters. They became way more than strangers to me.
So while probably no more comfortable asking for things, I’m more likely to interact with others in meaningful ways. And connection is everything, so who’s to know where some of that good-natured palling around may lead? By being disinterested in the results, I’m opening myself to all kinds of outcomes. And that can only be a good thing.
Thank all of you who are still reading for being part of that outreach. You now know more about me than some of my close friends. I’m up on the worldwide web poised for rejection, acceptance, neglect, dismissal, ridicule, alienation, or bonding. I’ve opened a little window on my truth that may resonate with you—or have you calling my parents in concern. (No need, my mom is so concerned she stopped reading this weeks ago.)
Whatever your response, thanks for being a willing fellow traveler, and may we all become more adept at opening up to and accepting—each other and ourselves.
DAY EIGHT-TWO: ASK MANAGER OF LOCAL CITIBANK BRANCH IF I CAN PURCHASE SOME BITCOINS
Full disclosure: I don’t really understand what a bitcoin(s) is/are. They’re deep down in that Hazardous Waste bucket in my brain along with string theory, The Cloud, cricket, Leap Year, etc. Things I know intuitively not to ponder too deeply or too long, for fear of exploding whatever brain cells I have left.
But I have gathered that there’s something unseemly about bitcoins, that they serve the seedy undercurrent of international commerce that glides under the surface in the Dark Web, abode of drug runners, arms dealers, and money launderers.
So it seems like a great idea to visit my local Citibank and ask to purchase some. I’m heading to the teller window when a rosy-faced manager asks if he can help me.
“I’d like to buy some bitcoins.”
Without so much as a flinch, he responds, “I don’t know what that is.”
“It’s a kind of currency,” I venture.
“I don’t know what that is.”
“Could I buy some here?”
“No, we don’t have that here.”
Back and forth we go, until I realize that all Citibank employees have probably been coached to play dumb on this one. (Hello! Bitcoin was on the cover of Time magazine a while back, so it’d be embarrassing to be in banking and not know what it is). I don’t buy that he doesn’t know something about it, but I get why a legitimate bank would have “no comment” on this one, lest any response indicate involvement with the monetary underworld.
So off I go, having learned nothing and potentially damaged my credit image. Can’t help glancing around to check if I’ve been recorded on a security camera.
(Rejections: 1, Acceptances: 0)
DAY EIGHTY-THREE: JUNE 17: MELBOURNE (ACTUALLY JUNE 18 BUT I’M ONE DAY AHEAD): ASK FOR FREE COFFEE AND STORE DISCOUNTS BECAUSE IT’S MY BIRTHDAY
Okay, I realize I lost a few days (literally) en route to Australia to teach. Like, it takes 22 hours inflight, with layovers and ground transpo, so more like 36 hours, to travel from New York to Melbourne, yet I arrive three days later. On the way home, the same epic journey is compressed into one day (I arrive the day I leave). Go figure (see Hazardous Waste bucket above).
So naturally I get my days mixed up, and for the first time in this long life, I forget my own birthday. I think it was really short (if you count landing in Melbourne in the morning and collapsing into a deep sleep by late afternoon)—or really, really long if you count all the airborne hours jumping time zones, when I couldn’t sleep a wink. All I know is, I wake up on Saturday, June 18, to realize that my birthday is no more.
However, I can’t miss this opportunity to ask for stuff. I justify it by the fact that Australia is one day ahead of us (don’t go there, just trust me on this), so in New York time, it’s still June 17.
I’ve found the Aussies so far a cheerful and congenial bunch, so I’m pretty confident that asking for small freebies will go well. What I didn’t anticipate is that Melbourne is largely populated by immigrants, so I’m going to encounter some serious multi-culti static.
It starts at a coffee bar in the local shopping mall. It’s early Saturday morning, and business is slow. So I bravely approach and declare:
“It’s my birthday! Can you give me a special coffee?”
The inscrutable Korean woman behind the counter doesn’t smile. And it seems the only word she heard was “special.” So she starts pointing at one of the coffee machines, clearly the one, though I have no idea why.
“Okay,” I say agreeably. Trust is important when asking for things. Assume your interlocutor knows best and will treat you well if you step out of the way and let them lead.
To my dismay (because I’m cold, and was envisioning a steaming latte to warm my bones and tickle my palette), she reaches for a paper espresso cup.
To my further dismay, the machine hisses and wheezes and noisily spits out about an ounce of dark liquid. Which turns out to be lukewarm and leaves a decidedly bitter residue on the palette.
And, because I wasn’t super-clear that I was asking for free coffee, she adds insult to injury by charging almost US$4 for the meager sip. This birthday is getting off to a bumpy start.
Nonetheless, I’ve learned persistence throughout this challenge, so I head over to Cole’s, the mall supermarket. Things go a little better here. My Aussie checkout guy looks like a surfer dude, tall and slow moving with a rubber spine and slopey shoulders. I’m pretty sure I can leverage my lonely-tourist-on-my-birthday shtick with him.
Alas, Cole’s is a chain store, and rules are rules. It’s not his purview to offer discounts to travelers, lonely hearts, or everyday people. So while I smile as I ask for a birthday discount, look sad when I’m turned down, and linger as if waiting for a game changer, nothing changes on the checkout machine.
I’m about to give up when he whips out a small card from his pocket and swipes it across the checkout screen. Viola! Five percent off my purchase! US$1.23! But I gotta love the guy for using his personal employee discount card to fete a total stranger. I feel all warm and fuzzy and sense I’ll be more willing to visit Melbourne at the next opportunity.
My final stakeout: the IGA, a smaller grocery/convenience store. I love this place cuz it makes me think of home: in Eastern Long Island, we have two IGAs (Independent Grocer Association stores) within a few miles of my house. However, the Southeast Asian checkout guy here is clearly not the Independent Grocer but a mere employee. He’s not about to offer me a discount and endanger his job. However, the guy clearly has a soft spot, and I’m happy to see that he slips a bite-sized Dove Bar into my bag as we’re packing up.
Here’s to the ever-shrinking birthday. I feel like Alice getting smaller and smaller as I walk back to my airbnb.
DAY EIGHTY-FOUR (JUNE 28): ESCAPE A HOPELESS NEW YORK TRAFFIC SNARL
The rest of my Australian Odyssey whizzes by, as I am teaching all day, every day, and devoting the rest of my time to the care and feeding of this high-performance master. Before I know it, I’m back in New York City, fertile ground for more adventures.
Things are a wee bit complicated here, as I have sublet my apartment and am staying in a friend’s art studio in Tribeca. I have left some unwieldy items with my doorman in the West Village, including but not limited to my AU luggage, a large portfolio of my collages, and some random Amazon deliveries. So rather than subject myself to the hazards of New York taxis, I hire a car service to get me downtown, stuff filling the trunk and rear compartment.
All is going well until we cross Chambers Street. Suddenly the traffic flow comes to a standstill. We are rerouted out to the West Side Highway. Things get worse when we reenter the neighborhood a few blocks down. This time we wait, and we wait, and we wait, only to find ourselves rerouted again, toward the World Trade Center. And then just as we are heading north again, we get, yup, rerouted again to the east. It seems like all we can do is make right turns, when all we want to do is turn left.
It’s dawning on both of us that something is definitely wrong. It’s a few weeks after the Barcelona terrorist attack, and city dwellers worldwide are on edge. There are cops on every corner, and more and more streets are being blocked off. I start googling and my driver starts Wazing, but we don’t get much info. Finally something turns up about a fire in a nearby hi-rise. Because there’d been another such fire yesterday, the cops are up in arms and prepared for malfeasance. And we unwitting participants are now trapped in the danger zone, whereas if the streets had remained open, we could all have driven our merry way to safer ground.
I’m twitching. I’m itching to get out. Out of this car, out of this jam, out of the undeniable feeling that I am currently not master of my own destiny. I do what I always do when hitting a wall: I start scheming.
Maybe I can just get out and walk to the studio. Alas, I’m loaded down with enough stuff that it took my doorman and me three round trips from lobby to car to get it all in. I can’t carry it all solo. So I ask if my driver can park and help carry the stuff up to Warren Street.
“Oh, no, missus. The police fine me for leaving my car. No, no no!”
I see. No abandoned vehicles near crime scenes.
Yet I’m beyond impatience, as it dawns on me that if we don’t arrive soon, I’m going to miss my first work appointment for the day. Time is money.
I diddle, I twiddle, I twirl my hair. Somehow, by a series of micro-movements with spacious pauses in between, we advance to the corner of Warren and Church streets—a mere half-block from my destination. Half block in the wrong direction on a one-way street.
Here my driver executes a truly gutsy yet inspired move: with police on every corner, he pivots around and backs his car down the street to within feet of my doorway. We’re in!
I notice how lucky I’ve been when I emerge a few minutes later, disencumbered of my belongings, to find that the whole street has now been shut down—to pedestrians as well as cars. My poor hostess is stuck on the corner behind a police barricade, with no hope of getting to her own studio.
(Rejections: 1, Creative Rescues: 1)
DAY EIGHTY-FIVE (JUNE 29): ASK SIKH CAR SERVICE DRIVER IF SIKHS BELIEVE IN GOD
In the back seat again, this time of a good old yellow cab. I decide to repeat an earlier challenge: ask someone if they believe in God. I’ve been around the yoga world for almost three decades, and yoga comes from India. And so do Sikhs. But I’ve never really understood who the Sikhs are, what they believe, and what they do besides walk around in white clothes and white turbans and act really, really sweet.
So I ask this driver if Sikhs believe in God.
“Oh yes, yes, yes!” Alas, the rest of his explanation gets lost in translation: “Hard to say in English,” is the gist of it. As if anyone who speaks English can describe God either.
So I move the conversation along by asking if he goes to a temple.
“Oh yes, yes! Many temples!” and he rattles off a list of venues throughout the five boroughs.
Finally I ask the standard question, “What did you do in your home country?” Turns out he was a potato farmer, “Very hard, very poor.” He seems sincerely, sweetly contented to sit behind the wheel. But then, I’ve never seen a Sikh who didn’t seem sincerely, sweetly serene. No wonder these lovely people have failed to make their mark on the rest of us. Anyone who’s happy enough wearing a white turban and doing manual labor clearly lacks the get up and go our modern world so values.
DAY EIGHTY-SIX (JUNE 30) SPEAK FRENCH WITH A TOTAL STRANGER
My mom started me in special early-morning French lessons in the 5th grade, and I continued in middle school, high school and on through a Ph.D. In those days, she explained, French was “the language of diplomacy,” spoken at the United Nations, and thus the language of cultivated souls worldwide. An essential component of the accomplished young lady I was destined to be on the world stage.
Joke is, outside of France and a handful of beleaguered former colonies, no one speaks French anymore. (Sorry, Quebecois doesn’t count.) No one even likes the French. And there aren’t very many of them.
So while I can’t traverse a single block of Manhattan sidewalk without hearing multiple conversations in Spanish or Spanglish, I have to really listen to ferret out anyone speaking French. Then I have to lean in and eavesdrop until I can think of an appropriate way to join the conversation. Then most of the time, the French being just so French about their language and shunning all who can’t pronounce words just so, they either ignore me or respond in English.
But apparently today’s my lucky day. When lining up to buy some fruit from a street vendor outside Hunter College, I overhear a well-dressed young black man speaking French into his cell phone. When he hangs up, I offer my usual opening line:
“C’est tres bien entendre francais ici! C’est assez rare!”
He gives me a big grin. “J’etudiais francais au lycee et a l’universite,” I continue.
We start a pleasant conversation about his very French (as opposed to West Indian or West African) French. This somehow segues into a personal revelation from yours truly, which is that an old flame once told me I had a completely different personality when I spoke French.
“Oh, but of course,” he continues in French. “French is so romantic!” He’s hit it on the button. And once again I wonder, but for the accident of birth, whether I’d be a femme fatale and not a skinny brainiac, if God had planted me on the other side of the pond.
DAY EIGHTY-SEVEN (JUNE 14): ASK TO SPEAK AT A 12-STEP MEETING ON MY ANNIVERSARY
I’ve mentioned before how important it is to me to be able to sound off (“share”) at 12-step meetings. I have an anniversary coming up, so I approach my home group chairperson about being the lead speaker. The date is two weeks away, but apparently either I don’t add up or he has truly booked his speakers through the summer, so I get a definite “no.” Instead, I turn up at a bunch of end-of-month anniversary meetings where anyone can “celebrate,” and I get my truth out that way.
(Rejections: 1, Alternative Means: 3)
DAY EIGHTY-EIGHT (JUNE 22) REVERSE REJECTION
A good friend finds out about my anniversary and asks me to speak at a meeting she chairs. Alas, it’s during the time I work at the charity bookstore, so I have to say “no.” I guess timing really is everything.
(REQUESTS REJECTED: 1, REQUESTS ACCEPTED: 0)
DAY EIGHTY-NINE (SEPTEMBER 10): LOSE MY CAR KEYS, ASK FOR A RIDE TO CLASS
Sunday morning I’m down at the beach in Wainscott taking a long walk and a short swim before teaching my outdoor yoga class at Wolffer Vineyard. It’s a brisk September morning; clear, cool air, slight breeze, blue skies, and cold water. I walk for about an hour down the beach and back, reading as I go. (This has become a bit of a multitasker for me: I get to read nonfiction and spiritual books while enjoying the soft sand under my feet and absorbing the lovely ambience through my skin and the corners of my eyes. I figure other people walk and text, so why not walk and read?)
Alas, reading and walking means I’m not super attentive to my stuff. I’ve lost sweaters looped loosely around my handbag, hats I forgot I was wearing, etc. Today I return to my car to discover I’ve lost my keys. Car key, house key, studio keys. Right now the only one that matters is the car key: it’s 9:40 and my class starts at 10:00. No time to go back and look, no time to walk to the vineyard.
I text the Wolffer yoga coordinator, hoping she can come pick me up, but I get no response.
I scan the parking lot and spot a surfer dude perched on the tailgate of his car waxing his board. Doesn’t look like he’s in a hurry. No kids or old people in tow.
“I’m sorry to bother you, but I lost my car keys and I have to teach a yoga class in 15 minutes. Would you mind driving me over to Wolffer Vineyard?”
“No problem,” he’s midway through saying, when another figure bustles over from the left.
“I can take you! Where are you going?” asks a woman who has just arrived, toting a towel and armful of beach reads and clearly just about to plunk down for some quiet oceanside time.
“Really?” I ask, as she looks like a grownup with better things to do (no slight intended to the surfer).
My cup runneth over.
Before I know it, we’re taking a quick sweep of the beach just in case I spot the errant keys. By my calculations, this means we’ll probably arrive at the vineyard at precisely 10:00am, but if I can save us both the hassle of a private shuttle, it’s worth the gamble.
Alas, no keys, As we are walking back to her car, she asks where I am teaching the class. “Wolffer Vineyard,” I announce. “I’ve been wanting to take a yoga class,” she responds, and I say she should definitely check it out sometime (we have three weekends left of the outdoor program).
She starts telling me about some problems she’s having with her feet and knees. I take a quick look and can see from the swelling and bruising that things aren’t as they should be. “Why don’t you come today?”
“Okay,” she says gamely. “If it’s too much for my feet, I just won’t stay.”
On the drive over, things get even more interesting. It turns out I’ve actually seen her at a recovery meeting and wanted to introduce myself after one of her shares, but she was surrounded by other fellows. So we’re quickly down in the weeds discussing our histories and our challenges.
We arrive at Wolffer at 10:00 sharp—to find no students showed for class today. So my new angel gets a private lesson, which means lots of hands-on work to address her special needs. Only problem is I’m in wet clothes (dry items all locked in my car) and getting gradually chilled by the brisk winds. Plus hungry, as my lunch and snacks also in my car. I’m also coming down with a nasty cold and feeling crummy.
Nonetheless, it’s dawning on me that I’m going to have to roll with the punches today. So we wrap up the lesson, run a couple of errands, and then my angel not only drops me at my doorstep to collect my spare car keys but delivers me back to the beach to retrieve my car. Oh, and she books a private lesson with me for one of her work colleagues. You do the math, but I feel like I’m definitely coming out ahead on this one.
Back on the beach, now plenty warm with a fierce midday sun shining down on me, I retrace my hour-long walk up and down the beach, eyes roving from shoreline to dunes in hopes of finding the keys. I’m especially bummed about the car keys, which cost a few hundred dollars to replace. Along the way I run into a couple of friends, make some new friends with their own stories of wandering keys, get a promise from one lady to drop them at the police station if they turn up, and generally boost my faith in human kindness and compassion.
I guess it’s been a pretty fine day after all. But having been on an unstoppable adrenalin rush for several hours, I decide I need a quick swim to clear my head before my afternoon class. I underestimate the force of the surf, get caught in a rip tide, and have to struggle to reach the shore. I arrive at the studio, bedraggled and adrenalin-spiked once again, at 2:59 for a 3:00 class. The gods are definitely playing with little Lois today.
(Rejections: 0, Acceptances: 2)
DAY NINETY UNSOLICITED REJECTION QUERY (JULY 18): HOMELESS GUY ASKS HOW MY REJECTION CHALLENGE IS GOING
Okay, scroll back to Day 4, when I both asked strangers to give me money and offered to give them same. Remember the guy who talked a blue streak, sharing TMI about his situation, proffering no cash but happily accepting mine? Well, I later had a conversation with a local cab driver who told me that this guy actually came from an affluent family, but had some “issues.” She’d even offered him a free place to live, but he preferred to remain homeless.
Anyway, like you, I’d forgotten all about this guy. Then one summer evening, after a long, hot, and dusty day running around New York City, the Jitney drops me off in East Hampton. I swing by the public bathrooms on my way to the long-term parking lot, with no more thought than to zip home and quietly collapse in my air-conditioned bedroom.
Then I become vaguely conscious of someone calling out behind me. I try to ignore it, but the voice persists. I turn around, and there he is, homeless guy. For some reason he remembers me, though he’s a little confused about the Rejection Challenge as I had explained it to him.
“Are you still doing that thing . . . ?” he asks.
I know exactly what he’s talking about, of course, but truth be told this is the time when I felt the project was unraveling all around me, that I wasn’t keeping up and might never finish. So he’s pricked my conscience.
“Not too much, I’ve been traveling a lot”—which is true, as this is just a couple weeks after returning from Australia.
He latches onto the word “travel” and asks, “So is this what you do? Travel around the world, doing this?”
Good question, and one for which I don’t really have an answer. Technically, the challenge falls into my human-development category, so it’s neither a job nor a vocation. On the other hand, getting rejected and blogging about it has consumed more time than I care to admit over the past five months, so in a way it is what I do, or what I do a lot.
But having neither the patience nor the energy to express this, I swat him away with a vague, “No, I have to work for a living.” And recommit to actually doing more of that and less of this.
DAYS 1-90 REJECT MYSELF
I never formalized this on my rejection to-do list, but it occurs to be that by far the most pervasive rejections throughout the past three months are the times I just gave up on myself. Like most people, I have an endless interior dialogue going on between my ego and my super-ego, or my higher and lower selves, or my fragile inner child and my stern adult authority figure, or whatever labels fit best.
The gist of it is this: a small voice inside will propose something new, something fun, something brave, something risky, something adventuresome. Like . . . not getting out of bed this morning. Eating three desserts—or just eating dessert all day, nutrition be damned. Flirting with MLC (my latest crush). Stepping into the limelight. Taking a day off to really play. Asking for a great job. Spending money recklessly.
And then just as it all sounds bright and hopeful, like a sliver of sunlight slipping in between the cracks of my ironclad discipline, the other self fires out a definitive, “NO!” And the discussion ends there.
This happens many times throughout the day, throughout the week, throughout my life. And it often happens so fast I barely acknowledge the initial urge. I understand that a lot of these impulses are not particularly healthy or wise, but I’m also pretty sure my life would be even more colorful if I said “Yes!” to them more often. As it is, I pay a price for safety, comfort, and security, staying small and under the radar, hoping you won’t notice me. I reject myself before you have a chance to. Which may just be why I was so attracted to the external Rejection Challenge in the first place. And now the evidence is in: go back and add it up, and it’s clear the world rejects me far less often than I reject myself.
(Rejections: countless; Acceptances: never enough)