I USED TO THINK THAT science and the business of writing had little in common. Then one day, while shuffling a stack of bills, junk mail, and returned manuscripts, I had a flash of inspiration: If science could eradicate small pox and other diseases, why not rejection slips as well?
A quick study of physics revealed that I was onto something. In theory, I could rid the world of rejection slips in a matter of minutes. Weary postal carriers would rejoice. Writers and scientists everywhere would hail my discovery.
My patented technique for rejection-slip removal owed much to Erwin Schrödinger (1887-1961), a man who dabbled in the quirks of quarks and other strange things. Like Einstein (a "relatively" good scientist), Schrödinger helped publicize the peculiarities of modern (or quantum) physics.
What is quantum physics? Simply explained, quantum physics is really weird. For example, imagine that a kitten and a tube of poison gas are placed inside a box. A 50-50 chance exists that the tube’s lid will open spontaneously. If so, then the gas is released, killing the kitten. But you can’t see inside; the box is sealed. What has happened? Is the cat dead or alive?
Actually, the cat is neither—in fact, it isn’t even in the box! So bizarre is Schrödinger’s universe, the cat isn’t "real" until a conscious mind becomes aware of it.
The implications for writers are staggering. If a kitten in a box isn’t real, neither is a rejection slip in an envelope.
Yesterday I received a letter from the offices of a well-known consumer magazine. The editors there had liked my work in the past, often scribbling notes of praise in the margins of their off-white rejection slips. But they never bought my stories. Common sense told me to expect another rejection.
I fought off disappointment by applying the "Schrödinger’s Cat" technique. No way could that envelope contain a rejection slip—unless I was foolish enough to open it. Deep inside that #10 SASE boiled an ocean of quantum possibilities, a world of shadows, ghosts, and uncertainties. Until I peeked inside, nothing else existed.
In the end, of course, I succumbed. The envelope beckoned to me from the edge of my desk, tempting me hour after hour.
"Hmm," I said to myself, "this envelope looks awfully thick." I held it up to the light, squinting. Row upon row of ink blackened the envelope’s translucent skin. "Surely," I thought, "that’s too much writing for a rejection. It must be a contract!"
I tore open the seal. Immediately, the murky quantum sea stiffened and congealed. A single sheet of paper surfaced amid the waves.
Biting my lip, I read the first line: "Dear Contributor..."
The cat was dead. Long live the cat. Q.E.D.
(For a list of good books that don't deserve rejection slips, see Eric Pinder's book reviews. But watch out for the cat.)