How the long road can the be the destined road.
I hope you have read my Elle piece,“The Other Side Of Indian Matchmaking: The Indian Divorce,” about my Indian-American divorce. I am humbled by its publication. The story follows the long, painful, internal struggle I faced for many years about leaving my marriage because of the cultural and personal ramifications. Writing about the loss of my marriage was painful, as was the path to publishing it. Ironically, in trying to get this piece to you, I also experienced loss and resurrection, exactly as I detailed in my writing. My essay was almost was never published.
The long, journaled road
I began writing the piece even while my story was still unfolding. About 6 years ago, I had a feeling that everything that was happening in my life needed to be written down. I have always journaled, but I took more notes this time. After divorce discussions were closing, I began with pulling together entries from my journals, notes to myself, text and emails.
It was difficult to balance what parts of my story to share. There was both a lot of material and many intimate details of a family. I wanted to tell my truth without character assassination. The right balance would avoid my children one day saying to me: “I wish you didn’t write that.” I wanted enough detail to make picture clear without undermining my desire to have a healthy relationship with my parents and my ex. That’s how I got to the lens of storytelling through my relationship with my father. When I found the right voice and angle, I shared my first drafts with a writing partner. The writing, editing and slashing of paragraphs was a therapeutic, painful and liberating.
Once the piece was strong enough, I then workshopped it with a larger group. Getting feedback and revisions on intimate details of my life felt wounding every time. Overall, the feedback I received was positive and encouraging. “I could see this piece getting published in The New York Times’ Modern Love column,”one workshop member commented. That’s what I secretly wanted, too.
I had pinned my hopes on my piece running in Modern Love. The goal felt lofty, but I told myself that I could do lofty things. As the 13th and 15th and 19th versions of the piece were edited, the positive comments further inflated my vision. And my head, if I’m honest.
This can happen.
There was much riding on the publication of the 1500-word essay. First, the publication would be a crucial step in announcing my divorce to the world. Because my parents – and I – were still keeping it a secret, it would be the fastest way to get the news out. I could finally live freely. Modern Love’s broad readership would amplify this piece to reach other women who would feel comforted by my story. It was a story I wish I could have read at the time of my greatest despair. Lastly, having something published in the Times would give me the confidence to pursue writing a book. No pressure, right?
Destiny or delusion?
Because I thought I could see this vision coming to life, I thought it meant it was destined. With my final piece in hand, I nervously shared it with my family and my ex-husband for their blessing and revisions. This was crucial. After having some uncomfortable conversations, I was given the go-ahead. In August of 2020, I hit the “submit” button to Modern Love, with feelings of confidence. Our wedding announcement in the newspaper should have been the irresistible tie-in .
Everyday, I would check my email for a response. I would scour blogs and message boards to learn about response times and what the editing process could look like. Almost 6 months passed by before the email arrived:
Sender: Love, Modern
When I opened the email, my eyes knew what to do. Over my life, I have applied for a hundred jobs and admissions at many schools, so I knew the formula of the form letter. My eyes quickly surveyed the length of the email: way. too. short. Instantly, the dreams pinned to this acceptance went dark. My piece, which retold the most impactful, difficult rejection of my life, was rejected. Hubris had led me to believe that I would not encounter the same fate as others. My hopes crushed by a form letter:
Surrendering my plan
After crying a good amount, I went to my Hindu-deity packed altar for comfort. I laid my sorrows at the feet of the fierce yet compassionate Durga sitting atop her tiger and to the lovable, blue-tinted Krishna with His magical flute in His hands.
What do I do now? I surrender this piece it to You. Show me the way.
I mourned and released my vision for the essay – and my life – over the next few days. Eventually, the disappointment wore off. I reflected. I realized I still wanted my piece published. So, I detached the anchor of a book and the future from an editor’s acceptance.
My piece, which retold the most impactful, difficult rejection of my life, was rejected.
Turning work into service
Without the heavy expectations tied to it, I could really think about my piece, and its message. By releasing my ego-driven specifics, a beautiful new path would emerge for my writing. One that served no other purpose but in being published. I called my writing group leader and shared the news with him. He was surprised but honest in the rejection that comes with the business. “What do you want for this piece?” he asked.
To get this to women, so they know they aren’t alone.
I also want to set myself free by sharing this news. I’m tired of pretending.
I want to be understood. For my friends and family to know that I really, really tried.
“Then find another home for this piece,” he said.
So, I did. But first, I had to research other outlets. I had to revise the piece, its word count and its tone. I had to rename it and create a better pitch for it. I had to do the hard work, again, with an adjusted ego. I worked and focused less on the ripple effect of end results. This non-attachment practice is what is written about in the Gita and also practiced by Buddhists. It was what was necessary to let my piece soar.
I knew the essay would better serve female audiences, and so I pitched it to a handful of women’s magazines. I got some warm interest from some big publications. The next morning, a response from Elle: “Hi, Shibani! I love this. We’d be happy to publish it.“
I heaved a sigh then became elated. Elle is magical.
I am proud and honored to have my piece published by Elle. To see an image of a woman in a sari, sitting in a mandir with Lord Ganesha in the background on the home page of an American fashion magazine is what I longed to see as a child: my cultured represented in the mainstream. My efforts also paid off with writing. The final version is even better than one I submitted to Modern Love, thanks to the feedback of a talented editor.
What I know today is that my piece is exactly where it is meant to be. I just needed to get out of the way.