The first New York Times Modern Love essay I ever read was entitled “Finding God in a Hot Slice of Pizza” ( 2017) Written by Tova Mivis, it impressed me with its depth and honesty.
I was preparing to start my MFA program in a few months (January 2018), and I’d quickly become facebook friends with several members of USM’s Stonecoast writing program faculty, seeking to follow their publishing successes and advice. The link to this essay had been posted on Facebook by writer, Aaron Hamburger.
This is the kind of writing to aspire to, I told myself, a golden ring of sorts to reach for. If I could write such a powerful essay, what a place to get published, The New York Times!
Another Modern Love essay, “Now I Need a Place to Hide Away” (2006) written by the ineffable Ann Hood, was on the reading list of a Stonecoast seminar focusing on the use of pop culture elements, led by writers Elizabeth Searle and Suzanne Strempek Shea. Once again I was reminded that writing a Modern Love essay was on the list of projects I wanted to accomplish.
The Modern Love column was started in 2004 and has surged in popularity to become a podcast and a Amazon original series, now in its second season. But it was the onset of the 2020 pandemic, that started me towards becoming a weekly reader of the Sunday Times style section. I clipped the columns I liked and studied them. Not everyone was a gem. In fact I became increasingly disappointed at the number of Modern Love columns I considered mediocre. True, I ‘d set the bar high, but I had the increasing sense that many had been selected because they met certain demographic requirements.
The New York Times has readers from all over the world and thus the responsibility to present a vast variety of perspectives has to weigh heavily on the shoulders of the editors. The pressure to be mindful that all age groups, religions, socio-economic groups, skin colors, ethnic backgrounds and sexual orientations were represented seemed to be playing a role in what was getting published. Plus I had to consider sphere of influence. If someone was famous and had a literary agent with connections, wouldn’t their essay be given special consideration?
About a month ago my husband and I reconnected with some old friends, and over dinner Judy and I started comparing notes about the “writing life.” She told me about an online class she’d taken, sponsored by Catapult called “Making Modern Love” taught by Jessica Ciencin Henriquez. A reader of Catapult, I’d seen the class advertised. “Was it helpful,” I asked, “Did you submit a story to Modern Love?”
“Yes,” Judy said, “And if was rejected.”
“Well don’t feel bad, “ I said. “ I’ve had two essays rejected, pieces I felt really good about. Pieces other writers I respect assured me were good, however I figure it’s like winning the lottery. And glutton for punishment, I’m actually starting to sketch out an idea for a third attempt.”
We laughed. And a few weeks later in the shower, I thought of what I supposed was a unique idea, Modern Love Rejects. Someone should publish all the great Modern Love essay rejects. There must be hundreds of them, I told myself, but I thought to google first to make certain someone hadn’t already thought of the same idea. Already, in the Literary Magazine world I was familiar with two literary magazines that had been founded, partially in response to limited publishing opportunities for new talent, Rejection Letters and Unfortunately.
Within minutes I found several references to Modern Love Rejects and mentions of site planning to publish an anthology. as well as a page on Facebook,” Modern Love Rejects”, and a twitter account under the same name. But all these efforts that commenced in 2011 and again in 2016 have been abandoned. According to my messaging back and forth with the former administrator of the “Modern Love Rejects” Facebook page, “we just didn’t get enough submissions.”
It was hard for me to fathom the idea that not enough writers were interested in re-submitting their Modern Love Essays, but perhaps they’d found other homes for their work. As serendipity will have it, a day later I received a text message from my writer friend Judy. “Here’s a site,” she wrote, “publishing Modern Love rejects.” The address took me to Hobartpulp.com who has started publishing on Modern Love rejected essay online on Sundays. “But how much honor is there is being published as a reject?” wrote Judy.
I visited the Hobart site to read some of the essays. Evidently a lot of credentialed writers, with numerous publishing credits to their name see no downside in being published as a Modern Love Reject. The world is a tough place and sometimes you just have to satisfy yourself with less than you initially hoped for.
While I’m not convinced that titling these essays as “rejects” is the way to go, there is definitely an interested in writing and reading pieces about human connections. Love comes in many shapes and forms and it is at the root of everything we writers are passionate about.
Going back to my computer I started working on my third essay attempt, and decided I better ask my friend Taylor, who happens to be a voracious reader, if he minded my mentioning his name in my tale about dating as a young widow. “Modern Love?” he said, “I’ve never heard of it.”
Perhaps what I thought was so important an accomplishment may not be so important after all.