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A scene from The Polar Express

I was watching The Polar Express with Ted and the kids, and thinking how I could relate to the main character­–a boy whose belief is restored in Santa Claus after he’s given a bell that only true believers can hear. He’s thrilled by this gift, but on the return trip home, when he reaches inside his pocket to retrieve the bell, he finds a gaping hole instead. His shoulders slump. There’s a look of shock and disappointment on his face. Then there’s me, a grown woman, sobbing in the corner of our sectional, wondering like him, what could I have done differently? Or was my loss out of my control?

My bell came in the form of an assignment from a popular, online parenting magazine. The story pitch required work, time and perseverance, and the pay wasn’t great, but it didn’t matter. The opportunity could lead to wonderful possibilities: exposure for my blog, more assignments, new readers, etc, but the fear of screwing up scared me to death. What if the editor didn’t like the finished piece? And worse, what if the magazine decided not to go through with publishing the essay?

I was filled with self-doubt, or as my father calls it, over-analysis paralysis. I drove Ted crazy, endlessly discussing my concerns, worrying that the piece didn’t hold up against other essays on the site. And like any supportive husband, he assured me that my story was good, better than good, and that I was being too hard on myself.

I had a reoccurring feeling, though, and it was this: something was missing in the essay. So I worked on the story, re-wrote it a number of times and then finally, it felt complete. Over-analysis paralysis be damned! I had beaten this thing, and Ted had to be right, everything would turn out okay.

Except it didn’t. Call it negative energy, bad karma, my stars not being aligned, whatever… four days after sending the piece, I learned from an editorial assistant that the story was being killed. Apparently the magazine had a lot of great content for December, and a new editorial team decided less was more. I read the email at least five times before the message sank in. Then I imagined a crazy, murderous editor, stabbing my essay over and over again in her New York office, shouting, “Kill this thing! It’s the worst I’ve seen in all my years of editing.”

Of course I’ll never know if it was the content, staff changes or a little of both that changed the fate of my original acceptance. And of course, the not knowing is driving me nuts. It’s like someone you’re crazy about breaking up with you, and never learning the reason why. And all along, the relationship seemed great: lots of good communication, only a few days between emails and then wham! You’re on the outs.

So in a nutshell, I lost my bell. I don’t know when or how long it will take before I get it back. In The Polar Express, the boy wakes up Christmas morning to find a small box under the tree. He opens the package and discovers the bell is safely inside. And in an instant, all is right with the world.

But The Polar Express is a movie, not life. I want to be hopeful, and my friends and family have assured me that I’ll get another opportunity. I want to believe them. Really, I do. Right now, though, I feel like I’ve been left with a great big hole in my pocket.

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