From the Editor: Reinterpreting Rejection

I was having absinthe with a friend recently, at Estelle in Saint Paul, talking music. This particular friend has an encyclopedic knowledge of obscure hip-hop, soul, funk, and pulls no punches when it comes to my own musical endeavors (it’s apparently cooler to like Aesop Rock over A$AP Rocky, etc.). 

He had a date that evening (and would periodically step outside to smoke a blunt, which, heading into a date, baffled me), and we started talking about rejection. I’ve personally just re-entered the dating gauntlet for the first time in years, and he offered something of a throwaway line that has, for whatever reason, stayed with me: “We gotta use rejection to our advantage, man, to make us stronger.”

I was born with a cleft lip and palate. Thankfully, I was treated by some of the best doctors on the planet, at the Mayo Clinic in Rochester. But I know rejection well: the moment a person unconsciously touches their lip while I’m talking to them, experience has taught me that there will be no second date, job interview, etc. (Don’t feel sorry for me, however; I’m a handsome guy—though it took me about 30 years to really believe that.)

And I empathize, somewhat. Otherness can be jarring for some, or at least noticeable. But I have become almost pathological at reading micro-expressions. I know where a person is looking at all times, and also where they’re trying not to look. As a teenager, this was maddening. And I could write treatises on the oblique prism of human relationships within this context (e.g., W. C. Shaw, in an article for the British Journal of Plastic Surgery (1981, pp. 237-246), explained that “the serious psycho-social difficulties that could be encountered in everyday life” by the facially deformed were bolstered by Goffman (1963), “who held that facial deformity was one of several conditions that could stigmatise individuals, making them less acceptable to the rest of society.” The earliest attitudes toward cleft lips, according to Bhattacharya, Khanna, and Kohli (2009), were centered around superstition, religion and charlatanism; “they were considered to harbour evil spirits” and were killed. In 1550, Olaus Magnus, archbishop of Uppsala, Sweden, proclaimed that the harelip (a disparaging term referring to the subject’s mouth’s resemblance to the mouth of a hare; Pierre Franco, in his Traité des Hernies (1561), called the bilateral cleft lip dent de lièvre, or hare’s tooth) occurred as a consequence of a pregnant woman “either eating or leaping over the head of a hare.” In 1708, Frederick V. of Denmark prohibited anyone with a facial deformity from being in the same room as a pregnant woman (Weiser, 1963). Into the late 19th century, when Keating opined that oroclefting was provoked in utero if the gestating woman merely looked at someone with a similar deformity, this superstitious hooey maintained until Philippe Frederick Blandin, with a doubtless wag of the head, suggested the reason for this embryological hiccup was the mid-face’s premaxilla and maxilla failing to unite,” and so forth).

Often, when I meet a new date (for example), their eyes follow a pattern similar to the constellation Aries: Left eye, lip (lingering for roughly three milliseconds), and down to the right side of my chin. They usually blink twice, presumably processing the new information. It’s at this point that I find it difficult to turn on the charm.

However, I have begun to use this behavior as a filter, weeding out the kind of stunted and superficial energy that I’d prefer not to have in my orbit anyway. Using rejection to my advantage, as they say.

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