No, No, No, No, No, Yes

Issue 30 | March 2014

My mother was a Jewish mother.

Naturally, my Jewish mother, like all Jewish mothers, wanted me to be a doctor, or a lawyer... or as she used to say, "Be something!"

I wanted to be a cartoonist. Oy vey, a cartoonist was not on her list...

I was six or seven, and my mother was the critic of my drawings: "I'm not sure about the colors... The composi- tion is well, so-so..."

You can imagine the picture.

At the same time, all the drawing my friends made were instantly put up on their refrigerator doors. Yes, the fridge, the Museum of Kids.

Fast forward to 1989. I am living in New York City.

Paul Peter Porges was my teacher at the School of Visual Arts in New York and a published cartoonist for Mad Magazine and The New Yorker.

The dream of every cartoonist in the world is to have their cartoons published in The New Yorker. That was my dream too.

"There are so many magazines and newspapers. Why do you insist on The New Yorker?" Paul asked me. "It's impossible to get in...Only the top cartoonists make it."

"No chance!"

"But if you insist, you should know that on every Wednesday you can leave an envelope with sketches at The New Yorker reception desk, and you can have it back on Friday."

I didn't need more than that. I drew all day and all night. On Wednesday morning, I walked all the way to The New Yorker and went up to the 22nd floor.

The receptionist gave me "the look", the "I've seen thousands like you" kind of look. Funny, I gave him exactly the same look,"...and I've seen thousands like you". Then he stuck my envelope into a HUGE box full of envelopes.

On Thursday I hardly slept.

On Friday, full of excitement, I rushed to The New Yorker office.

My envelope was waiting for me. All the sketches were in it, and in the same order.

There was a yellow note from The New Yorker attached to it with a NO.

It was an American style apology, explaining that my sketches didn't fit...

On Monday, I showed the note to Paul. "I told you so." Paul told me so.

The New Yorker was my dream...I went all over the city with my sketch book, drawing more and more sketches. On the next Wednesday, one envelope, 20 sketches and one me, went to The New Yorker office.

On Friday another NO-yellow-note was waiting for me. Wednesday & Friday, Wednesday & Friday, Wednesday & Friday...

Unwittingly, I had managed to develop a relationship with the receptionist, as in the famous novel by Isaac Bashevis Singer, "Enemies, A Love Story."

I loved the receptionist. He hated me.

Then, one Friday, there was a surprise. It was the same NO yellow note, but there was a scribble on it.

I couldn't read it. It was illegible. (Can you read it?)

That was the moment it hit me. My mother was right! If I had been a doctor, I could have read it!

I asked the receptionist, but he couldn't read it either.

On Monday, Paul was so happy. "That scribble means someone is telling you you're on the right track." The note reads "Sorry."

A scribble? It was a masterpiece! And scribbles... “Keep trying” You see I could read it now.

If you knew my mother, my real cartoon editor, you would know that there is no cartoon editor in the world that could break me.

No way. I kept trying. Another week went by, another twenty sketches.

Then, one Friday, one drawing was missing. The pencil scribble said:

“Holding 1”

What did that mean? Paul knew the answer. “The cartoon editor is keeping 1 sketch for the editorial meeting.”

Keeping or not keeping, my excitement kept on for exactly one week.

On the next Friday, I received my envelope with 21 drawings... 20 +1...

Wednesdays & Fridays, Fridays & Wednesdays... sketches & notes, notes & sketches...

“Holding 2”...

During this time, I was still a student at the Bezalel School of Art. After 1 year and 1,000 sketches done when I was living in New York, I had to go back to Israel to present my graduation project. I chose the ten best sketches for my graduation project.

Next, I started on my long career in advertising.

Fast forward to 1993.

Commercial TV had just been introduced in Israel and I was sent by my agency to New York for two weeks. Getting ready to pack, I opened the closet where I kept my winter clothes. I was searching for my scarf and gloves and there it was... the envelope with the sketches from my graduation project.

My dream was alive again.

“I’ve got nothing to lose!” I told myself. I put the envelope into my suitcase and flew to New York.

Monday, Tuesday, and then on Wednesday at noon, you already know the ritual. I walked all the way to The New Yorker, straight to the top floor. There was a new receptionist, but he gave me the same old look.

On Thursday I got a voicemail. It was the sweetest voice I had ever heard:

“Hi Gideon, this is Ann from The New Yorker. Could you drop by our office tomorrow? We would like to discuss some of your drawings.”


The next day, I saw the receptionist again. For the first time ever, I walked through the castle gates.

I met Francoise Mouly, in her office at The New Yorker. All my sketches were leaning against the wall and she said, “We would like to buy that one.”

I left The New Yorker offices and immediately called my mother in Israel:

“Mom, I’ve got a surprise for you!” “Is she Jewish? Are you getting married? What’s her name?” was her answer.

But this is not a story about drawings. It is a story about one word, full of inspiration:

It’s not fun to get a NO, really not a pleasure. CEOs, entrepreneurs, and creative people get all kinds of NOs.

In the beginning I thought every NO was the end of the world, a NO with a big exclamation point!

I might have given up my dream. A big mistake.

The reality is different because NO is a part of life. Usually, NO comes with a comma.

Remember, my first NO was just a standard NO.

Then I got a very personal NO comma, “sorry” NO comma, “keep trying” NO comma, “holding one” NO comma, “holding two”

NO, comma.

As in life- NO comma, “we don’t have the time.” NO comma, ”we don’t have the budget.” NO comma, “can we see another option?”

NO comma, NO comma, NO comma.

We have to examine, to explore, to discover which NO comma we are dealing with.

There are many types of NO commas. The first is the dramatic NO comma which drives us to work even harder. Then we have the inspirational NO comma which makes us rethink. Finally there’s the most challenging NO comma which leads us to change and go in a different direction.

NO comma has great power. Every NO comma is a treasure. Every NO comma is a great opportunity to search for the next YES. 

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