This is what coming in 13th out of 46 award applicants looks like:
The artist's sample was incredible. I was completely in the world they had created. I felt like I understood this person - I felt like we shared a mind. I cannot believe what an amazing story this is. This took my breath away - to be able to explore mental health, addiction, abuse, and the theme of family through a historical, personal, and objective lens. It is brilliantly written and completely electric.
This person clearly understands art, people, and the magic of storytelling. I was in tears by the end of their manuscript. It was raw, it was edgy, it was soft, it was human. If I could describe this person's sample in one word, it would be "wow." What a talent!
In case you’re wondering, I submitted the first chapter of Crossing Fifty-One as part of an application for an individual artist award/grant. Those terms were used interchangeably throughout the process. The funding organization recently announced that awards totaling $21,500 were given to the top eight applicants. Seven of the eight were visual artists, including this one:
The eighth winner was a playwright/composer. No writers/authors were among the award recipients.
In dog training, there’s a mantra, “go home with a ribbon or go home with a lesson.” In this case, I didn’t get a ribbon. I did get an email encouraging me to attend a “grant writing workshop” to further improve my grant writing skills. The organization’s director also invited me to contact them to discuss the critique of my application.
Because I’m not one to shy away from critique, I jumped at the opportunity.
I won’t go into detail here, needless to say, I felt even more discouraged after that conversation. I learned that at least several of the recipients were repeat winners. Apparently, as long as you haven’t received the lifetime maximum of $5,000, you can apply every year until you do. More importantly, though, I learned that, rather than a grant program, it’s basically a contest. There’s no requirement that the award money be used in furtherance of one’s art. In fact, according to the director, I could use the money to build a deck if I wanted to.
In full disclosure, it’s only March, and I’ve already paid out for ice dam removal, vet bills and next week, a new set of tires. That money would have come in handy.
But I digress…
My total score was 86/100. That’s a B+ by my calculation, and not a winning score.
The prior critiques could hardly have contributed to an 86, but I’m pretty sure this one dragged the average down:
I love the ironic juxtaposition of Nat King Cole's song and the slumping Dad.
"getting from the car into the restaurant was touch and go." I don't understand. Did Dad faint? fall? What happened?
I don't quite have a sense of the narrator's age. "That was about ten minutes ago. Or was it ten hours?" Is she a child? A teenager?
"the last two decades prosecuting" Now I have a sense of the narrator's age. Great. And it's very interesting.
For some reason, I assumed it was dinner and was surprised to learn it was lunch. (page 4)
"laboriously" I'd like to be shown this. Does Dad lunge or shamble between the tables? Does he hang on to his wife or daughter?
I wanted to know more about what gifts "Dad had picked out for her" jewelry? a sapphire ring? a toaster?
Not gonna lie, I read this reviewer’s critique through increasingly clenched teeth. Especially when the third sentence of page 1 of my submission states “The absolute last thing Dad would want is to be responsible for LUNCH (my emphasis) being called off.” Kind of hard to miss that, unless you’re skimming.
I could go on, but then I’d quickly be sliding into the “sore loser” category.
I aspire to be a gracious loser. I aspire to a lot of things, and sometimes fall short. But to cope with these recent events I’ve turned to the philosophy of amor fati. It’s more than just accepting what happened, it’s loving what happened.
Ugh. So much not to love about what just happened.
One thing the director reminded me of, was the total subjectivity of art. Having only recently gained the courage to identify as an artist, it’s important that I embrace all of what it means. I’ve written about it previously, as it related to someone far more famous and accomplished than me. Somehow, my ego doesn’t trip me up in those circumstances.
In the end, I remind myself of what my ultimate goal was when I set out to write Crossing Fifty-One. It was NOT about winning contests or making a bunch of money as a best-selling author, although honestly, that would be awesome. But in this moment, I see no upside in ruminating about the score of 86 and missing out on the money.
Instead, I bask in the comments from the reviewers who loved my story.
Will I try again? I don’t need to decide that today. At least now I’m armed with a bit more knowledge that might make a future failure less painful.
That’s something to love in and of itself.