Friday, February 24, 2012

"This is not a good project at all"

I've been thinking lately about publishing a book, going the self-publishing route. There are all kinds of pros and cons around that, which I have studied thoroughly, and for what I want to do, it seems like the way to go. So I've decided I'm going to go ahead and do it. To do it the way I want requires some money though. Not a lot but some. To that end, I applied for a grant from the Hillsborough County Arts Council. Let me state right up front that I did not expect to get it. I know my material doesn't have mass appeal, certainly doesn't qualify as "art" and that this would be a fairly self-indulgent venture. Still, there was the potential of getting $1000 to pull it off, and nothing ventured, nothing gained, right? Plus, I'd never applied for a grant before and figured if nothing else, it would be educational.

Oh, I got schooled all right.

Grants are tricky in that there are very specific instructions and criteria and attention to detail is crucial. I did it myself, to the best of my ability but felt that I was compliant with what was required. Again, I never got my hopes up but I felt pretty good about what I was able to put together and submit.

Last week, the committee that reviews the grant proposals met to give their recommendations. The notice for the meeting stated that applicants would not be allowed to offer a presentation but may be asked questions. I got the impression that it would be best if I attended, just in case by some fluke I had submitted something that may actually be borderline considerable. If that were the case, and answering a question or two spelled the difference between success and failure, I'd be crazy to not be there. Nothing ventured, nothing gained...

It's kind of a blur now (why that is will be made clear in a minute) but I think there were eight people on the panel, all representing various areas of expertise, giving scores based on the different criteria. In order to qualify for anything beyond initial consideration, the proposal needed an average score of 160 (out of a possible 200). Of course, at this point I still thought I had no shot. I fully expected to fail. Not in a fatalistic, "boo hoo, I suck, nobody likes me" way but as mentioned, simply because I don't think what I do is really the kind of thing an "arts council" would fund.

Boy, was I right.

I think mine was the third or fourth one to be reviewed. Susan Edwards, who was there as the literary expert led off with, "This is not a good project at all."

Wow. I don't know exactly what I was expecting, but it was not that. Maybe "this really isn't the kind of thing we do" or even "this needs work, go back and try again another time". And even then, tacked on at the end; not leading off with an outright dismissal due to being utterly devoid of any merit whatsoever. I definitely didn't expect a kick in the nuts, which is what I got. At some point between then and when she got done, I went into a state of shock. I tuned out and and stared at the floor, far too humiliated to even think about standing up and walking out. No, instead I stayed there until they adjourned for a break, slinking out a side door as quickly and stealthily as possible. I'll admit to being overly sensitive in some cases. However, I'm also very good at summoning up thick skin in situations when I think I'll need it, such as this one. In other words, I came in fully prepared to fail and fail hard. I did not prepare to fail, fail hard and be insulted. The insult was delivered with her score: "I give this 25 points."

Remember, 160 was required for bare minimum consideration to advance; she gave me less than 20% of what would be needed for a bare minimum passing grade. 25, not 0. You're not supposed to take rejection or criticism personally, especially if you're a writer. But that's giving someone a D- on a term paper instead of an F for spelling their name right. That's leaving a penny on the table instead of nothing at all because you want your server to know that you were dissatisfied and didn't merely forget to leave a tip. 25, not 0. That's an insult and it's also a rebuke. That's a recommendation that the writer's fingers be forcibly removed and replaced with some sort of implements incapable of gripping a pen or striking keys. That's not rejection or criticism. That's a "screw you". How do you not take that personally?  I don't know if anybody applied for funds to make pictures of seabirds by gluing macaroni to construction paper and mounting them on hunks of driftwood, but I can't imagine them getting worse feedback than I got.

This, combined with some pretty serious stress from a couple of personal issues I was attempting to deal with at the same time, sent me into a pretty severe tailspin. Oh, I brooded and I brooded hard. "This is not a good project at all." I was devastated. Over and over in my head, destroying me again and again. Did I retain anything even slightly positive from the experience, anything even remotely constructive? " all."

I don't know why, when or how but I eventually pulled myself out of it. Anytime something like this happens to me, there's never an "A-ha!"epiphany self-realization moment. Pep talks don't work. I think I just get tired of it. It's not like I'm smart enough to quit or brave enough to kill myself over it. So I guess I just get bored and move on to whatever the next thing is.

In the end, I'm at square one, which isn't really a surprise (I did mention that I didn't expect to get this grant, didn't I?). I don't know if Susan Edwards hates me for some reason (as far as I know, we've never even met). At this point, I don't give a shit. I do wonder how often things like this happen to other people. I kind of hope it's not infrequent. Otherwise, it means I'm the worst grant applicant in the history of grant applications. And I don't even know that she or anyone in her position is obligated to pat people like me on the head and protect our dewicate wittle feewings. But nobody likes to be kicked when they're down. And of course, she had no possible way of knowing that I was down. But why bother kicking at all? I feel bad for anybody who's just hung it up as a result of an interaction like this, though.

As for me, I'll be fine. I'm still going to do what I do, I'm going to do it the way I think it should be done and I'm going to use this little incident (it's not even a setback, since the only thing I lost was the time and energy I wasted feeling bad about it) as motivation.

So...thanks, I guess.

Oh yeah, I almost forgot: screw you, too.


Denise said...

Clark, I'm extremely sorry. That's not cool at all.

Are we talking about the Susan Edwards (my new least favorite person in town) from CL?

Clare said...

I tried to post this a moment ago, but it didn't show up. So at the risk of double-posting, I'll just repeat the key part of my insightful comment, "This lady is pure mean."

At least I have proven that I'm not a robot. Whew.

Why, it's Clark! said...

Denise: I believe she's with Creative Loafing. Someone told me she is.
Clare: I'm glad you're not a robot.

Why, it's Clark! said...

The more I think about it, I wonder if she wasn't necessarily being personal towards me, but a lot of people REALLY hate blogs and bloggers and a lot of people REALLY hate self-publishing. That might have been the root of it and I happened to be a handy target.

Jeff Hickmott said...

Never heard of her. However, I HAVE heard of YOU. And you ROCK!