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Posts Tagged ‘fellowships’

The Man To Whom I’m Most Grateful

In behavior, business, education, History, Media, men, politics, travel, women, work, world on November 23, 2010 at 8:18 pm

My photo, from 1982.

He’s someone you’ve likely never heard of, although he’s a well-known and beloved figure in his native France. I dedicated my first book to him and include him — more than 25 years dead — in my second book’s acknowledgements.

Philippe Viannay, (the photo here of him is one I took),  is the most inspiring man I’ve ever met. He founded a newspaper, a sailing school, a journalism school, an international journalism fellowship and a home for wayward boys.

All this, after being a Resistance hero during World War II.

He was in his 60s when we met in Paris, when I was chosen as one of 28 journalists, aged 25 to 35, from 19 countries as Journalists in Europe, an eight-month fellowship that forever changed my life and my notions of what was possible in it, both professionally and personally.

His idea, simple but complicated to fund, was to find the world’s best and most eager bilingual journalists to come and live and travel all over Europe, learning about its people and politics by living them, not parachuting in for a week or studying it only in a classroom.

We each took a 10-day reporting trip, alone, four times, some of which scared us to death — and often produced our best work. No one thought I’d survive the eight-day truck trip from Perpignan to Istanbul with Pierre, the 35-year-old trucker from Rheims. Best trip ever!

Our group, which still remains in touch, included men and women from countries including Brazil, Japan, Italy, New Zealand, Ireland, Togo and Sweden, forging deep and ongoing international friendships.  I now consider Paris a second home and plan to retire to France, at least part-time.

That year also taught me the world is filled with kind people, many unusual ways to get around, amazing and untold stories begging for passionate narrators. The greatest skill we brought — or developed, fast — was se debrouiller — to fend for ourselves. To figure it out. To be resourceful and get it done.

Viannay was joyful, demanding, impatient, demanded the best of everyone. He called me “le terrible Caitlin” — which I finally realized was a great, affectionate compliment, meaning “terrific”, not awful.

He died in 1986. I’ve never cried at work, except for the day I came back to the Montreal Gazette newsroom to hear that news. Amazingly, that room contained two other former fellows, two men who also knew the extraordinary gift Viannay and his progam had given us.

In June 2007, I made the pilgrimage, long overdue, to his grave in his hometown of Concarneau, in Brittany. It was a hot day when I entered the small graveyard and began searching for his final resting place. Surely, given all his extraordinary accomplishments, it was marked with a slab of gleaming granite or an an enormous angel.

I couldn’t find it and finally asked the guard to show it to me.

It was simple and understated, easily missed, just a flat, jagged slab of raw stone, a rock from his beloved Glenans, the sailing school he founded.

I slapped his stone, sat down beside him, and sobbed for a long, long time. My career had nosedived and I felt little but despair at the lost early promise he saw, and nurtured, in me.

More than anyone, he believed in me and my talents, for which I remain in his debt.

Viannay now lives on in every single person whose life he touched.

I remain forever grateful I’m one of them.

But I Deserve It!

In behavior, business, culture, design, Media, Money, work on September 10, 2010 at 11:47 am
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It’s that time of year again — applying to the two writing grants I keep hoping to win, one worth $10,000, the other either $17,000 or $35,000. They are given to writers of non-fiction and journalism and, with the recession driving 24,000 print writers out of work in the past few years, the line-up is getting longer and longer and longer.

The first grant is given to only 15 percent of applicants. Nice odds!

It’ll be my fourth time reaching for that specific brass ring and, because there is someone official at the organization to discuss it, I called her to ask how, if at all, I could increase my chances.

“You don’t deserve it just because you’ve applied four times!” she huffed.

“The work has to be excellent. It has to be art!

So the question arises.

Do I deserve it? I think so! Why else would I even bother applying if I didn’t?

Someone is going to win. Maybe one of these years it will be my turn.

A jury of only three people make those decisions. The official let slip that some writers are deemed so terrific they just keep winning year after year.

Oh, the gnashing of teeth and the rending of garments. They deserve it more than I do?

Sad truth is, when creative people in a specific field who’ve been plugging away at their game compete directly for limited goodies, it gets ugly fast. Among professional writers within each genre, we all know (of) one another — attending the same schools, MFA programs, workshops, conferences.

We may even share agents or editors or friends or teach in the same college just down the hallway.

I serve on the board of the American Society of Journalists and Authors, and at last fall’s board meeting was walking to dinner with two fellow members, both terrific women I really like. Turns out we had all applied for the same fellowship!

(None of us won.)

And when “art” and its value is deeply, hopelessly subjectively relative, who — really — does deserve any specific grant, fellowship or prize?

I don’t have kids, but kids today are being given prizes and ribbons and trophies for breathing. This is unwise.

As one disgusted Mom recently wrote in The New York Times:

My son’s trophy named him the 2010 East Brunswick, N.J., Baseball League Instructional 7’s “Most Valuable Player.” I was stunned. Had my skinny but baseball-addicted son really surpassed all his teammates? As the rest of the boys received their awards, the truth came out: The inscription was the same on every trophy.

Welcome to parenting in the 21st century. As Garrison Keillor says, all the children are above average. But is this really what we want to teach our kids?

I swear I’ve heard kids sneeze and a Mom coo: “Good job!”

It’s mighty tough out there once you start competing hard for the very small tip of the pyramid. Knowing — which some organized athletic competition often still does teach effectively — that someone is going to win and someone is going to lose is useful preparation for a lifetime of not winning.

No one is eager to lose.

But winning doesn’t define you permanently as a “winner” any more than losing means you’re a “loser.”

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It Was Bound To Happen

In Media, women on October 18, 2009 at 6:14 pm
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In the last year, 38,000 journalists lost their jobs, more than 24,000 of them in print. Add to that, thousands of freelancers now competing with the laid-off for a diminished pile of work and what starts to look like a safe(r) bet? Fellowships! Grants!

Imagine my horror/pride when I found out yesterday I’m competing against two of my favorite colleagues, both seasoned veterans with terrific proposals who serve on the same board, for the same fellowship this year. Shriek! We just held our semi-annual board meeting of the American Society of Journalists and Authors in Atlanta where, walking to dinner afterward, I found out our shared ambition.

Having been a nationally ranked saber fencer in the 1990s, it’s been a while since I had to try to beat out women I know, like and respect personally as worthy competitors. Oh, well, fingers crossed for at least one of us.

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