But I Deserve It!

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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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