On Winning an Ontario Arts Council Grant
Posted by E on June 30, 2009
There is nothing more affirming for a writer than the day when he or she earns her first coins for a story or a poem. So much of our lives are spent in the solitude of a closed room, in the reflective light of a computer screen, battling with our own, unique critical selves that keep themselves perched upon our shoulders and echo back at us the doubts of the world – you’re not going to get this done, this project is too ambitious for your own good, who are you kidding, etc.
And then there are moments of illumination, when everything becomes possible again. Like when a blind jury of four judges sift through hundreds of applications and select only twenty or less writers in all of Ontario to receive a significant award such as this.
Last week I suddenly found myself among them. Last week, I earned the privilege of calling myself a paid writer. Last week, I realized that somewhere out there in this world of ours, four authors who knew nothing about me saw enough merit and potential in my project that they decided to fund it.
Last Monday night I opened the mailbox and found a thick brown envelope from the OAC, and all the butterflies in my stomach started to flitter: finally, I would have my answer. I had been praying for a sign that my work possesses the value I believe it has. At the kitchen table, I tore open the envelope quickly, not wanting to allow the seepage of doubt to intrude into this moment I’d been waiting for. Then I read the first words: “On behalf of the Ontario Arts Council, I am pleased to inform you that you have been awarded a Writers’ Works in Progress Grant towards ______ in the amount of $12,000” and out slipped the blue $12k cheque as well, and I don’t remember much after that except that I jumped up and down, screaming: “I got it! Oh my God, they gave it to me!!”
When I sent in 40-some pages of my non-fiction manuscript to the Ontario Arts Council back in February ’09, I hoped against hope that I would be one of the few to be awarded a Work-in-Progress grant. I took the application as both a testing of waters (“let’s see if others see some promise there”) and a desperate attempt to generate some funds to go toward the research costs I need for this book. I didn’t have any expectations of winning the $12,000 award – in fact, I spent the excruciatingly long four months that followed vacillating between blind optimism and total disbelief. I pity those around me who constantly urged me that my writing was indeed good enough, who kept saying “You’ll get it, I just know you’ll get it. How could you not?” You know who you are – and I thank you for being there when my confidence had failed me entirely.
Sometimes I don’t know what’s wrong with me. Why is it that I have such persistent doubt in my ability to complete this manuscript? It seems that everything else in my life that I put my mind to, I have been able to pull through. But writing is another world – it is like standing naked in front of a mirror, staring at yourself. You see yourself for who you really are – you see all your flaws and imperfections, and all your demons and your scars and all the things that you hope nobody else can tell just by looking at you.
When I am alone in front of my computer, I see not only all that I can accomplish, but all the places where I have been broken. I see my weaknesses crumple in front of me like a nest of snapped bones gathering at my feet. There is no ego left – there is only the pain that I am trying to translate into words, that I am trying to expel from my body so I can be sane again. This effort is what’s earned me this $12,000, but it has come at a price – the price of having to be brutally honest with myself and my past. The price of blood-letting my life onto crisp paper.
But as of today, my manuscript has become a full-time job. I no longer have the excuse to procrastinate, now that I have entered into this contract with those faceless benefactors who have glimpsed the value of my vision and have decided to fund it. Writing my book is no longer an optional exercise but a real job. It would take someone working minimum wage over 7 months to make this kind of money. I have not failed to realize this – and this awareness is such a powerful thing.
The OAC money will definitely go a long way in covering my expenses as I work on my manuscript; most importantly, however, it is the surge of confidence and motivation that it generates in my own soul, the impetus that others’ faith in me creates, that will always be priceless.
Thank you to all those of you who believed in me – despite my best attempts to dissuade you.