February 27, 2009

On Waiting

Amy King has put together a thoughtful response to David Orr's hubbub-inducing essay on "greatness" that ran in last Sunday's New York Times Book Review, and asks for me to join the fray. I'm game, but I need to go home, curl up, and let my mind comb through the discussion before I venture an answer here. Stay tuned.

Before I wander anywhere near the topic of greatness, let me be petty. One of my first jobs was administering scholarly prizes. (Not selecting winners, just managing the process.) So much energy was spent photocopying, tracking down missing paperwork, mailing evaluation packets, and nagging my judges in the days leading up to the conference call or ballot or however the prize was to be decided. THAT was the juggernaut. Once we had our winner there tended to be a lull. Sure, we needed to actually notify folks of the results (those same folks who had just driven me half-mad with incomplete applications). But the real work was done, right? We were beat. What difference would a couple of days make before we did the mass mailing to applicants, or updated the website with the winner's name?

I am so sorry. I get it now. And karma is a cruel mistress.

Every day people apply for fellowships, jobs, book prizes. And a week later they apply for more fellowships, jobs, book prizes. The cycle never ends, as we try to crab-walk out way through this world as writers. Periodically we are put in the maddening position of having to make critical career or publishing choice without all the facts in hand. Sometimes the waste is just $25 in moot reading fees. Sometimes it is much more. So if you have an inbox with a winner's name in it, please, please, please and with sympathy for your under-appreciated service: get the word out with no delay. It's hard enough to make this work without flying blind through life-altering decisions.

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