Monday, March 1, 2010
So Then the NEA Called Back, and It Was the Ghost of Kenneth Koch
When I wrote the previous post, my life was nothing even close to a roller-coaster ride or a tilt-a-whirl or any particular sort of carnival ride, not even the bumper cars.
It was a day of giddy and pumped ("I am making sense of this application! I will beat this thing!") and--the agony of defeat--realizing that I hit "send" too soon; i.e., before I attached the PDFs.
What was I thinking? That each separate section of my application needed to be submitted in order to move onto the next section, of course. Wrong, terribly wrong.
So I sat in my bed and cried for half an hour--sobbing, cussing myself out, sobbing some more. And then I got myself out of bed, and started working on other stuff to take my mind off the dreadful, bonehead move I'd made.
I thought to myself "Okay, no biggie--2012 will be here in no time; and besides, if you win this year, you can't apply in two years, and you'll be a better poet by then."
Just in case. however, I called and emailed the NEA to tell them what I'd done and could they please let me try submitting my application again?
I figured I wouldn't hear from them. After all, the website even says in plain English Don't freaking think we're gonna go out of our way to help you if you can't even start the application process ten days before the deadline.
After all, when I called Grants.gov, a woman took my first name, last name, phone number, date of birth, favorite type of pasta, name of elementary school, how many blades of grass in my backyard, put me on hold, then came back and said "You need to call the organization listed on the cover page of the grant application you're applying for."
Though I kept hearing from friends how nice these NEA people were when they ran into similar brick walls, I just couldn't get my hopes up.
And then a few hours later the phone rang, and it was The NEA. I picked up, and a man with a lovely, lilting New York accent told me that everything was re-set, that I could go ahead and resubmit my application, and there would be no trace anywhere of the incomplete application. His voice emanated with understanding and compassion; I think, in fact, that he was an angel, or else, on second thought, the ghost of Kenneth Koch. I spoke with Kenneth Koch, the new president of the NEA, and he was avuncular, optimistic ("I bet you'll even win!"), and kind.
During this very same time, friends were emailing me and calling me from all over the country, offering to walk me through it, convert my Word docs to PDFs; they were cheering me on, they were telling me "you go!" and "you can do this!" and "hit send!"
And suddenly I knew I was far, far away from the Soviet Union, from those dark days of the Eastern Block, when artists risked their lives to sneak away from the Iron Curtain for a weekend in Paris.
I was in the United States, where even in a giant, giant organization such as the NEA, mistakes can be fixed, and a kind voice can reach out of the phone saying "It's gonna be okay . . . "