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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, 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 . . . "


Kathleen said...

I am laughing in one way, smiling in another, and belly is jiggling like St. Nick, while reading this. I am so glad it all worked out. I bet you'll even win!

Martha Silano said...

Oh, glad you're laughing, Kathleen, laughing is good--releases endorphins and all that. After I got my app in, I had a glass of wine, ate some homemade pizza, and read Narnia to my kids; it happened to be a very, very, very funny chapter, and I laughed so much tears were messing up my whole face. My son didn't quite get what was SO funny, but boy did I feel good after.

seana said...

I'm so glad that hitting the send button was in this case not so irrevocable.

There were probably several heavenly spirits watching out for you. The initial problem probably had to do with none of them being particularly computer savvy, so unaware of its perils...

Martha Silano said...

Hey Karen,

It's great to imagine spirits hovering about me. Not sure it's true, but it did feel like I'd been touched by an angel, and I am not usually that woo-woo. In the old days, you sealed the envelope and stuck it in a big blue box. Sometimes stuff went in there you wished you could retrieve, but usually you were very careful and double checked everything before sealing the envelope. Email changed all that, of course, but it's nice to know that "send" does not have to be forever.

Sandy Longhorn said...

This post made me smile (as did the previous one). Thanks for the uplifting story.

January said...

Your post made me go back and look at my confirmation.

Whew! Glad you worked it out with the NEA. Good luck to us both!

Martha Silano said...

It's nice being able to take a break from applications for a little while . . . and do what writers are supposed to do: write!