The Art of Avoiding Preposterousness and Self-Deprecation

Those wonderful days of false summer have been driven back to south of the border. It's winter today, and there's no other way to look at it. Wet, cold, and just plain miserable.

I spent today much as I spent yesterday afternoon and evening. Working on my submission to the Dobie-Paisano fellowship. The work seemed straightforward enough. The submission form is a cinch at only five pages. One of the problems is that I'm very squeamish at promoting myself. I was up pretty late last night trying to make myself sound just wonderful … without verging into the realm of either preposterousness or self-deprecation. After a couple of hours of grueling typing, I thought I'd got there. I decided to reward myself by heading out and picking up a few tacos. I'd been typing into the proper fields on one of those interactive PDF files that allows you to add content. I guess I really wanted those tacos, because it slipped my mind that you can't save in this PDF thingy. I watched as about five hundred words of of blood and sweat and typing fizzled into that digital void where nothing ever returns.

I decided I had to get out of the house — before I ground my teeth down to nubs — and return to the process after a late night snack.

The truth is, I can usually recover most of what I lose in these situations (usually caused by power brownouts), just so long as I don't wait too long. When I returned I was able to plow back into the big white space (this time on a word processing program with which I could save) and recreate a palatable approximation of what I had inadvertently destroyed.

The other component was the work sample. I decided on six short stories. About 25 pages in all. It should be simple. I had the pieces written. But they were certainly not in proper formatting. True, the proposal documents mentioned nothing about manuscript formatting. But, really, how else would a writer professing professionalism deliver the goods? Besides, I expect that at least one member of the judging panel would be from the publishing field. I'll spare my readers the tedium of describing my attempts to do this on a computer without a decent word processor program. But I'll hit the highlights — these poor little works of prose were messaged into publisher-proper form, and then: downloaded, uploaded, emailed back to myself; and, they were rudely forced through exotic file protocols (there are various copies of each story on my computer with at least four different file extensions) … and then I had to print out three copies of each.

This last important item I had actually planned for in advance. Yesterday I drove down to the office supply store on SW Military. I wasn't fucking around. I picked up three cartridges of black ink.

While looking around for the ink aisle, I looked up and saw George Ozuna. We chatted for awhile. He told me that he's working to get his high school students over at the Film School of San Antonio (AKA Harlandale High School) to this year's Tribeca Film Festival. Very impressive. You go, Harlandale!

So, anyway, I soon had the ink issue covered.

And the printing of it all worked pretty well. It's just a lot of printing. (Note to those who do a lot of printing of just basic text: put your printer setting on “grayscale. ” Unless you need vibrant black on expensive paper, you probably won't be able to tell the difference. It puts an ink jet printer into over-drive, not to mention it makes your ink last longer.)

But, as I've learned from editing video projects, if you've got a two hour project and you begin five hours before deadline, you've actually got yourself a five hour project. It's just one of the physical laws of the universe. Getting grant proposals, such as I was working on, finished and to the post office by postmark deadline is no different.

I was stumbling out the door at 4:38. Almost all post offices in this city close at five on weekdays. Yes, there is one the closes at, I believe, 11:30 at night, but it's all the fucking way up at the airport.

But I was doing good, right? Twenty minutes to spare with a post office five minutes away. I was fifteen minutes ahead of things.

I didn't have a large envelope, so I headed out with about ninety pages held together in three clumps with some paperclips. I knew I could buy a mailing envelope at the post office.

At the post office I grabbed a mailer, stuffed my pages inside, and I scribbled the address on the front. I sealed it and walked up to the postal clerk.

And then I realized I was supposed to include a check. The submission fee. I had no checkbook.

Fuck.

I had the guy sell me the envelope. Because, well, I'd already written on it. There was no way I could go home, grab my checkbook, and make it back. The place would close in just a few minutes. It looked like I'd have to make the drive out to the airport.

I walked out into the parking lot, and just as I was just about to get into my truck, the obvious hit me. The post office sells money orders.

I spent maybe thirty precious seconds trying to decide whether to castigate myself for not thinking of this while I was at the checkout counter, or whether I should high-five myself because I had suddenly figured out how to save myself a protracted trip out to the north side to visit the airport post office.

I removed my head from my posterior and I made it back inside before they closed the doors. I got the proposal off in time.

The truth is I have about as much chance of landing the Dobie-Paisano as I do of winning a Christian Bale look-alike contest. But, as they say, you gotta play to win. And maybe, just maybe, if I entered enough Christian Bale look-alike contests, one day I might make it. You know, the intersection of a superior hair day with just the right lighting.

For those not hip to the Texas lit scene, we, here, have a certain fetish for our regional authors. Well, that's probably putting things too strong. We used to have this regional respect for Texas writers. Now it's hard to find anyone under the age of fifty who even knows who J. Frank Dobie is. And I can hardly blame them. He was really not that good a writer. But it was really about a community of writers — Dobie, Roy Bedicheck, and Walter Prescott Webb were just the tip of a huge renaissance of Texas letters. The Book Club of Texas, the Texas Folklore Society, and Texas Institute of Letters. All these august entities have Dobie's fingerprints all over them. He was a writer, a gadfly, a folklorist, and one of the first of what has come to be known as a professional Texan (think of Ben K. Green and Molly Ivins).

J. Frank Dobie had a bit of land near Austin — about 250 acres, with Barton Creek snaking through it — and he bequeathed it to the University of Texas in Austin. There is a small house on the property. And UT has created two fellowship programs that allow authors to spend half a year out at Dobie's spread, where they can write in solitude. One of the fellowships is for writers who are established; the other is for those with a more humble track record. Both offer impressive stipends — impressive to me, that is.

I have, of course, applied for the latter, the Jesse H. Jones Writing Fellowship. The Dobie-Paisano website lists all the recipients back to the very beginning, 1967. It also gives more detailed bios of recipients back to the year 2000. And of the seven recipients of the Jesse H. Jones Writing Fellowship from 2000 to the present, all of them have MFAs, a history of having been published, and they are pretty much all on staff at universities. So, it looks like I just pissed away a postal money order, don't you think?

Oh, well. One has to just keep slogging away, trying one's best to assemble successes.

The thing that bothers me is that of all the 79 recipients of both awards since the beginning, I'm somewhat familiar with the work of 13. Okay. Let's look at the first 24 years. That covers it all for me. Those 13 writers are in the 1967 to 1990 phase. 1991 to 2007 (seventeen fucking years), I have never heard of these people. I'm sure they are all wonderful people. But where the fuck are the Billy Porterfields and Gary Cartwrights of today?

@@@@@@

A new NetFlix day. Cobra Verde. The Herzog madness continues! Of the five film collaborations between Werner Herzog and Klaus Kinski, I'd seen all but Cobra Verde. This was the final film they did together. It's an historical piece dealing with the slave trade. The cinematography is stunning. The scope of the piece, impressive. And Kinski is gnawing on the scenery of two continents! As lush and poignant as this film is, it doesn't get under my skin like so many of Herzog's other pieces. There are probably four scenes that I'll carry with me for years because of their huge scope and brilliant art design. And Kinski does some great intense scenes. But it's kind of scattered. The script seems to be the problem. And maybe that's because it was adapted from a novel. There is too much plot clattering around in the background. But I highly recommend it. This is what a big budget (well, biggish) extravaganza with a cast of thousands (well, many many hundreds) looks like when it's directed by an artist and not some fucking Hollywood hack.

@@@@@

It's halfway through the first month of the year. I didn't make any resolutions (leastwise none I'll admit to here), but it's beginning to look like another wasted year. Even at this two week point.

I've generated most of my energies so far this year into two project proposals. The Luminaria. And the Dobie-Paisano. The former I might get. It'll pay me a pittance which will no doubt be mostly eaten up by expenses. And the latter is not gong to happen. (However, I've formatted some stories into a proper state, so now I can start submitting them (and, well, you know, begin to collect those sweet rejection letters and emails).)

And a job? I need to look into that. I can maybe float for another month. I have two likely sources to try and tap. I think that's what I'll be doing tomorrow. Looking for a job. And may god have mercy on my soul.

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