Like most of the rest of the world (at least the ones who still have electricity) I have been following the Olympics. It has been brutal to watch the few judging glitches: Japan regaining a few points in gymnastics and bumping the Ukraine down a notch, or the Greek racisim disqualification bumping people up ("I got this Bronze thanks to someone else's racism.") or this newest badminton fiasco.
Having just awarded a Fellowship (results posted here), I can tell you - judging feels like the heaviest weight. Not just the back-and-forth gut-aching feeling of watching the USA gymnasts celebrate unexpected gold on split screen with the Russians and their unexpected loss. But also the knowledge that hundreds of armchair critics are narrowing their eyes, wondering why this one, not that one. Prizes do matter. They give you energy, they tie you to history. They are the world's approval of your somehow otherwise ridiculous decision to devote yourself to something that will never earn you a zillion dollars...
Michael Cunningham (a mentor and ex-writing teacher of mine) summed it up beautifully in his New Yorker piece recently (there's a Part 2) -- he was on the Pulitzer committee and even there, the choices were nearly impossible. Everyone has talent. Everyone has at least one spot where you want to tell them "oh, couldn't you have just gotten this one thing a little better?" But it is your job to make that choose and so you so. In the end of it all, you feel like they are all your children - you are so proud of them all, despite their flaws. It's strange how connected you become.
Here is why we at Pen Parentis strictly adhere to blind judging--I can't imagine if we, like those judges, knew where the entries were from and what the life story of the athlete/writer was as we tried to value their work.
Really, isn't a few sentences by a formerly illiterate 40 yr old as much of an accomplishment as twenty lovely pages by a trust fund kid who just finished an all-expesnses paid ride to Harvard?
When you judge quality, you aren't judging the process.
Maybe we should. Maybe there should be medals for "achievement" in sports - and in writing.
But actually, no. Everyone has a struggle. Even that trust-fund kid has to get his head around reality and put words on a page. Discipline is universal. Those kids at the Olympics all had to work to get on that team. And so it is with us. If our story is waiting in the slush pile of some editor's desk, we are already in the running. We have already jumped the first hurdle - now we are in the race.
Keep running, folks. Just keep running.
Wanted to add - Books Ahoy! was a grand success thanks to you people. I want to warmly thank our authors who all read beautifully, Bluestockings Books, FaceArt by Melissa, Church Street School for Music and Art, our fantastic volunteer staff including the lovely Arlaina Tibensky and Kaitlin Sancoucie, and I'd especially like to thank The Lilac for hosting. We had 176 people attend the event. That's just...olympic. Thanks to all who came. Photos here: www.facebook.com/penparentis.