Last night I was doing it again. It’s an annual tradition around here. And no, it’s not the after Thanksgiving diet, although I’ve had my share of those, it’s applying for the blasted Stegner Fellowship.
I’ve been doing it on and off for twenty years (for about ten years in poetry and now in fiction), which is pretty frustrating and leads me to question whether it’s even a good idea to try. Isn’t there something about knocking on the same door over and over and then trying a different door? (or some such cliche) but then I need to balance that against the cliches about trying and trying and finally succeeded. Where is sanity?
There have been many trials and tribulations in my Stegner application process. Usually a result of waiting until the last possible moment and rushing to the post office. One year when you still had to do it by US mail, I didn’t get my application in on time before the local post office closed, but my friend was visiting me in Pennsylvania for the holidays and going back to NYC on the train. She took the application and hand delivered it to the main post office in Manhattan, where they postmark until midnight, and even with that selfless act of friendship, I didn’t win.
What flummoxed me this year was not the post office, or the writing sample–trying to figure out to send short stories or novel bits, experimental or the most New Yorker story I have–but the enigmatic statement of purpose. “On a separate sheet, please briefly explain your writing plans and what the fellowship would contribute to them.” What do you say to that, except–I want time to write! Every writer wants that. Although it’s true that I also want to be in a community of writers and be held to high standards, to leave my three-year-old and go to a place where writing is held to be much more important than Thomas the Train.
Last night, in the gluttonous days after Thanksgiving, eating all of the left overs and wondering why time drags on the holidays, I was majorly stuck on that statement of purpose and not moving anywhere. I had answered this question many times before, and it evidently wasn’t the right answer, or they didn’t like my writing. Either way, what could I do? So I did what we all do; I Googled. I did find one sweet soul who had posted his statement of purpose online.
Thank You Tom! I promise if I ever win the Stegner, I will publish mine. And sometime last night, when my boyfriend was asking me if there was any more turkey, and telling me he can’t understand how anyone could put silverware back the way I do, I had a breakthrough and wrote not the great American statement of purpose, but something that satisfied me. So, if you are reading this in those witching hours, usually 11 pm on December 1 and feeling lost, alone, despairing, know this, YOU ARE NOT ALONE. I am reaching a cyber hand out to you and telling you, give it a try. There are worse things you can waste sixty bucks on, although none come to mind immediately. If you want to start a support group, I’m in. And if you win the Stegner, post a copy of your statement of purpose here.