challenging the ocean to a fistfight

I am applying for a fantsy-pants two year writing fellowship, the likes of which I have never applied for, and which over a thousand people apply to each year, and this is what it feels like- it feels like buying sixty dollars worth of scratch tickets, and scratching them while standing naked in front of a panel of judges, blindfolded. It feels like challenging the ocean to a fistfight. It feels crazy. It feels amazing. It’s also giving me lots of motivation to try and polish things I’ve already written, which is my new favorite hobby. I’ve got a veritable mountain of things I’ve already written, all piled up like crumpled newspaper, and yet all I do, most times, is stare out the window and wring my hands over what to do next. But not anymore! I am fashioning things together, and if I do it well enough you won’t even be able to see the tiny stitches when I’m done. The thing will appear as if cut from a whole piece of cloth, as if I’d chipped it from a single hunk of stone. This is what I want.

I don’t understand things like fellowships, and judging. I don’t understand how a group of people (what people? And who says that they know anything?) can select just ten pieces from over a thousand, with any sort of authority. At this point I am banking, simply, on the idea that the judges might like a little winter. It will be December January February, after all, while these stories are being read, and the huge blank institution to which I am sending my seven thousand words is nestled deep in an area that is entirely free from winter- indeed, as far as I can tell, it is free from any sort of nature at all. And my story is about winter, so perhaps the judges will appreciate that. I can imagine it now- the white walls, the formica tables. My story, dog-eared from being passed through so many hands, and the way the florescent lights hum just-so and bring out the dark shadows under everyone’s eyes, from being indoors so much and spending so much time reading. Maybe someone will have a cough. But then, this isn’t the pacific northwest, so probably not. But there will be dry, piped-in air, and windows that don’t open. i n s t i t u t i o n s. I hate them. They make me feel crazed, like I’m in prison. But man, what I wouldn’t do to have someone pay me to write. And what better writing motivator, than prison? Than nostalgia? I will close the blinds and tape up a drawing I have done, of the tree outside, just like Annie Dillard did when she was writing Pilgrim at Tinker Creek, which she wrote in a small blank room in a university. When she got stuck she walked to the dark library and ran the tips of her fingers along the stacks, waiting for inspiration. She even, for a while, played a game of chess with an invisible opponent- she’d move a piece in the dark library, and when she came back the next night, the other side would have made their move. She wrote at night, until four a.m. Then she went home and slept till noon, at which time she and her husband, who was also on a late schedule, rose and made breakfast. All her houseplants died.

I mean to have a life in which not even a houseplant can live. Annie Dillard called the period in which she wrote Pilgrim at Tinker Creek her “early fanaticism”, and said that immediately afterward she regretted it, although later in life she romanticized the period, which did not surprise her. I do not know if I am focused enough to be fanatical about any one thing, but I am working at it. I mean to make something spectacular before I die. That is why I am applying for things, because I have realized that I exist and that I will continue to exist, and that I will, most likely, continue to churn out sentences, and that some of my sentences are very good, and maybe I can build a ladder from them, and use this ladder to climb up into the next level of the game that is my life. I’ve been playing on the current level for eight years straight, and while I have not yet been ambitious enough to beat it, I have discovered some really cool secret things that most people never find. But now, boredom! Oh, I am bored with it! So the next level, maybe, and it will consist simply of a white-painted box and some piped-in air. A good writing chair, and armloads of nostalgia. A vacuum in which to re-invent the universe. A refuge from the intoxicating beauty of the world in which I live. A place to be lonely. I will make up my own language, and use it to record everything that has already happened, free from the stress of more things happening at the same time, piling up much faster than I can write them down. A rest! The world on pause. Absolutely nothing happening at all. There will be sunshine, and the spiritually bankrupt culture of rich people. I will bring nothing but sweatpants, and my ten wooden chests packed full of memories, their corners worn from their long overland journey.

None of this has happened yet! As usual, my imagination is getting ahead of the actual passage of time. I do this constantly, and then I never do anything, because I’ve already imagined all of it happening, so there doesn’t seem to be any point. And who knows. Perhaps the judges will think my story is stupid, or that it’s not about anything, or they won’t understand why it’s beautiful. Maybe there is too much levity in it, or not enough elderly people, or I use too many adjectives. There are a lot of good stories in the world- an overwhelming amount of them, actually. Many many people would make perfectly good writers.

But the point is, that I am bored with this level of my life, and I am acknowledging the existence of a higher one, and wondering how I might get there. That is huge!

Dear reader, wish me luck!!!

14 thoughts on “challenging the ocean to a fistfight

  1. I wish you luck. Somehow though, I don’t think you need luck as much as you think you do. Your writing does speak for itself. Just in case though, I’ll cross all my digits including toes ! Sending luck airmail, should be there soon.

  2. fuck yeeeeeeeah caritabou!
    we’re in this one together.
    dreaming of the higher levels….
    or at least, attempting to check them out to see if they are any different from where we’re at…

  3. My experience with fellowships is that the same group of homogenous type people apply to each and every freakin one in their field. I would imagine that the committee would really enjoy and appreciate what you have to offer. This is how I landed my own fantsy-pants fellowship (not a writing one) sometime in the last millenium – I was just so different from all the other applicants. Also remember, rejections are the easiest so they go out fast. If you are waiting a long time for a response, then that’s a very good sign.

    Good luck!! But I’m with the others who don’t think you need it.

  4. How exciting, Carrot!! You’ve undertaken what is probably one of the most thrilling, frustrating, head-banging, object-throwing, epiphany-producing and exhilarating endeavors ever. That’s not really much of an exaggeration, either, lol! 🙂

    I don’t know what exact group you’re entering in, but a good tip to winning such competitions is to look up entries from previous winners (if you haven’t already done so), to get a hint about what the judges are gonna be looking for.

    Be confident! You’ve already got a great grasp on the visionary flow of words, I can only IMAGINE what a polished piece of yours looks like!

    Oh, and if you need some extra technical help, I highly recommend “The Elements of Style, Fourth Edition” by William Strunk Jr., E. B. White, and Roger Angell. BEST book in the WORLD for grammar and style, IMO. This is the kind of book I wish I’d learned my grammar from in High School (oh, wait, that’s right we were too busy with learning propaganda techniques for the 6th year in a row and, my, the valuable life skills I learned from THAT… -.- ) *ahem*

    More advice: Beware of 3am inspirations…

    In case of rejection notice, REJOICE! Rejection slips are the gold nuggets of self improvement, and certificates that prove to the world that YOU WERE THERE!!

    Peace, Carrot! Tons of luck and good karma, and if you ever need some final bits of constructive criticism just before deadline, drop me a line. (Been an amateur editor for years, lol.)


  5. Ahh yes! And yay! Go go go. These words, my prayer for you. your spiral goes up, it goes down. and there–you suspended in infinite vaccuum, creating the everlasting void–as you GO GOGO Keep going. Keep churning. Keep fighting keep remitting. It takes courage what you are doing and to me this courage in the void is what shatters Institution. You are meant for great things of course you are already there! and certainly on the edge of things is where the perceptions change. No telling the power of this belief in one’s own tune. But I KNOW for sure it keeps us going, the nameless and faceless masses of us, meant to shatter it, too. thnk you thnk you thnk you

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