The 401 Blues (Not a Rant) – Day 344

I feel as if writing has let me down.

Almost a year ago, when I decided to start this novel (and corresponding blog), I was elated. Excited for the future! Wet with the ambrosia of what could be!

I mean, of course I write for a living (and very happy to do so), so it wasn’t anything new in that respect. But it was an adventure of sorts, like when you spend your whole life driving around your home town and then suddenly decide to drive to the Grand Canyon.

Well, now, it seems I’ve gotten a flat on the way. I mentioned before about the Marina Park project I was going to submit for. It was the weirdest thing though – I was so pumped to do something with this, yet another artistic project, but somehow I wasn’t “inspired” to write anything. It’s like showing up at Oktoberfest, and there being no beer! (Let me know when you’ve had enough of my metaphors…)

So I waited for inspiration. Actively waited, mind you. I explored different possibilities in my head. When we were away, I consciously reflected on the city and the harbour because sometimes your greatest inspirations about a place come when you’re not there. I played with words on a page. Nothing.

With a week left to go, I decided I had to forget about inspiration and forge some of my own words. I did like a few of my scribbles, so I started expanding on those. The entries themselves had to be 75 words or less, so it wasn’t a strenuous word count (though as you writers out there know, sometimes it is the short word counts that are the most difficult…) Still, it wasn’t really working for me.

Finally I got a few pieces that I thought would be appropriate, polished them up, and put together the submission package, and slipped it all carefully into a nice manila envelope.( I love manila envelopes. Makes you feel like you are going places.) The deadline was Friday at 4pm, so I planned to cut out from work early and drop it off. The office closed at 4:30 though, so I wasn’t too worried about the time.

At 3:30, I started to get myself together (it’s Thunder Bay – everything’s close, even though we live in the country). I got washed up, grabbed the keys, grabbed the package, and headed out the door. I remembered that I hadn’t scouted out the pigeons who have been trying to nest in our garage and barn, so I put the package down on the hood of the car, and went to chase the pigeons away. (I don’t want to hurt them, but they’re not exactly toilet trained – some of the kids’ toys are covered, so I want to get rid of them immediately – not an easy thing to do…)

Got to the car, realized I’d forgotten my sunglasses, went back in to get them… then finally I was on the road. 3:43. Plenty of time.

Traffic was getting heavier – you big-city people will laugh at me of course, but Thunder Bay in rush hour you have to add two or three minutes to your time. Especially on a Friday. Still, it wasn’t going to delay me too much.

Sure enough, I pulled up in front of the mall that has some of the City offices (including the one I needed) at about 3:56. I walked in, strolled casually through the mall, and inadvertently passed the office. Turned around, went back to the office, only to find it was the wrong office. No worries, got directions to the correct one, and strolled on down to that one.

When I came through the doors, the receptionist ran to the front.

“I’m not sure it’s going to make it,” she said. (Or something like that.)

“What do you mean?” I asked.

She ka-chunked a sticker into the time machine.

“4:01pm. It’s late,” she said, carefully placing the sticker on the package. “Do you want to take it back with you, or should we send it back?” she asked.

“Well, it’s here now, so just put it in, and we’ll see what happens,” I said.

“But it won’t get opened,” she said.

I stared at her, a vague sense of uneasiness starting to churn in my brain and stomach.

“Well, let’s just see what happens. It’s here now,” I said.

“But it won’t get opened,” she said again. “It’s late. It will just get sent back to you.” She underlined the point by writing the word “late” onto the sticker she had placed on the envelope. It slowly dawned on me what she was trying to say. My entry was late. It missed the cut-off. My manila envelope wasn’t going places at all.

If it had been stamped 4:00pm, it would have been golden. So literally, I had missed the deadline by a few seconds. If I hadn’t overshot the office, if I’d known exactly what office I was supposed to go to, if I hadn’t stopped to play with the pigeons, if it hadn’t been a Friday afternoon with everyone rushing to get ready for camp… Any number of things delayed me by those excruciatingly infinitesimal seconds that could mean the difference between my words being enshrined in a city monument forever and… not.

Most frustrating though was the fact that I waltzed through the whole thing. I should have known that the deadline was a hard one, that there would be a time machine at the end of it all. The call to artists was put out as an RFP (Request for Proposals), and a City RFP is going to have to stick to the rules. There can’t be any sign of favouritism. I’ve never worked with the City before, but still I’ve heard too many stories from the trenches about government RFPs that miss the deadline and are tossed on the dead letter pile. I should have known better, picked up my feet a little, got it ready in the morning even.

But no. It’s late.

We could argue that putting an RFP out to artists is inherently flawed, but that won’t get us anywhere. Besides, I’m a professional writer as much as an artist (probably more), so things like clocks and deadlines do reckon in my world. It’s no excuse for me.

So I accept all the blame (the blame is of course nobody else’s; I’m simply underlining the point that I accept I’ve made my own fate) but somehow at that moment I felt that the artistic writing part of me has let me down. Does that make sense? It’s led me down a path that I thought was all roses and sunshine. But then it failed to bring me inspiration, and lulled me into a false sense of happy-go-lucky artists projects with wishy-washy rules and deadlines that, like dishes at a Greek wedding, are meant to be broken. Now it’s left me standing here, manila envelope of nothing in my hands, and shards of dishware stuck in my shins. (Okay, no more metaphors. I promise.)

It’s a good lesson, actually. In all art – all “serious” art – there is an artistic side and a business side. You need to live in both worlds if you’re going to succeed. Give yourself the play time you need, but make sure when the art becomes a finished piece of work, you do what’s necessary in the business world to successfully get it out there.

So you see this isn’t a rant. It’s a lesson I’ve learned that I thought I’d pass along (and, btw, has made me feel better about the whole thing just writing about it – thanks!) I’m a little bummed I missed the deadline and that did affect work on my novel this weekend, but I don’t feel as dejected as you might think. I was never fully happy with the things I put together. Good ideas, I thought, but not quite fully formed. I got them to the point though where I was comfortable letting other people decide if they stood up or not. Maybe my subconscious was sabotaging me on purpose? Maybe I let down my writing instead? Maybe the muses were looking out for me after all, stopping me from launching to the world my glorious manila envelope which carried something that wasn’t quite finished?

Could be. Could be.

In fact it could be we’re golden after all.

~Graham

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13 Responses to The 401 Blues (Not a Rant) – Day 344

  1. Tara Benwell says:

    I loved reading every moment of this post. And guess what? It proved to me you could tell a damn good story. Can’t wait for that novel. That’s what you’re “supposed to be” concentrating on anyway, right? I’m sure there will be beer left when it’s time to celebrate it! Your tale kind of reminds me of my own little journey last week, where I was trying to buy a mirror and a book shelf and I only had twenty minutes to run home and get the car (I was on foot). When I got home I had a few minutes to spare and couldn’t get back to the store in time. My husband looked at me and reminded me that we were car shopping. Just because we hadn’t found the car we wanted, didn’t mean I should shop for easier things. He was right. I concentrated on the car instead and we pick it up on Friday. 🙂

    • Graham Strong says:

      lol Tara – so true. In fact, I thought to myself (should have added that in this post) about what a waste of time the whole exercise was. I thought exactly what you’re saying, that I should have been writing the novel instead.

      But in the end, I still got something from the experience. (Though not a new car — congrats to you on that!)

      Thanks for comiserating with me!

      ~Graham

  2. I agree with Tara! You got a story out of this. And when it comes to the next opportunity at the Marina, or elsewhere in Thunder Bay, to contribute to the local history in an art/writing project, you will have that carpet of imagination already unfurled beneath your feet. And next time – don’t mess with the pigeons!

    • Graham Strong says:

      Hi Duncan,

      Yes, I did get a story out of it. Hmm, you’ve got me thinking. How do I work this into the novel?

      As for the pigeons: I’m still messing with them…

      ~Graham

  3. I can’t believe you used the Thunder Bay rush hour as an excuse…
    TC/The Writer Underground’s most recent blog post: Marketing Fact #11: The Embarrassing Stuff Lives Forever

    • Graham Strong says:

      Hey Tom,

      Just proves the point about how close it came. Besides, it was more of an illustration of a “karmic tool” than an excuse… lol

      ~Graham

  4. Ken says:

    Late. Odd.

  5. hannamay says:

    Hi Mr Graham..

    Nice one..i read this 3times..love it..cant wait to read your next novel..two thumbs for you:):)
    hannamay’s most recent blog post: How To Conceive Quickly

  6. Pingback: The Three-Day Novel Contest: If You Can’t Be Them, Coin Them - Day 351 | Graham Strong’s Novel Writing Blog

  7. evadne says:

    All writers have disappointments, but this one seems particularly harsh. Missing by one minute. Stamped and stickered, with the message repeated in person. Rejected but unread (ouch). If there’s a lesson to be learnt, it applies to us all: pay attention to timelines! Thanks for the reminder, Graham.
    evadne’s most recent blog post: Blogging while on board the Dana Sirena Adrift in the ocean

    • Graham Strong says:

      lol – yes, I’ve become a cautionary tale. At least I’ve come to the point where I can laugh about it. Ah well, as I say, I believe it was likely a doomed submission from the start, no matter what the final nail was…

      (BTW, that’s meant to be a positive statement, despite the (literal) doom and gloom of that last sentence…!)

      ~Graham

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