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Almost

 “While the jury convened to adjudicate the applications recommended your application for funding, I am sorry to inform you that the Arts Board is unable to provide you with a grant as there were not sufficient funds available to support all of the recommended applications.”

Almost, but Not Quite.

Thanks, but No Thanks.

A little dream withers and dies.


Of course this is not my first rejection letter.  You get a lot of nays and for every aye as an artist.  In fact I have received this letter from the Arts Board three times.

The first time I was positive about it.     My application had been recommended for funding, an improvement over a previous attempt.   I took it as a sign of growth and development.  I felt I was moving in the right direction.

The second time I was disappointed, but resigned to the competitive process.  Other projects and opportunities quickly filled my life.

Yesterday, after receiving the same news a third time, I crossed my arms and stuck out my lower lip in a defiant toddler stance.  “Fine”, I thought, “I am never applying for one of your stupid grants ever again!”   A bit of hot, salty water fell out of my eyes.  I flopped on the bed and indulged in a pout. I admit to being terribly unprofessional in my reaction; but I really, really wanted the outcome to be different this time.

After a bit, I decided that cookies and coffee would make me feel better.  As I was preparing the coffee, I accidently bumped the carafe on the counter.  Glass flew everywhere.  Some strong words were said in a very loud voice.

The day went on.  I moped.  I did some non-art work.  I went to bed.

Rejection is so easy to take personally.  It doesn’t take much to convince yourself there is something wrong with you or your work or your education or your lack of education or your writing or one hundred other things.   Maybe you are just not cool enough.  Maybe you are the biggest loser that ever lived.

Once you recover from the initial disappointment, rejection can be a positive process.  I recently learned about the 100 Days of Rejection project by Jia Jiang.  He was tired of being scared of rejection so he purposely entered situations where he would be denied, hoping to desensitize himself.  Through his zany social experiments Jiang discovered “that the stings and slights of rejection are universal among us as humans, but that with conscious intent we can turn rejection into enterprise, insult into ambition, and regret into courage.

One of the first things I saw when I opened my eyes this morning was the rejection letter on my dresser.   After my shower I picked up the phone and dialed the contact number provided in the letter.

I needed to know more.  I needed to know why.  I needed to know where I had gone wrong.  

No matter how hard it might be to hear

The Truth.

After a 10 minute conversation I knew.

The truth is: I just barely missed it.   My application was strong and ranked highly.  If I tweak my proposal a bit using the feedback provided, I have a really good chance of making the cut next time.

Thank goodness I asked.

Maybe one little dream can be revived.

And as for dream number two, it is still out there.

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Schrodinger’s Letter

“Oh, by the way, this letter arrived for you yesterday”.

My husband plops a slim white envelope on the bathroom vanity.  The return address belongs to an arts institution I have sent, not one, but two separate proposals to over the last few months.

My stomach lurches.

My heart pumps a fresh shot of adrenaline through my body.

The Letter I Have Been Waiting For is here.  I need only to rip the thin layer of paper to know.

I pick up the letter, walk to the bedroom, and place it on the dresser.  I put it address side down so I am not able to read any words through the paper.

I consider the letter and what it might contain.

My stomach flips.

I prepare myself for all possible outcomes.

I try to be rational.

Statistically the letter is most likely to be of the  “Thanks, but No Thanks” kind.  A tactfully worded note will inform me that, although my work has merit, there just isn’t enough funding or space or need at this time.  (I think a successful applicant would receive notice by email, followed by a formal letter, don’t you?)  I will sigh and accept the news.  I will allow myself a good mope and then move on. I may even convince myself I have more creative freedom this way.  (Who needs them anyway!)

As I try to keep myself calm and prepared for the worst, the wide-eyed optimist inside still dares to hope for the best.  It reminds me that I spent a lot of time and effort on my proposals.  One of them could be successful.  My work is worthy.  I have had plenty of encouragement.  I have done my best.  I know acceptance by this institution would mean a lot to me.

 I allow myself to dream a little.

There is also a really, really small voice that whispers, “What if both of my proposals were selected?”  My rational mind is quick to chastise this voice for going too far, but still….what if?  (The term “over the moon” comes to mind.)  At the same time, the insecure voice says “Oh no, then you will actually have to succeed! There will be so much more potential for failure.”  EEK!

The last possibility I can fathom is the letter pertains to a subject unrelated to my proposals.  Perhaps the institution would like me to participate in a survey, attend a conference, or discover a new program.  My hopes and fears will be put on hold for another day.

I take the letter off the dresser.  I turn it over in my hand.

The letter holds potential for triumph, disappointment, frustration, fear, elation, suspense, success, depression, tears, and relief.   If fact, no matter what the news is, I will probably experience all of the above.

There is nothing more frightening than success, except perhaps failure.

So, is the dream alive or dead or something else altogether?

Let me open this letter and find out.

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Nests

I am a watcher of the curious birds we call artists.   I especially love catching a glimpse of the creative nests where art is made.   I am fascinated by how creatives, be they painters, writers, musicians, sculptors, or designers, mould environments in which to incubate and hatch ideas. 

Over the years I have had the opportunity to visit the creative nests of artists I admire.  It is such an honour to be welcomed into the physical space of creativity.  Each studio holds its own magic:  Aganetha Dyck’s space is aromatically seductive with the scent of beeswax, a pleasant by-product of her collaborative work with honey bees; Wanda Koop’s studio is a painter’s dream with an amazing mechanized wall that makes it possible for her to position her work vertically or horizontally as required; Martha Cole’s studio has many  windows providing a view of her converted church home and light as she draws on fabric with her sewing machine. 

In my own modest journey as an artist, I have built nests in a variety of locations: bedroom, dormroom, corner of a dining room table, corner of a different dining room table,  guest bedroom, lobby of a community hall, and a classroom in my former elementary school.

My current studio is a bonus room above the garage in our new house.   When we finally moved in to our home after years of planning and working, I admit that I was intimidated by the newness of the space – the unmarked floors, the blemish-free walls.  I wasn’t sure how to feather my new nest.   I spent a considerable amount of time on-line looking for ideas. A search of “studios” on Pinterest provided visions of beautifully crafted creative nests: organized, colour-coordinated, crisp, clean. The spaces were so beautiful, so well crafted, that I questioned their functionality.  

I cast my memory back to the artists’ nests I had visited.  They, too, were organized and clean, but not pristine.  Evidence of real work was everywhere.  Sinks held recently used brushes.  Floors showed signs of previous painting projects.  Surfaces were marked and scarred by tools.  

When you find a bird’s nest, you can always tell if it was used to create new life or not. The abandoned nest is clean and empty: a barren vessel.  The used nest holds feathers, bits of egg shell, and droppings.  It is soiled by the necessities of creation.

Bit by bit, my creative nest is developing its own magic.  Slowly but surely I am making a mess of it.

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Stars

The world of art is a galaxy of luminous stars.

My favourite social media feeds are filled with postings about art and artists.  Every hour, I am exposed to new images, new work, new media, new ideas.   I spend a portion of my day star-gazing, pondering the vastness of the creative Milky Way.  The work of other artists fills me with interest, bewilderment, and awe. It is wonderous and inspiring and very overwhelming. 

So many artists.  So much creativity.  So much good work.

The reality of one’s insignificance is revealed when you look at the stars above. 

I read an article recently about the top visual artists of the moment: the brightest stars in the galaxy.    I am ashamed to say I recognized only a handful of names on the list.  I was instantly concerned about my ignorance. I questioned my ability to make relevant work, being so out of touch with what is going on in the world of art –  supernova, mega-star, history-making Art.

My reality is far removed from the centre of the artistic galaxy.

The truth is, I make small work in a small village in a sparsely populated area of the planet.  I am geographically and culturally removed from large artistic centres.  I am not a superstar. I am a tiny star located 27,000 light years from the galactic creative centre:  a puny pinprick of light often clouded by interstellar dust.

I am not a Sirius, Canopus or Arcturus.

But, I am a star, shining on.

In order to keep working I have to believe that, in some small way, my work sends light out into the cosmos.  The sun in our solar system is small compared to other stars in the galaxy.  However, it has a vital part to play in the universe, especially to the astronomical objects surrounding it.

I have come to realize that everyday, everywhere, there are creative people making work in a modest way.

The Milky Way is formed by billions of stars emitting light together.  Individual stars, large and small, are no longer distinguishable within the band of light that arcs across the sky.

The beautiful, breathtaking glow is created by all.

So twinkle, twinkle, little star.

(By the way, according to those with more knowledge than me in such matters,  the centre of the galaxy is a supermassive black hole:  impressive, but very hard to shine around.)