Thursday, September 26, 2013

Maybe Next Year, Genius

This image is from this blog.
So, yesterday, I have to say,  was a bit of a disappointment.  The list of MacArthur genius grants came out, and again, I wasn't on it.  In case you were left off this list too, the John D. and Catherine T. MacArthur Foundation(familiar names if you watch much PBS programming) awards money, known as "Genius Grants" to talented and creative people every year to invest in their work and productivity.  "Well, lots of people didn't get such a grant," you might say. And yes, only a handful of people a year have a qualified representative of a quietly filthy rich foundation tap them on the shoulder and say, "Hey you, you're lookin' smart.  I mean really smart, so how's about we give you a little dough-re-mi so that you can go off and work on something. Don't worry about expenses or anything, because you just won the smartypants lottery..." I know, I know, but still, it would have been nice, just this once.

This year's winners were especially lucky, because the stipend has gone from half a million dollars to $625,000, which is paid out in quarterly installments over five years. Somehow the words "half a million dollars" still sound like more than $625,000.  I guess the real geniuses say two thirds of a million dollars, which sounds like plenty to me.  Just the word "million" linked with the word "dollars" sounds like a lot more than any number of thousands.   I think this sort of meandering nonsense might be a sign of why the MacArthur people didn't grace me with one of their grants.

The genius grants are draped, if not shrouded, in some secrecy.  The recipients don't apply, but are nominated by an anonymous committee and then chosen by an anonymous selection panel.  The word genius makes it sound like this grant is only given to geeky nerds holed up in laboratories at the top of some university's ivory tower-- and it is given to those people, but it's given to real people too. Real talented people.  Writers, artists, dancers, poets, even philosophers get these things.  I was just reading that Jonathan Lethem, an excellent author from Brooklyn, got the call about his grant five years ago while he was at the car wash.  This is the kind of tidbit that gives me hope-- even people with dirty cars are eligible for the MacArthur grant.  Not only do you not have to do mind-boggling work in utterly unintelligible fields like theoretical physics, you can live in Brooklyn, and have a dirty car.

This image is from here.
This years winners range in age from 32 to 60, and the oldest person to ever receive the grant was 82, meaning I am still in the running, with several good, productive years to go.  This eases the sting of the recent realization that all those lists of "20 under 30" and "30 under 40" and in just half a year, even "40 under 50" are no longer something I can aspire to.  This lifts my spirits as I swill my generic vitamin water and apply for yet another hardship deferment for my student loans.  Another oddly comforting thought:  the awards began the year I graduated high school.  Coincidence?  I prefer to think not.

The idea of the grants, as I understand it, is to give creative, talented people the opportunity to concentrate on their art/science/vocation free from the strain of having to make a living.  Yep, that's right, it's the chance to "quit your day job" if you want to.  One of this year's lucky winners, the very fine author Karen Russell, mentioned that she was happy that she would be able to stop moving from one place to another to take teaching jobs to make a living.  This is a woman who has won literary awards and spent time on the New York Times Bestseller List.  She also mentioned that she might use the money to pay for an emergency root canal, as she hadn't known how she would cover it before she got the call.  Not only is she a literary giant, she really knows how to live it up! Other recipients mention paying rent, paying student loans and paying other artists who work with them.  It seems that recognizing talent might just be good for the economy.  Maybe some other foundations will get the giving bug...

I think the only thing really standing in my way here is lack of achievement, but hey, that's still possible, right? Knowing that some MacArthur Foundation scout is out there, looking for someone to bless with this recognition can be the inspiration I need to write every day.  I've got to get to work now, so I can be ready to get the call...

1 comment:

  1. What? Lack of achievement? um.....not. You are an awsome writer my friend! Hang in there & keep writing & do not let me forget to get your autograph now because one day (soon) you will be known!!! Love ya..