Last week my silly little book was named the winner of the Discovery Prize in the Poetry category of the 2014 Book Awards from the Writers’ League of Texas.
This was a total surprise, for lots of reasons. Here are just a few:
- I’d completely forgotten that I’d entered this contest.
- I’d completely forgotten that this contest existed.
- After stumbling upon a couple of painfully bad reviews a few months ago, I’d been doing my best to forget that my book existed.
- These are serious awards for serious authors of serious books. The 2014 winners include Thunderstruck & Other Stories, a collection of short stories that won author Elizabeth McCracken the $20,000 Story Prize last month, and Getting Life, the memoir of wrongfully-convicted-then-fully-exonerated Michael Morton. My book contains poems titled Neil Patrick Harris Gets the Paddle and Hair in My Ass Crack. This math is weird.
- Just this month, I’ve made enough money off of it to buy myself a nice burrito supreme from Taco Bell – but maybe not the combo meal.
But really, here’s the biggest reason:
I wrote, compiled, and illustrated this book during a super shitty time in my life. I’d been through the emotional ringer for lots of reasons, and was left feeling pretty much awful about myself. Luckily, after a few months of tearing myself apart I had the wherewithal to realize the only way I was ever going to feel any better was by shifting my focus completely – and putting together a funny book sounded like a much more pleasant pastime than sitting around asking myself why I was such a pathetic, unlovable loser. So I ran with that.
Humor poetry wasn’t my first choice of genre. I already had a couple of other book drafts in the works, both contemporary fiction novels with dark comedy undertones, and I tried to move forward with each of them first, but just wasn’t feeling it. The more I tried to force it the more frustrated I got, which kind of defeated the whole purpose. In the meantime, I was writing some silly stuff for this blog (yes, I used to write stuff here! Crazy, right?!) and for some reason, short, silly, stupid poems were coming easy. So finally I decided to just go ahead and run with them. And now I’m glad I did.
The announcement letter I received had this to say about the Discovery Prize:
“This is the second year we’ve named Discovery Prize Winners in each category. The directive to our judges was simple: Please nominate a book outside of the Finalists and Winner that you felt warranted a special mention for its fresh voice, inventive story, or some other element that made it stand out. While so many of the national book awards today tend to go to books being traditionally published by the major houses, we think it’s important to shine a light on the wonderful books that are being published by small presses or by authors themselves so we also asked our judges to keep that in mind for this Discovery Prize.”
So basically what they’re saying is, “You totally didn’t win, or even place… but know what? We still dig what you did there.”
Okay, so it’s not exactly a Pulitzer, but in my little world this is still a big deal. I love that this totally weird book, which I created and published – from the words to the illustrations to the cover to the marketing and everything else – 100% on my own and learning most of it from the ground up, can now be considered (on some small level) a success. That makes me feel pretty damned puffy, y’all.
And to have gone from feeling like a dumb, ugly, waste of space to winning an award for being “fresh” and “inventive”? Well, I’m not gonna lie – that’s just a lovely, refreshing, sweet-smelling breeze of all good.
Also – and not to go all Dalai Lama on you, or anything – but I do think it says something about resilience and possibility and all kinds of other new-agey, karma-ish things. At the very least it proves that, with just a little bit of muscle and a whole lot of heart, it is possible to take a truly shitty situation and turn it into something sweet.
I guess what I’m really trying to say is this:
If you’re struggling with depression or deflated self-worth, if your heart’s been hurt and feels like it might never recover… please, please find it in yourself to take one step – just one – in a different direction. Whether it’s writing silly poems, painting pretty pictures, running a mile or volunteering to help someone else in need… just find a new, better direction, point yourself that way, and take that one first step. The next one will be easier, and so will the next, and so on and so forth… until, before you know it, all that other nonsense will be way behind you, and you’ll have created something amazing, or accomplished something new, or made life for someone else a little bit easier – and you’ll feel good and proud and know in your heart that it was all worth it.
At least, that’s what worked for me.