(photo: The winners from the Writer’s World contest in our town’s Arts Festival. I’m second from the right, wearing an off-white sweater, standing behind the student winner.)
Every year, our town holds an Arts Festival. Every year, I think about submitting a piece to the writing contest that is part of the Arts Festival. Every year, I decide against sending something in because I don’t think I have anything worthy of the quality of work that typically wins the awards.
Every year until this year.
This year, I submitted an essay and promptly put it out of my mind.
Then, last Sunday, during a miserably long ride home from a wedding on Cape Cod, we stopped so I could get us some coffees at Starbucks. While I was waiting on line, my cell phone, which I left in the car, rang and my husband answered it. When I returned, he told me that I had won “Outstanding Work,” which is second place, in the creative non-fiction category of the Arts Festival Writing Contest.
The Awards Ceremony was this evening. I considered not going. Neither my husband nor kids were able to go because of previous commitments. I could’ve picked up the award later in the weekend, during the Festival.
But a couple of my writing friends encouraged me to go. They insisted on being there with me to receive my award. We planned to go out after for celebratory glass of wine. I had something to look forward to.
I didn’t realize, until I was there, watching others collect their awards, how glad I was that I decided to attend and to receive my award in public. This was a much bigger deal to me than I’d thought it would be.
My entire life, I have been a writer. The number of pages I’ve written over the years would stun you, as it does me. And never, until this year, have I submitted a piece of my writing to a contest. Fifty years old, and finally, I did what I could’ve done for many years but hadn’t: I put something I created and valued out into the world to be judged.
The amazing thing is that when they made their pronouncements, the judges didn’t laugh at my work. They acknowledged it. They decided it was worth displaying and reading out loud during the Festival and publishing in their Festival book. My essay. Words I’d written.
I know this contest is far from the Pulitzer, but for me, being recognized for what I spend my life doing is huge. It has been said that to be a creative writer is to be a little bit crazy. The amount of work a writer does that goes unacknowledged is legendary. To choose to write as your main occupation, it has to be a labor of love, which it is for me.
When I returned to my spot after shaking hands and receiving my award, I looked down at the certificate with my name on it, with the words “outstanding work” on it, with the emblem of the Arts Festival on it. A surge of joy shot through me.
Then I noticed something paper clipped to the award. An envelope. An envelope with a check, made out to me, inside.
As a writer of fiction and creative non-fiction, I constantly remind myself that it is the work that matters, that while it would be nice to receive accolades or compensation for my writing, I do the work because I need to do it. It is my calling.
Still, it feels pretty darn good to be recognized for my work and even better to have the extra cash to treat my wonderful writing friends to a couple of glasses of wine after the Awards Ceremony.
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