Kiini
Ibura
Salaam

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KIS.list

Vol. 17, Contemplation on Completion

Posted on 28 January 2002


A few months ago, someone suggested I pitch the KIS.list to print publications. They envisioned a syndicated column in magazines and/or newspapers nationwide. This idea interests me, and I thought I’d put it off until later, but then I decided, why not do it now. It took more work than I expected it to. I had to write a pitch, cut six KIS.lists down from 1500-2000 words to 600-800 words. Then I had to write cover letters and tailor the pitches to the various publications. I completed each of the elements in a few weeks. Then, on Friday, I said, ‘this is it, I’m putting these packages together tonight.’ I ended up working on those pitches from 9 p.m. to 1 a.m. When I was done compiling the packages, I thought, ‘Whew, no wonder people just float through life. It’s hard making yourself available for opportunities.’

And the reality is, the task itself isn’t hard at all. Any time you pitch something or apply somewhere, there is a list of tasks. For the KIS.list pitches, I had a list of things I had to complete. As I completed them, I scratched things off the list. It’s simple task fulfillment. Ironically, the simplicity of the task doesn’t make it any less challenging to complete. The challenge of completing projects happens in the mental sphere.

[An aside: No one really talks about completion as a necessary component of art, but it is. I actually think that one of the hardest elements of creating art is completing it. The first draft, the raw creativity, is the fun part. Then you have to go back through and look at your themes and cut the fat and pull out the hidden moods, movements, meanings. With visual art, there may be a mental and physical struggle. You’ve covered the canvas, but the piece is not working. Maybe you sit and stare at it as a friend recently told me he was doing. ‘This piece is driving me crazy’ he said. ‘It’s like this huge puzzle and I keep staring and staring trying to figure out the key.’ Maybe you keep adding colors and strokes all the while feeling like you’ve failed yourself. And if you stop before it satisfies you, the piece isn’t complete. Without completion, art isn’t whole, the work isn’t done.]

Both my sister and I are in the midst of applying for grad school. My sister is a visual artist. For the portfolio aspect of my sister’s application she needs to:

• organize her artwork
• choose pieces to apply with
• get slides made of her work

And that’s just the portfolio element of her application. ‘I hate doing applications,’ she grumbled on the phone to me. While I don’t have as strong a reaction to applications, if they look too complicated, something in me just shuts down, and though I may have made a verbal agreement to myself to complete it, I procrastinate and let it sit unfinished, preferring to move on to ‘sexier’ tasks.

When you stop to think about it, filling out an application is not the most difficult thing you’ll do in life. We do more complicated things daily. Is it simply the unfamiliarity of the task that intimidates us?

I think applications are so challenging because we are putting ourselves up to be judged. In gathering together pieces of ourselves to complete an application, a pitch or a submission we are confronted by the possibility—often the likelihood—of rejection. Wrapped up in the application process are questions of self-esteem, personal value, the strength of your artistic development. Ultimately, completing applications, etc. comes down to a question of worth. As we submit ourselves to various fellowships, publications, programs, and schools there is a little voice inside us questioning the worthiness of our work while simultaneously questioning whether the application itself is “worth” the work.

The Worthiness of the Work

Out of the six entities I pitched the KIS.list to, I think I’m an exact fit for only two of them and an almost fit for two more. Two of them—both women’s magazines—I only sent pitches to because someone else suggested it and, well, you never know. The two I’m an almost fit for, one of them employs highly-paid experts to write the articles in their magazine (“It’s a long shot,” my friend who suggested I pitch to them said, “but if you get it, you’ll be paid”) and the other is sort of a “we’re hip and irreverent” publication, so I don’t know if my “everybody can do it” attitude will chafe against their principles.

But I remember what Sue Shapiro (who I referenced in Volume 10: The Universe post) said, if they don’t want what you’re selling, at least you’ll introduce yourself to some new editors. I’m running with that perspective. I’m not stopping to examine and cross-grill myself. I’ll edit the pitches and the submissions, and send them out. I’ll let the editors decide if the KIS.list is worthy of their publication or not. If I decide now, that the KIS.list is not a fit for those publications, I’m taking my ownself out of the game.

Applying is like laying yourself bare to the universe. Sure, it makes you feel vulnerable. But it also offers the opportunity to stretch in new directions. Either by accepting your application or by teaching you something about the application process.

Is it worth the work?

From where I stand, any application that can grant you a deeper relationship to your art form (or studies or life) is worth the work. I mean to be writing full time next year, so an application to a graduate school is worth the work, an application to a two- or three-year fellowship is worth the work.

The funny thing about applications—all applications—is they become less daunting the more you do them. I have mentioned before that I’ve never received a fellowship before, but I have not mentioned that I’ve applied to at least 10. In completing those 10 applications, I have lowered my emotional response to completing them. I’ve learned to dissect the requirements and assess how quickly I can turn around an application. An application that took me a month to complete a few years ago, can now be completed in three days. Why? Because I’m not stressing the implications of rejection. Because I have already completed stories ready to submit, I have approximately four different personal statements on my hard drive that I can edit to fit whatever the application requires. Armed with these things I can jump into the application without looking back.

When I finally decided to complete applications to MFA programs, I found out that of the three I planned to apply to, one of them was already closed to new applications, one was due on January 15 (one week after the day I called to get application information), and the other was due on February 1st.

For a few hours, my mind was in a complete whirl. How the hell am I going to pull this off, I wondered. But when I took a few breaths and looked at the application, it was pretty simple.

On day one I emailed recommenders to secure recommendations. I also planned to download the application, but my computer wouldn’t print it, so I had to visit the school to pick it up.

On day two I picked up the application, filled it out and ordered transcripts from my old schools.

On day three I printed out my “writing portfolio” (I previously chose one story to use in all writing applications this year), altered an old statement of purpose to fit the application requirements, mailed out recommendation forms to the people who agreed to write the recommendations (per the school’s suggestion, I included an enveloped already stamped and addressed to the school so as not to inconvenience the recommenders).

With the deadline four days away, I put the application in the mail and let out a huge breath. I am relatively certain the recommendations and transcripts won’t arrive until weeks after the deadline, but the school doesn’t have to know it’s due to my lateness. Recommenders and schools often delay sending transcripts and recommendations. A week after sending the application, I received a postcard in the mail stating that the school received my application and it would take them four weeks to process it. Hopefully the transcripts and recommendations will get there by then.

What I have to fight to complete applications is my own sluggishness. My own reluctance to be disciplined. My own naysayer who says, you’re going to do all this work, then you won’t even get in. Or you’ll get in, but then you’ll have to take out all these loans and that’s not worth it. You’re not going to get your free ride. But I don’t know that, do I? I don’t know if I’ll get a free ride until I apply.

That’s the funny thing about opportunities. Many of them happen to you, but many of them happen because you applied.

•My first commercial article was published because I sent in the article.
•I went on my first international trip because I applied for study abroad.
•My year-long fellowship was granted to me as a result of my proposal.
•I moved to New York by applying to grad school.
•I got a job because I applied.
•I’m going to Brazil because I applied to get the visa.

That’s how it works with applications. If the opportunity interests you, you apply. You just do it and keep doing it until something gives. All these years of applying to fellowships have not given me any money or time off, but they have given me a facility for completing applications. I’m not afraid of them anymore. I look at the parts, I see what I already have, I see what’s feasible to do, and then I do it.

Whenever I ask my father if I should apply for something, he says, don’t disqualify yourself by not applying. Apply first, then if you decide not to go, so be it… but you need a wide campus of opportunities to live your life out of. Me, I need options. I applied to three grants for next fall (two of which I’ve been previously rejected from twice) and one day I realized, it is completely feasible for me not to get any of these grants, and if I don’t get them, am I willing to look for another job?

So here I am again. Pushing against the lazies to send my work to universities so I can have one more option to avoid the 9-to-5 world. If I get any of these various programs I’ve applied for, I’ll be gifted with a one- to three-year respite from the work-a-day world. I’ll have the opportunity to continue pushing my creativity and developing my craft. Is that worth it? Certainly. It’s worth the world.

Be well. Be love(d).

Kiini Ibura Salaam

==KIINI’S ACCEPTANCE/REJECTION O’METER==
: : : August 2001 – present : : :

Acceptances:
Publications: 4
Grants/fellowships: 0
Residencies/workshops: 0

Rejections:
Publications: 5
Grants/fellowships: 0
Residencies/workshops: 0

==KIINI’S ACCEPTANCE/REJECTION O’METER==

I rarely enter contests because I don’t like paying the fees and often the stories aren’t published in an arena that contributes to my career. I recently entered the Ursula K. LeGuin contest for imaginative fiction. I was not a finalist, but I got a handwritten note saying length worked against me. The author of the note suggested 500 less words might have made me a finalist. Despite not becoming a finalist, I really appreciate the feedback. That story has already been accepted into an anthology, and if I can make it stronger, it has the chance of being nominated for an award after it’s published. So next week I’ll be cut cut cutting away. I’ll put this contest “rejection” under publications, since the winners will be published in Rosebud magazine. It’s now 4-5.