On winning and losing

Congratulations to all the winners of the Alberta Literary Awards! Find a list of all the winners here.

Last time I was at the Alberta Literary Awards, in 2009, I had been nominated for the Stephan G. Stephansson Award for Poetry, for my first collection, One crow sorrow. My first baby was a year old (her birthday was the day after the gala). I didn’t expect, at all, to win–but I did win. I couldn’t believe it. I was over the moon. The next day we took our daughter to the zoo for her birthday. Life went on as usual.

This time my first baby is four years old, and my second baby is nearly one. This time, I didn’t win. And the next day we still went to the zoo (life still went on as usual). This time, unlike 2009, I thought I had a chance of winning–the same essay, two days before, had taken the silver medal in personal journalism at the National Magazine Awards. But at the Alberta Literary Awards this year, buoyed by a recent honour, I had–instead of the elation of an unexpected recognition–the calmer, steadier experience of not minding that my own work hadn’t “won.” I felt glad for Jannie Edwards (whose work won in the category I was nominated in), happy for her work. I also felt there was no shame in not being chosen (even if some of the people I talked to afterward seemed to feel awkward for me that I hadn’t!).

Wouldn’t it be wonderful to always have this feeling of steadiness regardless of whether an award (or grant, or whatever) is won or lost? In a writing life, how many times will I–or any of us–not win? How can we remember (even when it’s been a long time since we’ve had external recognition) that the honour lies with the work itself (even though the support and recognition that come with “success” really do have an impact). I read something recently (but can’t remember where) about the “twin distractions of praise and judgement” (I’m paraphrasing).  Seems true to me that either way we have to figure out how to get over the heightened energy of good attention or negative attention and get back to work.

Anyway, that’s what I’ve been thinking about the last couple of days.

2 comments to On winning and losing

  • And I love how you articulate all of this with such steadiness. I often think it’s so strange that we must be pitted ‘against’ each other in this way. What was it like to be a writer when there were no awards parties and grants to apply for?

    But yes, just to quietly do the work, this is the thing to hold onto. I completely agree.

  • I too really appreciate the way you have articulated these emotions. I’m not at all surprised at Shawna’s comment wondering what it had been like prior to awards, adulation, and grants. But truly, getting back to the work itself is of the most importance. The moving forward and upward with the writing and not getting caught up in adulations. A very fine state of affairs.

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