A Good Week

There are small mysteries in this world, such as why no one seems capable of producing a generic band-aid that sticks to your skin for more than an hour.

Then there are larger mysteries, such as why right when you are feeling hopeless about the writing business, you win a contest, as I did this week. I won the Peter K. Hixson Memorial Award—$1800 of services from Writer’s Relief, a company that handles submissions for authors. They will submit excerpts of my novel to seventy-five magazines for me for free. That’s a rather fabulous number of magazines, and I am ever so slightly excited. (Check it out—my name appears on someone else’s website!)

The day before this happened, I said to God, “OK, I know I’m supposed to be trusting you, and I can see that when it comes to getting things done and to writing, I’m not. Nothing else is working, though, so I will.” I guess God enjoys a good spectacle now and then—parting the Red Sea, smiting folks, the Transfiguration, and winning writing contests.

I don’t think you need to be someone who talks to God for this kind of thing to happen to you.  Grace—“that blind benevolent side of even the fiercest world”—happens to everyone (“Grace Abounding,” William Stafford). Sometimes it comes when we are at our lowest and have done nothing to invite its presence except perhaps needing it.

But I think oftentimes, trust creates a crack in our doubt, our routine, our self-sufficiency—whatever it is that needs cracking—for grace to sneak in through. Sometimes trust might feel more like letting go or giving up, not resignation, but relaxing our death grip on having to do it ourselves or needing events to resolve in a certain way.

So keep the faith, whatever your faith happens to be, and may we all learn “that floating, that immensity waiting to receive whatever arrives with trust” (“Afterwards,” Stafford again).

Note: I will be at a writing workshop next week, and so the blog will be on vacation. Yes, I realize there is a certain irony in not writing because I’ll be writing.

What Grit Will Get You

I learned from a friend this morning that new Marines take three tests: intelligence, fitness, and grit. The greatest indicator of success is a recruit’s score on the grit test. (Caveat: I didn’t check this fact for the Marines, but I did find this article in The New York Times that says something similar about West Point cadets and college students.)

A few days earlier I had re-watched Little Miss Sunshine, one of my favorite movies, whose moral could be summed up as: things may not work out as you hoped even if you score 5 out of 5 on the grit test. (Spoiler alert: if you haven’t watched the movie and don’t want to know what happens, stop reading now.)

A thousand pushups won’t help colorblind Dwayne become a pilot in the Air Force. Frank has forever lost the pinnacle of Proust scholarship, and Olive will certainly never wear the Little Miss Sunshine crown.

But the movie is very much about how grit matters despite all that. From the eternal pushing of the clutch-less VW bus to stealing grandpa’s body from the hospital, this family epitomizes the refusal to give up.

Not the refusal to fail. They do nothing but fail, as measured by society’s standards and their own goals, in the entire movie. But they never give up.

Olive doesn’t win the pageant; Richard doesn’t get the book deal; and Frank doesn’t get the boy. I think life is like that sometimes: grit doesn’t necessarily get you what you’re aiming for, but it might get you something better.

What’s better than winning life’s many beauty pageants? Dancing to “Superfreak” on stage surrounded by those who love you.

Note: My friend Anne Ford will be guest blogging while I’m on vacation for the next two weeks. Anne is the author of Peaceful Places Chicago and is wonderful and funny and by the end of two weeks you will wish she had her own blog.