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Subgenius Grant

October 2, 2012

A dramatic turn of events in the book’s progress – I have a reader at last.  I want to go into detail but I can’t; suffice to say it’s nobody related to publishing. I have to have a PDF of the book so far in shape by next Tuesday. 

So I went back and started editing.  Yeah, that’s an eye opener.  Suddenly I can see why the agent’s assistant didn’t bother to write me back – well, I can never see why someone wouldn’t spend 10 seconds to send an email that says, “Nope.”  Steve Jobs was the master of the one-to-two word email, and honestly that’s all it takes.  But the first chapter was disorganized, Christopher’s entrance was out of sequence for instance, and there was not only “too much exposition” as the formula would have it, but it was out of order as well. 

And to be honest, I had a Tiny Epiphany reading some of it:  the fact is, that I was doing in print exactly what I do in real life, which is going all Blurt-O-Matic.  You go so long talking to so few people that you have so much to say and you’re so desperate to impress that the minute you get a chance to talk you start Holding Forth to try and prove how smart you are because isn’t that your best feature and you’d better hurry up and prove it and they look at you like what the fuck is your problem and that is that.  So Caroline holds forth on MMORPGs and great historians and so on and it’s a real turn off, man.  So in addition to pushing some action around to preface exposition, some of the exposition is just me trying to impress via Caroline.  And since it’s boring/distracting, out it goes.  So by next Tuesday I’ll be replacing the content on the chapters page with a single, consolidated, revised version of the MS so far.

The Macarthur “Genius” grants came out today, and frankly the whole thing baffles me.  It’s almost like the old joke about the bank – if you really need a loan, there’s no way you can get one.  Only if you don’t need the money will they fall over themselves to extend you credit.  Why, if you had half a million dollars to give to a single person, do you give it to someone who

was a tenured professor of economics at Harvard by the age of 27. He was born in New Delhi; his high-achieving family came to Milwaukee when he was 9. His two older sisters are college professors, his mother is a pediatric pulmonologist, and his father is an economist.

Or someone whose “films have been shown around the world” or whose book just got a front page review in the Times Book Review?  Slate magazine did a funny article years ago about what it takes to be a “Genius,” suggesting that the perfect grantee would be “a one-named Berkeley professor who choreographs interpretative jazz dances about how genetically modified food will destroy humanity.”  To get a genius grant, you have to be a systemic insider, the kind of recipient who has already proven themselves “grantable” through the recipient of previous awards, be they cash or honors. 

If I were sitting on a pile of money like that, I would be farming it out not to those who have but to those who have not.  Aren’t there enough geniuses out there who haven’t already “found early success”?  I would be looking for the way-outsiders, the voices in the wilderness, the people to whom even $10,000 a year for five years never mind $100,000 would be the difference between oblivion and ignominy, and recognition and opportunity. 


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