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Back To The Drawing Board, But At Least I Can Be A Tourist In Berlin

I’ve been a little glum these past few weeks because 2018 is starting out differently that I hoped it would. Last fall I applied for two things I really wanted: a fellowship at A Public Space and the sexily named Working stipend for literature other than German. I’m an optimist by nature and I had a good feeling about both. The APS wanted three fellows (beginning and/or emerging writers) whose work “takes risks,” and what is my work if not risk-takey?  Plus their offices are on Dean Street in Brooklyn and, I mean, come on, the street is named after me. The Working stipend for literature other than German is a grant awarded by Berlin, and you have to be a resident of the city to qualify. Since they were awarding six grants and it was the first year, so word might not have gotten out yet, I figured I had a fairly good shot. Plus, they wrote, “Funding is available for writers who have a track record of published work or who can prove their literary talent by providing samples of their work.” In other words, I just have to show them what a genius I am and I got this in the bag, baby!

I wanted the working stipend because it was enough (tax free) money that I could write full-time for a year. No more translations about digital TV, dog leashes, and cell phone towers! No more copywriting! (Actually, I don’t really mind the copywriting, at least not when I’m given assignments to write product descriptions about fetish gear and sex toys, like I recently was. I may be a middle-aged mom with an admittedly vanilla sex life, but I now know a heck of a lot about pegging strap-ons and penis cages.) To write full-time on my novel for a year would be a dream come true! As for A Public Space, with the fellowship I would get to work closely with the editorial staff, have a chance to make contacts in publishing, not to mention have a valid, tax write-off excuse to head off to New York once or twice this year.

Come mid-January, when the announcement deadline for both was getting closer, my natural born optimism dipped over into semi-delusional dreaming. I started spending the grant money in my head and realized, if I played my cards right, I’d still have enough money left over to take my girls to stay at that goat farm outside of Kiev that looks so cool and take a trip to Thailand to visit an old college friend. I imagined writing a post on this blog called “A Dean on Dean Street,” featuring a selfie of me in front of a Dean Street street sign and, yes, I would keep taking them until I managed to snap one that made me look way more attractive than I am in real life.

But this post is different because I got neither of them. It also stung a little when I read one of the six working stipend recipents was an American named Rebecca without the h. Rebecca without the h holds an MFA from the Iowa Writers Workshop and has been published in ZYZZVA and I hold an MFA from the Sitting in Cafes and Pretending You’re a Writer Workshop and have been published nowhere, not even The Frog Town Review, Delaware’s littlest little literary magazine (it’s so little I’ve heard they print the magazine out by hand on a diner napkin, and then promptly set it on fire in a strip mall parking lot). And the fellows from APS? Two of them are also graduates from Iowa.

Damn you and your elite corn field MFAs! No one with an MFA from Iowa needs help like I need help! But I’m being ungenerous. Of course they need help. Anyone who’s crazy enough to want to be a writer needs help. Who am I to decide who deserves it more?

So it’s back to the drawing board, and I’m so broke I can’t even afford a trip to Düsseldorf, let alone Bangkok. But I haven’t lost hope yet. I’ve gotten rejection notices from magazines like One Story, Tin House, and The Paris Review where they encouraged me to send more work. I’m not naive enough to think this means they’ll ever publish me, but it probably at least means my stories didn’t make their eyes bleed. Someone at the Master’s Review told me I was “obviously a talented writer” but that they had no room. I got another rejection where the editor wrote stories like mine are what keep them going and another praising my world building. PANK let me know my story made it very far in the editorial process and invited me to “party with them at any time.” In the end, all nos, but still…

I keep waiting for that day when some editor somewhere, sitting slump shouldered at a desk cluttered with paper and books and a house plant with yellowing leaves, will read one of my stories and it will make them finally sit up straight and say, “My god, why isn’t Rebeccah Dean published? She’s obviously the next Haruki Marakami!” Who am kidding? I’d totally settle for, “Crap, we still need to fill ten pages. I guess we’ll accept this thing by some nobody named Rebeccah Dean.”

It’ll happen someday. The optimist in me believes it. And as for traveling, I’ve decided to pretend I’m a tourist and explore Berlin, to get my butt out of my neighborhood and start checking out places I’ve never been or haven’t gone to in years. Next week I plan to finally visit the Dong Xuan Center, a piece of Vietnam in Berlin way out in the b.f. east. I’ll probably post something about it, so stayed tuned.

Oh, and btw, I’ll apply for both the working stipend and the fellowship again this fall. Who knows? Maybe next year will be my year. Or maybe I’ll just lose out to more MFAs, only this time from Columbia. 😉



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