Confessions of an (Almost) Winner

I don’t know how to feel.

Well, I know now how to feel. But at the moment, I didn’t. My heart was a closed room, a box of flesh with only whispers of breeze leaking in. Each whisper tugging faintly on my heart, trying to tell me how I should feel: 

    Sadness. Despondence. Anger. Disappointment.

But each was just a label, a scratch-n-sniff whiff of emotion, ... there and gone.

Mostly now, I just feel …


But let me back up.

Awhile ago, I submitted Oriented to the Write Canada Awards. After a few months, I was thrilled to find it shortlisted in the Christian Living category. So on the night of the ceremony I went for dinner with Cathy Harris and Jaimie Oliver. Having left Jaimie at the restaurant, we then arrive at the gala. The CTF Publishing stars squish us into place at their table and the awards ceremony begins. And it's a bit … agonizing. I spend much of the next several hours trying not think about the award. I don’t want to get nervous, so I make small talk with Pudd and listen to the first recipients. In my mind I rehearse again the 30 second speech – just like the instructions stipulate:

  • Thank … the award’s sponsor.
  • Make a comment about how writing a book takes many people.
  • Thank… Jonathan, Ben and the Creative Sprite.
  • Thank … my family and Jesus.
  • Pose for a picture.

The awards keep being announced. But I realize the program has them out of order. That means I have to wait longer. Sigh. Pudd tells a funny story. Tammy asks if I am nervous. The band gets up for the third time to perform, but the volume on the lead singer is so low none of us can hear her. I look at the grates in the ceiling. The hotel’s lobby music leaks through into the room. Silently, I rehearse my speech again, wondering why none of the other winners stick to the 30 second rule. Did they not get the memo? Mentally, I try to plot a path through the tables to the stage. The stout women have trouble with the passage next to the wall, so I cross that route off my plan. Lorna Dueck comes by and introduces herself to the group. Pudd wanders out to talk with a budding children’s author. I check to see that I can slide my chair out easily when I need to go to the front. And the time ticks down. Suddenly, the announcer comes to my category, dictating the titles and authors with me sandwiched in the middle. An unseen actor reads a piece from the winning book. I strain to listen, trying to place where in my book the words come from. Then comes that moment, the tick of time frozen in the liquid nitrogen of rejection. 

It’s not my book. 

I didn’t win. 

I can feel the eyes of my family and friends shift to me. I don’t want to look at them. I'm afraid of what alien horror will burst from my insides. But I must. So I turn into their gaze. Their eyes shine with condolences and sincerity that attempts to smooth away the sting. But there is no sting. There is nothing. Just breezes. Whispers of emotion. Half-hearted feelings, unsustained and unintended. Stillborn shades of what might be, briefly evoked as if not really meant, not serious. Just tests.

And the evening drags on to its end. 

Until I am driving home.

It’s all lights in the blackness, the comforting hum of tires in the night. In the silence I find myself thinking of what I can possibly do to win next time. And it comes to me, strangely, stupidly, obviously:

“You don’t write to win. You write to express.” 

And now I know how to feel about it. Just like I do everyday. Happy with what I’ve done.