If You Don't Ask

This week I am gathering together my final report on my 2010 Solo Writers Fellowship (thank you, Greater Hartford Arts Council).  I've also recently submitted an application for more funds for my writing, so I've had to both reflect on my past couple of years as a writer and plan for the next five. I do, however, have one nagging thought: there are many people who want to be professional writers, and most of them don't go through the rigmarole of applying for fellowships and grants and residencies. Who am I to take this money? I argue why I want it, why I need it, but I continue to feel guilty even for asking for it. It feels too audacious, too immodest to say, "Hey, give me money, Hartford! I'm awesome. Hand it over."

I have had an incredibly lucky and privileged life so far, graced with opportunities knocking and doors I've busted down without waiting for knocking at all. It all comes down to basically two things that have stuck in my head since I was about eighteen years old.

The first is a story from college-- second semester freshman year, I signed up for a bunch of courses and for some reason started switching them all around during the first week of school. (Typical Julia.) I dropped out of a Child Development course and, a day later, returned to the professor's office to beg my way back in. Full of regret and very flustered, I made my case. He did not let me back in.  He wasn't angry; he'd already filled the spot I left vacant. I thanked him and spiraled into apologies and he said, "Don't apologize. If you don't ask, you don't get."

That phrase has stuck in my head for almost a decade. I use it to combat the shyness with which I am naturally beset (it's true, ask my mother). Asking, ultimately, demonstrates knowledge (that you know who to ask and the appropriate things to ask for), confidence, and proactivity-- probably the three qualities of self that I am constantly trying to improve.

But here's the important thing: asking for something does not and should not imply that you are entitled to it just because you asked. I try to ask humbly and accept rejection when it comes. That's hard, but I think not getting what I asked for has taught me more in the long run than getting it. But if I don't ask at all, I learn nothing. I never would have anticipated that "if you don't ask you don't get" would be my big takeaway from child development, without even taking the class.

Philosophy #2 is much simpler-- I aim to never assume I won't like anything before I try it. That has gone for food, boyfriends, jobs, friends, improv games, places I've lived, all kinds of media, really anything. I want written on my grave "Game for anything."

The results of these two modes of thought are that I am surrounded by things I love: things I have asked for and things that have asked for my open mind. My life is sometimes overwhelming because there are so many amazing people and adventures in it and I don't want to waste a second. It is the best kind of anxiety to have.

So, to have the writing life I want, I must do both: I have to ask for what I need and be prepared when I hear no. And I have to try whatever opportunities come along.  There is an opportunity for support, and I'm asking for it.