I just finished grant writing for three projects – two state and one federal. They have nothing to do with my fiction life but they will help me keep my day job which pays for my night and early morning job. It occurred to me in the middle of this – what for me is a hellish process of putting together 20 to 25 pages of times new roman one inch margins narrative about a project idea, capability statement, project abstract, budget and budget narrative, and staffing narrative – that I might actually be learning something about writing while I was doing this.
Wait I’m getting ahead of myself.
The stress of putting these projects together is high, the stakes high (staff and my jobs), and the work hard (long hours for a good week right up to deadline). I did three in a row over a four-week period. During this time I could do little writing that I wanted to do – like work on my latest fiction project.
It reminded me of an old Buddhist story. A samurai goes in search of the meaning of heaven and hell. So like any good samurai he goes in search of a wise man – called a roshi. Well, he meets a roshi and sits down in front of him and asks him about the meaning of heaven and hell. The roshi says, “Why would I tell a miserable worm, a slug of a human being like you? You smell bad. You are worthless. And -” the samurai stood up at this point, feeling rage boil up inside of him. “You disgust me,” the roshi continued.
“Enough,” the samurai yelled and drew his sword, ready to cut off the roshi’s head.
“This,” the roshi quietly said in the moment before his decapitation, “is hell.”
The samurai, really a nice, honest, kind and loyal man, realized what he was about to do – what his rage had drawn him into – and sat down again in front of the roshi. Trembling, tears came to his eyes and the rage dissipated. He placed his hands together into prayer to apologize.
“This,” the roshi quietly said, “is heaven.”
My hell is the process of writing these grants that I have to write. But if I can look outside of this hell and see what it brings to me. The flexing of writing muscles that are different but that will help me to be more concise, more narrative driven, more specific. Then my hell can be my heaven. I can bow my head before the task and let the anger that boils up inside about the task dissipate.
Pema Chodron, in her book, Comfortable with Uncertainty, tells this story and then sums it up. These words stick with me. She said (my paraphrase), “In life we stand in sacred space and everything that comes into this space, good, bad, or indifferent, has something to teach us.”
Man do I have a lot to learn.