Hello all. Some months ago (March, to be exact), I made considerable noise about applying for the Amtrak Writer’s Residency, a contest of sorts wherein a handful of lucky writers would win the privilege of taking a free long distance train trip for the sole purpose of looking and writing, and promoting Amtrak, of course. Sounded heavenly to me, and I figured, what the heck? I sent in my app and held my breath. Tick tick tick…
Finally, on June 17, I received a very nice email from Amtrak. In short, and in the friendliest possible way, they dumped me and my training aspirations right off the High Trestle Bridge (a particularly lovely former railroad bridge on a bike trail in Madrid, Iowa) and a high bridge it is, indeed.
According to Amtrak, they had more than 16,000 applicants for this gig, and I can’t say I’m surprised. They narrowed it down to 150 finalists based on the following criteria, “…the quality and completeness of their application package, as well as the extensiveness of their social community and ability to reach online audiences with content.” Am I missing something here? Oh yeah, writing ability? Ah, of course, that is what they mean by “quality.” Short shrift, I’m thinking, next to the social networking capabilities.
Credit where credit is due, though. Managing that many applications had to have been a truly Herculean task—I see many long nights, warm sodas and cold pizzas. And I can imagine the conversation of the judges, but I’ll spare you. I think their lessons-learned list is probably corporate legend at this point. Plus, as a non-finalist, the offer of a 15% discount on any long distance Amtrak route I choose is much appreciated.
Still, because it’s really all about me, I can’t help but ponder why I was not chosen, even as a finalist. Could it be that my writing sucks? Hmmm. Surely not.
Having eliminated that possibility, I do know that the five of you who are reading this are a mighty force indeed, though perhaps not quite what they had in mind for an “extensive social community.” Nonetheless, I appreciate every single one of you.
Or perhaps it was my embarrassing lack of Instagram skills.
It may also, perhaps, be because I took the liberty of razzing Amtrak, just a bit, in a good-natured way, about their stunning lack of follow-through. After all, the initial huge TAH DAH! reveal was followed by months of crickets; not the best way to build momentum and enthusiasm. I should know. I’ve heard my share of crickets.
So, Amtrak, I want you to know that I’ve been in your corner from the beginning on this. Really. It was a cool idea, and I wish you and your chosen scribes stunning success.
Here’s the thing. Don’t stop. This is great stuff. Whether it will yield the next Great American Novel or “Porkies Part 12,” remains to be seen. But it’s worth the ride, particularly because it nicely nutshells the wild tumble in the sheets currently underway between the “art” and the “ad.” It’s the American way, is it not?
Any writer worth his or her salt these days knows that the journey to (horrors) commercial viability means singing and tap dancing around that Babelous (Just made that word up. Do you like it?) maelstrom we call social media. Being heard above the din is just the beginning. (God help them if they are hoping to remain authentic.)
I did feel a sense of disappointment as I was catapulted off the moving train into the dark chasm below. But I survived. In the end, Amtrak did invite me to apply again next year. Maybe I will. (Maybe I’ll have Instagram figured out by then. I’m still missing the point.)
In the meantime, party on Amtrak. Thanks for giving this scribbling, narcissistic crew a chance to dream about a ride on the golden tracks to literary stardom. Either way, it’s stellar. Have a slice of cold pepperoni on me.
Painting, The Tower of Babel by Pieter Bruegel the Elder (1563)