Friday, October 26, 2007
So I won a Whiting. In typical fashion, my cell phone battery was dead the Friday they tried to call me. Saturday morning, I listened to voice mail. Someone from the Whiting Foundation had called but their message was indistinct: it had to be good news, but experience has taught me to expect nothing, so I allowed for the chance they were calling to let me know why I'd never win one. Still, that weekend was an agony, kicking myself. Monday morning I had a meeting with Human Resources, signing paperwork; after that, I scooted across campus, called the Whiting office. No one answered. About ten minutes before my first class, Kellye from the Foundation answered, delivered the news. That class passed by in a numb haze. I told some friends in the English department, posted cryptically about the news here, expecting I could talk about it. Nope. They're very intent on keeping it under wraps, hence my silence.
But now that cat is out of its amazing bag. I'm not certain how I managed to sneak in the group but I suppose I won't have any complaints about it.
My entourage flew up to New York early Tuesday: my parents, two brothers, an aunt, her son, a family friend, and me. Basically, the opening scene of The Beverly Hillbillies. We checked in here, which is next door to the Morgan Library & Museum, where the ceremony was held Wednesday night. The Morgan is an amazing place, utterly astounding. Whiting Award aside, it was the highlight of the trip for me.
We were picked up at LaGuardia, a surprisingly cruddy airport which has one elevator. One. 1. Which was in pieces. The elevator guy helpfully suggested I take the escalator. Thanks, pal. A LaGuardia employee quickly rushed in, directing us, and our ride to another spot on that level.
We spent most of Tuesday being tourists. I've been there before but nobody else had, so we were atop the Empire State Building (which I woke up to every morning in my suite window) and then Gray Line'ing about. Later, Times Square. Everyone was amazed and thrilled. The weather had been fantastic, sunny, 72.
Wednesday, however, was cold, wet, windy, the exact sort of day I studiously avoid. The cold gets in me, hurts me. We trudged about in it. I had thought about staying in. I should have. The push to see and do as much as possible had eclipsed the reason we were there. I wanted to be with my family, though, so I pushed miserably through. We were relying on Gray Line to get about, which seemed problematic to me: they do their loop and the hours weren't adding up. Getting out at spots x, y, and z, waiting for the next bus, then riding it here and there to be dropped off 12 blocks from the hotel, was begging for catastrophe. Soon, others figured it out and we only stopped at Central Park for a hot dog. A man in boxer shorts stole a hot dog and was pursued into the park.
We got back about 3:15. I had a reception to be at in 45 minutes. Plenty of time if you feel good but a nap would have done me wonders. I was dressed up but wrapped in thick comforters, attempting to get the chill out of me.
At the reception for winners we met, mingled, were pinned with white roses. We were given a rundown on the ceremony. We walked over to the museum for a group picture.
At the ceremony we were introduced one by one and given our awards, part of which was a Library of America volume, chosen individually by the selection committee. We were told this was done "impressionistically" but otherwise given without explanation. Mine? Collected Poetry & Prose by Wallace Stevens. Something about this was thrilling. Inside was a front plate inscribed to me by the Whiting Foundation. And a check for 25,000 dollars. The other half will be delivered in January.
Marilynne Robinson then spoke for a short, wry bit. Afterwards, a reception in the glass, glowing light atrium of the Morgan. Waiters twirled about with drinks and hors d'oeuvre. Various parties floated past. Wendy Wisner appeared bearing roses for me. When it was over, I left with Taylor and Rebecca for the Cuban restaurant next door where they managed to squeeze us in. We gabbed until late then parted.
Thursday, lesson learned, I sent the rest of my family on and went to the Morgan, which blew me away. It's hard to comprehend a place like that. It just escapes the mind. Imagine having an office in which you have a portrait of John Milton.
At age 10. There's the boy John Milton. It boggles the mind.
And so in bogglement I go.