Tuesday, August 11, 2015

A Dubious Distinction

Our town featured a different kind of summer diversion this year. The Smithsonian Institution's traveling exhibit "The Way We Worked" had a place of honor for several weeks in a renovated area of the historic Plainwell Paper Mill.

Our local arts council and district library were principal sponsors of the exhibit, and they created
some related activities using the work theme.  Among them, the library hosted an essay contest. Several categories for authors of different ages all revolved around employment experiences. Why not enter? I thought. I extracted some material published  in lengthy articles elsewhere and assembled it into an essay about my first job as a shoe shine boy.

Several days after the exhibit left town, a cheerful librarian called with the news my essay was a winner and prizes would be forthcoming.  It was great news, but got a little less great when she laughed and said there were six prize packages for the five authors who entered the competition, so everybody got a prize.  I felt a bit as some youngsters might when everybody who races around the track gets a blue ribbon because "we all are winners."

My ego got a small boost when the librarian said she thought my essay was the best. But when I  stopped in to get my prizes and read the other four entries on display, I realized there were some pretty darn good stories in the "contest." Did that pleasant lady tell everyone their essay was the best?

The prize packet included a nice "Essay Contest Winner" certificate and a Barnes and Noble gift card. The third item was a $25 share of stock in the Michigan Paper Company of Plainwell. Wow, those were issued many years ago. Could be very valuable. Not really--the Plainwell Paper Mill ceased operations 15 years ago. The buildings are  being demolished or, in a few cases, remodeled for other uses.

Incidentally, the Smithsonian exhibit is an outstanding audio-visual presentation. If it comes your way, take the opportunity to see it. And, if the locals sponsor an essay contest, give that a go. Chances of winning are very good. If nothing else, you might ask about that sixth prize package the Plainwell folks couldn't find a winner for. 


Barbara said...

Haven't heard about it anywhere near but it takes a while to travel so I'll look for it. Congrats on your win. It's nice to have something you write appreciated.

Kay said...

Awww... I think she meant it, Dick! You are kind to give credit to the others though.

Rummuser said...

Congratulations. I like your librarian. We need more like her in the world.

Anonymous said...

I for one find the "everyone gets a prize" mentality self defeating. If you don't receive a prize, you are likely to try harder at the next opportunity. As the poet said, if a man's reach doesn't exceed his grasp, what's a heaven for?

The height of maturity is when you don't need prizes anymore, and can give yourself a pat on the back in self approval. I'm from the 'you can always better your best' generation. Every cook knows this. While others praise your food, the only thing that matters is did you like it?

I tell my kids, "I did the best I could, it wasn't good enough and you deserved better." Now that they are parents, they see the wisdom in this.

Dick Klade said...

Yes, Dianne, the "everyone wins" is not a good idea. However, award givers in many cases could get the best of both worlds. Give a token award for participating, yet have achievement awards for the best entrants.

My philosophy during my professional working days was to strive for perfection knowing it seldom is possible to achieve, but excellence may result. That also fits with what you said.

I like your advice to your kids. Will try that line on my son at an appropriate time.

PiedType said...

Anything from the Smithsonian would be worthwhile. As was the essay contest. If only they hadn't gone with the everybody wins thing. I thought that was only done with kids (and it's a bad idea there, too.)

joared said...

Congrats on your "win:! It's not clear to me from what you wrote they ever intended to have ranked prizes -- 1st, 2nd, etc. Choosing a "best" essay can often be a very subjective choice. I can imagine the limited number of entries might all have been very well-written and each might have been outstanding in their own unique way. We all know how well you write, so I'm sure you should feel proud of your composition. I wonder if you think the subject matter is such you would want to share it here -- or submit it elsewhere for publication?

Dick Klade said...

Joared, your comment caused me to review the contest rules. Sure enough, the sponsors did not say there would the "first, second, etc." winners, although three categories were established. I think the way the librarian's phone call began caused me to think that might be the case.

People seem to like my little shoe shine story, Several have received permission to publish it. And I published versions of it in several places, including this blog. Because many blog readers probably have seen it before, I won't repeat it again. But for those who want to give it a look, just go to the October 6, 2011 post in this blog's archive.

I like all the folks at our library, and was pleased that they sponsored the contest and that my essay got any sort of recognition.