Grants gift time (to help)

By sheer accident I ended up chatting with some people who had received grants for sciences and arts about the ways in which the grant is affecting their lives, both directly and indirectly. At some point I made a note that the grant is much like a gift in many ways. In many cases the grant had prompted the recipient to embark on something more than purely a phase of work.

This comparison slowly started to seem justified. First of all, a grant is undoubtedly a show of encouragement in a field which contains so much uncertainty that it can sometimes overpower the ego: “Do I have the right to do this?”; “Will this (in other words, “Will I”) be of interest to anyone?”; “Now someone is actually telling me that they have confidence in me and my aims.”

I would argue that this show of encouragement can be just as valuable as the tangible financial gesture.

At some point, perhaps when the first waves of delight have slowly started to subside, you start to gain a little comprehension of what the grant is actually offering: time. The dystopia of your diary recedes and allows you to focus on something that is important to you. This is pretty much essential, as the progress of science and the arts is characteristically slow. You can’t hurry details, subtleties or the ability to see or do something significantly different. Everyone works in their own way too, and nobody likes to be rushed.

Back to the gift, that beautiful word, a concept which is not black and white. The very essence of its meaning lives in memories and nostalgia that reflect childhood celebrations. Then there is the gift of life itself, considerate gestures that divide up life into periods, gifts given through obligation, subscriber gifts and suchlike that test our nerves and, finally something on the edge of that concept, those gifts that impose some kind of obligation on the recipient (“you need to read this book”).

The recipient of the gift reacts with genuine joy, but this joy may be overshadowed. For example: “Does my gratitude live up to the magnitude of the gift, or can it ever do so – or should it?”

In spite of the delight associated with receiving a grant, it is also, to some extent, difficult to accept it. In the background there is an image of all those people who didn’t receive a grant, or were not given this gift. Some of them may be friends or colleagues, and you know that they deserved or needed that grant just as you do.

When a friend who did not get a grant congratulates you, and does this with complete sincerity, you feel strangely light-headed.

These factors mean that the grant is somehow charged with something more than its actual monetary value. I have, almost unconsciously, discovered a way of discharging that pressure which feels like a kind of positive challenge. This concerns the time that is freed up by the grant, based on the following observation: the ability to work does not increase in relation to the amount of time freed up. Perhaps this is because a part of the writing process also includes gestation, contemplation, listening, exposure and fine-tuning. Being able to utilise that state in which it is possible to concentrate.

There are also other uses for the freed-up time. You can help others, for example.

I suddenly realised how much unpaid help is needed in the fields of culture and science.

This can mean anything from compiling a grant application to the exchange of ideas, offering a well-grounded critique or discussing translation problems.

Let’s use a book, any book that is in the process of being written, as an example. The phase that precedes the actual editing work with the publisher is unbelievably long. During this phase you need to create your idea and you need to do the writing and editing, and whatever other variations there are of these. An author will generally receive feedback at the start of the process (basic idea) and then during the actual editing phase. In between these phases there are numerous periods, possibly months, when the author may desperately need help in relation to problems or uncertainties. This help may be in the form of gentle encouragement, discussion of the metaphysical problems of being an artist, commentary of and making adjustments to style, hints regarding possible sources or similar books, or whatever.

There are undoubtedly problems associated with scientific and artistic work that cannot be solved with the usual professional help, guidance or commentary. And when you encounter one of those seemingly small barriers alone it may delay your work in such a way that any positive impact of time is cancelled out. A period when you are making little progress with your work first starts to feel oppressive and then finally forces you to make bad decisions just to escape that feeling of oppression.

By the way: I don’t mean to say that loneliness wouldn’t be an essential ingredient, even for me, or that all artists and scientists need help or find it natural to help others. I am analysing these issues in a purely positive way and don’t mean to push anyone into doing anything that feels unnatural. I am just using these simple issues to try to give structure to something, something which has a meaning which seems to be completely evident to those concerned, but which does not have the structural sensors which allow us to identify it.

Perhaps as roughly outlined here, this help offered to others could be considered a kind of grassroots variation of patronage. And grant recipients do often embark on this. Groups of recipients offering atelier critique, editing, compilation of applications and creation of various ideas could almost be considered financial patronage.

Helping others during a grant-funded period can encourage the grant recipient to step out of various roles, to approach the arts and sciences from the perspective of various roles. Not just as an artist but as a stakeholder. A stakeholder in a shared culture, a mosaic of subcultures or counter cultures, or alternatives.

With the above I am not hinting, hopefully not even by accident, that some kind of communal practice could become more valuable than an actual grant or the professional skill of editors. The issue is purely that of how to make things easier. Perhaps I am drawn to this slightly brazen comparison with patronage because it encourages us to consider the actual degree of help that artists and scientists need, and that the forms of the help required are numerous and sometimes surprising. For example, it is by no means self-evident that everyone knows how to produce a convincing (or correctly compiled) grant application.

This alone should be enough to make you stop and think.


Kristian Blomberg

Kristian Blomberg, PhD, is a poet and founder member of the Osuuskunta Poesia publishing cooperative. He received a one-year grant from Kone Foundation in autumn 2012. His third poetry collection (Valokaaria) will be published in early spring 2015.