Tuesday, April 28, 2009

NEA Application Blues

(The following is something I wrote in late February... forgot to post it.)

"I'm just trying to think but my brain can't think anymore."

That's what Ethan said to me this morning, and that's how I usually feel at the end of the day.

But it's especially relevant after having gone through a week-long ordeal to get my NEA creative writing fellowship application submitted. Doesn't sound like a big deal, right?

All told, it took about a dozen support phone calls, multiple go-nowhere emails, and hours of my own troubleshooting, guessing, second- and third-guessing, installing, reinstalling, creating new accounts and new passwords, etc.

Why? The whole online application submission system... sucks. In fact, it seems to be designed to prevent people from actually submitting applications and getting the fellowships and the money. (Conspiracy theorists take note.)

The NEA uses grants.gov to handle the application process. It's all done online, and that's fine -- I know my way around a computer.

But the system is so unreliable (log in issues, password reset issues, load issues, you name it), the support so scattered, confusing, and incomplete, that it's a wonder my application (again, after a week of trying) somehow made it through. And when it finally happened it was random. Nothing got "fixed." I just happened to be able to log in after scores of unsuccesful attempts and submit my application.

There are lots of blog comments about how crappy the system is. "This system is dysfunctional" was one of my favorites. Also this: "I have never done such a difficult and traumatic application." Yes, that's how it felt: traumatic.

Every time I called I was told "The system is slow" or "The system is having widespread issues."

One of the support people (probably the eighth person I spoke to) was practically yelling at me. I tried to provide some background on what had happened so far (I won't go into the numbing details), but she wasn't having it: "I don't need to know that! I need to know your situation right now! I don't care what's happened before! What is your problem right now?!!"

"My problem," I gently tried to explain, "is that I don't know what my problem is. That's why I'm trying to provide some background and explain it to you. There have so many things that have gone wrong, I have had research requests instated and then canceled without being notified. I don't know where to begin. Could I get your name again please?"

This was the same person who, when recommending that I clear my cache, pronounced cache as "kaa-shay." And I think she called Firefox "Firebear": "Don't use Firebear or whatever. We don't support that. Use Explorer. Delete your cookies. Clear your kaa-shay. Don't use the Googles or Yahoo. None of that." Didn't give me much confidence in her "tech" knowledge.

Anyway, it's done. Getting an NEA fellowship is an extremely long shot and would be a dream. But man, I'm still feeling depleted.


No comments: