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Saturday, August 27, 2011

Observations from the Peanut Gallery

Working in the Communication Department of a major university has its benefits for someone like me applying to grad school.  It’s apples and oranges of course, comparing applying to MFA programs in Creative Writing to applying to MA programs in Communication—GRE scores to memoirs, college transcripts to personal essays--but I have found a few take aways.

The biggest of which involves the acceptance process.  Now for Creative Writing MFA programs there are, supposedly, boards composed of faculty members scrutinizing over every writing sample and application.  In my department, we have only one, Director of Graduate Studies, and she rules the roost.  Maybe we too have our own board of shadowy figures doing their own scrutinizing, but from what I can see, it’s all her.  She’s the Alpha, the Omega, the Tri Lams and the Omega Mus.  She makes the calls.  And after seeing two classes-worth of her selections, I don’t think it’s a coincidence that they resemble her in philosophy, mannerisms, sometimes in even in appearance.  She and her female minions of the program are kind of an amalgamation of Kathy and Delores Umbridge—sweet and kind on the outside, holding back the neurotic chaos that lies in wait on the inside that’s unleashed when their perfectly laid plans go awry.  The few men who are in the program are all variations of the boy-next-door and not too hard on the eyes either—um, I mean I love chicks! 


So though it seems obvious, painfully obvious, I think I can attest that acceptance into grad school really depends on who’s doing the picking.  Differing from college applications where you’re justly boiled down your high school transcript and SAT scores, it seems that grad schools want to, well, like you as a person too.  They’ll be working with you, not just lecturing at you.  Needing to be liked can mean many things, but it seems like a make-or-break component of the grad school application, and like winning the lottery, one that’s nearly impossible to predict. 

Play up the Johnny Schoolboy routine, and they’re looking for the rebellious ne'er-do-well whose risky ideas are just crazy, maybe too crazy, to make a mark in the program.  It’s too hard to call, and I’m still only running with this “they have to like you” theory.  I mean I’m sure there are grad schools out there that just plain hate their accepted applicants, or their rejected applicants for that matter.  It just might be that good old fashion bribery is still the way to go.

Sunday, August 21, 2011

Tis the Season

It’s that time of year again; it’s time to prepare for new classes, it’s time to find new housing and new room mates, it’s time to start the music, it’s time to light the lights—yes, it’s time for all of it, that is if you’re a student, or if you work at a university and live in a six-person house.  The lifestyles are remarkably similar.

"This is the best writing I've ever read!  Really?  Which book of Twilight is this now? Ah hahaha".  (Hey check out the Muppet's new collaboration with OK GO on the Muppet Show theme song;
Students have to prepare to learn in class; I have to prepare to teach them, or at least put up with them, which is a teaching moment in itself.  Students have to cram into crappy campus/ slumlord housing because they have no money; I have a little bit more than no money, but only enough to cram into a slightly uncrappier house, not that I would want it any other way.  Both me and the students are forced to relinquish the peace and ease of summer in exchange for a chaotic four month sprint to Christmas break.  And both of us are only here to try to spot something better on the horizon.

What do you do with a BA in English?  Not grad school...
And that leads to the biggest difference between me and Schooly McBackpack, which is that Schooly still has all kinds of crazy potential and opportunities going on for him while mine are dwindling.  I’ll never graduate as a valedictorian, or get an awesome internship that launches my career.  I’ll never sit in the quad, and think ‘oh my God’, I’m totally gonna to go far— is there a better musical than Avenue Q for encapsulating post college life?  Maybe the Wizard of Oz?  Anyway, that’s probably why I resent those dream crappers so much: infinitely more possibilities and hope, same life style.  Fairness police, please?

Video proof that at one time, someone throught we were great
Last May I helped staff the department’s Awards Ceremony for graduating seniors.  Your typical veggie trays on top of crepe paper, parent taking a zillion pictures event.  As Excellence in Achievement and Achieving Excellence Awards were passed out one after another, I thought about all of my undergrad awards that I had proudly slapped on resumes and applications after graduating, and just how worthless I discovered they really were.  And though most of these bright-eyed, bushy tailers have probably found that same harsh reality by now, what really gets me is that just a few of them, just a few, have grabbed amazing jobs and gotten into grad school on their first tries.  They remain blissfully ignorant as their lives continue to swim along under the faulty notion of, Hard Work = Success, all the time.  Fools, I hate them all!

Saturday, August 13, 2011

Love West Virginian Style

I’ve seen Stand By Me, The Wrong Guys, heck, I’ve even seen Now and Then where Rosie O'Donnell plays grown up Christina Ricci--sorry Christina, looks like your 40's aren't going to be kind to you.  Point is, the whole reconnecting with childhood friends years later to discover just how much things have changed while just how much they’ve also stayed the same story is played—like seriously played.  Ever see Hollywood’s latest reheat of this, Grown Ups?  No?  There, proof that everyone is pretty much sick of this well tread schtick, and Kevin James.  Kevin, just stop.  Just stop it already.  Please.  I know you read this blog…

wishes he was Fred Flintstone, because Fred was in good movies.
When I drove twelve hours to West Virginia last week for a couple of days of mountaintop Tom-Foolery with some of my best buds from high school, it wasn’t exactly movie worthy.  And by that I mean it wasn’t trite and melodramatic.  The most drama probably occurred when one guy was woken up by six, drunken serenaders at 3 in the morning, or maybe when one of those drunken serenaders tried to start a fire on the cabin floor after everyone else had passed out gone to sleep.  Yeah, we’re awesome.   Maybe that’s because even though we’ve all been scrambled across half the country (New York to Kansas City) we still stay in pretty good contact with each other.  It’s hard, very hard, but in the age of facebook and fantasy football, it’s possible.  We make it work.  You got to want to make it work.

No great revelations or discoveries occurred; most of my high school friends are in stable relationships, or engaged, or married, or married with children, but I knew about all of that beforehand.  Houses, careers, families, lots of Honda Civics—all very different from my current life style, but all very old news to me too.  I did, however, get a little perspective.  Now I have to be careful here because a lot of these guys read this blog—can you have journalistic integrity whilst blogging? 

I spent most of my time growing up weighing and measuring myself against these dudes.  If one got his driver’s permit, I knew it was time to start asking Dad for the car keys.  If one sent in his first college application, I knew it was time to put down Golden Eye long enough to fill one out myself.  If one started dating—eh, who am I kidding?  Dating was few and far between for us in high school, but you get the picture.

But now these same guys who I ran neck-and-neck with in high school have drastically veered off from the course that I’m currently running, which leaves me with two conclusions; either they’re way off track, or I am.  I’ve spent a lot of time considering both.

The answer that I’ve come to isn’t something that struck me like lightning atop a mountain while singing Kumbaya around the fire, nor is it something that’s done developing.  It’s a slow, gradual, eeking realization that I can’t even say has fully dawned on me yet, but I can at least recognize it as something that will someday.

When you’re passionate about something, when you love something, you go after it with everything you’ve got.  A career, a degree, a relationship, a romantic relationship, a life style—whatever you love, you sacrifice what needs to be sacrificed and change what needs to be changed in order to get it.  I've certainly done that for my chance at grad school.  But it’s still weird for me to think that the same people who for so long shared the same desires and were pointed in the same direction, can seemingly peel off on so many completely different paths, but I guess that’s pretty human, to change, to progress. 

I don’t think growing up is necessarily inevitable, but change definitely is.  The way to maintain true friendships in the face of this inevitability is to accept those changes in your friends and support them in their decisions, as they should you.  I think I’ve spent too long resisting these changes in my friends, wondering whether they mean it’s time for me to change too, when the only thing I need to do is support my friends in them.  That’s all.  Support them in their changes and let understanding come in time.  Let’s see Kevin James make a movie about that.  Wait, what was The Zookeeper about?  Oh, no one saw that?  Nevermind.

Saturday, August 6, 2011

...Oh, There Goes Gravity

Isn’t this blog supposed to be about applying to grad school?  Um, yes it is I simultaneously ask and answer myself.  Then what’s all this crap about job searching, and being poor, and feelings and junk?  Well self, for one I believe that all of those things are tied into the application life style and need to be addressed as much as the composition of statements of purpose.  And two, applying to grad school is a long and incredibly tedious process with not a whole heck of a lot to write about in a weekly blog, so get off my back, self! 

Truth is if you do your homework on selecting schools—researching, writing e-mails to program heads, etc.—the next steps are just making a plan and implementing it.  As this is my second wave of applications, much of that initial homework stage was completed last year and I’m not doing or talking about it much now.  I should probably look around for others schools that I didn’t apply to/ was rejected from last year—remember the definition of insanity?—but aside from being a glutton for punishment, I do have my reasons for returning to those that have hurt me so. 

who has two thumbs and can't get into grad school?

If you’re specifically applying to MFA programs in Creative Writing like me, then you need to grab a copy of The MFA Creative Writing Handbook by Tom Kealey.  It's your Bible.  You just don't know it yet.  Aside from giving you boss tips on applying to programs—like this guy over here does—it also gives you phat tips on deciding which grad schools to apply to based on your personal needs.  The reason that I’m reapplying to many, if not all, of the same schools that rejected me a scant few months ago is because of these points that old Tommy boy sites as most important to consider when selecting which grad schools to apply to;

1.)   Location—this might seem the most trivial component of applying to grad schools, but Kealey says it should be #1.  City or country, near or far from home, mountains or flatlands?  I don’t know about being the very first consideration, but I don’t think you can do well or be happy somewhere you hate.
2.)   Faculty/ Program—if you’re applying to a creative writing and environment program and you drive a Hummer, that may not be the program for you.  Research programs that you feel that you’ll fit into well.  I don’t think that always means finding faculty with similar styles., practices as you—diversity leads to new ideas—but it definitely doesn’t hurt.
3.)   Cost—this should probably be #1.  If you can’t get past this one, nothing else matters.  In my case, I started by researching schools that offered full rides and teaching assistantship stipends and went from there.  NYU and Columbia are great, I bet, but they never passed the financial aid test and I never even bothered to research them.
4.) Post Grad Opportunities - Will you get published while in school?  Is there a student literary magazine to do so?  What about finding agents, publishing contacts, teaching gigs afterwards.  All things I never considered whist strolling through my undergrad education that are now imperative to do.
5.) Creative Writing-y Stuff - visiting writers, library access, student reading, class size (actually, this is important to consider for any grad school).  There are a lot of little, yet vital, aspects of a creative writing program to mull over for aspiring MFA students, but too much to write here.

There are some more points on Tomo's hit parade, but I think these are some of the most crucial and general points when selecting which grad schools to apply to.   But if you don’t have any preferences on location, faculty, and have crap-tons of money, then you suck.  Don’t bring your impartial zombie-robotness into grad school.  Save the room for someone else, please?  

I'm a Bad Blogger--Bad Blogger!

So it turns out that when you're camping in West Virginia for a week, there's a not a whole lot of time or access to write and post a blog.  Who knew?  This could not have been anticipated.   There are lots of important things to do, profound matters to contemplate with thoughtful people, and fires to try to make on the living room floor of the cabin when everyone else has gone to sleep.  Anyway, just sit tight and I'll try to get something up lickity-split like.