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Friday, October 28, 2011

Gone in 300 Seconds

Bad news sportsfans—with just exactly a smidgeon over a month before my first applications are due, I have sadly just exactly under a smidgeon of time to give to this blog.  Lucky for you, “smidgeon” is a variable and indefinable term of measurement—who knew?

But seriously, not a lot of time here.  I’m setting my timer and writing whatever I can in five minutes—go!
Me, pretty much all of the time now, minus the red pen.  That's a nice red pen...

The problem with applying to 11 schools, aside from having to deal with 11 heartbreaks in the future, is that each school’s application is just different enough from the others' aid to make you have to do 11 separate complete applications.  One school might want a 1-3 page statement of purpose where the next might want fewer than 750 words.  Newsflash to all the wordsmiths out there; those are two entirely different statements.  Aggravation.


Then some schools will take unofficial transcripts where other require official transcripts, or better yet, multiple copies of official transcripts which must be procured from your undergraduate college.  And you don’t want to talk to them, because then they might ask you about those, um, aid-unpay-eh oans-leh.  GRE scores are annoying too, especially when the schools that you sent them to last year, want another copy.  Hey, dummy grad schools; I haven’t re-taken the GREs or re-attended college since last year, so your copies of both from last year should be just fine.  I'm paying you another application fee, what do you want from me?  Damn it!


To apply to every program, you have to send some stuff to the Creative Writing Program and some stuff to that school’s graduate admissions.  Last year I would have asked if these major academic institutions are so unorganized and up their own buttholes that they can’t coordinate and share information between departments.  A year later after having already gone through the process and having worked at a major academic institution for over a year, I know better now.  Yes, yes they are.


Cost a pretty penny, but it's worth every cent.
All new writing samples, and yes, all new statements of purposes (because you won’t want these schools to think that you’ve been too lazy to write a new one), are the most important components of applications, by far.  And because of this, they are the most difficult to produce.  If I had to/ when I will have to I can sit down at my lap top one night at midnight and spend five hours cranking out all of the on line applications and such because it’s mindless, certified zombie work.  Writing is not.  You have to be in the mood and let it flow out of you, effortlessly like the morning dew from a leaf.  DAMN IT!!!


It’s ironic that now that I’m in the midst of applying, I probably have the most pertinent and interesting information to supply this blog with, but have no time to write it.  Ah, such is life.  Oh well, I’ll keep doing my best to slap something down on the Internet every week that is vaguely if not inappropriately entertaining.  And then on the other side once my apps are in, weeks and weeks of pessimism and strained hope until my responses arrive.  Oh, who I am I kidding—pessimism and strained hope for the rest of my life!  Huzzah!


Saturday, October 22, 2011

I Had Dinner with Jonathan Franzen--remain excited!

When last we left our intrepid college crusader, he was precariously poised at the cusp of facing the one man who could single-handedly save his academic aspirations!

So let me fill you in as I was pretty unclear as to what exactly I had been winging myself into last week; some kind of charity benefit or something—I wasn’t really listening.  In actuality, Jonathan  Franzen was a speaker in a literay series hosted by my hometown’s natural history museaum and sponsored by my dad’s company.  As such my dad had tickets to not only the lecture, but to the meet and greet beforehand and the dinner with Franzen afterwards.  My dastardly simple plan was to introduce myself to Franzen, strike up a conversation with him about his hometown where I live now, sprinkle in a few jokes, and then as the conversation naturally gravitated towards MFA programs, ask him for the goods: agreement to look at my writing and then maybe, maybe, if the mood was right, a letter of recommendation.  The greatest challenge would be talking with him long enough to build this report while shutting up before he realizes that I’m actually an idiot.

Object of my graduate desire.
At the meet and greet there were loads of donors and big muckity mucks; museum patrons, friends and clients of my dad’s company, and anyone generous enough to pay for the honor of meeting Jonathan Franzen.  Face time with Jonny would surely be competitive.  I got in one good handshake here.

“Very nice to meet you, Mr. Franzen.  I’m really looking forward to your talk tonight,” I said.  And first contact had been made.

The lecture went well.  Though he initially appeared nervous and detached at the meet and greet, on stage Franzen was personable and charismatic with great comic timing.  Maybe we could strike up some kind of friendship after all.  However, the questions that followed in the Q&A were all well thought-out and researched, with keen understandings of Franzen’s works and literature as a whole—so in other words, they were from college students: ambitious, ruin it for everyone else, college students.  Again, I was intimidated, and again I’d have to forget about it and prepare myself for the main event.

Dude sitting next to me at dinner, exactly.
Franzen didn’t appear at the dinner table until about an hour into the meal.  His book signing line was that long.  This gave me the opportunity to mentally review our future conversation, re-editing my responses and reactions based on how I thought he might respond and react.  This was frequently interrupted by the other guests at the table, who for some reason believed that this was actually a social event—the nerve!

Finally, like an apparation in thick-framed glasses, Franzen appeared, taking his seat directly across the table from me.  Thanks PR lady, wherever you are.  And then it began.  We did the conversation tango for a while where others interjected our conversation with questions about his books and characters’ true intentions.  But Franzen kept coming back to me, which gave me some confidence.  I started off talking about his hometown, but it turns out he hates it.  Typical writer, right?  But then somehow, miraculously, someone mentioned that one of his books was being turned into a mini series on HBO, which brought up television—tada! 

TV I can talk about.  And about TV we did talk.  You all should/ might/ are probably not interested to know that Jonathan loves him some Breaking Bad and Boardwalk Empire.  But the conversation was not naturally flowing towards MFA programs as I had hoped it would, so with time running out in both the evening and my imaginary clock of how long I could speak before he realized I’m an idiot, I made my move;

“So I have to ask, what advice would you give someone applying to MFA programs in Creative Writing?”

“Don’t go into debt.”

“Haha,” I too forcibly laughed, “Check.  So I know that you have a lot on your plate right now, but would you consider taking a look at some of my writing?  It would be incredible to get any critique from you.”

“Well, you know,” Franzen was already looking towards the door, but I wasn’t breaking eye contact, “Are you applying for this coming term, 2012- 2013?”

Time was running out on my idiot clock, and my future...
“I am.”

“Listen, I know this going to sound like a bold-faced lie, but I am loaded with work at the moment.  I wouldn’t have time to do anything for you by your deadlines.”

My banker friend had said not to take ‘no’ for an answer and to be aggressive.  So I was aggressive, in my own way.

“Hey, I understand. But I’m probably going to get rejected anyway, so you can just write me a letter for the next time.”

Franzen laughed a little at this and put down his briefcase. He asked me if I had a card, which I did at the tips of my fingers ready for the giving.  He told me that he was “easily found” on the Internet—meaning his e-mail address, I guessed—and wished me good luck before he left.

Since then, I’ve posted something on his publisher-run Facebooks page and have requested his e-mail address from The New Yorker and MacMillian, but I think it’s safe to say that the ball is on his court now.  A letter of rec from Jonathan Franzen would have been without exaggeration a golden ticket into any MFA program.  But where’s the flavor in that?  My current recommenders are amazing, not only because of their respective writing, but because they know me well as a writer and a person.  And I guess now that I’ve taken my crazy moon shot at glory, it’s time to get to work and do it the old fashioned way.  At least I can say I've had a conversation with one of the greatest writers of our generation, and he didn't think I was an idiot, because I watch TV, damn it.

Saturday, October 15, 2011

I'm Having Dinner with Jonathan Franzen--get excited!

The term “long shot” is put out there a lot.  Funny thing is, it’s probably not put out there enough.  Winning the Lottery, living to 100, getting into a Creative Writing MFA, sigh dating Natalie Portman—all solid examples of long shots.  So how would meeting a world-renowned writer at an intimate dinner and impressing him into writing a letter of recommendation for you be classified?  A long-johns shot?  Scratch that.  Nevermind.  Bad. 

The St. Louis Scribe, himself.
Just two days ago my Dad called me to say that his company is sponsoring a literary lecture that features Pulitzer-Prize nominated novelist Jonathan Franzen, author of Freedom, The Corrections—crack open a book some time people!  Anyway, he’s so big that he turned down promoting his book on Oprah, so that should color inside the lines for you.  Anyway, anyway, whether you know him or not, the take-away is this; how often do your parents have dinner with a big time, world famous writer, who incidentally is also a damn good writer, and then offer to flip the bill for your plane ticket home as long as you let your mom show you the new trick she taught to the cat (baloney, she taught the cat anything)?  Answer: not very often.

Blamo!  So I’m flying back home tomorrow for less than 48 hours dragging along my best business-casual dinner party gear—spoiler, it’s a sweater vest!  I’ll have to banter-battle with maybe ten or so other guests for Franzen’s ear, and even if I do, I’m going to have to squeeze a lot of impression into a relatively short amount of time with him to seal the deal, whatever that "deal" may be.  After telling this tale to my friend who works as a banker, he said that a deal is exactly what this is.  A sales deal.  I will be selling myself to Mr. Franzen, almost door-to-door style.  I’ll have to be aggressive without taking 'no' for an answer, in a non-threatening, charmingly befuddling way, of course.

It will be amazing simply to meet Franzen.  Period.  But I can't afford to go star-struck school girl here because perhaps more than anything, this is an opportunity.  This is certainly a long-johns shot.  And what do I have to lose?  I said I’m going to put everything on the line this year with my applications, give ‘em everything I've got, and take every chance I can take.  This counts.  I’ll let you know what happens, next week. 

So remember kidos, same justdumbenough time, same justdumbenough channel— excelsior! 

He's the 2nd one from the left.  Seriously, he's so famous the Simpsons cartooned him!

Monday, October 10, 2011

Mawedge is wot bwings us togeder tooday!

Sorry for the very late submission of this week’s post, but I was out of town at a wedding this past weekend with zip time/ coherence to write anything.  And now before you start jumping to conclusions about a wedding post that is surely a polarizing diatribe about the social folly of marriage, just slow your roll—slow it, slow it! 

Ah, the good old days.  Lachiam!
I love weddings.  I’ll say it again; I love weddings—they’re the best!  At the ripe old age of 26 when I shant be going to any more Bar Mitzvahs—well, many more—weddings are now the biggest, craziest, all-your-friends-being-there-est parties around. Money is poured into travel, hotels, food, music, booze, and just throwing the biggest bash imaginable after the wedding.  Nevermind that the reason it’s so big is to commemorate the last time the married couple will party with their friends.  It doesn’t matter because there’s a certain tragic beauty in the mortality of a moment… and in an open bar.

The mid 20 something crowd has so many commitments now-a-day that sending an RSVP to get them to promise to attend an event nine months in the future is really about the only way to get most people to a party.  This weekend I saw some college friends who I hadn’t seen in years, and probably won’t see again until someone else gets married when then another grand celebration of reminiscing, drinking, nostalgia talking, getting drunk, anecdoting, and falling into the desert table will commence.

So maybe it’s the wedding reception that’s really the greatest, but I believe it’s still the whole package deal that makes it work.  Here are a few of the finer points of weddings that shouldn’t be overlooked;

1.)   Drinking with the Father of the Bride –

            Bride’s side, groom’s side, both, the night before the wedding the family patriarchs want to drink hard alcohol, smoke fine cigars, and bring their son/daughter’s friends along for the free ride.  In my youth I thought this was simply a chance to score a few free drinks, but now I realize that I shouldn’t just grab the whiskey and run when no one’s looking.  These guys have great stories, not just about the bride and groom, but about life damn it, and the more you drink, the more fascinating they become.  Don’t miss out on learning why real men take the hard road in life, or how to light a cigar with your belt—just wow.

2.)   Dancing with your Friends’ Wives –

            I see a lot of movies where your Vince Vaugns and Neal Patrick Harrises are taking their veritable pick of the hot single girl liter at weddings.  And maybe this is the case at some post college weddings, but a few years down the road I’m  calling bullshit on this.  Bullplop!  Because everyone at these weddings is married, in a relationship, or at least with a date.  The DJ will inevitably play Single Ladies at some point (usually for the bouquet toss), but none of those giggly and momentarily aggressive girls who take the floor will actually be single, just without rings on its.  Hence, you’ll dance with a lot of friends’ wives and girlfriends.  Your friends will be glad they don’t actually have to dance, and if you’ve been making good use of the open bar, you’ll be more than glad to oblige and break it down.

Unrealistic depiction of weddings.
That's more like it. _                                                      
 3.)   Singles Spotting –
            At some point in the night, maybe at multiple points, married guys, ladies, whole couples will creep up to their single friends and have this uncomfortable conversation with them;

            “Hey, do you see that girl, the one in the green dress, she’s dancing over there?”


            “So what do you think?”

            “About her?  I don’t know?  Who is she?”

            “Man, you should go for it—I would.”

            “Do you even know who she is?  Is she even single?”

            “Dude, you’re such a wuss.  Five years ago, I’d totally be all over that.  Woo-woo!

For some reason, all couples want to live vicariously through their single friends, while conveniently contracting amnesia regarding their past single lives.  If this hypothetical conversation would have been continued, our single would have responded thusly;

            “All over that?  You were set up with your wife by friends after seeing her at study session!”

Of course everyone comes to a wedding to celebrate the marriage, to celebrate the overpowering happiness that their friends have found and want to share if only for a day.   And whether the celebration draws its ferver from an era ending, or from one beginning, is really up to the newly weds.  I feel like I’ve seen it go the way of the former more than that of the latter, but I think part of the excitement of a wedding is in never truly knowing which way it will go and hoping for all the marbles.  At a wedding there’s hope, and friends, and warmth, and God willing, an open bar.

Big congrats to Dimi and Jenny.  I love you both and am so happy that I could be there this weekend... and that you had an open bar...

Saturday, October 1, 2011

Mystery Alaksa

We’ve talked about how to pick which schools you’re applying to—and by "have talked", I mean that I have written something, which you may or may not have read.  The order of the list is individualistic, but here’s mine again;

1.)  Program Type – MFA, MA, MBA, SPACE JAM NBA, residency, low residency

2.)  Financial Aid – money, money, boo bah!

3.)  Location – near, far, desert, mountains, Space Jam planet

4.)  Faculty – profs whose works line up with what you want to do

5.)  Teaching experience – may also be part of financial aid factor

6.)  Post Grad Opportunities – doesn’t make much sense to go if you’re only going to be unemployed three years later… unless you’re just going to move to Space Jam planet

This list of priorities works for me, in this order, or at least it did until I decided to drop “location” a little lower down the list.  Getting rejected by nine schools makes a guy think, you know.  The Midwest and east coast are still where I want go because of proximity to my friends and family; however, this seems like the case for a lot of applicants, which makes the competetion at those schools that much higher.  So what to do?

Nanooks of the pain!
Go north, young man, go north!  Alaska north, as in the MFA program at the University of Alaska in Fairbanks—go Fighting Eskimos!  The program is legit, provides financial aid through teaching assistantships, has solid faculty, and as far as post grad opportunities go, apparently they’ll pay you $12,000 just to live in Alaska these days as long as you pretend like Sarah Palin never existed.  I’m already doing my best to do that right now.

Yes, I am applying to Alaska.  But as much fun as it’d be to write about riding snow machines while hunting moose with dynamite guns, I hope I don’t go here.  What in the name of Michael Jordan’s oh too short lived acting career is he talking about?

I really want to get into a Creative Writing MFA program, a lot, but even more than that, I want to know if I can get into one.  I realize that after two swipes at this thing, it just might not be in the cards for me.  It’s a possibility, if not a probability.  But I don’t ever want to look back on this with doubt.  No, when I’m old, retired from my illustrious career as an international Lawn Darts Champion, petering around my candy mansion with my loving wife Natalie Portman, I want to know with absolute certainty that I could have never gotten into an MFA program.  Natalie would be upset with me for anything less.  And though I’ll never truly know with absolute certainty, right now I feel if I give it my very best shot this time and it’s still not good enough, I’ll be able to move on with peace of mind. 

Remind me again, now why is this my Plan B?!

That’s where U of A comes in.  Based on only common sense and pure conjecture, I figure, who wants to go to school in Alaska anyway?  Alaskans don’t even want to do that. I got to believe that the competition to get into this program is significantly lower than in other places.  If I can’t get accepted here, then I’m probably not going to get in anywhere.

Aren’t there other ways to prove this, Moron Mountain?  Sure.  I could apply to less competetive programs, which don’t offer as much financial aid and support, or just to lesser academic programs in general.  I could.  But I think part of me also wants to know what I’d do if I did get accepted by Alaska.  Would I go? 

The friends and family who I never wanted to leave are now changing, moving themselves, evaporating.  Marriages, jobs, careers, mortgages, kids, their own dreams--they may not be in Alaska, but at times it feels like it.  Just how far would I go to pursue my dream, if this actually is my dream? 

Alright, I’m not going to end on a downer here so here's something awesome!