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Saturday, July 30, 2011

An Open Letter to the Universe

He-Man
Masters of the Universe
2702 Battlecat Dr. 
Castle Grayskull, Eternia 49872

Dear He-Man and the Masters of the Universe (who else would be in charge of the universe?); 


I get it.  Life’s tough, get a helmet.  Check.  It’s blue and I stole it from the kid next door.   It's well past 5:00 PM this Friday, and it doesn’t look like you’re going to send me that job offer that I was supposed to hear about at the end of this week.  That’s cool.  Here is a list of reasons why I’m pretty stoked about it;


1.)   I get to stay in my low tax bracket—suck it Uncle Sam!  Looks like you’ll be paying me again this next April!
2.)   I get to stay in my same office, with my same stuff, and same duties, and I don’t have to learn anything new—easy peasy.  I’ve gotten pretty used to this place and I—gulp—maybe even like it, a little.
3.)   The new Department Chair likes Happy Gilmore and asked me how many quotes I could remember.
4.)   The new building I would have had to move into smells like old man cheese.
5.)   I can now refocus on my grad school applications

Man-at-Arms is a man of sage wisdom and laser blasters.
Number 5 here is probably the best reason for being excited about keeping my old post.  Perhaps by the wisdom of Man-at-Arms (if you don’t get that reference then you probably didn’t grow-up as a dude in the 1980’s), I am to stay where I am and redirect my energies on my grad school apps.  Or maybe like Orco’s jokes, (yes, more He-Man references!) it’s all just random. 

In any event, like all of those middle school social studies teachers and everyone else before me, if I got/ took this job now, it would not be the first, but it would be the biggest to date in a series of compromises that might ultimately kill my grad school aspirations.  I would/ did tell myself that it’s just a little extra money doing something I’m more passionate about until I get in.  But in reality it would have been a giant safety net to catch me if I was rejected from grad school again, or worse yet, a cozy alternative to grad school itself.  The last thing I need right now is to waste time worrying about safety nets.

A wise old turtle of a man once told me that giving 100% of yourself doesn’t gaurentee that you’ll achieve your dreams, but it’s the only way that they’ll ever happen.  I don’t have the luxury of cloistering myself inside for a year, working non-stop in crafting amazing grad school applications, but I can dedicate more time to the process.  Getting/ taking this job might have made my immediate life better, but it wouldn’t have done much good for my future, not that not getting the job will help my future any either.  I’ll leave the fortune telling to the professionals.

So to you Mr. He-Man, Prince Adam, 1980’s icon of closeted homosexuality, I say, I get it.  You and the Masters of the Universe are going to keep throwing the kitchen sink at me from now until Castle Grayskull crumbles to the ground.  Good.  I’m used to it.  I drove down to Joplin, MO this past weekend.  That’s real trouble, real hard times, real difficult decisions to be made.  That tornado destroyed thousands of dreams and lives in a matter of minutes whereas mine are simply slipping away at times, and it’s up to me to stop them before they do.  So as a courtesy, I’m letting your know I’m ready, still ready, for whatever you’ve got in store for me.  To quote Tom Hanks in A League of Their Own, “It's supposed to be hard.  If it wasn't hard, everyone would do it.  The hard is what makes it great… you look like a little penis with that hat on." 


Bests, 


Your Faithful Punching Bag


Avoid the clap--Jimmy Dougan

Friday, July 22, 2011

Moon Over Parma

…and though such rejection was certainly disappointing, I have learned from it and I am even more determined to get into BLANK with my next application.

That’s a direct quote from the latest working copy of my statement of purpose, and it’s true.  I am even more determined.  I can definitely be classified as one of those guys who wants what he can’t have, so by rejecting me last year, those grad schools have only made themselves even more appealing to me, just like that girl from summer camp who never wanted to walk with me to the café-gym-atorium for dinner.  She was actually a pretty horrible person, but all I could see was the target of my affection, and short shorts.  

I am committed to getting into grad school, but at the same time my vision isn’t completely periscoped.  Just this week I interviewed for a job as an academic counselor at the university where I work—yes, I actually work at a university.  Ironic much?  I have been applying to a few jobs at colleges in a my area since about May, just shortly after I received my final rejection notice, and this has been the first one that I’ve gotten a face-to-face interview for. 

When I took my current position last July, I knew it was a low-paying job with limited hours and no chance for advancement, but I figured that I’d only be there for a year before I left for grad school.  It was a really great job for paying the rent and giving me time to get my applications together.  Now that I’ve realized that I could potentially be here much longer than a year, I’m starting to think about it little differently.

Hopefully—fingers crossed, holding my lucky rabbit’s foot, punching a leprechaun in the face—I’ll get in this time, but if I don’t, well if I don’t… it’d be nice to make some more money, it’d be nice to not have to worry about health insurance, buy a nicer car, move into a nicer apartment, eat nicer food—okay, I’m lying.  I’d still eat Raman Noodles and Kraft Mac & Cheese.  But seriously, it’d be nice to have more money, if only for a year. 



That's dreamless face of the American social studies teacher.
That kind of gets me excited, but I try to hold myself up here because it seems to be the tale as old as time logic behind the likes of Office Space, Drew Carry, and every social studies teacher you’ve ever had.  None of them actually wanted to stay at their jobs for very long, or even liked their jobs, but they figured they could do it for a little while, make a little money, and then get the hell out of there.  Boom!  40 years later they’re still there—actually, it’d be nice to have that kind of job security now a day—okay I ripped that joke from Office Space, but it still applies!



Seems like it’s the age-old tradition to compromise your dreams for stability.  Genius, talent, and chances for greatness are abandoned in the face of an over-whelming fear of the unknown, and little by little it all slips away.  I figure the cycle looks something like this;




Alright, maybe that's just a tad pessimistic, and maybe it’s different for everyone.  Maybe the difference for me—if there is a difference—is that I’d actually like this job I just interviewed for.  With an MFA in Creative Writing, I’d get to write professionally, sure, but I’d also get to teach and work with students.  That’s a big draw for me.  As an academic counselor I’d also get to work with students, some of the students who need the most assistance and guidance, and make real impacts in their lives.  That ain’t too shabby.  But is that, combined with a bulked up paycheck, enough to derail my dreams?  Dreams always can change… Right now this is just my back up plan, right now… 

Saturday, July 16, 2011

Apps

This morning after editing some essays for inclusion into my grad school apps, I scanned the local universities’ job postings and craigslist for positions better than my current one.  While on craigslist I bumped over to the apartment/ housing listings since my house of six will soon be losing some roomies to relationships and new jobs forcing us to move, again, and then concluded with a brief stop at my okcupid profile to see if anyone had been checking me out—yes, I have one and I’m only moderately ashamed of it. 

All in all it was one of my more productive mornings and I felt quite hip taking care of business twenty-first century style, clicking away on my laptop while sipping a latte in my neighborhood coffee shop.  I was a single twenty-something spending my Sunday morning in the way that Friends and its sister sitcoms had taught me that I should in my youth.  But then a very obvious yet curdling realization hit me like discovering spoiled milk in your coffee; I had just spent the last four hours, lounging about, completing applications.  I had just spent the last four years lounging about completing applications. 

These were the guys I was taking life lessons from?
Somehow, perhaps under the guise of facebook profiles and online access to everything, my generation has been tricked into a state of perpetual application.  Everything is an application.  Everything is a test to prove our respective values to someone else.  We apply to jobs.  We apply to grad schools.  Applications for homes, cars, dates, grants, service projects, chances to win all expenses paid trips to Hawaii, they’re all just open wounds to be judged, and we’re addicted to it.  From grad schools to dating, we slap our information up on the Internet, e-mail it out, and hope to God someone thinks it’s worthy of acceptance, and we’re okay with it.  Or so it seems. 

The old Woody Allen line is, “I’d never want to belong to a club that would have me as a member".  That seems to sum up my era’s view of life.   

Anytime that I become dissatisfied with my current situation, I look to apply somewhere else.  This apartment is okay, for now.  After I get into an MFA program, I’ll have to start searching for jobs.  My car is fine, but I’m really looking for something more.  What is more?  What is enough?  What does enough even look like?  It seems like anytime I think I have enough figured out, it’s shape-shifted into something else by the time I get there.  I end up chasing the proverbial carrot at the end of the stick, looking over the fence and marveling at the greener grass, believing that one day I can eat that damn carrot in that greener-ass grass.

But isn’t that the American Dream?  To run around like a mad man, working too hard, too long, abusing yourself and looking to the horizon, so that you can one day find that pot of gold at the end of the rainbow?  I’m only twenty-six and not very far along my rainbow, but it makes me wonder just how long that rainbow might be?  Does it ever end?  How many clichés can I cram into one blog post?  Answer: a baker’s dozen. 

Sweep the leg, just sweep the leg...
Ambition is a good thing.  It stormed the shores of Normandy and turned Danielson into the Karate Kid.  But I think it must be horrible to never be able to reach true satisfaction in life.  There has to be a time when we can stop, a time when we can be satisfied to let ourselves stop, right?  I hope so.  Applying to everything is frick’n exhausting.  The first step might be pausing long enough to figure out what the end might look like.

Or is it simply that we know what the ends looks like and are afraid that the destination will never match the journey?

Saturday, July 9, 2011

Dear Santa, I Love Your Book

One of the most tedious and disheartening aspects of preparing those dreaded statements of purpose is researching grad schools' respective faculties.  Tedious like a fox.  Disheartening like a pet fish.  Necessary like a honey badger.  Obviously, you want to do this for yourself, first and foremost, but programs also want you to see that;

1.) You care enough about the program to which you’re applying to research its faculty.  And on your end, you don’t want to TA for Dr. Acula without knowing beforehand, right?  (Scrubs reference, deal with it, jerkwads!)

2.) Your academic aspirations and style line up with someone else’s in the faculty.  What if you’re Dr. Acula and no one in the program can teach you how to harvest blood, or how to write a musical about harvesting blood?  That’s a bad match for both you and the program.


3.) And finally, nobody hates flattery
 
But really, come on.  Come on!  Maybe there’s one prof out there who you can honestly say you want to study under (for me, her name is Jeanne Marie Laskas and she writes in a way I can only hope to do some day), but after that, in all sincerity, does anyone really care?  Does anyone really know?  If most applicants are like me, I’m guessing they’ll probably give a school’s faculty the benefit of the doubt if the school’s flipping the bill for them.  It’s all about prioritizing when you’re poor. 

I’m not sure how it works for other applications, but when I applied to Creative Writing MFA programs last year, I scanned a program’s website for creative non fiction faculty, looked up their respective works on Amazon, found the one that most closely resembled my own writing, read a couple pages of his work, and then made some snap judgments of him in my statement.  Pretty standard I imagine.  I’m sure it's the same for theoretical physics applicants who look up the hot theoretical physicists of a program to say they’ve always wanted to work with those guys.  It’s just a matter of sincerity; fake that and you’ve got it made. 

Ms Frizzle or the guy who discovered the physics of the civil war beard?  Tough call physicists.  Tough call.


Dr. Silas McBeardmyer

It gets hard on the soul, however, when you continually prattle on about how big a dream it would be to work with some professor about whom you know just enough to be able to scribble down a sentence or two.  It’s how the game is played, but knowing so doesn’t make it any easier.  In most cases, you don’t even know what kind of person Dr. Acula is; what he cares about; how he treats his students; by God, does he even think that The Jerk is funny?  Just what kind of person is this guy for whom you have supposedly the utmost respect? 

Such deception to the program(s) to which you’re applying and to yourself is a necessary evil for an applicant's dreams, unfortunately.  But every once in a while you might uncover something vaguely human and even recognizable in someone.

Didn't think I'd double-up Lumbergs, did you now?
While researching one MFA program’s faculty today, I cyber-strolled over to a prof’s personal website where I discovered a personal blog.  A blog, you say.  A blog, I say.  And not just any blog dear reader, but the very same Google-run Blogspot blog that I have, with the same books-in-the-background template, no less!  I was glad to learn that I did in fact select the most professorial and grad schooly blog template Blogspot had to offer—score!  And maybe this is a little subjective, but I think mine is the superior blog.  I mean, he didn’t even have one picture of Bill Lundgren.  Not one!  Now I have TWO!  Who’s laughing now arbitrary grad school professor?  Who’s laughing now?... oh wait, still you…  

Saturday, July 2, 2011

Start Couch Mining for Quarters, It's Application Time!

This week I e-mailed a few letters to the MFA programs that I applied to/ was rejected from last year, asking what I need to include in my reapplications and what I do not.  Some grad schools will keep your college transcripts, letters of recommendations, GRE scores, even your formal application on file for up to a year after your initial application, which is great because submitting all of those things is costly for a kid who buys Raman Noodles in bulk—mmm, the 30 pack just tastes better!  It’s always interesting how the systems in place keep the moderately destitute more moderately destitute, and by interesting I mean incredible, and by incredible, I mean incredibly crappy.  Universities aren’t getting rich off of application dollars, but I guess it’s enough to keep some from applying, and to keep those applying, mining their couches for quarters.

Every bit helps.

 Everyone knows that grad students have zip cash, but what seems to go unnoticed is that those applying to grad school also have zip cash—that’s why they’re applying to grad school in the first place, duh.  Sure, every once in while there is some financially stable executive wanting to upgrade their degree or a middle-aged housewife/ husband bored out of their mind who apply with extra funds to spare, but they’re the exceptions to the rule, and they suck. 

According to some rough numbers I just crunched in my head for a made-up survey, the average cost to apply to just one grad school is approximately $250.  That’s factoring in the actual application, GRE exams, mailing costs.  And while the cost of the GRE exam would get divided by the more schools that you apply to, you would also need to account for the supplemental costs of submitting multiple GRE score costs ($20/ school over your initial four schools), additional transcripts, and that’s not even mentioning the bribes you're already paying for your letters of recommendation—they might say they’re happy to do it for you, but they’re really just after those new tweed jackets.

Point is, applying to grad school is expensive, so if sending a few well placed letters can fray that cost, it’s well worth it.  Especially, if you’re like the 87% of most grad school applicants who are in low-paying crap jobs, designed to make ends meet, pay off college loans, and generate a little money for when you actually get into grad school and are truly moderately destitute (these numbers were also taken from the same made-up survey).

Oh Garfield, you just get it.
 Also mad ups to Steve for enlightening me to this comic strip documenting the woes of life in grad school; www.phdcomics.com.  It’s no Garfield, but it’s still pretty funny.  I’d probably think it was even funnier if I were actually in grad school—not that I’m bitter, much.  It seems like there’s a good amount of media out there accounting for those in-school experiences and struggles, but I still haven’t found much depicting that pre-struggle period, the one before you get in.  Unless, of course, you classify that Saved By the Bell season when they’re working at the beach for the summer prior to college as pre struggle media—I just call it good TV.  So aren’t you glad to know you’re reading a blog that is on the cutting edge?  Let me try that again.  Aren’t you glad Cheetos are 2 for 1 at the gas station today?  Yeah, yeah you are.