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Wednesday, March 28, 2012

Greetings from Columbia

I’ve been really procrastinating with writing this blog post.  And it’s not because I’ve run out of barely-to-non relevant pop culture references—please note the photo inclusion of Cody from Step By Step—but rather, because where writing about something has always offered me clarity and perspective in the past, I just keep writing draft after re-edited draft of this post as my mind continues to sway back and forth.  That and I’m still mentally exhausted from the trip.  So I’ll skip the usual emotiony testimonial and rhetorical questions and just give up the facts.  Here’s my Hind-Sight Itinerary for my visit to Mizzou two weeks ago.

Relevant?  Yeah, buddy!

6:00 PM:  Arrive in Columbia, MO.  Meet with Alex—my grad student liaison for my visit—and his friends in the Creative Writing MA and PhD programs for a writing workshop at Penera.  Get a hot chocolate and a blueberry muffin.

7:30 PM:  Arrive at the home of Naomi, a PhD student and your appointed host for the night.  Chat with her about the program, even though she was never in the MA program (she received her MFA at Arkansas before beginning her PhD at Mizzou), and meet her husband, Derek, and their three-year-old daughter, Liberty.  Liberty will be giving up her room for you tonight where her creepy dolls will stare at you because, you know, you’re sleeping in a three-yr-old girl’s bed.

8:34 PM:  Meet up with your buddies Aaron, Christine, and Christine’s rugby team (not your real buddies, but they’re pretty cool too) who go to school at Mizzou at a local bar and watch some college basketball games.

10:30 PM:  Meet up with current grad students and others accepted into the MA and PhD programs at a local English department drinking hole and chat and drink free beer.  Don’t drink too much because, you know, the dolls, will be watching.

11:52 PM:  Get back to Naomi’s and trip over everything in the living room before you make it into your tiny bed.


7:47 AM:  Wake up and watch Yo-Gaba-Gaba with Liberty

8:12 AM:  Eat breakfast with Naomi’s family.  Feel pretty weird about that.

9:13 AM:  Be late to the opening round table discussion for visiting students and park in the wrong garage.  Learn about the nuts n’ bolts of the program and feel excited about your prospects.

10:17 AM:  Run back to your car and move it to the right garage before you get a ticket.

10:30 AM:  Meet with the director of the English MA program and discover that you’d be guaranteed to publish while in the 2-yr MA program, but that being in said program does not guarantee acceptance into the 5-yr PhD program.

11:12 AM:  Meet with the department’s pedagogy professor and end up talking about AmeriCorps.

11:35 AM:  Meet with the Victorian Lit professor because both creative non fiction professors actually resigned for better jobs shortly after you were accepted(you already knew this).  Discuss your surprisingly sincere interest in Victorian lit (thank you Wishbone) and her surprising expertise in travel writing.

The pooch got me through high school english
12:00 PM:  Have lunch with two PhD students at a nice restaurant.  Debate whether it’s appropriate to order steak during a free lunch—decide yes, yes it is.  Deflect questions about who you read and where else you’ve been accepted (you’ve only been waitlisted at Oregon State and Minnesota).  Listen as they tell you an MA in creative writing is as good as an MFA in it if you’re pursuing your PhD in it—they both got MFA’s before getting their PhD’s—and a PhD is the next best thing to a selling book to find a professorship in an overly saturated field.

2:00 PM:  Sit in on a TA’s class.  Marvel at how attentive some students are while how asleep other students are.  Realize what a good teacher this guy is and picture yourself up there, but maybe wearing a vest.

3:00 PM:  Listen to a presentation from a PhD student (MFA recipient) on the evolution of the feminine memoir.  Be pretty intimidated and pretty interested.

4:16 PM:  Follow Alex to a bar after the presentation and before dinner where you meet the presenter, who is a little drunk.  Chat with her a little about your aspirations and smile dumbly when she asks you why you aren’t getting an MFA.

5:00 PM:  Eat dinner at an Italian restaurant with all of the grad students and visiting students.  Watch as the entire restraint, and the entire campus, sharply falls into a state of shocked depression when Mizzou gets knocked out in the first round.

6:30 PM:  Finally excuse yourself for some alone time and stroll around the campus among sad Tiger fans.  Take a rest and enjoy the a beautiful campus

7:21 PM:  Meet up with your buddy Aaron again and bring your stuff over to his apartment for the night.  Do not return to the tiny bed.

9:17 PM:  Get picked up by Alex for the party for all the visiting students where the idea is to have you drink and relax and then drink some more.

10:39 PM:  Talk to a PhD student who received her MFA from Oregon State and have her tell you to go there, or to any other MFA program, if you get in.  Say ‘thanks’ when she promises to e-mail her old advisor about you.

11:16 PM:  Dip a chip in the nacho cheese and eat it.

11:17 PM:  Talk to a current MA student about his plans to teach at a private high school and write on the side with his degree and think that doesn’t sound too bad.


12:38 AM:  Get dropped off at Aaron’s and fall asleep on the floor because, damn, you’re tired.

8:37 AM:  Wake up when you hear Aaron making coffee and slop yourself together for the drive home—it’s St. Patrick’s Day.

9:14 AM:  Get on the road.

11:05 AM:  Step onto the highway as your car lies smoking and stationary in the middle lane.

11:06 AM:  Thank God when a tow truck stops and offers to drive you home for whatever cash you can throw at him.  Thanks again Ron, wherever you are.

You're the tops, Ron, the tops

So as you can tell from my schedule (you should be pronouncing that in the British fashion, SHE-su-al) it was an exhausting visit with much to process, and that’s what I’m continuing to do.  Process.

More to follow soon.

Wednesday, March 21, 2012

Coco's Big Trip

This past weekend I visited Mizzou and had a lot of my questions answered, but I'm still digesting, chewing on the whole experience and what it means.  It was 36 non-stop hours so I'm still recovering.  In the meantime, here's my stab at one of old Asop's fables. 

Once there was a little monkey who set out to climb a tall mountain.  Unsure of the best way to ascend the rocky behemoth, the monkey began scrambling  up the mountain’s base haphazardly.  Kicking up stones and dirt, sometimes tripping over his feet, the monkey still found the climb relatively easy and saw his arrival at the mountain’s summit—whatever that might look like—as imminent.

But then suddenly after much progress, the monkey slipped and was in free-fall.  Fortunately, he was saved when he landed on a ledge of the mountainside.  The monkey was relieved and happy to have found the safety of his peaceful ledge when he could have easily plummeted to his doom.

This guy's got it all figured out.
“I’ll just sit here for a moment until I catch my breath,” said the monkey, “then I’ll get back to my climb.”

But the longer the monkey sat on the ledge catching his breath, the more he found to like about the ledge.  There was food, water, even other monkeys who lived there.  Though he failed to realize it upon his initial fall, this ledge was a very comfortable place and the monkey found himself  happy to wait there as he regained his breath. 

Sooner than he thought the monkey began to feel his nerves and breath returning, but the thought of leaving the ledge and resuming his climb was both frightening and somewhat unappealing to him.  The monkey was content, even happy, where he was and there was no guarantee that he wouldn’t fall down again upon his climb, maybe missing the ledge all together this time.  There was no guarantee that the mountain’s summit was even better than or as good as the ledge. 

But with each passing day the monkey also wondered more and more what might lie at the mountain’s summit.  He had an idea of what it might be when he first started climbing, but part of the adventure that he had sought out so long ago was discovering just what was there in actuality.

Was it better than what was on the ledge?  Shouldn’t he be happy that he was just lucky enough to find the ledge in the first place?  Wasn’t he happy on the ledge?  How long could he be happy on the ledge?  Could he stand not knowing what was at the summit, even if it was bad?  Should he take the money or what was behind Door #3?  These thoughts haunted the monkey until he was paralyzed with indecision.  What was the greater mistake; to leave the ledge or to remain on it? 

So no real end to this parable, for obvious reasons, but sit tight and I'll post about my recent visit to Mizzou.  Spoiler alert, I saw no monkeys in central Missouri.  Damn. 

Friday, March 9, 2012

Thank you for your letter...

For the past few weeks I’ve been agonizing over deciding between accepting Mizzou’s MA offer, waiting on Minnesota and Oregon State to ask me to the MFA Prom, or just chucking it all starting up my own dog grooming business because let’s face it, even in a bad economy dogs get dirty.  In all that time, I haven’t even considered those other schools I applied to.  Because I haven’t heard from them I’ve just assumed that they have rejected me and so I’ve moved on.  Well, I’m forced to guess their where-abouts no more, or at least for one of them, as Pittsburgh’s rejection letter arrived in the mail this week just to verify with physical evidence that I’m not good enough for them.

It’s a pretty standard rejection letter, I can just add it to my vast collection now, but for somereason I've become fixated on this one.  They just send out scads of these letters, equipped with the stamped, copied signature of an administrator who may have never even read my work, and though its arrival affects me so intimately, they’re ambivalent to it.  They could send out a hundred more and feel no differently.  How would they feel if they got one of these letters?  How would they like to open their mailboxes and find a letter telling them ‘no’?  And so I mailed them a letter of my own.

Now, this isn’t some gross over-simplification of the matter where I'm completely disregarding the truths of a competitive system that I knew well before entering.  No.  This is me avoiding a difficult decision by throwing myself full-heatedly into an unrelated project.  So enjoy! 

*Preface; this letter is made largely, largely possible through the assistance and inspiration of friend of the blog, Mark.  Thanks Mark!

Letter from Pitt to me.

Letter from me to Pitt.

Thursday, March 1, 2012

Horseshoes and Hand Grenades

In latest news; I’ve been Waitlisted by Oregon State.  Woot, woot?  By this time last year I was waitlisted by Minnesota and Oregon State and I hadn’t applied to Mizzou so I’m about par for the back 9 now. 

All J-dub does is compose Oscar-winning jams, damn.
Again, “waitlisting” means that if a program receives 100 applicants and accepts 5, it might put another 10 other applicants on its “wait list” who may be offered spots if any of the original 5 accepted applicants reject their offers.  To make it a topical analogy; if Meryl Streep turned down her Oscar in favor of some hypothetical Super Oscar—perhaps a De La Hoya—then Viola Davis would be offered the regular Oscar instead.  If Viola Davis turned it down then I assume they’d just give it to John Williams because, you know, he’d give it a good home, right?

Schools usually never tell you how many total applicants there were or how many were accepted, and they never tell you what your “number in line” is in terms of the waitlist.  In Oregon State’s case, however, a secret little birdie told me there were over 360 applicants and out of that number, 4 were accepted—that’s a little over a 1% acceptance rate.  Apparently, I’m 4th on the waitlist.  And that’s great and a tremendous accomplishment of which I’m very proud, but after a certain point, close only counts in horseshoes and hand grenades… unless some of those horseshoes and hand grenades reject their offers to accept other horseshoe posts and targets, and then you’re the winning horseshoe and/or hand grenade. 

This also means that as Oregon State was one of the last programs that I applied to and Minnesota was one of the first,  I might have now heard from all who I’m going to hear from and the table is set for decision-making.  Maybe.  Maybe not.  I’d say from past experience that if I don’t hear from anybody else by the end of next week then no others callers will be com’n a’court’n. 

Regardless of whether I hear back from any other schools or if I get my Viola Davis acceptance into Minnesota or Oregon State’s MFA programs, I still have an outright acceptance in Mizzou’s MA program.  I know that if I get an MA in English that I’ll really have to get a PhD to make it worth anything, and now I also know that acceptance into Mizzou’s PhD program from its MA program is not automatic.  In fact it might be far from it.  And on top of that stack is the fact that I don’t exactly hate my life as it is and I’m not overly eager to leave it, though I don’t know if I’ll be able to say the same thing three years from now. 

As Old Blue Eyes once put it; “Fear is the enemy of logic”.  Damn your poignant silver tongue, Frank.  Damn it all to New Jersey.  

"Man-up, pansy-ass.  Man-up before I put out my cigarette in your eye and use your  gut as an ash tray."