Monday, November 30, 2009

Signs of Application Season

So this is going to be a short post, because, amazingly, it's the final week of the term before exams / portfolios are due. I've got work to do!

I had to take a moment though to reflect on this time last year -- a reflection prompted by the terrifying sight of file boxes in the conference room of the Alder Building (U Oregon Creative Writing HQ) labeled "MFA APPLICATIONS." These four, terrifying boxes prompted in me a quick memory of the preparation, the worry, the sweat, the heartache and uncertainty surrounding application season for me last year.

Seeing them, I also felt a bit of awe at how much work goes into choosing each class (two student aids have been assisting our department business manager with organizing / preparing for the influx of materials...) Last, I felt the warm flush of gratitude -- that last year I was one of the ones who made it in, that despite the hard work and occasional frustrations that have cropped up this first term, I'm so happy to be a poet in U Oregon's Program. I'm exhausted. But I love my teaching placement. I have 17 new poems (in ten weeks), new amazing people in my life to share this strange journey with, and most importantly - for me, I'm beginning to feel my soul thrive. My writing's on track; I'm chasing elusive happiness. I made it out of the application box and all the chaos was worth it.

First years, I hope you're able to look back with awe, too. Applicants, best of luck to each of you.


  1. 17 NEW poems!! Good lawd!! Congrats on that. *counting my new poems, stopping way before 17*

    Way to do what you went there to do!

    You know I am all smiles for you. For us both! I am so glad that I had you to share with during the application process. You're an amazing person, Monica. A soul like yours deserves to thrive. (sorry other less supportive, understanding, and pivotal souls lol) got me all teary eyed lol.

  2. Well said, Monica. And go team productiveness!

  3. Awesome post I do declare. I think we share a lot of the same feelings, and propensity for productivity...JESUS I HAVE THIRTY POEMS...most of them need a lot of work though. My problem is always slowing down long enough to actually do the revisions. Yay for making it into the box!

  4. Very well said! It is amazing to look at where I was a year ago, and I am so glad to be where I am now. I don't have 17 new poems, but I am happy with what I've accomplished/am still accomplishing this semester.

    Good luck to all the applicants, and to all the first years as we finish this first term!

  5. Okay, I counted. I have 11 poems. lol

  6. When I walked into the departmental office today, Kelli, the program coordinator, was taking calls from applicants to our program. They were stressing out about GRE scores and letters of rec. All I could think was "awwwwwwwwwww........"

  7. I know! I saw a few personal statements on the program assistant's desk!

  8. Sans a few last touches and customizations for schools, I have completed my personal statement.

    To anyone also in my boat, let me just vent for a bit about this devilish document. To those not in the trenches I probably seem like a whiny crank, but you now typing in your names below the heading "personal statement" know what I'm talking about.

    OK, so the schools generally set this up as a goals and experience statement. For any normal job or endeavor, this is a request for a "cover letter." You know, "I'm qualified because..." You've got your strengths, you know what you want to do, and darn it, you're going to do it and it's going to be great for everyone involved! Yeah!

    The devilish part comes in when some schools throw in that little clause, something like "we want to hear your voice" or "we read a million of these things; make yours stand out." The schools that do say this plant the seed of doubt for the ones that don't. You are applying to a creative writing program, right? You're bringing the stuff, right?

    And there's also that other, nagging, devilish doubt: What if my sample gets me into the top ten percent for X dream program's committee? What if it's down to the wire? And then they go to the personal statement and it's...too dry...too thin...too "original"? Will it get me to that top five? Will it hold me back? Now I'm thinking like I'm running for class president or trying to win the beauty contest. Just one more layer of Vaseline on my teeth will give me that winner's edge. For freaking creative writing! One more brush-out and I'll be the prettiest pony. I can't believe I'm thinking like this.

    They want you to work cross purposes. Discuss your professional/academic qualifications and serious goals, but don't sound like everyone else who really respects the teachers and the program, wants to challenge and grow their writing in workshop, and wants to combine writing and teaching as a career. Aren't I pursuing creative writing as an alternative to such human resource-y dreck?

    Breathe, breathe. At least I did not talk about "aligning" anything. I did not enthuse about "positive synergies." I didn't go cute, gimmicky, or "creative" either (a tidbit: people I talked to who'd been at programs and talked admissions there said high-risk "creative" approaches sometimes worked, but usually fell flat). So no narration from the point of view of my typewriter. I threaded their needle as best I could. And I liked what I came up with, despite whinging the whole way through.

    But darn. Durn. Dang. What a pain! I am a professional writer (in marketing), I write every day, and what a pain! I have helped several artists write various statements of purpose and done a good job too, and what a pain! Complaining to my long-suffering wife this morning, I even used the writing-as-birth cliche, which I really dislike (writing's a great and consuming struggle, but birth is birth, folks).

    I suppose, as my aunt said, if it's easy, you're probably not doing a good job. And I'm pleased with my work. But all you other statement-writers, I feel you. Some of us are no doubt competing for spots and dollars, but today we're all comrades in suffering. My personal statement to you: Right now, those sadistic committees can all go to blazes! I salute you!

  9. I hear you, Jamie. The personal statement was much more challenging than I thought it would be. I too obsessed. I would change it now if I still had the option because we can always say things differently. I'm glad I am done. I opted for a friendly, but professional SOP. I figured that my two memoir-ish samples provided plenty of interesting information about me. I didn't want to be too cute in my SOP. I wanted my sample to be creative and my SOP to answer the questions more or less as asked.

    I salute you back. It was hell. Good luck!

  10. Thanks, Kerry! That's the funny and most ridiculous part of the whole thing: I went through all the agony, and now I've got a pretty typical personal statement. Thoroughly adequate. I like it just fine though.

    My only personal touch was to try and make it extra crisp.


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