to SchoolNot Just a Great Flick
eat my hands. Im eating them right now. I eat them while
I write. In fact, a moment ago I tore a hangnail off my pinky
with my teeth. Blood has seeped over my nail and formed a pretty
red semi-circle along my cuticle. I write slowly and have a lot
of nervous energy, so its either this or chain smoke. But
I quit smoking. Im applying to grad school for writing.
If I get in I figure its better to have deformed hands than
wow, a masters in writing. Good for you," says my uppity
editor, a superstar of small talk when I see him at the printer.
And like most folks, he says this as if Id been bragging
about my high score on Galaga. I get the urge to scream, "I
want to create literature for the ages, you John Grisham-reading
school for writing, while not as ridiculous as grad school for
philosophy, is still as practical as buying a Hummer that gets
four miles to the gallon. And grad school for writing doesnt
exactly come with a money-back guarantee.
why an MFA in writing? Well, Im attempting to solve my quarter-life
crisis. Damn it if this phrase didnt enter the lexicon the
same month that I turned 24.
are you suffering a quarter-life crisis, you melodramatic buffoon?"
you ask. From least convincing reason to most:
pay $650 for a 19 x 12 studio in Woodside, Queens
(without knowing Chinese, Spanish, or drunk Irish).
work at a job where, if lucky, Ill see a two-percent raise
after two years.
consider myself a "writer," though I havent published
anything since my high school literary magazine.
still spend the majority of my time and money kissing sobriety
guess I can always take solace in that list e-mail I seem to get
every week. You know, the one assuring me that everyone is a floundering
20-something, and that Im not alone in being a confused,
broke copy machine expert. I want to believe that this lapse of
focus and identity is normal and, like masturbation when youre
14, ubiquitous and healthy. But theres that 23-year-old
making six figures designing video games and the girl who scored
the cushy marketing job for Phillip Morris, pulling in 60 Gs a
year removed from college. I want these things too; I just dont
know how to get them.
way of dealing with this, prior to the idea of grad school, was
to get stoned and watch Fight Club. Id also imagine myself
as someone possessing a higher degree of consciousness than, say,
75 percent of the souls I encounter while bar hopping. I sometimes
feel Im the only one who knows of Otto von Bismarck. I know
this may be some of the most pompous rationalizing since Clinton
defined "sexual relations," but I believe that if someone
hasnt evaluated themselves in the stretch between 23 and
27, they need to wake up and smell that damn coffee before its
Dont Call it an Application Process for Nothing
the last month Ive been engaged in the application process,
the most critical thinking Id done since
well, I guess
since the day after I blacked out and tried to remember where
Id left my cell phone and drugs.
application process in itself isnt particularly daunting;
with Columbia I didnt even have to sweat the GRE. Of course,
my lack of a GRE score kept me from applying to any other schools,
but Ive always been passive-aggressive. Why should grad
school be any different?
heres really all thats required (Please ignore the
silly second-person switch):
30 pages of writingYou dig up two of your rough short stories
and an excerpt from your Great American Novel (a literary breakthrough,
if only youd finished it two years ago, three years after
you began). Then you revise until the word "revise"
sounds as appealing as the word "chokefart." Revise
until revising consists of coming full circle to what you had
originally, before your first revision fucked up everything.
1,000-word literary response paperInstructions: Respond
to a work of literature. Nice and specific, considering you havent
written anything of the kind in three years. And when you did,
it was up-all-night delirious, chomping Vivarin and finishing
at 10:42 AM when the paper was due at 10.
Two-page personal statementWhy do you want to attend Columbia?
You must master stretching "I want to learn" into two
pages, avoiding sentences like, "I really dont know
what else to do with myself."
College transcriptsYou ask Undergraduate U. to send an extra
copy for you to peruse and rediscover you actually got Cs in your
creative writing classes. Appropriate sitcom gimmick: abrupt riotous
laughter, then instant transition to woeful weeping.
Three recommendationsE-mail past professors or advisors
and kiss their asses into remembering you, then watch as they
fuck up the strict Columbia instructions you implored them to
follow. Is it that hard to sign the envelopes seal?
$90 application fee!%#$!@#$&@!
ex-girlfriend, who works in admissions at the University of Dayton,
said she knew someone in Columbias grad school admissions.
I was ecstatic and not above such nepotism; one proud sucker in
a million makes it without help in NYC. But really, what was she
going to do? Toss the guys salad? Then she told me what
my dumbass should have known anyway: Columbia is the fourth-ranked
MFA writing program in the nation and only accepts 10 percent
of applicants. With my 2.9 GPA, I was highly enthusiastic of my
it was gut-check time. Did I really want to move to Harlem, work
some demeaning night job, and bust my brains, all the while knowing
that, with no savings, Ill feel guilty eating anything that
costs more than a McDonalds Value Meal.
was so caught up in the prospect of getting in, the wailing around
to anyone who would listen, that reality had no bearing. I was
never certain that grad school was the answer, but fuck if it
didnt sound admirable and lofty. The hip excuse, "Sorry
I never called back. Ive been busy perfecting my sample
writings for Columbia" had replaced the slightly more pathetic,
"Ive been way too hung over to call anyone lately."
maybe Ill be accepted, if only because Im half Puerto
Rican and shrewdly marked "Puerto Rican" on the application.
Maybe I wont even go because my Great American Novel will
be on the bestsellers list and Ill be too busy dissing
Oprahs Book Club. But either way Ive won, because
Ive shared this experience with you, dear reader, and Im
one step closer to figuring out whatever it is Im supposed
to figure out.