Friday, October 10, 2008

Thin Envelopes

I got a letter from Lesley University. The envelope was incredibly thin - was there anything in there? I opened it without thinking to hesitate.

They'd recieved my application, my letters of recommendation had arrived, but I was missing a BA Waiver.

What's a BA Waiver? I didn't know. I searched among the various forms on the website and found nothing. I called the woman who signed the letter. Still nothing. I got another letter, dated differetly but otherwise exactly the same. I called the Graduate Admissions office repeatedly, and checked the website over and again - nothing. Finally, I called Stephen Cramer, the director of the Creative Writing Program.

He remembered our previous conversation, the one in which he said, hurry up. It made me feel good that he'd remembered me. I asked if he could give me feedback on the sample I'd submitted, explaining that I was waiting to hear from Graduate Admissions about a BA Waiver and, if my work didn't warrant the effort, would rather know now than after taking this additional step.

A BA Waiver?! He exclaimed. You get that from me! You don't have your BA? I didn't realize that. I assumed, as is the case at times, that you decided not to go through with the process, as I never got your application.

Of course, without getting my application, he could not discern my need for a BA Waiver, or facilitate my getting one. Unfortunately, at this point in their process, they're candidates have been selected. However, he would review my sample again after the June residency, and we could just consider me an applicant for January. This actually puts me in a very good position for the next residency, he explained. He told me to have the graduate office send him my resume and to email my writing samples. I did.


It may seem this would have been a very hard blow. It wasn't really. After I didn't get my application out to Bennington I began to establish a plan in the event that I didn't get accepted by Lesley for June. I would apply to Antioch and Bennington, maybe a few of the schools I'd crossed off my list, and research other possibilities, essentially applying to a good number of schools the second time around, more like what seems to be tradition. I began to consider the plans I'd made for after I graduate, and how they would work out if I graduated in January 2011. I determined that the timing may actually be a better were I to graduate then. So this was fine. I would probably have pursued a deferrment were I accepted for June anyway.

I agreed that now I was ahead of the game instead of backed against the wall. I could reach out to potential recommenders well in advance of the application deadlines. Nehassaiu already told me that if I needed any letters in August that she'd be able to provide them.

Stephen Cramer sent me an outline of the BA Waiver process so that I would be mentally prepared for what I'd have to do, should they consider taking that step a good idea. I should do nothing until he'd had time to read my work - after the June residency. If they wanted to accept me, then they would undergo the BA Waiver process. It is an extensive process that is required by the university in order for Lesley to allow the department to accept anyone without a degree.

So I waited, with plans to go ahead and apply to a few more places come summer. I figured I could turn Bennington's application in well in advance, since it was pretty much already done. All I needed to do was get transcripts and two other recommenders. There was, therefore, no reason I shouldn't have the application in months in advance of the deadline, right?


Monday, October 6, 2008

Signed Sealed Delivered...

I talked to Vivian, my very honest bestie, to discern if there was something in me I had missed, some part of my efforts to evolve that had failed so badly, they warranted Dianna's treatment of me. I discussed some of my particular weaknesses, finding an accord: that nothing really added up to her conclusion. Then, I cleared my head of all the mucus that had compacted itself inside of it, and moved on. I set my application to Bennington, on which I'd worked so hard, to the side, and returned my focus to Lesley.

My essay, my writing sample for both schools were similar, but not the same. Still, working from the first was easier than working from scratch. I rewrote my essay to Lesley, which had to be much shorter than Bennington's. As any writer knows, shortening is always harder than proliferating. I got it done though, working with the same determination I had been for the previous months when I began to work on my Bennington application.

Because I write in three forms, fiction, non-fiction and poetry, I felt the need to represent all three in my application to Bennington, in spite of the fact that I was applying only in Non-Fiction. At Lesley I was allowed to apply in however many fields I chose, and so I decided to apply in Non-Fiction and Poetry. I believed my work in fiction, though more plentiful, was my weakest. This was a hard choice. On one hand I wanted to get in, and felt that I should represent my best work to better ensure admission. However, I want to enter a writing program to improve my work, and really wanted to work in the area that I felt was weakest.

The truth, though, that I always have to return to, is that my fiction pieces are primarily biomythographies. Part of my writing of fiction is related to my love for the genre, part of it is my desire to hide behind it. It's so much easier to tell certain stories to the world and pretend you aren't talking of yourself. Fiction for me is akin to that "friend" we always get advice for. Maybe, I had to admit, the reason my fiction is so much weaker is because I have yet to have a fictious story to tell. Maybe I need to tell my story and get on with it, own up to it.

Aside: The samples of non-fiction were excerpts from a memoir I've been working on called Honest: A Break Up Memoir. I originally pedalled it as a novel. One of my readers challenged me as such: "It seems more like a true story than fiction..." What was I to say? I decided to just girl up and brave it out. Now, year having passed, since the incidents detailed, it seems a bit easier to do, but only with that memoir. I had to battle against the urge to write yet my next difficult story into a work of fiction, but that's a later post...

Bennington required I think 20 to 25 pages of non-fiction. What I decided to do (risky) was submit 20 pages of non-fiction, three pages of fiction and three poems (two pages). I figured, if they discarded the extraneous items, I'd still have submitted the minimum, that with those items I did not exceed the maximum number of pages, and that if they reviewed the materials, they would give insight into my particular style of writing. But, of course, this well thought out sample did not get submitted.

For my application to Lesley, I met the maximum number of required pages in both non-fiction and poetry. They allow you to submit both in one application. I refrained from submitting in fiction also. Sometimes I regret this. It would have been informing, the reaction from the review team. But now it's too late for that, right? Kinda.

I went to Teddy, my second recommender, taking the form and having him complete it on the spot. He sealed it, and I mailed it. Nehassaiu mailed her recommendation, and I mailed my application.

I want to say that, while I was working out my whole writing sample concern, I did call the school. I spoke with several people and they were terrific about answering my questions and providing me with information I didn't know I needed. They did let me know, however, that I was a bit on the late side for June consideration. I rushed my packet out.

I have to say that there is something to be said for that feeling. I took that hefty envelope to the post office, they weighed it and I paid to have it delivered. I left the weight of years of hesitation and self doubt on that post office scale. I had taken a long desired step toward a future scribed with deep blu letters.

Sunday, October 5, 2008

From Shuga to Shyt


Dianna, my brilliant writer friend who is working on her MEd, who teaches at the independent school, is not to be found. We had arranged to meet up on one day around the end of February so I could give her the recommendation form. She would see my new place, and we would ride by some spots I saw around here, that had apartment for rent signs out. She was thinking of moving. Now, I couldn't get her on the phone. I tried calling just about several times every day, but thought little of it. She tends not to answer her phone, check her messages.

On March 10, I dropped by her house and put an envelope in her mailbox with the form inside when she didn't answer the door. I was dissapointed that we hadn't talked or hung out, but there was time for that later. I needed this form completed. I only had three weeks.

Later that day, I got this email from her:

I'm sorry about the late notice and all; I was really hoping that you found someone else to write your letter of recommendation. I don't feel comfortable doing it-felt put on the spot when I saw the attachment at the bottom of an e-mail you sent me. I take complete responsibility for not discussing this in a timely manner and do hope that it hasn't caused to much of an inconvenience. To be honest with you, I suspect getting me to write you a letter of recommendation was the primary, ulterior motive why you asked for my help with your personal statement and writing sample. That may not be the case, but that's how I feel-whenever we talk you always seem to want something from me. I know that avoidance wasn't the answer, but it's how I decided to handle the situation. I'm sorry, and hope that you'll find someone else who can then fax the recommendation. Given your criteria was a fellow writer, it shouldn't be that hard; and I do truly wish you the best as your pursue your graduate studies.
What the fluck!? I can't even think of anything else I've asked her to do for me. My immediate response:


If you don't feel comfortable writing my letter of recommendation that's fine, of course you shouldn't. I don't think that I understand though, why I would need an ulterior motive to ask for your help with either of these two things. I don't know if it was naive of me, but I assumed that unless you didn't have the time, you would gladly write a letter of recommendation for me, and that you would gladly review my writing or whatever, as I would for you or Thom or Neh, or Jacqueline or even Sam, without hesitation.

I asked the same two things of every person who I approached, for support with the writing sample and essay and for a letter of recommendation. You got a different email than everyone else, in which I asked for everything all at once, because I erronously left your email out, which I realized when I reviewed the list it of people the email had been sent to. I composed your email seperately, may not have said everything, but I really didn't think it was a big deal.

I don't understand this, and I don't appreciate it. I would have had no problem with you saying no. For instance, Nehassaiu said she couldn't write my rec for Bennington, but is writing my rec for Lesley because there is enough time, Lesley's rec
being due April 1 instead of March 1. Jacqueline said she had time to review my essay only. Langston said he would try to review my sample. Janice said she didn't feel comfortable writing the rec letter because she didn't feel qualified. I was fine with whatever people said they could or couldn't do. I never ask things of people with an attitude that they have an obligation.

No, I haven't asked anyone else because I thought I could count on you, and I won't be able to get a rec and therefore, I just won't be applying. So I really don't appreciate you're avoidance, and you taking full responsibility doesn't mean anything really, because this was something really big and important for me, and those words "I take complete responsibility for not discussing this in a timely manner" don't change the fact that now all the work I've done is down the drain and I cannot apply. I'm fucking pissed off. I'm pretty simple Dianna, I don't really work with ulterior
motives. I wish people would just be fucking frank. I learned from you the importance of being present. But whatever.

I do whatever I can in almost every instance to help people, and when I don't ask people for help I get fussed at and asked why I act like I don't deserve the same kind of support that I like to give other people. Well this is why, because I don't feel like dealing with someone else's bullshit, her own baggage that causes her to interpret my actions negatively and try to make me out to be some kind of bad and using person. Yes, I always intended to ask you to help me with all of that, and whatever you could offer I would have appreciated. And whatever you said no to I would have understood. But this, this is insulting, hurtful and mean. You are wrong for doing this to me, I don't deserve the perspective or the treatment. Don't do the rec, I won't ask
for your help again, and I'll just start preparing to apply to programs in

This application to grad school was important to me for many reasons. It represented follow through, I was finally following through with my ongoing plan and desire to go to school for writing. Also, it represented my ability to pursue a path and forge a future that I could enjoy and that would lower my neediness, strenthen my independence. I don't want to be a burden to anyone. And I don't want to end up having supported and nurtured my daughter only so that she can be burdened with having to support me because I haven't been able to establish a structure of consistant stability.

Note: Being an artist, I found it impossible to exist in the typical life work situations for long. I don't desert, but somehow it never works out. The world keeps sending me back to a space in which I belong, but I get hungry in that space. I must get to a point at which I will produce works that I feel comfortable putting out, and establish a life work scenario that my spirit will approve.

I did not deserve Dianna's decision and, quite honestly, I felt she should have sucked it up and kept her commitment. This, I think, was the wrong time, the wrong way to confront whatever issues she'd had with me. And clearly, her response was related more to previous interactions and not this one request. To this day I don't understand what she accused me of in her email at all. Why would I need to be manipulative to get a letter of recommendation? We are supposed to ask people to write rec letters, that's the nature of rec letters. How does my asking her to read my writing sample and essay get me any closer to getting a letter of recommendation from her? How does the first cause the second to happen any better, any surer? Anyway, who would write a letter of recommendation for a writing progam and not review or refamiliarize themselves with your writing? I'm still baffled.

I had such a high regard for Dianna, and always percieved her as having a great ability to confront situations directly, but I guess that's just perception, and we all have our weaknesses. Like me, she too is flawed. In this instance, her weakness was having a grave impact on me. Of course, I intended to apply to Lesley, and if that didn't work out, I would apply again to programs in August. I thought, maybe I'll even apply to a quadrillion programs like everyone else does. So much farher in advance, I believed that at least I'd have success getting rec letters.

Dianna's perception was invalid, I lacked respect for her decision, and it hurt my deeply. After I sent that response to her email (much of a second and final response is actually contained in this post), I cried hysterically until my nose began to bleed. Before I could get myself together, my nose was bleeding out of both nostrils and my mouth, and blood was dripping from my left eye. I never spoke to her again.

Fluckin Britch!

Saturday, October 4, 2008

On My Waaaaaayyyy!!!

Of course, since I've been applying for MFA's for years, I have already sent manuscripts of poetry and fiction to friends asking them to read them. They took time from their busy schedules to review and comment in detail on my work - that I hadn't sent anywhere. This time, I couldn't bring myself to turn to anyone until I was sure that I would apply. I rolled my sleeves.

I worked on Bennington first because their deadline was a month earlier. I completed the application form easily, got my transcripts and began to work on my writing sample. I could not spend much time on that sample. I knew myself well enough to be sure I would never, ever send it in if I tried to get it "finished." (You know "finished," that ever allusive (for me) point at which you stop editing a work.) I focused on changing some tense choices I'd made when I first started working on the memoir, and eliminated a punctuation style I felt was not really adding to the emotion of the text as I wanted it to. Then I turned to my essay.

I was nearing the April 1st deadline, and had not requested any letters of recommendation. I wasn't going to until I had my essay done. In my mind, (although this probably was not the case) my essay had to be absolutely perfect. This had to be "finished." This was a shorter work, and could demonstrate how strong the work in my writing sample could be if I had some support. The work I couldn't allow myself to do on my manuscript was exactly what I felt compelled to do with my essay. I worked on it non-stop for about a week and a half. First draft I did in a sitting or two. Then I edited it about six times, until I got it where I felt it was tight. Finally, excitedly, on February 22nd (or thereabouts) I sent out an email to my friends.

My request was that they do any or all of the following:

review and critique my writing sample
review and critique my essay
write a letter of recommendation

In the email request I included the writings and the letter of recommendation form.

It hit me later that day that I hadn't included Dianna in that group email request. Dianna was a member of 12th House, a writer's group to which I'd also been a part. She'd actually been my writing partner. She was on sabbatical and was in a Master's program at University of Pennsylvania. She was a teacher in the middle school of a great independent school in here in Philly. She was brilliant and I couldn't believe I'd forgotten her. I sent her the writings and she quickly agreed to review my work. I began to get responses to my first email.

From Janice, a graduate of the University of Pennsylvania who wrote but never work-shopped, I got a few lines that said "writing samples sound good, essay sounds good!" She said she didn't feel qualified to write a rec letter.

Jacqueline, a current PhD student who was at that time in a Master's program (history) said she wouldn’t do a letter of recommendation. She did give me awesome feedback on my essay. The primary feedback was: You're putting yourself down too much. You undermine every good thing you say about yourself. Stop it! You're hurting my feelings! She then explained how she felt I was doing this, and boy was she right! Essentially, everywere in my essay I said, I did this thing, but it wasn't that great.

I began immediately to rewrite the essay. In the meantime, I got a message from Nehassaiu, my sister in New York, an actress who also has an MFA in poetry from Brown. The schedule from her shows would not make it possible for her to get to me by Bennington's deadline. This was disappointing because we were together in the writer's group 12th House longest, being among it’s founding members. She is among those who know me best as it relates to my becoming a student in an MFA program. However, I was happy to learn that with Lesley's deadline being a month later, she could write that recommendation. And Lesley only required two (Bennington, three.)

Dianna gave me her feedback, and between her and Jacqeline's responses, I pulled together a very tight essay. But, I had no recs.

Two of my former workshop buddies had professional affiliations with the programs to which I was applying. I didn't want that intervention, and they didn't want that conflict. Still no recommenders for Bennington’s ever approaching deadline.

I began to panick. I couldn't think of who to ask. Then I thought of another former 12th House member, Matt. Matt was a graduate of Columbia's MFA program, author of three published novels. We hadn't corresponded in about a year, but I didn't think that mattered. It matters very much, however, if his email address has changed. We couldn't find him.

Dianna never mentioned one thing about the recommendation letter. She hadn’t said yes, she hadn’t said no. Had I asked her? I sent my work to her in a separate email. I called and it turned out I never did ask. She said yes, she could do it, and she could do it for both Bennington and Lesley. Yes! One down, two to go.

I thought suddenly of another artist, Teddy. Although his area was visual art, he was immersed in poetry, and had collaborated on projects with various writers, most often Amiri Baraka. He knew and could speak to my work. I called him, and he agreed to write a rec. Yes! Yes! So now I had just one more to find - but the deadline was speeding down on me like a runaway train, (or some other overused metaphor.)

Finally, Janice, aware of my troubles volunteered to write my third letter. I don't know why she felt unqualified. She completely was, and is a hell of a writer. So, Yes! Yes! Yes! I was now on my way, and not a moment to soon, being only a month away from Bennington's deadline. I could now turn to my attention to Lesley.