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.
This week in books 7/14/17
4 weeks ago