Sunday, November 29, 2009
Kinda not feeling this grad-school application process:
I need to submit a 10-page writing sample if I intend to apply to the Germanics PhD program at Washington University. It’s annoying that I also have to take the GRE. I doubt seriously that I will finish both by the deadline. Which makes me appear lazy, and anything but a competitive candidate. And honestly, I feel less competitive even though my resume is now stronger. Stronger, I would venture, than many, even most, other applicants. Why not feeling competitive then? Something broke the wrong way in me. Long have I hoped, daydreamed, that one day something would snap, and presto, a Chell untethered, taking his place among the geniuses of the age. But no. There was no snap, as it turns out, just a slow developing. And what have I become? That is the question. Less obvious than what I was before, that’s for sure. More unusual. Less intelligent perhaps--I’ve definitely lost some learning at least. Unimpressed, less patient; the rise of vice spurred by a doubt of virtue’s asset. Lazy, addicted, barren, enlightened. I am convinced of something more important. I can almost hear the uncanny ahoy! sounding from all the little places most of us long ago forgot. I find myself starring at things I’ve seen ten-thousand times before: little balls of dust or a rotting leaf, the accumulation of hair in the bathtub drain, a light socket or a bit of faded graffiti. These things are not new, and neither do I see them in any sort of new light. They retain, in my unthinking, pondering-less gaze, all of their mundanity. What do I see? Why are these objects so captivating? It’s not nausea, although thinking about it might make me nauseous. It is most surely not something philosophical! The best I can say is that it is absence. That these things are in fact absent. And that I am merely curious that they persist nevertheless. If I were more inclined to tidy up a bit, then perhaps they’d cease to not exist and I’d know just what to do: throw them out! But being indifferent to their usefulness, and content to just let them be, I find myself confused, from time to time, that they are there at all. And I stare at these objects for long moments. Hoping and dreading secretly that the insanity they promise would hurry up and be manifest. What do I do then? I run. I run as fast as I can into my head. And there I slay dragons, become a cybernetic god, have carnal relations with women I’ll never know, write a novel, open an underground club where we plot the overthrow of a fascist USA and generally avoid what must be, I am told, death.
So is this an appropriate beginning for a grad-school writing sample? Or, more importantly, could I keep this up for ten long pages? I’d hate to seem some whimpering bitch, lazy, and so-fuck-it my attitude. Worse still: pretentious; a kind of “academics is so blasé, and this is my middle finger to your decadence…” I do not want to seem to be saying that, because then I'd never be accepted. And besides, who wants to be that guy? Because that guy’s an asshole in all the wrong ways. And this raises another very good question: do I have any choice? It is my experience, as well as yours, that people don’t ever choose who they are. Annoying people (an easy example) know, despite all signs otherwise, that they are annoying people. Of course they feel bad about it! They hate themselves sometimes, and would rather be somebody else. So if I am a pretentious asshole who projects his own doubts about his academic potential onto the institution he’s afraid will fail to recognize him, can I be held accountable? The answer is yes, if said projection takes the form of my grad-school application.
(It is important, before I go any further, to clarify that I am not an annoying person. The other we are still not sure about, although I think my show of self -perspicacity ought to establish some confidence against the assumption that pretension-hiding-insecurity is in any way my defining characteristic. And quite the opposite actually; I’m the sort of person who looks down, averts the eyes, when others laugh at my jokes. The implicit compliment of laughter--that I’ve brought to others pleasure--is wonderful but above all embarrassing. However, annoying I am not! The annoying person from the paragraph above was meant only as an example, not some accidental elucidation of another suspected character flaw. I digress.)
Where to go now? I’m just about three pages down. If I actually submit this, I’d have to be crazy or use a fake name. Who knows, maybe its uncommon enough to be refreshing, but most likely it’ll be interpreted “not-taking-this-seriously.” That is not the case; by the time I finish writing this I will have already re-read it upwards of 100 times. This writing-sample is really an exercise in writing, and as such I hope it will not be so quickly disregarded as something insincere! Writing is serious. If for no other reason than the difficulty required to put all the little morphemes together in significant order. And also the constant disagreements over possible revisions, the frustrating minor changes that already appear somehow in the next sentence prompting undo and again more conflict! The labor reminds one of swimming through molasses, or that dream-state where our most desperate punches are also our least effective!
You: “The act of writing may very well be difficult, and therefore serious. About this we have no disagreements. What is, however, disagreeable to us, is your failure to take seriously your task: to write an acceptable writing-sample!”
Me: “At the risk of sounding like a smart-ass, this is a sample of something I’ve written and so, ipso facto, a writing-sample. It was never up to me to decide on its acceptability. But I am no fool, and I understand your concern. However, I have nothing scholarly of appropriate length to submit. And the reason is, in all my years of study I’ve never written anything honest. Every essay I produced was always already contaminated; compromised for the politics of undergraduate grade-grubbing! This present writing-sample may be little more than barely comprehensible, unthematic splatter writing, but at least its honest! Penned from that place where my words come as authentically as I’m able, and hence more apropos to your assessment of my candidacy than any paper already written for another purpose could be!”
And then there were four. To do six more seems an almost insurmountable task. And so i'll leave this for the present a fragment, and return to it hopefully never...