Tuesday, October 30, 2007

Personal Statement/Statement of Purpose

One of the things I've found incredibly difficult about applying for graduate school is composing the personal statement and statement of purpose for my six applications, respectively. The differences aren't supposed to be as subtle as their similar names might suggest. The personal statement is, for the most part, supposed to be open ended, with Brown going so far as saying that it can include my "hopes, fears, and dreams." Meanwhile, the statement of purpose is supposed to be more scholarly, really exploring why I want to pursue a Master's degree, the research I'm interested in doing, and, to some extent, how all that plays into the bigger picture of my career aspirations.

It almost seems silly that it's been so difficult. I know why I want to be a writer, I know why I want to pursue a MFA, and I know how all these things play into my past and future, mostly because I've been experiencing it all my life. I don't remember what on earth I wrote for my essays on my undergrad apps, but I don't remember feeling like getting into college was somehow larger than just myself. I feel that way now. I feel like there are avenues in my history that have led me to this moment, and I'm certain, with more tangible certainty than I had seven years ago, that when all this is over my life will be set on a course that will be so radically different from what it has been. There's a certain sense of permanence, of promise. I'm standing at the threshold of my adulthood, and I'm mature enough to understand that. A year ago I was considering applying to grad school just for the sake of it, but now it's something totally different. Maybe I'm wrong, but I'm ready for my life to change for the better. The swirling gases of my interests and ideas are taking on physical shape and the things I want out of my life are finally dangling in front of me. I'm ready to reach for them, and at moments it's scary.

But compared to what I was doing two years ago? I was waiting tables and drinking way too much chardonnay after my shifts ended and I was auditioning because I was in New York and that's what I'd somehow convinced myself that's what I wanted to do. I was wasting away, not challenging myself, flailing in every direction. I don't want to take anything away from those times because I couldn't make it to wherever here is without them, but I had no clue what I wanted, not out of my life, not out of myself, not out of my relationships. It was a meaningless existence, and so I wonder, what is this personal statement? How I rebounded from that?

How do you put into words that you're a writer? Can any of us pinpoint it? I remember writing a scene in the first playwriting class I ever took. I wrote this very quiet, very sweet scene and when it was read aloud in class, the scene itself jumped from the page. It was like I could feel the breeze and the headlights on the highway (all part of the setting, mind you). It was more real and more true than anything I'd ever done in my entire life, and that power shook me, and I've been hooked ever since. I can't not write. I am not myself if I've gone too long without putting something down on paper. My brain clouds up, my mood dampens. I'm just awful to be around, but when I'm creating something, all is right with the world because everything that is so bad is seen through the filter of possibility granted to every writer brave enough to view the world through the filter of his imagination.

I love The League. I love how we've forced each other to write despite our day jobs. I love the one to two pages I've been able to write per night, even if I don't always see my ideas through before scratching the itch of a new one. However, I've been at this pace for almost three years, and I know that if I can't retreat away from this city, from my job, from just about everything and devote two to three years to just writing, I'm only going to get so good, and I feel like my ceiling is rapidly approaching. It's not a fair statement, really. I would eventually break through, but slowly, painfully, and I have too many stories to tell to waste so much time.

I was talking to my mother about a month back and she, more or less, speculated aloud whether writing wasn't just some pipe dream, my flavor of the month. I was at a loss for words because my parents have never been anything but supportive of me. With most of everything I could possibly say stuck in my throat at the time, I told her that writing is the only thing I can do. It took me a minute to spit it out, and the words were said so exhaustively that they just had to be true.

I wouldn't say I'm in a hurry to get on with some grand next phase of my life, but I've always been someone that doesn't like to meander. I like to pick a direction and go, to keep moving, to learn along the way. I observe people out of train windows and at stop lights while sitting in the back of a cab. I piddled and rambled for enough time to realize what it is I need to do with this time I've been given. So when I write these statements to these admissions boards, could I be this candid? Can I say all this? Does anyone care?

This entry is proof that you can write a forever about something that feels so emotionally obvious but is so ironically difficult to corral with words.

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