who the heck knows anything, anyway

Tuesday, November 29, 2011

Oh, the odd places I look for comfort

At this point, you are all well aware that I am applying to grad schools. The number of hours spent on research, applications, and crying measures into the millions*--so what happens when I get back a bunch of rejections? Or if, for some reason, moving is suddenly not an option? Things like this happen. I'm primarily concerned about the first of those two, that dreaded "R" word. How does one steel herself against the pain that comes with that word, the sentiment that clearly reads "you are not good enough, we do not want you"? I'm already setting myself up for a lifetime of this feeling, so I can't say I'm particularly thrilled about the idea of schools--which I would be attending in order to improve myself--turning their backs on me as well. There are two things I have done to protect my pride:

1. Gave it my damnedest effort.
2. Made a list.**

The first needs no explanation (I should hope). The second probably does, so here goes:

I have a pretty sizable personal library at this point. If I were to estimate how much of my office-job paychecks went to building it, my brain might explode. Even while living in poverty (the kind where I could only afford to feed myself once a day because my rent was too high and I refused to take out loans for school), I could always scrounge up a few dollars for a trip to Powell's. Anywho, you'd assume my collection is mostly novels, but not so! While I do own 100+ novels, the other 350+ range from poetry to history to philosophy to comics to all my old childhood books about dinosaurs. Novels are the kind of thing that I used to take full advantage of via the library, and it wasn't really until college that I began my collection; a carefully curated one, at that, because I squirm at the very idea of people looking at my shelves and assuming that I like something that I don't. I am incredibly picky about fiction, and I don't mind admitting it. (Brag, brag, brag, it smells of rich mahogany, etc.)

I often wonder about the lives of all those authors. I'm relatively acquainted with little bits of trivia about them, but I had no idea who had degrees in what. Is an MFA my only chance to be great? I fretted.

Well, probably not. Nabokov wanted to study butterflies, and Kerouac was a drop out--I knew that much. What about the others, though? What an interesting opportunity for [non-scientific] experiment!

With this in mind, I decided to look up all of the authors on my novel shelf (with exceptions I will express in a moment) in order to see which ones held/hold advanced degrees in creative writing, and which do not. As I said, since this bit of my collection is only about 100 books deep with repeat authors (most important to my study: all authors whom I admire), it was a pretty manageable task.

The Guidelines:
To count in the "MFA (or Equivalent)" category, the author must have either an MFA, MA, or PhD in creative writing (specifically fiction) or literature. Journalism was not counted. The "No MFA" category contains everything from MAs in anthropology and PhDs in Law to having dropped out of school at 15. Authors were then weighted for a second count based on number of books by them that I own. Additionally, I believe Huxley was the oldest writer I included (b. 1894), so no Dickens, Collins, or Stevenson, etc. (MFAs are fairly new, and I don't know how popular literature degrees were before 1900--I wanted to play it safe and even out the competition a bit.) For research, I primarily used Wikipedia--though I did have to dig around the internet a bit for a few authors.

The point of this was originally just to satisfy my curiosity, but it has become more of a metaphorical "blankie" whose information I could use to assuage my spirits if The Nasty Ol' R decides to visit my house.

So what was the outcome? Well, of the 84 books (52 authors) included in my [non-scientific] study, 18 authors had an MFA or Equivalent, and 34 did not. The weighted scores are a bit more striking, however, with only two books added to the MFA-ers (end count: 20) and twenty-nine added to the non-MFAers (end count: 64). Though my initial reaction to this was rather, ah, negative***, after a deep breath or two I realized that this means something fantastic: First, an MFA is hardly a detriment; it will definitely help with networking and feedback-getting. The great bit, though, is the reminder that an MFA is not necessary. If a fancy school doesn't want me, it's not a death sentence. Far from it. Sure, it might take a bit more time for me to become amazing, but William Giraldi made an excellent observation in his Poets & Writers interview (one that I return to time and time again): "There's obscene pressure on writers to be the next hot young thing, as if literature were a modeling agency. But let's be honest: Most hot young things have nothing of value to say, and how could they? They haven't read enough. It took me twenty-five years of reading and twelve years of practice to produce a book worthy of being in the world."  (Yet another reason to read Busy Monsters by Mr. Giraldi. Dude is a serious pro.)

Well, there you have it, folks. Being great has very little to do with a college degree, and very much to do with your individual ability to kick ass (though being an autodidact certainly doesn't hurt). Makes you kind of hopeful, doesn't it?

[photo by me, of a section of my bookshelf]

*barely an exaggeration
**I know. You're totally surprised. Me? Making a list? How unusual!
***my original--notably irrational--thought-jump after seeing these results was "Why the #### am I applying for MFAs??"

Friday, November 18, 2011

you can guess what is to blame


Tuesday, November 15, 2011

more otter comics

If you can't tell which one is me, then we have probably never met. Nice to meet you: I'm the otter with freckles.

Monday, November 14, 2011

back to business

We're back stateside, y'all. Have I already said that? I don't remember. This past week (almost a week?) has been a blur of Welcome Back!'s and sad goodbyes and lots of jet-lagged drinking and living room re-organizing and angry throwing of to-do lists. SO MANY THINGS.

Daniel is going to blog, some time this week or next, with the last bits of our trip. I have other things to talk about! Like this:

1. I miss already superduper miss Stacy and Jon, who moved back to California this past weekend. Stacy (who writes this blog) and I have serious lady bromance (is there a better term for that yet? I'm too tired to be clever and think one up--and "homance" just won't cut it), and it makes me shed a million tears to know she's not a few blocks away from me anymore. But this gives me further incentive to travel, and she'll be back for business trips. Thank freaking goodness. This little consolation is the reason I haven't spent every minute crying on the floor with tissues shoved up my nose and a blanket thrown over my head.

2. Daniel and I, being a two-person decorating machine, made our living room look effin' rad yesterday. Daniel helped with the light-hanging in the "whimsy"-corner, and he held the floating box shelves in place while I nailed them. He's very helpful. I will keep him, I think. But enough nonsense, HERE ARE PICTURES:

well-organized corner

oooh, compartments! and my typewriter, Charlemagne

whimsy corner

I acknowledge that we still need some color in the Corner of Whimsy, and that the lighting was not perfect (but how could I show off the star lights if I took the pictures during the day? that's right--not possible), buuuuut our house looks pretty great, even (especially?) at night. Just sayin'. A clean house is good for productivity, too! Now that there's room on the writing desk, Daniel and I can both work at tables (writing desk was previously covered in all the stuff you see in those shelves, plus a bunch of other crap. not the best for working on). Having said that, I will not discuss the state of our kitchen at this time.

3. Grad school aaaaaapps! I've submitted the online bits for the first of five! I still have to buy printer paper and envelopes for supplemental materials, but my portfolio is also done (two pieces! woot!), as are my general statement of purpose (still have to make the specific ones, but hopefully that won't take me more than a couple of days) and CV. Though I am not foolish enough to state (let alone allow myself to think) that an end is in sight, I am all about celebrating this victory. Champagne tonight! Both for application successes and because...

4. Daniel and I are celebrating two years of joint awesomeness today! Two years is kind of a low-key milestone, so we're just going to drink champagne and maybe hold a meeting of the Inventing Club (as we do). There will be high-fives all through dinner in honor of this chill occasion (and because we've been working our butts off on those applications. people who survive applying to grad school deserve high fives AND free physical therapy to treat all the side-effects of perma-hunching--over books and computers and an assortment of indecipherable materials).

Well, that's about it. I think? Yep. Most of it, at least.

As a Post Script, here's a weird fruit I ate the other day! It looks like an eyeball.

Yum, right?

.peace out.

Wednesday, November 2, 2011


And if, for some insane reason, you do them within five minutes of each other, you will most definitely experience a full-blown existential crisis.

Tuesday, November 1, 2011

Peacocks and "Sparkling Elderflower Drink"

Hey all. Yesterday was a nice break from losing my mind over these applications (why is a personal statement really necessary?)--instead of working, which I probably should have done, I made a Halloween costume. Speaking of: Happy All Saints! And Happy Day-Before-Dia-de-los-Muertos! This is my favorite three-day stretch in the calendar, bar none. Go ahead, make assumptions about my character (you're probably right). Anyway, back to my story: I made a peacock costume using (a) clothes that are part of my limited, travel wardrobe, (b) tape, and (c) post-its that I found in the flat. The whole thing cost me 99 pence (the cost of tape from the Grog Shop across the street). Though it was no Wolverine--I totally outdid myself last year--it ended up being preeeeetty awesome. Sure, I was the only person dressed up at Daniel's office party, but whatever. I'm comfortable with this.

So here's how you make The Cheapest Costume Ever (Peacock used for this example):

First, assess the situation. What can you utilize? At home, you have endless resources: construction paper, paint, hair products, a closet full of crap, floss, etc. Use these things. If you're in a hotel (or short-let flat), your resources are further limited to: the clothes you brought, corn flakes, lamp shades, the occasional cooking implement, etc. I was lucky: I have blue hair, so the peacock comparison is already there, PLUS, I found those multi-colored post-it notes.

You can make two feathers from one square post-it. Basically, draw an S diagonally from corner to adjacent corner. Cut them out, and round out the remaining corner.

I had three colors available to me: blue and green (barely a shade apart, which was perfect) and pink. Each pink square made about four ovals for the middle bits. As you can see, I added some feathery details to the blues and greens. For the black feathery middles, draw a rough, upside-down heart. Then use a marker in upward strokes starting from the base to get a nice, varied texture. (I have a few drawing things with me, so I used a bold Faber-Castell artist pen).

Then, tape (or glue, if you have it--they didn't have glue sticks at the corner store) the pink middles to the base feathers.

Arrange them into a nice, tail-y shape!

Though the initial assembly was pretty time-consuming, it was super easy. The most difficult part (and it wasn't really that bad) was going from the un-taped tail shape to the final, taped one. This is the pile of loose-but-arranged feathers:

This is how I got them to stick together and, subsequently, stick to me: I made a T shape from thin cardboard (the sort used to make cereal boxes, etc) and began with the top feather. I then slid each layer of feathers underneath the previous, one by one, taping each feather into place (on the back--it was definitely slow, tedious work) as I went. The T slid nicely into the belt loops on my skirt, but wouldn't stay without a little extra help. I had a black belt with me, so I slid that over the top and it worked like a charm.

Finally, wear a lot of blue and use some eyeshadow to make yourself extra mysterious/bird-like.

"Okay," you're thinking. "That's cool and whatever, but what is that 'Sparkling Elderflower Drink' you mentioned in the title? That actually sounds interesting."

Sparkling Elderflower Drink is a phenomenon that I have encountered in every shop, from the co-op to the corner store. I bought this at the Grog Shop. It's delicious, and pretty, and I'm going to buy more to bring home with me:

First, I'm a sucker for things that look pretty, and also compliment me. More importantly, I love the light, floral flavor of elderflower. This drink is fairly soda-like, but not overly sweet or at all syrupy--in the same vein as those Dry sodas that are really popular right now, except it's delicious on its own*. There's also a lot of elderflower cordial, but I don't know how to drink that properly. All those Redwall books I read as a kid (and Mary Poppins, too!) left me under the impression that it was a kind of digestif, but the labels gracing the bottles suggest it's a liqueur only meant for mixing into other things. Imagine my dismay! I was pretty dismayed. Oh well. Plenty of time for learning about cordial after my grad applications are done.

Speaking of THAT nonsense: my list of schools has risen from four to the final count of six, which is pretty exciting (Mills and Pacific--the Pacific in Oregon--are the two newbies). Means yet more paperwork for me, sadly, but it's nice to have both a Low-Residency and a Bay Area school, just in case. The conjoined future of Daniel and I is full of mystery right now--where will we be in a year? We have absolutely no idea. Sometimes this air of the unknown is exciting, and sometimes it gives me a headache.

I'll have Daniel post about more of his adventures soon! He took a bunch of pictures of our temporary 'hood and his normal walk from here to FHI, which will be pretty fun to share with y'all.

I'm off to go eat some dubious English Chinese food, so, in the immortal words of Levar Burton: I'll see you next time.

*Pro tip: do not drink the Dry cucumber soda on its own. It is not delicious.