Here’s a drawing I did for a workshop I helped lead with Kathleen Goldfarb at 826 Seattle. The students were asked to create an annotated drawing of their favorite place in or around Seattle, relating to a specific month that they were given. We were a couple students short, so I had to pick one. I wish I had finished samples of the students’ work to show you, but Kathleen’s got ’em. Maybe later I’ll get a calendar and throw it up here.
Meantime, it’s still December. Always a wistful month, filled with moments of reflection and huddled comfort. Still no snow to speak of since the flurry a month ago; just week after week of rain. When we get intermittent cloud breaks, usually in the afternoon, the light does glorious things. It appears quite literally as golden rays pouring through the gaps in the blue clouds.
I’m still working on graduate school applications. Previous applications asked for either a personal statement or a statement of purpose, the terms being used more or less interchangeably by certain programs to mean “an autobiographical sketch in which you also discuss your writing and goals.” Now though I am applying to a program that requires both, as separate essays. Trying to surgically extricate one essay from another is daunting to say the least. I feel like King Solomon, but without the bluff. Where do I make the incision? Does this dangly part belong in the first essay or the second—it has to do with the journey that brought me here (okay: the personal statement then), but discusses my writing experiences in preparation for study, related to my intent as a writer (fine then: the statement of purpose). Can I leave the same passage in both essays? Of course they’ll notice.
Do I want to emphasize that I had a sum of six words published in a bestselling anthology? If I do the math (six words out of, oh, I’d say about two hundred thousand), then I’ve contributed .00003 percent of a bestseller. It ain’t bupkis, I tell myself. It’s worth something. In terms of experiential value, it gave my ambition that little push to go do something bigger. (Like ten words, nothing huge, we’ll take it from there.) How do you measure the size of the push that experience gave me? I can play it up for the sake of brevity and narrative control: the six-word memoir was a fun but thin experience that rekindled my desire to make a lasting footprint on the basis of more than six words.
Or I can equivocate, demonstrate nuance and dispassionate regard: in time the six word memoir will probably be a blip a footnote in my career; when weighed in totality with other forces that shaped my thinking and my direction, it probably amounted to an infinitesimal push away from publishing and toward a commitment to writing. (Probably, if I measured it, it would account for .00003 percent of my decision.) But if we’re talking camel backs and straws here, then perhaps it was THIS .00003 percent that did it, that pushed me over the edge, we’ve made our goal, thank you for your pledge.
It’s a tricky business. I’m a nice guy, enthusiastic and full of wonder, and I want that to come across. But I’m filled with shrewdness and cunning, jaded by my eight-years-on-average over the typical applicant. I have life experience that is best not ignored. I should definitely hint at that: I KNOW how the world works. I just need the time to write about it. On the other hand, I do love community, and sorely miss being in one, especially of writers. But I don’t want to come across as the guy who just wants to get invited to the party, the one who is afraid of being left out. I’m a writer for chrissake—I’m in for the solitary slog, the long and lonely haul. I have to show my independence, too.
See: and there it is. The moment. The split second—we’ll call it the .00003 second—when I began to overthink this whole thing. I can hear Angie’s voice in my head, telling me to stop it because really, at this level, this .00003 magnification, who gives a shit?
So I look out my window. The sky is a periwinkle sort of color, bulging up top but thinning near the horizon with some promising baby yellow around the edges. It’s December, sure, but it’s only 2010.