Last Tuesday, the 29th of April, I spent the day visiting the campus at Hamline University in St. Paul, and the surrounding neighborhood. I think I got a decent feel for the area, as I drove several dozen laps around the streets, and poked my head into some of the buildings on campus. On Wednesday, I had a chance to stop by the Creative Writing Program house, and met with my advisor there. Take a look…
I’m in the greater Twin Cities area this for a few days this week to check out my new campus and try to find a place to live come fall. The weather up here (and across the Dakotas, MN, and WI, really) is awful this week, but I brought a rain coat and waterproof shoes.
Tomorrow morning, I have a meeting set up with my faculty advisor at Hamline. It will be nice to meet some people who I’ll be working with and take in the campus before fall.
I think this whole business of moving and starting this new program is going to work out. I haven’t had occasion to write about every single minor epiphany that’s hit me in the last few weeks, but I have a strong feeling that I’ll enjoy living here well enough, and that I’m going to be successful in school. It feels like the right time to be here, and I feel like I’m in the right state of mind for it as well.
When I got the message from Hamline that I’d been accepted it was a surreal experience. It’s been a long time since really fantastically awesome stuff happened to me, so I usually approach anything with low expectations. I didn’t jump up and down, but I did start shaking nervously, got a little light-headed, and had to go talk a walk. It was a good feeling.
More than anything, it gave me back the feeling that all the work I had done in previous programs was worth something — that someone other than me and the people closest to me felt like it mattered. One of the toughest things about the almost-nine-year career that I’ve had in financial aid administration has to do with identity — I always pushed back against the reality that I was an administrator, a bureaucrat; someone who processed data for a living. I’ve always wanted to give myself a creative title and label, but while I’ve been working here in fin aid, it seemed silly and even presumptuous to do so. That always made me feel guilty on one hand (for not pursuing what I really wanted with more fervor), and inferior to my peers on the other (because by rejecting the labels associated with my actual career, and not having license to take the label that I wanted, I felt like I was just treading water and skimming by while others made progress and did things).
That stuff is behind me now. I can begin to plan and look forward to a future that I truly want. I’ve been happier in the last few weeks than I’ve been since I finished my thesis. I have a long list of things that I need to start taking care of now (resigning from my job, finding a new place to live, moving, figuring out finances, getting my mind reconditioned for an academic living), but these are all things that I’m excited to do.
I watched the film adaptation of Cormac McCarthy’s much renowned novel The Road last weekend. It was OK. I admit that I have yet to read the book, which could possibly be a very different experience.
The film did a fine job of portraying a post-apocalyptic hellscape, and the characters, such as they are, were portrayed well by Viggo Mortensen and Kodi Smit-McPhee. I had problems with story itself. First and foremost, in what was depicted as an utterly hopeless, slowly dying environment, what motivated the characters to do anything but die? Viggo’s character, the father, also seemed to be all-too-aware of his ultimate fate, and by extension, that of his son. It’s tough for me to buy into a narrative where the chief protagonists have absolutely no reason whatsoever for hope. At the same time, this is a film with a 75% score on Rotten Tomatoes, from a book that easily makes the top five of any list compiled citing the best works of the 21st Century.
Sometimes I feel guilty for not enjoying “the classics.” Sure, a background of study in English guarantees that I’ve studied some of the most “important” works in history, but where is the line between important and good? These are two subjective assessments. “Important” tends to follow behind “good” on a time line, but since they ARE subjective, couldn’t any work with ample scholarship behind it become important?
It must be true that exposure some Great Literature (i.e., “important” works) is needed in order to become a successful critical reader. A person must be cognizant of the themes found in fiction, the character tropes, the places and settings where important stories happen, etc. But on the other hand, doesn’t relatively “bad” fiction (or, what literature scholars might call “contemporary pop fiction”) have the same features as Great Literature? Don’t we fashion stories across the board in roughly the same way? Comparing the Modern Library100 Best Novels lists as compiled by the board, versus the one voted on by readers does a fantastic job of exposing the line between important and good.
In the end, what’s the purpose of fiction? To entertain the reader, or to be great? Seems to me you can have wildly entertaining works of fiction that probably won’t be called “great,” and some of the most studied works in human history are not that fantastic, particularly to a contemporary audience. Still, “greatness” often is defined by some combination of cultural penetration and time. I don’t think anyone who read Nicholas Nickleby in 1838 would have immediately recognized it as Great Literature. But on the other hand, it was wildly popular and well-received as a work of modern fiction. I guess my bottom line is this: any work of fiction that you enjoy and wish to study is important enough to you.
I overcame a big hurdle earlier this week when I finished up one of the three applications I’ll be sending out to grad schools for that MFA deal this month. I had been beating myself up over it for about a month, for no good reason in particular, and as soon as I made a phone call to Rindo, I immediately felt a lot better. I also had to put a lot of pressure on my friend and MA classmate from Oshkosh, Kevin, but hopefully he won’t hold that against me for too long.
Why do I put off doing things that are so easy, relatively speaking? That’s one of the things I’ve always asked myself in this forum, as well on the couches of various mental health professionals over the years. I still don’t have a good answer, but people are trying to help me with strategies for not hating myself as much for it. Sometimes it works. It’s consistently amazing to me that I keep sentencing myself to long stretches in that emotional purgatory when the relief I feel upon completing things is so immediate and satisfying. It’s just as confusing (and light years more frustrating) to me, trust me.
I have to try to ride this wave of relief and positive emotion now, as best I can. I’ve started working with some of my backpacking friends on plans for a 2014 trip, which is sure to involve higher elevations than last year. With that in mind, I should get back to exercising with regularity. I fell off the wagon last summer, and it’s been pretty poor going since then. I made a bit of an effort in early fall–with Kevin’s help, actually–to start in on Insanity. In my case, with the condition I was in, that’s exactly what it was. I got about nine-and-a-half minutes into the first session, and felt like I was going to die. It seriously took me another 35 minutes of laying down on the floor to catch my breath, lose the head rush, and regain the use of my legs. That whole event has scared me away from intense physical activity ever since.
Finally, I spent about an hour today thinking about how none of the schools I’m applying to have guarantees of financial aid, which is something I’ve been saying I really need in order to go back again. This is pretty typical behavior, too: getting wound up about things that aren’t even relevant, because I haven’t been accepted to any of them yet, anyway. In relation to thinking about financial aid, I went through how I would pay for my car, my credit cards, an apartment, and health insurance. It’s way too early to sweat any of that, but there it is.
A few folks have asked if they could read a copy of my thesis (i.e., novella) after it was done.
I have joked that one of the things that everyone who has written a thesis says to every one of their friends and/or colleagues that wrote a thesis is, “I would love to read your thesis,” and none of those theses actually get read.
That being the case, you will not offend me in the least by never reading this. However, in case you do care to venture down that path, this is the exact copy that I turned in today. Have a good time, and thanks.