Wednesday, December 15, 2010

A Curious Quest

My part is done, kaput, complete, almost over.

This morning, I pushed the magic button which was labeled “Submit for review.”

I am now in waiting. It is a curious kind of wait.

I have waxed and waned in my attitude about my chances. Realistically, they are poor. I have told my wife rejection will not be depressing. The odds are too long, and the application effort has re-focused me on my passion. That should be enough.

But all of the above isn’t enough.

I got the initial idea a couple of years ago, but it was impractical. I wanted to go back to Vanderbilt from where I ingloriously departed in a slough of D’s previously unknown to human academia – 14 D’s in four semesters, surely a record. I wanted to expiate my expulsion from the school of engineering, civil that is, and gain a degree in literature, which should have been my pursuit originally.

My brother wisely pointed out the illogic in my vanity quest. Acceptance for a second undergraduate degree made no sense.

Within the year, I had modified my quest. I would apply for an MA in literature. My initial probes received obtuse responses or none at all. Then, a year later, the email said something like, “You idiot, we don’t have a masters in literature at Vanderbilt. If you are accepted in English and literature at Vanderbilt, it must be for a doctorate.”

I considered this option for about a nano-second. That’s how long my acutely honed mathematical brain concluded I would be as old as Methuselah when I received my doctorate. But in this process of unachieved quest, I stumbled across the answer: a strange, beautiful culmination of my life, something that made more sense than anything I have ever done before.

I decided to apply for a Master in Fine Arts in Creative Writing (Poetry) at Vanderbilt. I was worried (still am) my age might be a negative factor in the selection process. I was also deathly afraid of taking the GRE. My last one was in 1968 aboard my first ship. I was especially concerned about the quantitative, i.e. math, section.But after being assured the writing submission would be considered first and primarily and all other inputs would be to validate I could handle the coursework.

So in August, I started my quest. Maureen, Blythe, Sarah, Joe, Carla, Kate, Al and Marin Hicks, Dave Young and many others provided guidance and support. Bob Koenigs, Dave Carey, Carla Neggers, Pete Toennies, and Amelia Hipp have kindly supplied letters of recommendations, which made me blush. Many others too numerous to mention have provided encouragement.I filled out the plethora of forms, ordered practice GRE exams, wrote and rewrote my statement of purpose, and reworked the 15 pages of poetry for hours and hours. For over four months, the application was my primary focus.

So relief washed over me when I hit the magic button.

As my brother and I said many times when discussing this over the four months, what will be will be.

Vanderbilt’s Creative Writing MFA is the most selective in the country with over 600 applicants for six positions, three in fiction, three in poetry. I have applied for the poetry. I am hoping the overwhelming majority of applicants are chasing the fiction option. If so, then I have somewhere between a 1/50 to a 1/200 chance of acceptance.

The first practice test I took I was encouraged, finishing in the top 90% in analytical (grammar) and mid 80% in the quantitative (math). I was not worried about the writing section. After all, that is what I’ve been doing, on and off for more than 50 years.

However, I scored worse on each succeeding practice test and plummeted in the actual GRE. My worse score was in the writing portion, which surprised and depressed me. I cannot understand why except my writing is not academic enough, 45 years since my last one created a brain void in test taking, or I am really not as smart as I thought I was.

Regardless, what will be will be.

Whether the reviewers select me or not, my focus is not on my writing. I am working with an incredible company, Pacific Tugboat Service, on training services and products for the military and other agencies. That may lead to more work next year, but it will share my attention with my writing.

If I am accepted, obviously a big change will occur in our lives. We are waiting until we hear the results before leaping to any decisions, but initially, it is likely I will go to Nashville by myself, and Maureen and I will work out a heavy two-way commute system until we decide what is best for the two years.

So I am at peace. I feel good. My quest continues but with a calmness I've not had for a long time. I am even excited about the future, especially with writing and working with Pacific Tug as long as I can.

I wish all of you a wonderful Christmas or other holiday you celebrate in the season, a successful 2011, and peace on earth.

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