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"I say this is a wild dream--but it is this dream I want to realize. Life and literature combined..."

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So, just as I was finally recovering from the shock of the subject test and feeling good about my applications again (I found the most kick-ass source for my writing sample last night!), I had the most disappointing meeting with a professor I've had this entire application season. The only part of the meeting that was good was solidifying my second letter of recommendation. Now I only have to obtain one more. And now I've finally decided who I'm going to ask, after going back and forth between two profs for the past few weeks.

However, this meeting discouraged me more than anything else. I've been working on my writing sample almost every day--or at least thinking about it. I've been focusing my independent study in theory on theoretical works that will be utilized in my sample, and I've talked to other professors and academically-minded friends about how I'm going to structure my statement of purpose to connect my subfield (18th-century lit and the novel) with my writing sample (on a Modernist author and feminist literary theory). I'm incorporating novel theory into my writing sample to make my interests in the novel really shine through, and I want my statement of purpose to focus on the novel rather than depending upon extensive periodization, though I've chosen the 18th-century as my primary subfield because I have to. The professor I met with today, though, told me absolutely not to use the paper I've planned to use as my writing sample if I plan on doing 18th-century stuff. She wants me to use another paper I wrote for one of her courses last year on two 18th-century novels, because she thinks some programs will reject me simply because my paper is not in my stated period. I am planning on using that paper for the schools that require two samples, but, bottomline, it's just not as strong a paper as the other one. It functions fairly hermetically; it looks like a course assignment. The other one has been developing consistently for over a year now. I won an award for it, presented it at a conference, and now can't think about anything other than working on it. I know exactly how I want to expand and develop it, whereas I have no desire to do anything past minor revisions on the other paper. It makes some kick-ass conclusions and, most importantly, it is my voice and my soul that shines through in that paper. I've never been more passionate about a paper. I love it so much that I've considered the possibility of transitioning to Modernism. But there's nothing in the period that appeals to me critically except for D.H. Lawrence. I don't like writing papers on Woolf or Joyce or Forster--I love reading them, but I don't find my critical interests working to the same extent as those writers. I am, essentially, a forward-looking 18th-centuryist, with some interests resting within the 19th and 20th centuries. And I don't want to "lie" about myself in my statement of purpose. I want to get down to my heart and soul, and the novel--starting in the 18th-century but moving forward as well--is where those essential parts of my being lie.

In addition, this professor disapproved of my list of schools. Everyone else has told me they think it's really solid, but she was looking at it from a purely 18th-century perspective. When I sat down and did my research into faculty at different programs, I made sure that I took into account faculty from all of my areas of interest; after all, I don't want to end up at a program with a kick-ass 18th-century faculty, discover that's not exactly what I want to do, and end up stuck. Though I think I know what I want to do now, I'm still an undergrad, and I know that my intellectual identity is nowhere near fixed at this point. So I want a program with a good faculty across the board. She said things to me like, "Take Brown off your list. You won't get in there." She also said things like, "You might get in somewhere, but I won't even say that, because it might not happen. You have to be as pessimistic as possible." She called schools like Indiana and Rutgers "the kind of schools you could actually get into." Things that were just discouraging overall. She told me to apply to Stanford but then said that she'd be disappointed if I got into Stanford and went there, even though I'd get a good job. I think a lot of this is residual bitterness from her own experiences. Since I've known her, she's been bitter about one thing or another, so maybe it's just her. I also think she might feel offended that I've talked to other professors before her, though she's the one in my primary area. It's just discouraging to have someone who I've put so much trust in seem to have so little faith in me and act like I don't know what I'm talking about. Everyone else has been impressed by how much progress I've made on my own. But, still, I need her. She knows my writing better than almost anyone, and she explicitly referred to my sophisticated approach to texts and to writing. So that's good. It was just disappointing not to have her faith in me.

At one point during the meeting, she said, "You're not going to listen to me. You guys never listen to me" (she was referring to the girl who applied last year and made a number of mistakes in her application). I told her I'd listen but I wouldn't necessarily follow all of her advice.

Ultimately, this is my life, and it's up to me what of that life I choose to put into my application. I know I won't get in everywhere; I know I may not get in anywhere. But that's not going to be because I restrict myself to programs that will cater to only one of my interests in a very specific way. I've chosen my programs the way they at least ostensibly will be choosing their students--holistically. I want my own self coming out in my application, and that means I must use my D.H. Lawrence paper. Maybe I'll end up studying the 18th-century, maybe I'll end up having a change of heart and becoming a Modernist. I don't know. All I know is that I need to be in a program that can accommodate me in every way possible.

*Sigh. Sorry if you've gotten all the way through reading this! I guess this is the purpose of having a blog...? Better than me ranting on the general forums, I suppose?

Introduction

By bdon19,

I have 150 pages of Bakhtin to go read, so I'll keep this brief, for now. Many of you may know me over in the Lit forum, but for anyone who doesn't, I'm bdon19! I'm applying to M.A./Ph.D. programs in English Lit this fall, though I'm still finishing up my undergrad. It's time consuming and stressful getting everything done, but I have a lot of people really strongly behind me, and I'm hoping to get somewhere this spring. If not, I'm not averse to taking a year off to strengthen my application, but I'm confident that something will work out in my favor (*knock on wood*). Anyway, if you check out my recent posts, you'll see that the GRE Subject Test recently just threw me for a loop, but hopefully adcomms will be able to see past that and look holistically at my application. I'm coming from a small LAC, so holistic thinking has been an expectation for me over the past few years, but I'm keeping hopeful. Not necessarily optimistic, but hopeful.

I have to run now, but I'll leave with some beautiful words by Rebecca Solnit regarding the difference between optimism and hope (the entire essay can be found here: http://www.tomdispatch.com/archive/175424/).

"Unpredictability is grounds for hope, though please don’t mistake hope for optimism. Optimism and pessimism are siblings in their certainty. They believe they know what will happen next, with one slight difference: optimists expect everything to turn out nicely without any effort being expended toward that goal. Pessimists assume that we’re doomed and there’s nothing to do about it except try to infect everyone else with despair while there’s still time.

Hope, on the other hand, is based on uncertainty, on the much more realistic premise that we don’t know what will happen next. The next thing up might be as terrible as a giant tsunami smashing 100 miles of coastal communities or as marvelous as a new species off butterfly being discovered (as happened recently in Northern Ireland). When it comes to the worst we face, nature itself has resilience, surprises, and unpredictabilities. But the real territory for hope isn’t nature; it’s the possibilities we possess for acting, changing, mattering -- including when it comes to nature."

Beautiful, right? The GRE Subject Test may not have been a giant tsunami (though it felt like it at the time). But it was, surely, an unpredictability that I must now overcome. And though I may not know what the outcome of this admissions game might be, I do know that I'll be submitting the best writing I've ever done in my life, and that's what really counts. Even if I fail, I'll be bettering myself, which is never a bad thing.