Saturday, September 27, 2008

Presidential Jewelry Debates

After the first presidential debate between John McCain and Barack Obama, we may not know much, but we can be assured that both presidential candidates will not fail us in the realm of fashion.  Both are savvy to the most important issue of all: jewelry.*
McCain: And I'll tell you, I had a town hall meeting in Wolfeboro, New Hampshire, and a woman stood up and she said, "Senator McCain, I want you to do me the honor of wearing a bracelet..." And I said, "I will -- I will wear his bracelet..."

Obama: Jim, let me just make a point. I've got a bracelet, too...
Sorry.  This is out of my usual topic range by a lot, but I couldn't resist. Somehow, everything seems funnier in a transcripted version.  

*Note: taken completely out of context for satirical purposes...

Thursday, September 25, 2008

What could be more personal?

The personal statement.

The sworn enemy of college and grad school applicants.

Personal statement, I will face you, and you will lose.


It's funny how surreal a life decision seems until you put pen to paper (or fingers to keyboard) to begin to make it real. I have been talking about graduate school for over a year now, and (again) am now beginning the concrete steps of applying. There's something scary about it - it means putting yourself out there for possible rejection, and it means choosing one road instead of another. Robert Frost was right:

"Two roads diverged in a wood, and I--,
I took the one less traveled by,
And that has made all the difference."

But the process of writing a personal statement (or many, since every school wants something a little different) forces you to think about who you are as a person and why you have chosen to pursue further study. Do you have the characteristics necessary? What in your life thus far has prepared you?

For me, the issue of the "gap year" still hangs over the statement. And as I write, I begin to see the ways that this year is beneficial, even necessary to my development. I asked a former professor what I should emphasize since I come from a small Liberal Arts college. "Evidence of independent work or thought" was his reply.

Hmm... I have spent the first few months of this year working from home doing independent writing, research, and editing projects. I have crafted a reading list to fill in the gaps of my literary experience. I have taken the initiative to relearn French and will have to do so again with Latin. I have had time (more than I wanted, actually) to think about what I want to study and what I really enjoy researching.

Don't misunderstand me, I still dislike writing personal statements, especially because there is a high likelihood that no one will read them. In addition to studying for the GRE subject test (a mere three weeks away now!), gathering transcripts, contacting references, filling in applications, and proofreading writing samples, the personal statement is just one more task.

But on the other hand, reflection, no matter how tedious, provokes thought. In that sense, maybe there is a purpose for the personal statement after all.

Tuesday, September 23, 2008

Life in 10 seconds

Finished reading "Silas Marner." Now reading "Will in the World," by Stephen Greenblatt, to brush up on my Shakespeare. Beginning to feel the press on Subject test-prep. Still to go: Am. Lit 1700-1860, Greek classic influences, poetry and drama vocab, critical methods, and then practice tests and review. Finished a first draft personal statement after much agony. Getting excited for a dance-filled weekend and then homecoming next weekend. :-)

Thursday, September 18, 2008


I can lose an argument and be okay.
I can lose face and be okay.
I can not have the last word and be okay.

Ouch.  Even writing those words is a struggle.  Last night at Bible study we talked about the concept of humility in relationship to other believers, specifically in the context of 1 Peter 5:5-7.  One of the ideas tossed around was the picture of humility as a people-centered, not superiority-centered attitude toward discourse.  

Sometimes humility means being vulnerable to the appearance of inferiority.  

There is a difference between knowing the truth (God is right) and having to win the argument (I am more right than you).  That doesn't mean always backing down, and it doesn't mean diluting the truth.  It does mean, to quote the old adage, not "beating them over the head" with the truth.

I like to argue: politics, world affairs, philosophy, history, academia - you name it. These debates are not a matter of life or death (even as November approaches), but you would never know it for the intensity of my desire - my need - to win. To be right. To be vindicated. But why?

To quote Donald Miller in Searching for God Knows What, I am living according to lifeboat theory: 
"If people are in a lifeboat, the reason they feel passionately about being a good person and all is because if they aren't, they are going to be thrown overboard. ... when you really think about it, these wants we have, like wanting to be right, wanting to be good, wanting to be perceived as humble, wanting to be important to people and wanting to be loved, feel perilous, as though by not getting them something terrible is going to happen."
When I read 1 Peter, I often overlook the caveat that follows the directives to be holy and to be humble: "Cast all your anxiety on him because he cares for you" (5:7). I need to remember that it is safe to lose face because I am in a relationship with God, the source of worth.  It is safe to be vulnerable because His love for me is not dependent on the opinions of others. 

1 Peter 2:23 reminds me that it is not weakness; it is knowing Whose opinion matters and being strong enough to let the rest go.

That doesn' t mean I like losing arguments (I don't).  It doesn't mean I will stop trying to persuade people that I am right (I am).  But it does shift my focus, so I no longer have the sense that I am racing for a safe haven that only has room for one. 

(...and since this post spontaneously deleted itself the first time, requiring me to retype it from memory, apparently God is telling me the message still needs a little drilling.)  More on the Boston trip next time...

Tuesday, September 16, 2008

Life in 10 seconds

Real post to follow, I promise.

Just returned from a weekend trip to Boston to visit ma soeur.  It was fun to experience the big city; returning to life as usual is a bit of a pinch.  Finally stuck my toes in Walden Pond and walked around Harvard.  Still reading Silas Marner after a week off for lighter books by Gregory and Picoult. Working on personal statements for grad school, reviewing post-WWII American lit and vacillating about final choices to send scores to.  Here are the current standings: (I can't apply to 11 schools!!!)

1. Duke
2. Northwestern
3. UVA
4. Vanderbilt
5. UNC
6. WFU (Masters)

Notre Dame
Emerson (writing and publishing)
American studies somewhere...

Friday, September 5, 2008

Life in 10 seconds

Had a nice birthday yesterday, lots of friendly phone calls, lunch at Olive Garden, and some time off working. Finished reading The Scarlet Thread by Francine Rivers. Now working on Siddhartha by Herman Hesse and still Silas Marner by George Eliot.  Finished my speed through of British Lit and moving into American.  Got a 'happy birthday' package of transcripts from the college registrar. Good stuff.  Hoping to contact some professors this weekend... we'll see.