Friday, September 30, 2011

GRE "Workouts" Make My Brain Sore

Last night, I felt calm, focused, and still-well-rested after work, so I decided to crack open my GRE review book and do some practice problems. I read through the introduction, underlined important information about what would be on the test, and decided to whip out some scrap paper and do the diagnostic test.

I've never talked to (okay, more like shouted at) a book so much in my life. First of all, the bloody *Princeton Review* authors ought to proofread their book a little better before it goes to press. I found two (two! 2! dos! due! deux!) typographical errors in the first five pages. Putting an Ivy League stamp on something is NOT an excuse to get sloppy, mmkay? Is this what I get for buying your book instead of Kaplan's because it was $10 cheaper? Tell me, Princetonians, does this mean I can anticipate a little slip of the intern's finger on the answer keys next time I practice, such that it says the answer is "D" when it should actually be "E"? Or, worse, a completely wrong answer altogether because some hungover schmuck was let loose on a calculator?

Take the fill-in-the-blank portion of the verbal practice I did. I don't remember the sentence, so I'll make one up. But this is basically what happened: Imagine the sentence was, "They got into a __________ over who would control the remote," and the choices were A) discussion B) altercation C) commotion, or D) agreement. I was meant to infer that the blank word was something along the lines of fight, so I would then eliminate agreement, because it's the opposite, and discussion, because it's not a strong enough word for what is implied. Then I would be left with altercation and commotion, and while commotion kind of fits, altercation fits better. But I wouldn't put altercation because the blank was preceded by the article "a," which of course indicates the noun that follows will start with a consonant. So I would figure they were trying to trick me, and select commotion. Wrong, wrong, wrong. Wrong not becuase I'm actually wrong, but because the bastards who write this are so lazy that they can't just put "a(n) ________" like the writers of the SAT, ACT, and every goddamn grade-school proficiency test I ever took. Oh, and did I mention that they just changed to the new GRE last month, meaning that I am one of a million guinea pigs on a new verson of a test that they can't guarantee demonstrates any useful knowledge (as if they could make any guarantees on the old one)?

Once again, I embark on a new phase of the application process, and all I can come up with to say is a resounding, "FUCK." As for the rest of the verbal stuff, let's just say that, according to The Princeton Review, I'm only a sort-of okay reader. And that may or may not be a problem because I'm pretty sure that studying the craft of writing and producing a book-length thesis in two or three years kind of necessitates such skills. And then there is the math, which I was optimistic about because people I know who've taken the GRE told me that you don't calculate as much as reason your way through the problems. And that's exactly that they try to make you do, but only if you don't immediately go blank when you see something like this:


or this:

...

HUH? What the fuck is a positive integer? Least possible value? The value of K in terms of  N?? Why does N get to call the shots? Why must we do everying according to what makes N feel comfortable? I think N's getting a little too haughty for his own good. Fuck N and his hunger for world domination!

So I just select the option that says it's impossible to know the answer based on the information given, because how the hell am I supposed to know the numerical value of a bunch of letters?

And then I find out that not only do about 90% of the problems I said were impossible to solve actually have answers, but that their big words like "positive integer" really just mean simple things, like "some number that's not negative."

Jesus people, I just want to write a damn novel. I just paid $160 for a giant, month-long headache.

Tuesday, September 27, 2011

Obnoxious Facebook Statuses: Week 5

Today's OFS:


so when i picked [my son] up from school today they told me he didnt pass his vision test. so called dr baker, he see`s him oct. 17. and will the referre him to an eye doctor

Thank you, Trish. I was on the edge of my seat worrying about what may turn out to be your son's very serious condition. I walk to raise funds and awareness for astigmatism every year, in remembrance of when my family members found out they had to wear glasses. Please, do update us on October 17th, when Dr. Baker "see's" the boy and "referre" him to the eye doctor. I'll be praying for you.

Wednesday, September 21, 2011

Dear ______ : Remember Me?

I have just entered the second scariest stage of my MFA application process (the first, naturally, being the period after I submit the applications and await responses): letters of recommendation. This has been a bug up my butt since I made the decision to start applying. I'm fine doing everything else (making a submission, filling out forms, writing cover letters, etc.) because it's all me. But asking people to write and send out written documents on letterhead attesting to my greatness makes me very, very uncomfortable.

Don't get me wrong - I was a good student. I had a 3.7 average in both my majors. When I took class with the teachers to whom I sent requests, I showed up, spoke in class, and did good work. But that was 2-4 years ago and, because we were on a quarter system, the classes only lasted 10 weeks. And while I understand that writing such letters is a part of an instructor's job (as well as an employer's), it seems one-sided to take a class, disappear for several years, and then pop up one day asking for a favor. I won't be the first or last to do this, no doubt, but I would never dream of asking if it weren't a requirement for admission.

I drafted preliminary requests and finally worked up the nerve to send them today, right before I went to lunch. I gave my instructors plenty of time to respond, but clearly nothing is guaranteed. Ideally, I hear back soon with resounding choruses of "Of couse!" Or, maybe, "Jog my memory, will ya?" Or, frighteningly, "Who are you?" or, "No, because I don't like you and your writing is abysmal."

I would have felt more comfortable asking work references because they have all known me for a year or more and could attest to specific things about me and my work ethic. But I'm at an awkward post-college stage: I've been out long enough to create distance, but not long enough to forgo academic references (most schools ask for references from instructors if you've graduated in the last five years). If anyone declines, it won't be the end of the world - I have backups. But if I could just have one less thing to worry about...

When I saw just now I had an e-mail, I freaked out and opened my inbox, only to find Sallie Mae's latest pearl of wisdom about paying down loans. I guess I haven't really left undergrad, have I?

Saturday, September 17, 2011

The Answer is B...Usually...Sometimes: Why I Hate Standardized Tests

I've reached another step in the getting-in-to-school process. I finally scheduled the GRE (which is, for those who don't know, like the SAT but for grad school). About half the schools I was looking at expect me to take it for an MFA, but nearly all require it if I want an assitantship.

The dreaded standardized test. It matters, but it doesn't. It's important, but it's not. I need to leaf through study aids and do practice problems over the next month, but not too much or I won't work on my writing sample, which is about 1,000x more important. Most schools' FAQs say the same thing: We will read your writing sample first, and if it's good, we'll look at the rest. (Unlike undergraduate schools, which check the SATs and transcripts first to make sure you have at least a scrap of competence and THEN consider the rest.)

In other words, we want you to write well, but if you do that and only get a 129 on your GRE, you will make our program the laughing stock of the university graduate school.

My sample is the most important, and my verbal scores are pretty important. Math is the least important. However, I would need the most practice on the math, some on the verbal, and my writing sample needs work every day until the application is submitted. So, how does one find a balance? How can I possibly quantify exactly the time and concentration that should go into each one?

The seemingly best answer is to spend lots of time on my sample, and split the rest evenly between math and verbal practice. But then there's the little problem of my fear of standardized tests.

It's not that I freak out or have anxiety attacks (that would be an easy fix - just get some anxiety meds and I'm good to go). I am calm in testing situations. But I don't necessarily test that well, either. I took the SAT twice, convinced that the first attempt was an off-day. When I re-took it, my score only increased by 10 points. I don't want to make that mistake again.

Maybe I would have done better if I had barricaded myself in my room and crammed with study aids. But I've heard enough stories from people who did all that and still took a completely different test than the one the books said they would take. I was applying to music programs (this was before I officially added the double major in English), and it seemed more sensible to work on my audition pieces than try to increase my vocabulary by 400% in five weeks (sound familiar?).

Perhaps I'll never figure it out, but studying or writing fiction would both be better than blogging at this moment.

Or will working through my anxiety fix it?

Nice try.

I do know for sure that actually having full weekends now can't hurt.

Tuesday, September 13, 2011

Here we go...

Applying to MFA programs is really hard.

Finding MFA programs and picking which ones to apply to is really hard.

When I started this process about two weeks ago, I decided to poke around some websites and make a "short list" on a spreadsheet. You know, just copy some links and some basic information about a few schools to refer back to later. I used a highly organized and scientific method of seeing a school on the list whose name or location vaguely interested me, clicking on the web link, saying, "Oh, this looks nice," and pasting the link into its designated column.

Meanwhile, forty schools later, I am so far from narrowing down my list that I don't even know where to go from here. Sixteen (sixteen!) are Top 50 schools according to this guy, and an additional eleven were given honorable mentions as Underrated Schools.

Fuck.

And here's the thing about applying to graduate school, as opposed to undergraduate: With the exception of the rankings of specific programs within the schools, "good" undergraduate schools are self-evident. Ivy League schools are clearly at the top, followed by other good private schools and top-tier state schools, then average state schools, then shitty state schools, and then most community colleges (not that there's anything WRONG with going to state school or community college, before anyone gets their panties in a bunch - I'm talking about prestige and name recognition here). You can start with that knowledge and then research specific programs to find schools that suit you.

Graduate, professional, and law programs do not work this way. Individual programs, rather than schools, distinguish themselves. For example: the University of Iowa boasts the #1-ranked MFA creative writing program, but its law school (though still pretty high) ranks in the Top 30 somewhere. Conversely, Yale is home to the #1 law school in the country, but if it has an MFA writing program at all, I can't even find information about it. The point, then, is that searching for good programs by school name is like hunting for the proverbial needle in the proverbial haystack.

So instead I consulted the above-mentioned lists. There were dozens of really neat programs, many of them well-funded. I got increasingly excited as I browsed the pretty pictures of the campuses in the fall and imagined myself hammering out my self-assured masterpiece of a thesis in the local, independent funky-college-town-coffee-house and writing lesson plans for my eager undergraduate students.

And then I (sort of) crashed back to reality. What the hell was I doing? Applying to the schools I had on my list at that point would be like applying to all eight Ivy League schools and a few highly selective private schools for "safety." Considering that many of the programs I've researched have acceptance ratings somewhere in the single digits, I needed to lower the bar just a tad.

Which brings me to my current conundrum: how does one find middle-of-the-road programs? Aside from that Underrated list (which probably isn't "underrated" anymore now that everyone in the MFA universe has seen it), where would I be able to find something that's good but not too good? Modest but not a joke? Every program's website talks about how amazing and perfect they are, so how am I supposed to sort through them?

Hence the spreadsheet, expanding by the day like the Navidsen family's House of Leaves (mmm, how about that literary reference?) - I finally had to just go through just about every full-residency program on this database.

So now I have to make my cuts. I'm freaking out. What if I cut schools that would be amazing, and apply to places that I'd hate, or wouldn't accept me or wouldn't give me any funding at all?

And this is all before I start dealing with the GRE, my 3 letters of recommendation, hundreds of dollars in application fees, writing my sample, composing a personal statement for each school, etc. etc. etc. ad nauseum.

So, yeah, I'll say it again. Fuck.

Monday, September 12, 2011

Bagel Fairy No More (and Other Identity Crises)

WARNING: This post is long as shit so if you just want the short explanation, scroll down to the part in bold.

Ladies and gentlemen, an era has ended. After three years of slicing bagels, brewing coffee, and sneaking expired souffles in the dish area, I am done. I put in my notice, gave up my store key, and clocked out for the last time yesterday afternoon. I am finished, for the moment, with food service.

I quit for the reasons you've probably guessed: I'm tired of getting up at 4 a.m. on Saturdays, of backaches, and of ungrateful little twats certain customers. I've outgrown my college job (after all, I started just before fall of my senior year and am now nearly 25). Mostly, I need as much time and energy as I can get in order to prepare for what will hopefully be the next stage: grad school and an out-of-state move.

Grad school, that glorious and untouchable promised land of Doing Something Worthwhile, has been in the back of my mind for the last two years. A small part of me wanted to begin right in the fall of 2009, because going to school seemed less scary than getting a real job. But I know a great many people who have done just that; most are nearing thirty, have a Ph.D. in something obscure like Ethnomusicology, and completely lack social and job skills. Oh, and they're about $3,972,313,207,710,695,349,504 in debt.

So I worked. I picked up full-time hours at my college gig, eventually going back to part-time once I landed an entry-level office job. I quickly learned, among other things, that the Real World sucks. I missed the fantasy world that was college, where all of my meager income was expendable, and I could get away with saying things such as, "I'd never want to work in a soulless place. I just want to do what I love." I still craved more education, but seeing as I couldn't even decide what to study, I held off. I began to read more books and articles, write during my breaks at work, and even crapped out 2/3 of a novel last November (thanks, NaNoWriMo). I knew I'd try to go back to school someday, and that the question of when and how and for what would come in time. Instead I took more initiative regarding my own education.

I started this blog, at the suggestion of my sister, to ensure that I kept writing on a regular basis, even if it was only silly bullshit read by friends and family. (I'm proud to say that said silly bullshit is now read by friends and family as well as a handful of strangers.) Prose Therapy was originally intended as an intellectual exercise, a place to discuss writing and literature and to chronicle my post-college existence. By the third post, however, I was already using it as a platform to vent about my job. Before long, I was reading and commenting on at least a dozen customer service blogs, and thereby entering the sphere of Bitching Blogs (specializing in Restaurant Employee Bitching Blogs). And once I did that, I took my name, picture, and whole identity outside of work out of it.

I got a new job, also in customer service, and the bitching continued (though it became less frequent). I have been at that job for a year, and now it's not-so-new and I can feel the famed glass ceiling pushing down.

Over the last few months I've been covering for someone on maternity leave, working out of the main office. I helped out with a few accounts while there, including a group of hospitals and medical centers. After that stint ended, I was asked to write up a procedures guide for the on-site employees on what I did there. I spent about an hour writing the document, constantly obsessing over grammar and clarity as if it were a term paper or creative writing submission. I cared about my words and how they fit. I hadn't particularly enjoyed working on that account, but strangely, enjoyed writing the guide. I even got a compliment about it from the sales executive.

I told all this to my good friend, who herself was a lost graduate with an arts degree until she decided to apply to law school last year. When I sheepishly admitted that I kind of liked writing the thing, she paused for a moment.

"If you liked writing that," she said, "then you need to go back to school for writing."

So this fall I am applying to MFA programs all over the country.

Yes, I could try to get a job at a local alternative paper and try to claw my way up the writing totem pole without getting another degree. Yes, I could finish that novel without an MFA. I could even keep my job and use my vacation time toward a low-residency program. But summer camp, four years at a university, and study abroad have spoiled me and nurtured a "practicality be damned" mind set. I want total immersion - the whole experience. I want to live away from my hometown, for the first time in my life, long enough to learn who I am outside of it. And I want to learn for learning's sake.

All that said, after doing research I have found that an MFA does not have to be a frivolous, expensive waste of time. It can be a job-placing, fully-funded, career-launching experience (note the word 'can': I have no delusions about it being easy or guaranteeing me anything, if I'm lucky enough to be accepted in the first place). So I'm beginning the application process now, and hopefully will start working toward the degree within the year.

Which brings me to the point of telling you all this (yes, there's a point, and you do get a gold star if you have read all this from the beginning):

I am no longer the Bagel Fairy, writer of a Bitching Blog. I will probably still vent about work from time to time, but my job will cease to be a main feature. I titled the blog Prose Therapy because it was meant as a place to vent about and ponder life...you know, the Redemptive Power of Writing and blah blah blah. As my life continues to change, so will the nature of the venting and pondering. For the next six months, much of it will likely have to do with the grueling graduate school application process (as well as serve as a procrastination tool).

In other words, bagels are out of the picture now. Unless I'm eating them.

Thursday, September 1, 2011

50 Ways to Seduce A Man

While browsing the magazine section at a bookstore, the cover of Cosmopolitan jumped out at me. The headline read, "50 Ways to Seduce A Man." I thought, 'isn't that a no-brainer?'

I didn't open up to the article - I didn't have to.

50 Ways to Seduce A Man

1. Take off your top.
2. Take off your top.
3. Take off your top.
4. Take off your top.
5. Take off your top.
6. Take off your top.
7. Take off your top.
8. Take off your top.
9. Take off your top.
10. Take off your top.
11. Take off your top.
12. Take off your top.
13. Take off your top.
14. Take off your top.
15. Take off your top.
16. Take off your top.
17. Take off your top.
18. Take off your top.
19. Take off your top.
20. Take off your top.
21. Take off your top.
22. Take off your top.
23. Take off your top.
24. Take off your top.
25. Take off your top.
26. Take off your top.
27. Take off your top.
28. Take off your top.
29. Take off your top.
30. Take off your top.
31. Take off your top.
32. Take off your top.
33. Take off your top.
34. Take off your top.
35. Take off your top.
36. Take off your top.
37. Take off your top.
38. Take off your top.
39. Take off your top.
40. Take off your top.
41. Take off your top.
42. Take off your top.
43. Take off your top.
44. Take off your top.
45. Take off your top.
46. Take off your top.
47. Take off your top.
48. Take off your top.
49. Take off your top.
50. Take off your top.

See, I could write for Cosmo...right?