Personal Statement

MFA-app season is coming up. In search of other documents, I found the personal statement I wrote in 2002 the first time (of three total times) I applied to graduate writing programs. It’s complicatedly awful. As a kind of aid for others, it’s posted here, word-for-word:

On a trip across the country in a car with a lifelong friend, I dreamt mostly of homes. Not home, mind you, but homes: three-story, five-bedroom houses decorated everywhere in robin’s-egg blue; sleek and modern apartments seemingly ripped from the pages of the IKEA catalogue; brightly colored houses filled with passageways and compartments, much like the ones I dreamt of as a kid. Dreaming about homes while living as a transient made some pop-psychological sense, but something else about this recurring dream-setting struck me. Even though I had never seen these homes before—awake or asleep—I knew immediately and intuitively that they were mine. In the logic of these dreams, I was always home.

This is in no way a dream-practice particular to me; everyone’s dreams distort his or her life’s realities. We all get a kick out of our minds’ abilities to create this sensual familiarity out of our own visual innovation, it’s one of the greatest yet most common powers we feel as dreamers. In other words, when we tell each other, “I dreamt about you last night, but it wasn’t you. Y’know?” our response is always: “Yeah, sure…so what did I look like?”

The dreams I love the most are these where I dupe myself, making it all up but staying honest, showing myself some possible life I could lead. Similarly, the writing I love the most has these same qualities, presenting the fake and fabricated as plausible and true-to-life. Only fiction—set in the arena of possibilities—can do this. Nonfiction—set in the arena of actualities—abhors the fake and the fabricated. It loves facts and things that have been done. And thus, while nonfiction can only let us know everything that has happened or is happening, fiction tells us everything that could happen. It’s a much sexier arena to work in.

I’ve seen this make-it-all up approach to fiction in the writers I’ve been reading fervently in the past few years. It’s in the more recent fiction of David Foster Wallace and almost all of George Saunders’ work. It’s also, perhaps most comprehensively, in Ben Katchor’s comic strip, Julius Knipl, Real Estate Photographer. Knipl lives in an unnamed metropolis of ointment experts, travelogue theaters, and nail-biting salons that is very clearly the New York City of Katchor’s wildest dreams. The strip is a weekly absurdist tableau underneath which lie the subtle human truths of salesmen’s ambitions, unbreakable routines, and lonely urbanites. It’s the strangest of fictions, and it affects you in the strangest of ways.

Because of this affection I feel for my finest dreams and my favorite novels, it’s clear to me that fiction can create a relationship between writer and reader more intimate and direct than nonfiction can. It’s this reason that I want to learn to write fiction. At this stage in my career, I’m a wholly untrained fiction writer, working on instinct, feeling out the medium. What I need now is study, practice, and guidance. What I crave is the opportunity to learn something new, while also developing my current talents.

This is why graduate study in fiction writing at Emerson—with its courses in publishing and its possibilities for multidisciplinary study—is an ideal choice for me. I’m ready to work; Emerson’s high credit requirements aren’t daunting, they’re exciting. Plus, I’m looking forward to studying at Emerson for its feeling of community, letting me take intimate workshops to develop alongside my peers—all of us, hopefully, with a thing or two to teach each other.

I did not get into Emerson. I didn’t get in anywhere, if I recall. Or maybe this is the one that got me into Nebraska? I didn’t get in anywhere else, and this statement, it goes without saying, would not have landed me the jobs I’ve got since graduate school. Take that, nonfiction!

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