Monday, October 20, 2008

Why I Want to Go to Graduate School: an essay written under the threat of a failed future

An antiquated form of torture picked by upper level education to see how well a student can sum up all of their creative dreams and aspirations in 500 words or less. A deterrent almost successful enough to prevent potential students from applying for advanced degrees. The university "Personal Statement" must be one of the most poorly written documents submitted to establishments of higher learning... here is a draft at mine.

Personal Statement

It takes the precise and rapid firing of nearly 7.4 trillion synapses for my human brain to create a sentence. It’s as if my brain were the master of multiple choice tests, and in a single instance could answer infinite numbers of yes or no questions of which the resulting information could be the most brilliant sentence ever written. If a single synapse misfires, and answers no instead of yes, or yes instead of no, my moment of staggering genius could be instantly transformed into an annoying hour of humming the Oscar Myer Theme Song. Our senses are so heavily inculcated with accessible information that creativity becomes an improbability.

Against the odds, I am a creative being. It eases my nerves a bit to realize that, statistically, my chances of being accepted into your M.F.A. program are far greater than my odds of ever completing a full-length play. Having completed the play I feel I can breathe a sigh of relief where this graduate school thing is concerned.

I am both writer and researcher. Instead of letting potential distractions appear daunting I seek them out. I am not hiding from the information of this world, but utilizing it as an immense quantity of inspiration. Think of me as a notebook in the pocket, walking across the desert, reading antique postcards kind of writer. To be fruitful I must interact with the world. Inside my highly organized brain knowledge is not clutter, but an awe inspiring- albeit daunting-amount of power. Information is one of my greatest resources, it provides me with a context for creativity. One of the most well recognized symbols of eastern philosophy is the Yin Yang- a circle defined by its contrast. That is how I approach writing. I am in the context of this world, and it is in the context of me.

Walking down a boardwalk on a small southeast Alaskan island I heard a faint popping sound. My imagination conjured the picture of an army of tiny gremlins popping bubble wrap, but when I looked closely at my surroundings I saw something much more real and equally as interesting. Thousands of tiny barnacles were being thrust upward with the falling tide, and in a life or death attempt to protect their moist bodies from the elements the barnacles were forcing any errant air through their calciferous exoskeletons. The process makes a small popping sound. In these details I discovered a story about an anxious barnacle and a suicidal flounder. It's the project I am most currently working on.

My goal as a writer is to gather up the information and use it to tell stories. To take the intricacies of history, science, anthropology, behavior; the intricacies of life, and weave them into the movements of characters, the nuances of a setting, the eccentricities of language. I want to take what this life has to offer me, and I want to create worlds.

Thursday, October 16, 2008

Begining the Story

I've begun applying to graduate school... again. My submissions require a writing sample. For some schools I'll send in a copy of my play- but for the vast majority I'm applying to write fiction as well as plays... for that, I'll need a different type of submission.

What follows here is the start of my barnacle story. Hopefully at some point it will become a novella... or at least a very long short story. But for now I'll try and post something every day or so... comments and constructive criticisms are appreciated. It is a tender young thing, and will inevitably require a great deal of editing, but we must all start somewhere... so here it goes.

*NOTE- paragraphs that appear in italics may or may not appear in the completed draft. Opinions on italicized paragraphs are solicited. Places marked with ******* are areas that I am considering inserting more text, again opinions are solicited.

Starting the Story:

This is a story about a barnacle. But like most good stories, it starts with something else. In this case our story starts with a fish. A flounder. A flounder who had lost the will to live.
Had she known how popular she was with the humans above she might not have felt so chronically morose. She was the single entertainment for a crew of six, who idly killed time between boat tours fishing off of the dock. But to the flounder, who’s only goal in life was to end it, the continuous game of catch and release was simply too much to bear, and yet not enough to kill.
The barnacle, our barnacle, lived on this dock, amongst the many thousands of other barnacles who had been fortunate, or unfortunate, enough to have been spawned in the cool Alaskan waters of Auke Bay. This barnacle witnessed the attempted suicide numerous times, at first not acknowledging the event as strange. For none of the other barnacles found it strange, and without precedent for understanding death as morbid it took quite some time for this particular barnacle to form an opinion on the cheerless fish.
“What’s you’re name?”

“I’m a flounder.”

“Yes, I know you’re a flounder, but what’s your name? What are you called?”

“Nothing, no one cares enough about a flounder to give it a name.”

This puzzled the barnacle. For as long as it had been watching to mobile world pass by, it had imagined each of it’s creature having a name. The humans had names. The strange three-legged dog that accompanied them had a name. The barnacle had been sure that any animal that moved had a name. It had comforted itself with this fact. The barnacle you see, desperately wanted a name, and had satiated it’s aching desire with the knowledge that once it managed mobility, a name would be soon to follow. It makes sense then, that in order to keep this worldview alive the barnacle approached this lack of name not as a universal problem, but as the singular, and solvable, problem of one very unhappy fish.
“Well, what do you want to be called?”
“Nothing. I want to die.”
“C’mon anything. I’ll call you anything you like.”
“Anything else.”
“I’m not calling you lunch.”
“Stop it.”
“You said anything I wanted. I want to be called Breakfast.”
“I’ll call you Fast.”
“Call me Biff.”
The barnacle didn’t have a reason to dislike the name. But something in the smugness with which the flounder picked it seemed suspicious. So despite her eagerness to name the fish the barnacle prodded on.
“That’s a boy name.”
“Can’t a flounder have a boy’s name?”
“Are you a boy?”
“I’m a flounder. “
“But are you a male flounder, or a female flounder?”
“I don’t follow.”
“Do you want to be a mother or a father?”
“Neither. I want to be Breakfast but that isn’t good enough for you.”
With that the barnacle conceded. There was a long awkward pause as the Barnacle looked at Biff. Biff full of scars, rust marks on her chin, wanting so desperately to be bludgeoned and eaten. No one loved this pathetic example of fish. No one cherished its slimy scales. Biff was indeed a poor specimen of flounder, her eye barely having migrated, her scales hanging loose on her bare bones body. Abandoned as a small fry at the ocean’s edge Biff had no family or friends to inspire her to greatness- or to inspire her to anything. Maybe Biff would be better off as Breakfast. Although given her current physical state it didn’t appear that any animal lacking a tetanus shot would be willing to eat her. With that morbid thought in the barnacle’s head another hook with a shiny pink lure dropped into the water beside them. “Are you going to eat that?” The barnacle asked Biff. “That one only throws you back.” Was her reply.
The lure began to jingle and dance in the water. Someone up there was jigging. The barnacle watched. Biff watched. The two entranced, as sea creatures are apt to be, in the strange dance. “Biff?” The barnacle whispered. No answer. “Biff…?” It whispered again. But it was too late. Biff, in a sudden change of heart went dashing after the pink hoochie and swallowed it, hook line and sinker, closed her eyes and began the violent ascent. The barnacle sighed, waited, counted to ten, and Plop! Biff came sinking back down in the water awash in a tragic sense of déjà vu.
Humans cry. Fish cannot. Their bodies are in a constant symbiosis with the ocean. Their meticulous systems constantly assessing the permeation of the environment in which it lives. A body this connected with salt water has no knowledge of tears. But as close as a fish ever came to crying was Biff after her sixth failed suicide attempt that morning. No soul could be more tortured than one that cannot even properly die.
Barnacles are not known to be emotional creatures. They lack both heart and brain- and mouth and eyes, but we’ll overlook that for the purposes of this story- for interwoven somewhere into its physiology this barnacle was different. And as Biff’s body awash with teary water began to sink the barnacle felt the most intense twinge in its center. It had been overwhelmed with something no barnacle before had ever been faced with- compassion.
“I think Biff suits you. It’s a strong name. Which is awfully good for us because it will take a good strong disposition like yours to get us through this ocean.”
“Pardon?” Biff replied, stopping her moribund decent, albeit briefly. “Well,” shouted down the eloquent barnacle “I’ve been searching all day for the perfect companion into this ocean, and you are easily more qualified than any of the other fish who’ve passed by. You’ve been training, I see, in the fine sport of travel. And have been wildly successful, for a bottom feeding fish, in withstanding the great pressures of these waters. Yes, I insist that you accompany me on my journey; no other fish has your qualifications, or your strong name, or such tenacity in the face of death. Are you ready then? The tide is falling and we haven’t much time.”
Biff, perplexed at first, attempted to resist this offer, but flounder are not bright fish and given an order, or a shiny lure, have a tendency to follow. Biff might have been the perfect ride for this barnacle, for at least she was fearless of the dangers of the open ocean. Many other flounder might have found resistance in fear. Yet, as the barnacle had illuminated, Biff did not struggle with cowardice. She agreed to go.

It is at this point that I want to explain something to you about the animals we have been so recently introduced to. They live in a watery world unlike that of sharks or angler fish. Most sea creatures are accustomed to keeping the company of water breathers, but the community surrounding the Allen Marine barge in Auke Bay, Alaska was somewhat different. This barge was a hub for air-breathing activities. Each day the boats were loaded, left the dock in search of whales and wildlife, returned and were unloaded. The noise of the engines, of the clatter, of the constant pounding of ropes was deafening. But to the creatures of this small corner of the bay it was commonplace. While to most of the ten thousand barnacles adorning the edges of the barge the sounds blended together like a sound machine, acting as soothing white noise protecting them from the natural world and her lullaby. But to our barnacle the sound was something different, and it listened, intently to the comings and goings of the odd mobile creatures above. By doing so it gained an oddly thorough informal education. The world above had inadvertently been tutoring this ambitious invertebrate. Filling her mind not only with the facts that any tour guide might spew toward an overgrowing tourist industry, but also filled with stories and mythologies of a land littered with inconstants.