Help Wanted

You get in life what you have the courage to ask for – Oprah Winfrey

Once upon a time, I wrote a blog post about not being brave.  About being scared of chasing after something I wanted and about how my cowardly nature had allowed me to settle for something less than my dreams. 

It’s right here, if you missed it.

That was three years ago, ya’ll.  Three years.  And guess what?  I’m still stuck, just in a different rut, in a different town, with even less hope than I had before.  It’s getting dark inside my head.  Real dark. Like, my-cell-phone’s-dead-and-the-flashlight’s-busted-and-I’m-down-to-my-last-handful-of-matches-and-they-keep-burning-my-fingers-as-they-burn-out-kind of dark.

So, I’m doing something I don’t normally do.  I’m asking for help.

I have a little under a month to submit my application for the MFA program at Boston University.  It’s my number one, top-pick, reach-for-the-moon, over-the-fence, World Series kind of choice for a school, a city, and a program.  I can’t explain it, but I’ve wanted to go to BU since I was sixteen.

And BU?  BU is fucking scary.  Okay? It’s even scary to Google!  You get all kinds of results with horrifying words like “Prestigious” and “Top-Ten Best” and “One of the Oldest and Most Renowned”. 

But I was like, no, Emry.  No.  We’re going to be brave and fierce and we’re going to fill out our application and get into that school.

That school where dozens of bestselling authors have been educated.

That school that only accepts ten students every year.

Ten.

Out of what I’m sure are thousands of applications.

So now I’m like

Below you will find my statement of purpose.  It is the one I wrote for the other schools to which I applied, and it is by no means perfect.  In fact, it’s probably a large, steaming pile of shit. I’ve editedit and rewritten it probably six times and each time I hate it a little more.

That’s where you come in, guys.  I can’t do this alone.  I don’t want to do this alone.  I need your help.  Please give me strong, concrete suggestions about what works and what doesn’t and what parts are worth saving and what can be tossed straight out.

Here's the info on BU’s program.

And here’s my insufficient statement of purpose:

Dear Selection Committee,

I was nine years old when I decided that creative writing was more important than long division.  My fourth grade teacher did not agree and called a meeting to inform my parents that instead of answering a single question on the front of my math test, I’d flipped the page over and written a story about the case of Seven, on trial for cannibalism.  He was charged with eating Nine.  My mother nodded grimly, kept her words short and clipped and promised to talk to me about it later.  Instead of the grounding I was expecting, she bought me an ice cream cone, a fresh stack of composition books, and signed me up for a library card. 

“You’ve gotta take your math tests, Em,” she said with affectionate exasperation. “But I don’t want you to ever stop reading and writing stories.”

In the twenty years that have passed since that afternoon, I have only attempted a handful more math tests, but I have completed several novels and dozens of short stories.  My voracious appetite for words has always been my greatest asset.  Without a strong mentor for writing in my youth, I foraged my education through the shelves of the public library.  Judy Blume was my first instructor in the field of realistic dialogue and screenplays or television scripts by Joss Whedon taught me the place for dark humor and the beauty of weirdness. These lessons were cemented by Neil Gaiman, Terry Pratchett and later, Mark Danielewski.  Elizabeth Kostova’s The Historian and David Foster Wallace’s epic Infinite Jest have revealed to me the beauty in dense, complex storytelling. The art of loveable, flawed characters was introduced by Michael Chabon’s Wonder Boys.

My professional life has taken me away from writing for the last eight years.  I have worked in the nonprofit sector and in restaurant management full time, cultivating my corporate training and effective management skills.  These careers have been professionally satisfying, but not nearly enough to quell the hunger in my heart for the life of a writer.  My precious writing time is what I can squeeze in before work or in the wee hours of the morning when I can barely keep my eyes open.  I rely on friends and family for constructive criticism, but the responses I receive are more akin to comments on a well-written fanfiction.  As encouraging as it is to hear that they are enjoying my work, there is no real criticism, nothing to challenge me and spur me on to better things.

I strive to reach my goal of writing at least one page of creative work each day.  Though some days it feels impossible, I am never one to shrink from a challenge.  As such, I have participated and won NaNoWriMo by completing a 50,000 word project in the month of November each year since 2012. Recently, I have begun revisions on a novel I have been working on for the last three years, a hybrid of historical fiction braided with a modern romantic comedy. 

In October of 2015, I co-founded a weekly podcast, Badass Bitches, where we tell the true stories of women such as Alice B. Sheldon, Virginia Hall, and Juliane Koepcke. Our aim is to share the stories of women who have faded from history and share their lives and accomplishments with an audience who might otherwise remain ignorant. 

I am lucky enough to have been given the opportunity to share my passion with other writers over the years as a guest commentator in the high school English classes of teachers with whom I am acquainted.  I have presented creative writing lectures and workshops to accelerated students in their AP level English courses, to small groups of older writers looking for a place to share their work, and to high school students who had never been given an outlet for their creative writing interests. 

It is time to stop treating my writing as a hobby and allow it to be the focus of my life and my career.  The small, focused group setting of University of Oregon is exactly what I am looking for in an MFA program.  The combination of intense workshops and individual tutorials makes for an exciting prospect to grow and develop as a writer.  I am ready to expose myself to the criticism of a sophisticated audience and hone my craft alongside an equally impassioned community of writers and educators.  If selected for your program, I would focus on further developing a distinct written voice and begin the construction of my next novel. 

Though I have wandered from the path of professional writing and teaching, I have never left entirely.  It has not been easy to continue to call myself a writer, and even more difficult to live up to the title, but it is a challenge I accept every day. 

I have proven to myself that I have the discipline, passion and commitment for a higher level of instruction.  It is my hope that I can have the opportunity to prove the same to you as a student at the University of Oregon.

Thank you for your consideration.

Emily J. Jeziorski

Here’s what I’ve got going for me:

1.)    I’m a non-traditional student
2.)    I’ve taken time off to figure out that being a writer is what I really, really, really want to do
3.)    …I have pretty hair.

So, yeah, okay.  Not the resume I was hoping for, but it’s a start.  It’s also worth noting that the letter above doesn’t sound like me AT ALL and I’m wondering if I should just take some combination of the Autobiographical Statement I posted earlier today and somehow turn that into a letter they’d remember?

I literally don’t know.  Please help.

Please.

I’m going to go eat my feelings while I figure out my next move.