Autobiographical Statement

As some of you know--and some of you don't--I'm applying to grad school for Fall of 2016.  I didn't advertise this anywhere on social media for a lot of reasons.  Those reasons are for a different blog that's probably going to be really dark and depressing and maybe published later today. 

The purpose of this post, though, is not just to tell Squarespace that I'm still alive and using this domain, but to share one of the pieces I crafted for one of my applications.  This particular school asked for a lot of different things.  They wanted a Statement of Purpose, an Autobiographical Statement, and a Personal History Statement.

Uh...what?

That's a lot of things that all sound like the same thing.  And doesn't that sound like it would make it more difficult for the selection committee?  And why not lump all these things together and call it an Extra Long Tell Us About Yourself Statement?  (Capital Letters Are Important to Grad Schools).

But I'm bad a naming things, so I guess that's why they're reading my stuff and I'm sitting on my couch, waiting for rejection letters.  

Wait. That's too dark. I promised darkness later.  Shit.

Anyway, here's the autobiographical statement I ended up being the most proud of.  I haven't considered dipping a toe into the lake of Creative Nonfiction since sophomore year of college, but that's where this piece would fall if I needed to give it a genre.

Without further ado: 

In the fourth grade classroom at Gill Hall Elementary, in the suburbs of Pittsburgh, Pennsylvania, on a hot April day in 1997, I sat with three adults.  My parents and my teacher.

            It was tense.  The sweat prickled at my hairline before sliding slowly down the back of my neck.  The adults were talking.  Their words clipped and terse.  No one was talking to me.  No one was even looking at me.  They were just carrying on, speaking to one another, hands folded over the papers in question.  Ignoring me like I wasn’t sitting there beside them, awaiting execution.

            I didn’t mean to forget to finish my math test.  Or start it.  I’d just gotten carried away.  Numbers were so much more interesting when I could turn them into little characters and make up a story about them instead.  And the story which I’d ended up writing on the back of my test was a lot more entertaining than the equations I hadn’t answered on the front, anyway. 

            “Emily,” Mrs. K said finally, setting her beady eyes on the accused.  “Do you understand why I’ve asked your parents to be here?”

            My mother and father—who couldn’t stand to be in the same room as one another normally—both focused their gaze on me.  I swallowed hard.  “Yes?”

            “And why is that?” Mrs. K raised one of her penciled on eyebrows and pursed her lined lips. 

            “Because I wrote a story about the numbers on the back of my math test,” I mumbled, looking down at my hands.

            “Instead of?”

            I sighed with resignation.  “Instead of taking my math test.”

            Even to my nine year old self, this tribunal seemed rife with injustice.  Did they even read the story about Seven dispelling the rumors of his cannibalism?  Did no one care that he went to trial and swore under oath that he did not eat Nine as he was charged?  Or how One defended him because she knew what it was like to be lonely and intimidating? And best yet, after Seven was cleared of all charged, they fell in love and walked hand in hand into the double digits together. 

            “Why do you think we’re disappointed, Em?” my father asked.  His tone was still kind and gentle as always, but undoubtedly displeased.

            “Because math is important?” It was a question.  One I’d been asking since the subject had been introduced to me three years ago and immediately begun its bullying. It was a question that no one had answered. 

            No one answered me this time.  Instead, they turned their attention back to one another and moved onto the sentencing portion of my trial.  Mrs. K used words like “special” and “extra help” and “after-school programs.”  Words that made the knot in my stomach twist tighter and tighter.   

            My mother was silent afterward as we climbed into the car and buckled our seatbelts.  I waited until we pulled onto the street before I swallowed hard and glanced over at her.  “Are you mad?” I asked, quietly, praying I was looking cuter than I felt.

            “Yes,” she said in an even tone.

            “Oh.”

            “I’m mad because I can’t believe my taxes go to paying that woman’s salary,” she gripped the steering wheel tighter.  I blinked. Didn’t expect that.  “What kind of idiot reads a story like that and calls a meeting to tell us she thinks there’s something wrong with you?”  She shook her head and pulled over onto the shoulder.  She took a deep breath and turned to me.  “Look, Em,” she reached out and put a hand on my shoulder.  “No one is good at everything, okay?  But this?” she held up my story.  “You’re good at this.  You’re really, really good at this.”  I felt myself smiling for the first time all day.  My mother smiled back and pressed a kiss to the top of my head.  “Just please don’t use your math tests anymore, okay?  I’ll buy you as many notebooks as you want.  I just don’t want to sit through another meeting like that one.”  She raised her eyebrows.  “Deal?”

            I grinned.  “Deal.”  

            “We’re going to the library,” her mother decided aloud.  “An imagination like yours needs to be fed.”

            True to my word, I stopped writing on the back of my math tests.  I still failed them, but no one had to go to any more meetings because of it.  I had a building full of new teachers waiting for me to devour the lessons they had hidden between their pages.

             I studied character development from Harper Lee and Thomas Mann.  I learned description from the poets—Mary Oliver was my favorite, but I made time for Dickenson and Thoreau.  I kept myself awake most of the summer of 2002 studying how to tingle a spine from the likes of Shelley and Danielewski.  Judy Blume, Toni Morrison, and Elmore Leonard taught me the ins and outs of great dialogue. 

            It was only eleven years later that I found myself in the hospital, sitting beside my mother in the last week of her life.  She had been asleep most of the day; the morphine dulled the pain of the cancer ravaging her body, but it also knocked her out.  She did open her eyes that afternoon, though, and reached for my hand, startling me from the book I was reading at her bedside.

            Her skin was yellowed with jaundice, but her eyes were the same.  Green and kind and curious about what I was doing.  “Who are you reading today?” she asked, her voice hoarse. 

            I covered her hand with mine.  “Neil Gaiman.”

            She managed a smile.  “Get it from the library?”  I nodded and swallowed down the lump in my throat.  “Is there anything in that place you haven’t read?”

            I brought our hands up and kissed the back of hers, squeezing our fingers together as I forced a smile.  “Just the math books.”

 

 

Be honest...and unmerciful.

So there’s this thing that no one ever really told me about.  Not honestly, anyway.  This thing that I’m talking about is called “revision” and it’s just the worst part of my life right now.

Those are the two sides of my brain fighting about whether or not I'm being super dramatic about this whole thing.  

Those are the two sides of my brain fighting about whether or not I'm being super dramatic about this whole thing.  

No, really it is!  And here’s why.  Because when I was a little girl and I told my mother I wanted to be a writer (this was after she told me she wasn’t taking me to Los Angeles to pursue an acting career at the age of nine) she said, “That’s great!  Start writing.”  So, y’know, I did. What she should have said was, “Start writing, but don’t get too attached to anything you initially come up with because it will most likely be crap and you’ll get really discouraged upon rereading it.” 

Okay, okay…I’m glad she didn’t say that. I’m secretly glad that no one said that for most of my life. Although, really, I think that once I hit college someone out there could have let me in on the little secret that a first draft (even if you spend three years writing it) is usually not the story you’re going to end up with.

So what’s wrong with Mack & Moira?

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Okay, that’s maybe an exaggeration.  Maybe.  And I know I wrote the first section of this book two years ago, but honestly, I feel like it was written by a completely different person.  I read somewhere that you should pretend someone else wrote your book so you can revise it objectively…but I mean, do other people actually have to pretend that?  Because this is my life.  If I hadn’t written this manuscript I would want to find the writer and shake her.  But I can’t do that!  Because the writer is me! 

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And maybe I’m being overly critical, but honestly, this is discouraging.  Because while I was writing it, my ego must have been driving because I distinctly remember ending more than a few writing days feeling like:

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But now that I’m reading it, it’s more like:

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Does everyone feel this lost when they first go back and look at their book?  Is this normal?  I thought the hardest part was going to be being critical and objective but honestly, I'm having a much harder time being kind to myself, reminding myself that people actually did love parts of this book and really did come to love and care about the characters.  Thankfully I haven't tried to open the word doc...I don't think I can trust myself with a backspace key at this point.  

And I'm just filled with all kind of weird doubts and twisty feelings.  Am I not tearing through it because it's not good and because I don't like it?  Or am I just stalling because I'm secretly sabotaging myself and this awful process?  Because it's not like I'm not reading it because I'm so super busy.  Really I'm just distracting myself by not writing anything new and not really enjoying any of the books I've been trying to read for the last three months.  What the hell is my problem?!

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If I'm going to be home and be entirely unmotivated to do anything else...shouldn't I be kicking this draft's ass and taking names?  Or at least changing names and plot lines? 

Ugh.  I don't know.  I don't feel like I know anything anymore.  I don't even know what kind of writer I am.  Nothing makes sense.  This is all just getting horribly discouraging and I'm starting to understand why more writers become alcoholics along the way.  

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Basically, I think I just need to shut up and get back to work.  It's okay if you were thinking the same thing. I think everyone is.  Especially the cats.  (Obviously.  What else do cats do but beg for food and judge you?)  

Hopefully these feelings will pass and I'll find myself in the swing of things soon.  Right?  Please?  In the meantime, I guess there's nothing to do but keep plugging through and keep telling my manuscript what I've been telling myself every day since I was fifteen. 

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Here's hoping.

 

 

Note: If you haven't seen Almost Famous then stop what you're doing right now (right now!) and watch it.  It's my most favorite movie of all time and contains without a doubt my favorite character that the late and extremely great Philip Seymour Hoffman ever played. 

Creative Writing Workshop

It’s officially a year of breaking out of comfort zones, climbing out on limbs, sailing away from the harbor and too many clichés!  Adding to my list of brand new things I have always wanted to try, but have been too scared to actually do it, I have decided to start leading a creative writing workshop. I don’t want to say “teaching a class” because I don’t know that creative writing is something that can necessarily be taught.  I think talent and interest in the arts can be guided and directed, and while something like learning to play scales or use an airbrush technique is a definite skill that can be taught like a subject in school, I don’t think that creative writing fits with those words.

 

Anyway, that’s beside the point.  The point is that I’d like to start this workshop here in Warren, Tuesday nights beginning on May 7th at 6pm.  The class would be open to anyone ages 14+ and would only guarantee the 3 F’s:

*Freedom—to write what you want and not be judged

*Feedback—from a small group (no more than 10 people) to improve and develop your writing

*Fun—honing and perfecting your craft with a small group of like-minded individuals (I’ll probably bring snacks each week too…and we all know that snacks make anything more fun.)

 

The course would cost $50 and run for 6 weeks with each class lasting 2 hours.  Each class would focus on a different aspect of a work of fiction so that the end product is a well-rounded, thoroughly work-shopped piece of writing.  There will be weekly “homework” assignments (2-3 pages max) which will be work-shopped at the beginning of each class with the group.  There will be no official grades or credit given—this will be strictly extra-curricular.

Due to the nature of a creative writing workshop, a small-group setting is best, so I’m going to cap this class at 10 participants.  If the class fills up and there is still an interest from the community, I would absolutely consider hosting another class.

Disclosure: I am not a board certified teacher, nor have I ever claimed to be.  I am, however, a student and lover of the written word who has been creating fictional worlds since I was six years old and I do have a bachelor’s degree in Communications and a minor in Creative Writing from Clarion University. My second novel is in the final stages of its first draft and I will be attending the Clarksville Writer’s Conference in Tennessee this summer to meet with and pitch to several agents.  Most importantly, though, I am someone who would have loved and benefited from a small-group instruction of creative writing any time throughout my life, and am interested in creating such an environment here in Warren.

I hope you’ll join me!  Please e-mail (emily.jeziorski@gmail.com), comment, or message me on Facebook if this is something in which you’d be interested.