My application fervor started early. College was synonymous with a fateful rite of passage leading to a happy denouement. A never quenched need to escape has always paired itself with my educational career. If you superimposed the layers, you could see the overlap: girl learns things about the world, only to leave her small town and learn things about herself.
All she needed was an opportunity.
I imagine prim pencil skirts and staunchy three piece suits clearing their throats as they review my essays. And it makes me question my words before I begin.
In a way, I wanted to show them a perfect balance between who I was and who I wanted to be. Could I be as blunt to preface with a disclaimer? “I won’t have all my shit figured out for a long time, but I would like to say that I know where I’m going.” These are the faults that I am wary of, these are the perks that I can put spins on myself for, these are my ambitions that I have reason to believe I am capable of.
As I applied to summer programs before sophomore year ended, I started inventing different ways to vy for the raised eyebrows and shift of intent from sophisticated audiences. It was an interesting introspection, to paint caricatures of each side to myself. Yet even in defining myself as the typical Beat Bohemian, I was adhering to a label. And in trying to exploit my passion for a devotion to the arts as something that stood me apart, I felt like I was commodifying my very insistence to not be a sell-out.
It felt very odd to dare to declare myself admirable for wanting to learn.
Knowledge has become a dirty word, a term that rushes dread through incorrigible attitudes and that connotes a place educating students in batches as if they were to be made products. School became a despised place where you were primed for a mindless future. Continuously convincing ourselves that these expectations were what we wanted for ourselves, we lost our ability to vary perspective.
My English teacher tells us that the creativity quotient has gone down in the past decades. Define creativity, and comment on whether or not a class within schools focused on teaching creativity is the acceptable solution.
It is an unanimous belief that creativity can not be taught.
And the room is divided on whether or not creativity is an inherent trait.
So I stopped the self-congratulation for being attentive to basic human curiosity and instead boasted about how unconventional the way I exhibited these tendencies were within the place I lived.
I wrote: Define creativity as having original thought in unprecedented effect. Define art as an expression of creativity in consumable, appreciable form. Make truth and beauty codependent corollaries of creation.
When the admissions council asks me the most valuable lessons from my seventeen years of life, I want to tell them that I learned how hard it is to be alone in an age where the lives of everyone else are so accessible. I want to tell them about the times that I felt thankful for the universe’s coincidences, the Godwinks that kept my faith extended.
Even though I constantly dream of leaving without a backwards thought, I admit I will miss our view of the river. In the same way that mangrove trees become their own isolated islands of biodiversity, there is a cluster of hollowed out shells that resemble rocks closely enough to fool us. It is our island. We show up in summer outfits any day of the year, touting colorful tapestries to lay out on the sand, a few grocery bags of cookies and chips to picnic with. Our long legs drape over the edges of the stones and we dip our toes into the water, photographs are snapped in candid joy. The sun is shining enough to make it feel like a warm summer day in the middle of February.
There was an effortless bliss in the way we would lay out in the sun. The way that it baked our skins and hazed our minds. It was so bright the backs of your eyelids would glow. Everything said was taken with a blanket acceptance, and any thought could be pondered aloud without judgment.
Many a day on those Chattahoochee rocks started when the universe looked in the coffee shop, saw me sliding down my chair, staring dejectedly at my screen, and took pity. Friends would happen upon downtown and find me, and we would walk the three blocks to the river.
How do I explain to admissions, when they ask me how I spent my time, that I wrote until I could not live without it? I have little to show for it.
There came a point where I started writing more than anyone could keep up with. But if even my circle of friends and mentors had started becoming bored and tired of the words and ramblings, how were there ever going to be places that wanted to publish me? And the thought started to form that perhaps the antagonization of selling out was a privilege to have by those who were already fed by the corporations. My father told me to send my writing out like shrapnel; something would catch somewhere. I relied on my ability to romanticize the worst of things and anticipated rejection eagerly.
I try my best to make my characters formless. Because most of my stories, in some degree of separation, become autobiographies. But the characters can fit any sort of mold; it is the mere intrinsic values that differentiate them. I protagonize people with my similar passions, and the conflict in most my stories have themes of leaving. There have been numerous ramblings about Kerouacian escapes, finding refuge in communities far from home, and the idea of doing something fearlessly different.
But when traced back to the author, you will find that I write my idealized life within the trappings of my enclosed life. If the window of the dreamscape is replaced with a mirror, I look at my reflection and remember that my life was spent living in my imagination.
And you cannot condense writing. Elapsing the time that it probably took for me to pull out ideas and reconstruct them until I was satisfied enough to look away, it was less than the many days I spent collecting a caffeinated stench.
When I look around the establishment, you can see the phones shoved in front of faces, the way that students that came here to study spend ten minutes staring into the pockets of spaces next to strangers’ faces for every five they look at their book. Maybe my addiction to having people I can lay out on the rocks and talk to, my need to turn to someone and ask for feedback on a new work, all of it is as much a distraction and as pointless. But then again, there is always a lesson given for every tradeoff.
As bohemian ideals started to take over my notions of true creativity, the fate of selling out became a very real fear. Higher education was something I would essentially be selling myself to, and “Corporate” would soon have me debasing my values in return for tuition. And in order to receive the platitude that was a “yes,” I was selling myself off as something I was not.
I needed to find a way to celebrate myself in the face of admissions, communicating in a way that would let them know that I was intelligent, but creative first.
It has become trite to rant against the current education system, the failed meritocracy, the sense-dulling system. But I channel a bit of the complaint and propose the resolute path I carved for myself. What is passion? I have filtered my knowledge until I found something worth clinging to, and there, that was passion.
To whom it may concern: I sat in class, but I was always itching for more. I know that restlessness is no new phenomenon, and the ability for one to seek out unprompted supplementive outlets is not terribly impressive. But while in my small town where the kids go build forts in the local Walmart for fun, I found myself alone but too dependent on writing to change my reputation. Creating became something I needed.
The altar of creation translates to the coffee shops, the swirls within the foamed milk that you look down your nose into. It is sitting down at a wooden table among the like-minded crowds that float laptops, journals, and books; shoving my mind into any new direction I could be prolific in; and realizing that my lesson for the day would be writing something forever unknown.