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So Just Sing

So my leetle sister is applying for graduate school. In Public Policy. Hah! With the hubris of youth, she pooh-poohed my suggestion that she simply approximate the experience by limiting herself to a steady diet of ramen (preferably boiled in cheesewater) and maintaining a rigorous schedule of a 9 a.m.- 9 p.m. workday that consists of rotating between the Political Thought, History, Philosophy and magazine sections of any major chain bookstore where she can create and read her very own syllabi for absolutely no cost! From 9 p.m. until dawn, she can go home and watch CNN and listen to NPR because illustrious college professors are always featured guests on their shows. If she thirsts for opportunities to discuss and debate the finer points of policy making, she can watch CSPAN and yell at her TV. If she ever feels cheated by her maverick graduate program, she can simply withdraw the contents of her bank account and flush great piles of cash down her toilet approximately every four months. No. She wants to go ahead and do things the old-fashioned way.

In order to do this, she must subject herself to the graduate admissions process. This involves, in addition to reacquainting yourself with exactly how your mind-blowing critical thinking skills may be assessed by a computer reading some dots that you carefully filled in with a No. 2 pencil, the challenge of the personal essay. If you went to college, you may recall one particularly cozy Xmas vacation during which you agonized over your personal essay and had to type it onto the pre-fab form sans spell check. A harrowing experience, not to mention the masochistic bouts of critiquing. Is it smart enough? Is it witty enough? Does it make you sound too conceited? Are you absolutely positive that the personal breakthrough you experienced last summer at tennis/engineering camp in France while you were volunteering at the immigrant soup kitchen in order to bone up on your Mandarin colloquial conversation skills is enough to distinguish you from the gobzillion other well-rounded youngsters also vying for the honor to carouse within the same ivied walls? The graduate school admission essay is a little more banal, a little more focused on boring professional-type stuff, but it is still key.

Faced with the essay yet again, my sister began, almost immediately, to whine. It was a familiar hue and cry: “I don’t know what to write about.” It was my turn to scoff. “Did you use up all your good material in your undergrad essay? Look, all it’s asking about is some kind of problem you’ve had to work through. Haven’t you had to work through any problems in the past few years?” She sat, eyes downcast for a moment, and then looked up at me with her lower lip protruding. “I guess I don’t really have any problems.” Was she actually going to pout about this? And yeah, I’m so sure, no problems. Just none an admissions committee should be privy to. But I was there to offer my guidance and support. And yet, her complaint gave me pause.

Neither writing nor problems have ever been in short supply for me. Lucky too, since I’m of the mind that if you have a problem, you should write about. It’ll make you feel better. Who didn’t learn this circa 4th grade when you scrawled “I HATE YOU BITCH” across the inside cover of your favorite book when your mom really, really pissed you off one rainy Sunday afternoon? By taking pen in hand, you just facilitated catharsis. Even without having some kind of problem to actively hash out on paper, writing topics have not been hard to come by for me. Face it, writing is pretty darn easy. Think about it. Think about where you are reading this. Online, where this page may be clicked onto from countless other pages containing….well, writing. Writing that might carelessly be classified as “pointless.” Writing just for the sake of writing. This is sometimes the best kind. A serendipitous turn of a phrase might just be the springboard for another piece of writing or a fascinating chain of ideas.

I've got to call my sis out on this one. When do you really have true cause to whine, “I’ve got nothing to write about?” Never. To paraphrase, “Who cares if it’s not good enough for anyone else to see?” Go ahead, write it down in a journal and shove it under your mattress. Or write it down on your blog where exponential numbers of equally anonymous readers might see it. Or send it to an admissions board for review. It’s all the same thing, really.

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