Thursday, March 22, 2007

Plan B

It's been almost a week now since the last of the small envelopes turned up in my mailbox. I found it as I walked out the door to work last Friday, and spent the fifteen-minute drive in stony silence, with Damien Rice filling up the hollows in my melancholy. The first people I saw when I got to work were two of the people I like most there, and when they saw my face, they looked concerned and Maggie said quietly, "Did you hear?" I nodded and sucked my lips in, trying not to cry. "Plan B?" she said. "Which was really Plan A in the first place?"

When I walked into the breakroom to put away my coat and purse, I actually did start to cry. I collected a hug from another co-worker, took some deep breaths, and refused to talk about it anymore, because people don't usually trust the recommendations of a crying bookseller, and I wasn't going to be able to talk about not getting into any PhD programs without crying.

By the middle of my shift, after a few hours of mostly solitary work and then reading to children in my pajamas (for Friday Night Pajamarama), I was no longer in danger of crying. But even now, a week later, I'm still confused. Maggie was referring to the plan I didn't want to detail here unless life really came down to that. For a while I wasn't actually sure what to hope for, because if I got into a PhD program, awesome, and if I didn't, I would get to try out this new plan, which I'd been kind of excited about.

So the plan is this: I have an opportunity to make money by writing for a friend's website--enough money, if I do it right, to go down to part time at work, and probably eventually quit. Writing regular articles for the website will take up some time, but not so much time that I wouldn't be able to write fiction and submit it to publishers. Writing fiction is what I've really wanted to do for as long as I can remember, and if I retrace my thinking over the past few years, I realize that my desire to be a college professor originated with a desire to have a career that would allow me time to write. Until recently, I've been ignoring certain bugs in that plan. For instance, if I have a PhD and I'm teaching at a university, I have to do research and publish scholarly writing. I kind of enjoy writing literary criticism. But. How much time and energy would that leave me for writing fiction? Probably not much. In a way--and you probably won't hear many people say this--getting a PhD would have been a cop-out for me. That was me playing it safe. Because jumping naked into a big swirling pool of pure writing? That's scary. There's no guarantee of money in it, and creativity is an unpredictable beast. Writers become alcoholics for a reason.

So this is Plan B. But yeah, sort of Plan A in the first place.

I'm not saying I'll never get a PhD, because I think it sounds like fun, and I think I will someday be able to get into a program. Also, not seeing graduate school in my tangible future has changed my self-perception slightly. Before, I was just passing time in a bookstore before I went on to more respectable things. Now there's a possibility I'm stuck. Getting unstuck will be a frustrating and painful process, and I won't lie: I'm scared. But if I can make it work...

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Wednesday, March 21, 2007

I was just strongarmed into switching to the new version of Blogger. I'd been wondering when that would happen. I knew they wouldn't be willing to let me rot contentedly in my little technological black hole forever.

Sunday, March 18, 2007


Not negotiating with myself for idleness
Just doing it.
Rattling around this house
Moving the air around the dust bunnies.
Being deeply affected by music.
Ignoring the list on the table
With no lines drawn through.
I'll regret this when tomorrow's time
Is hijacked by the nine-to-five.
But for now my brain is detached
By the swelling of secondhand emotions
Make believe
And sentence fragments.

Wednesday, March 14, 2007


If I had only been a little patient, I would have received the bad news from the aforementioned university via the thoughtful and semi-consoling rejection letter that arrived in the mail this afternoon. But I'm not sure I would have preferred that, since finding out about that rejection earlier sort of softened the blow of getting number five at the same time.

Just one more school left. I've been devising a back-up plan that I think I might be happy about, but I can't write about it here yet, because I don't want to make it that real unless I have to. I'm trying to believe that everything that happens in life is an opportunity, and I've been pretty good at convincing myself of that. But then these rejections come, and I'll be damned if they aren't still painful and insulting and scary.


Category: Lapses in Professionalism

Answer: This is how Amber learned the admissions decision of a fourth university, after waiting a week and a half longer for the decision to arrive than the university had indicated she should expect to wait, then finally remembering she had an online application account with that university.

What is: "Application Decision: Refusal"?

Friday, March 02, 2007


This week, for the first time in 25 years (says the blonde meteorologist on TV), my city got two 12-inch snows in the span of just a few days. Yesterday, millions of flakes turned the view from the bookstore window into shades of grey and we closed the doors at 5:00, shooing a few wandering customers out into the weather five hours earlier than usual. I tried to make plans for the two hours that had been shaved from my shift at work (I could read! I could write! I could watch the storm from the couch!), but they were thwarted by a disappointing fake-out from a certain university (a big envelope that contained nothing but a meaningless brochure of campus housing), a pile of dirty dishes, and a rumbly in my tumbly that demanded I cook.

Now, heavy wet snow covers every corner of this old neighborhood with brilliant white. Bare tree branches are two-faced; several inches of snow props itself up against window sills and the spaces between the rods in the porch railing; on the beautiful brick house across the street, clumps of snow cling to browned ivy; and cars and houses appear to have sunk a little into the ground overnight.

I don't work today, and all week my plan has been to clean the house from top to bottom, the way I try to do every few weeks. But last night Eric put in his vote for me taking today off. I vetoed the idea immediately because I'm not sure when I'll have another good chance to clean. But then I thought about all the times I've stood at work, staring out the window at rain or snow and said to whoever happened to be standing nearby, "What a perfect day to stay home and read. I wish I didn't have to work." Except for the current lull in the snowfall, today is one of those days. And since this is just two days after an unexpectedly long trip to the hair salon (where they attempted to pamper me with an ironically ill-timed "relaxation experience") made me half an hour late for work and left me tense and short-tempered for hours, I'm thinking maybe I should take nature's hint.

So here's the new plan: I'll still do the dishes and clear the clutter off the coffee table and probably run a dust mop around the house. And I'll probably do some writing that's been dogging me. But not until later in the afternoon. Right now, I'm going to make a cup of coconut ceylon tea, lie down on the couch with the last third of Moby-Dick, and watch while a blue jay uses his face to throw snow off the bird feeder suction-cupped to our living room window.