I know when I was applying to MFA programs, one of the hardest things for me to get a good grasp on was the personal statement. Now that I have been immensely successful in my quest for admittance, I thought I would share my statement so that it might be of some use to others undergoing the same struggles I went through. I think the key here is to remember that this is a small part of the application process. Do your best, but don’t sweat it. Focus your time and energy on your work sample as that is the key factor in admittance. This is the full version that I whittled down to essential parts depending on the length and specifications of the application requirements.
At eight years old, the world is still fresh and exciting. My bed was positioned in such a way that the sun filtered in through the window, catching dust particles dancing mid-stream, landing on the patchwork quilt and warming a spot for me to languor in. Spread around me were several slightly crumpled sheets of lined blank paper. Some sheets were filled with messy writing, well worn, the ink slightly blurred. I liked to run my fingers over the indentations the pen made in the paper, feeling the evidence of my thoughts. Other sheets of paper waited for me, full of promise, ready to make my imagination tangible.
My deep love of writing stems from my personality, my mood and a deep seeded need to understand humanity. I don’t talk to people. Those who know me would probably laugh at that statement, but it is true. I will walk with my eyes downcast or go a more circuitous route to avoid having to chat to someone. The idea of having an exchange with an acquaintance or stranger leaves my heart pounding and my head racing. The problem is not shyness, as, once again, my friends will attest to. The problem is that I live immeasurably in my head, and my brain is so non-linear and hyperactive that I am usually either incredibly awkward or the conversation requires a monumental effort on my part. I would rather not appear foolish to strangers, acquaintances, and colleagues.
I learned early that I could share anything with that blank page. It didn’t mind if I spent several paragraphs entirely off topic, jumping from Einstein to Marilyn to being in love with Spock. I would eventually get back to that time I let a friend down because when he told me he was getting a divorce, I blurted out something about Kahlil Gibran instead of consoling him. His mention of marital problems sparked rapid-fire thoughts in my brain that led me, in a very circuitous route, to The Prophet and something really interesting that I had just read and if I waited, I knew I would forget.
It was during this period that I discovered books. I discovered a battered box deep inside one of the cavernous closets near my bedroom and opened it up to find tomes of all sorts. I spent the summer entranced in the beautiful prose of Virginia Wolf’s To the Lighthouse, the rollercoaster of the Taming of the Shrew and the raw emotion of T.S. Eliot’s Poems: 1909–1925. Inspired by what I read, I began writing to understand better humanity and the world that I lived in. As I matured, I realized that not only could I take myself on that journey of discovery, but I could take others along with me. At this point writing was no longer something I did, it was something I had to do. I found that I wanted to share my writing, to inspire others as the authors I read had inspired me. Though I lacked the courage to share, for the first time I found myself writing for and audience rather than for myself. I wanted to be an author.
I always intended to become a published author, but in my family, you took care of practical needs first and pursued dreams later, so I set about getting a responsible job that would pay the bills and take care of my family and figured that once I was established, I would pursue writing. My first responsible job was in law enforcement. While going to college, I became a reserve police officer. Writing became the way that I coped with the horrors I saw. Through law enforcement, I learned how to communicate and empathize with those who are vastly different for me.
As I followed in my father’s footsteps and donned a badge and gun, my mother was diagnosed with cancer. The big lump in her breast, which I had spotted while she was changing, turned out to be not only malignant but highly aggressive. In the midst of her battle, my mother and father abandoned the dry junipers for moss draped crepe myrtle and left us all. The Victorian house that they made home had a wraparound porch. I sat curled in a chair on that porch one night, raging at the world when the rain began to fall in silvery skeins. Those pearls sealed off the judgmental night as they closed around me. The world fell away from me. I wrote that night, and my heart bled onto the paper as it never had before.
I discovered that writing could be a cathartic act. I wrote with a passion that never occurred in my earlier writing. The more I wrote, the more I wanted to share with others so that my plight might help them to make sense of the world, to feel less alone. As much as I desired to pour everything I had into writing, my mother’s death forced me to focus on caring for my family and, once more, on being a “responsible adult” and so I threw myself into my law enforcement career.
It was my time as a cop that spurred me into getting my teaching license. I wanted to do more than arrest the grown children of offenders my father arrested during his time as a police officer. I wanted to create something meaningful, something that would impact others in a way that I never would be able to as a cop. Teaching is hard, fulfilling work, but it does not grow my soul the way writing does. I need to write. I have to write. My biggest fear is to reach my fifties or sixties and recognize that I never realized my dreams because I was too afraid to try.
I have cozied up to a fire while writing this reflection. Beside me, flames lick up the side of a faux log, frantically trying to taste, to consume the wood. Those hungry tongues are encased in glass, forever locked in their futile quest. They burn passionately, driven to accomplish their desire. It seems I always find myself with unconsumed logs, artificial, lying at my feet. I am sick of this silent fire. It is too clean, too neat, too easy to maintain. I long for real flames, greedy flames. I wish to tread on ash and ember, to dirty my face with soot and absorb smoke into my very core so that the smell cannot be washed out.
I want to be courageous and call myself an author. I have long ago overcome my fears regarding sharing my work, and I seek criticism from peers whenever possible. I hope to gain more confidence in my skills through the MFA program and to hone and refine my voice. As a writer, I am skilled at description and dialogue, but I still struggle with structure and organization, something I hope to work on through an MFA program. My plan is to refine my craft enough to pursue publishing novels and short stories. I want to write contemporary fiction the way Faulkner writes about the South, the way Hemingway writes about war and love, and the way Woolf writes about being a woman. Lastly, I am eager to have a chance to shape my work through the critiquing of others and to be a part of others’ work. I want to be the voice that whispers to my peers, “It is good enough; you are good enough.”
I am already pursuing a writing career. I have finished three novel length manuscripts and am in the process of polishing those. The first of those is complete, and the partial manuscript has been requested by three different agents who are currently reviewing it. I am working on writing two more novel length manuscripts and a slew of short stories that I hope to submit in various competitions. In spite of all the pitfalls of being a writer, I will continue on because my heart sings when I compose those words on pages, because I understand the world better when I write, but mostly because I am driven to. Though I am arriving a little late to the game, I am determined, and I will not stop until I can call myself an author.
In T.S. Eliot’s The Use of Poetry and the Use of Criticism he says, “To do the useful thing, to say the courageous thing, to contemplate the beautiful thing: that is enough for one man’s life.” This is my life’s dream and goal, to write something useful, courageous, and beautiful, and pursuing my MFA in Creative Writing is the critical first step in this endeavor. I am ready to fill the blank pages that surround me.