Applying for the Creative Writing MFA: the Statement of Purpose

Last year, I applied to twelve masters programs (eleven in creative writing, fiction, and one in folklore). I was rejected by five, waitlisted by one, and accepted by six. I’m currently working on my masters in folklore at the University of Oregon. I don’t have much time at the moment, but maybe in the next couple of days, I’ll muse upon my writing process and probably post other application materials. Till then, have some statement of purposes.

As you’ll see, they’re all quite similar. But by reading and considering them en masse, you’ll see how I tweaked each statement for each program.

The rejections:

The waitlist:

The acceptances:

Mastering Folklore (as best as can be done) pt i: The Application: Statement of Academic Objectives

Mastering Folklore (as best as can be done) pt i: The Application: Statement of Academic Objectives

Writing this post feels unreal. Writing about applying for grad school when I’m ten hours away from starting my third week of my masters is a strange, estranged thing. A reminder of how I’ve shifted (in time and place and self), and of how stress always shifts along with the shifting–and how I’m actually pretty decent at handling stress. For the most apart.

At any rate, to relieve some of your stress (assuming you’re a potential grad applicant to a folklore or creative writing MFA program [though I imagine this information could be potentially useful to any applicant]), I’ve decided to post some of my applications materials. Don’t steal them, don’t copy them. You’ll be found out if you do, and you’ll look very stupid, and very rejected.

Instead, use them to learn–probably mostly what not to do. But maybe what to do as well. I didn’t get into every single program I applied to, but of the twelve programs I applied to, I was rejected by five, waitlisted by one, and accepted by six. Not terrible, I guess. Others have done better, and less better. We’re all were we are.

All the above, briefly mentioned, programs were creative writing MFA programs, except for one in folklore–the University of Oregon’s folklore program, which I’m attending at this very moment. In the coming weeks, I’ll be posting more info and application material and thoughts about all my applications, but I figured I’d begin with the program I’m actually in.

So without any further worded procrastination, I give you…a statement of academic objectives, written for the University of Oregon’s Folklore program’s application requirements. (Click the link for a pdf, or just read it below.)

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University of Oregon—Folklore Master’s, General Folklore Track

Statement of Academic Objectives

 

I never imagined myself living in Montana. The hungry skies, earth so dry it crackles, the smoke in August—it’s terrifying to a girl born and raised in Washington, whose skin splits and bleeds when the air isn’t damp enough. And yet here I am, living beneath a hill dry and yellow as an old scapula, while my partner goes to graduate school. There’s no place for me to hide in the Bitterroot. But this self-imposed hermitage gave me something I never had in or outside of my time as an undergraduate—the space and silence to examine myself, and the perspective to realize what has always driven me: folklore.

Whether I’m drumming in my neofolk metal band, Felled, or writing short fiction and novels, the bones of folklore have always been present in my art. But I know now that presence isn’t enough—I need to go deeper. I need knowledge and awareness—I need a Master’s in Folklore. I want to study folklore from a theoretical perspective to delve further into my own art, to create work with more meaning, relevance, and nuance. Through these studies, I hope to become more sensitive to the world, and humanity’s folkloric distillation of existence—and to take this learning and share it with the larger communities of my artistic disciplines.

I graduated from Fairhaven College with an interdisciplinary degree in Percussive Wordcraft and Narrative Drumming, an exploration of writing and percussing with more empathy—using rhythm and sound to make my words tactile, story to deepen my music. Beyond school, I published a number of short stories and poems (many of them driven by folklore), lead writing workshops, taught high school percussion sections, and instructed undergraduate music students in a recording studio. Late this autumn, I finished a short piece of fiction titled For Hunger She Goes into the Forest, a feminist subversion of Little Red Riding Hood; not long after, I wrote The Eggs We Ate in Winter, a story in conversation both with the 1990s music subculture of Norwegian black metal, as well as a quieter dialogue with Koschei the Deathless, of Slavic lore.   My most recent musical endeavors have also spoken directly to (and of) folklore—my band’s newest album, Winterwheel, is a modern exploration of seasonal ritual, through the lense of ancient Anglo-Saxon Paganism.

I want to continue approaching these themes and lines of research in my art, but also attack them from an academic perspective in graduate school. I’m interested in studying the intersections between folktales and myth, and the literature of the fantastic—especially science fiction; in particular, I want to focus on gender roles and cultural appropriation in this sphere, as well as the fan cultures of fantastic media, and the creations that stem from them (specifically, fan fiction, art, and video). Beyond this, however, I’m also interested in the use of mythology in the established musical genre of folk metal, and the evolution of black metal—from its embryonic Satanic beginnings, to its current (and ever-growing) presence in eco-activism, and the mythopoesis of the Cascadian bioregion.

I’m drawn to the University of Oregon’s Master’s in Folklore because it seems very much alive. Both the faculty and current graduate students are involved in studies and projects that genuinely excite me. Not only is it a community I’d very much like to be a part of, I also believe I can offer the program a unique perspective on both music and literature in relation to folklore. Beyond this, however, Oregon’s Master’s in Folklore (and associated programs) has many of the resources I need to study my afore-mentioned interests. A number of courses are extremely relevant to understanding the bridge between folklore and fantastic literature, and the associated fan cultures—Gender in Japanese Literature and Film, as well as Tokyo Cyberpunk, Folklore and US Popular Culture, Folklore and Sexuality, and the German Fairy Tales course—among many, many others. There are also a number of faculty members with strong backgrounds in ethnomusicology, folk song, and Scandinavian folklore—knowledge that would provide tremendous support for my more musical slant of interests. In relation to music, both the courses offered through the Scandinavian program, and Folklore of Subcultures, would be quite useful to my studies. But besides Oregon’s excellent (and quite relevant) faculty and course offerings, the opportunities for the Graduate Teaching and Research Fellowships interest me as well, as I’d like to approach folklore from as many paths as possible. In my experience, studying a discipline from multiple angles makes for a more holistic and powerful grasp of the subject.

Ultimately, I would like to conclude my graduate studies with a terminal project that bridges my artistic and academic interests—a book of short stories, or a novel, that shows via fictional wordcraft the nodes between folk tales and their modern, fantastic counterparts. Conversely, I’m very interested in researching and writing a novel set during Norway’s second wave of black metal (during the time of the church burnings and murder), that gets into the intimate headspace of that particular subculture, all of its quirks, rawness, and darkness–or perhaps even writing and recording an album that strains and breaks the boundaries of that same genre’s current, modern incarnation.

After graduate school, I want to continue writing books and making albums with folkloric hearts, but also use my writing and musicianship to create a community-oriented, interdisciplinary narrative workshop, to share the knowledge I hope to gain by studying folklore. Before that, though, I want to whet myself with a Master’s of Folklore from the University of Oregon. I’d like to continue the interdisciplinary studies I began at Fairhaven College, but with even more depth and academic rigor. The Folklore Program offers just what I need: a vital, innovative community where I can thrive, struggle, and offer my very best, all while studying the folkloric spine of my art, and the earth and people it’s beholden to.

grad school, simple as that (because clever and/or poetic titles evade me–which, of course, implies that my other titles are clever and poetic. They are not.)

So occupied. The first week of year one of my grad program has passed; I’m still finding a comfortable rut to roll along. It’s not a matter of being stuck–I’m happy where I am, studying folklore (or learning to study it). What I mean, is I’m still finding a rhythm to settle into, so I can get my academic work done, and mind my core–which is strange.

One of the reasons I’m here is to bring folklore closer to my core. But that doesn’t mean making drumming and writing centrifugal. Right now I’m learning to make space. Over the summer, I set myself the goal of getting 75k words of the magpie book written. I managed 65k and I’m inclined to be content with that. But I still want to try and wrap up the rest of draft 1 by the end of October or November. It will happen. I’m taking a grad fiction seminar and after just one meeting, in which we discussed a broader and more dynamic definition of omniscience, my understanding of how I should be telling this nestled story of mine is clarifying:

Because the magpie book’s spine is a story told by a pair of exterior narrators, the close-third perspective I’ve been using really doesn’t make sense. Considering the tricksy, corvid nature of these outer-narrators, I don’t think they’re capable of limiting themselves to the contents of two separate and single heads, one at a time. An omniscient narrator would give them the freedom to flit about, wreck havoc where and where-not appropriate, to make potent and highly opinionated statements about the story, and the nature of story, as magpies would be (in my mind) wont to do.

Then, of course, there’s the drumming to make way for. Soon, I hope have to have a space for my set, which means there will be a significant drop in air-drumming–not absolute, though. One thing I’ve learned being away from my drums this summer is that I can nail a song much quicker and more exactly, than if I were sitting at my kit. This is probably directly related to my tendency to free-play along with songs. Which is fun, but not exactly beneficial. I taught myself a couple songs in early summer (Pull Me Under, A Dudás, and Suncatcher), paying attention to nuance and detail. Distraction plummeted with only air and anatomy and brain-fabricated sounds at my disposal, so that’s a technique I’ll be keeping with me. Nonetheless, having nothing to strike for the past four months is the sort of difficulty that can only be coped with by pretending it hasn’t been hard, so really, truly being able to drum again will be something like waking up.

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As proven by a recent photo I tweeted, grad school is keeping me inundated. It will stay like this, I know. Okay, fine. I can survive doing things. I get excited when something comes along that needs to be added to the to-do list, because I like drawing lines and bisecting letters and crowing glee with the doneness of it all, and by the time all this is over, I will have struck-through many to-dos, but probably not as many as I should. And that’s okay. Life is a massive to-do list on a pedestal (or a toadstool, because why would you put a to-do list on a pedestal when you can have fungus?) and the only way it ends is in the inkbath of death.

…that’s the afterlife, by the way: your existential to-do list. Drowned in a bucket of milked ballpoints.

 

 

Arctic Salvage

Saw two of my favorite bands back-to-back in late September. Day one, I waited against El Corazon’s freshly painted walls, slightly sticky and pungent, the alternate scrape of brick and splinters catching my back. I watched the sky and the planes in it, and waited, and listened to the sound check. Not many people showed up early. More next time, maybe.

That night was Pain of Salvation, of Sweden, of rich and rending and vulnerable music with unbreakable bones. The set they played was good, but cut short by twenty minutes due to…frustrating reasons. It meant they didn’t play anything from their most recent albums, which was a little disappointing; the music on Road Salt I and II makes me feel storm-wrecked and campfire-warmed. But they played well and sweaty, nonetheless, and anyway, I’ve been waiting since I was fourteen to see them, so finally watching them play not a foot from me was a relief. Sometimes release is all you need, and I got a little of that that night (and a hunger), so I’m okay.

The next night was Sonata Arctica of Finland. I’ve seen them six or seven times now, but the show they played on the twenty-fifth felt like one of the best I’ve attended. One of the better shows of my life, too. Even managed to worm my way to the stage’s front and center, despite being too poor to afford VIP tickets. And as usual, I snared my usual drum stick from Sonata’s drummer, Tommy Portimo, which makes that the…sixth? stick he’s handed to me personally, with a thank you. Super nice of him, though I’m forever paranoid of the moment he realizes he’s been handing drum sticks to the same girl every time he’s in Seattle.

The next morning, I was up by 5:30. I had orientation for my grad program five hours south. I photographed my mom’s bacon-lattice masterpieces, packed the houseplant she’d been watching, wrapped Cavan’s breakfast sandwiches, and said goodbye to her and my dad and the evergreens, and damp air that feeds me better than anywhere else.

STORYFOX: a Database of Vulpine Science Fiction and Fantasy

I’ve been foxbitten. For the past year, I’ve had a vulpine literary foreshadow. I keep finding science fiction and fantasy that’s paw-printed and lushly tailed. I’m not complaining. Quite the opposite. But these glimpses are making me obsessive (foxfoxfox), and as a grad student of Folklore already thinking about thesis ideas, I want to make this into an ongoing project, known simply as this:

 Storyfox: a Database of Vulpine Science Fiction and Fantasy.

The obvious question, of course, is this: why foxes? At the moment, I honestly don’t have a well-defined answer (one of many reasons for this project)–thus far, it’s mostly because I’ve got this gut-deep attraction to the creatures. But I’m also drawn to the intersections that seem to be rising to the surface as I explore these fox-laden stories: a meeting of folktales, foxes, gender, sexuality, and the feral/becoming feral.

In time, and with help of the community, I hope to make Storyfox into a sort of database of SF/F works that feature the fleet-footed creatures. Short stories, comics, poetry, novels, films, video games–any kind of media, really, as long as foxes play more than a passing role in the tale. In its present state, this idea of mine is admittedly self-serving, but my intent is for it to evolve into a resource, a reading list, a study of foxes and the reasons they’ve nosed into our media. I know I’m not the only one who’s been breathing vulpine aphrodisiacs, so hopefully this collection will be of interest to others, as well, and help us all find new, fox-boned narratives.

If you want to help gather an endless reading supply foxful of goodness, send on your recommendations and send out the word. Any and all contributions are welcome! THAT SAID. While I’m interested in material from any/all sources–because whatever form it is, whatever state it’s in, it exists and I am thusly curious–I’m especially interested in making this list diverse. Diverse media from a diverse cosmos.

So. Spread the word. Submit links, book/film/etc titles, and I’ll expand the list, which can be found in its current kit-like form, here. If you have anything to add to the list (whether of your own creation, or otherwise), please let me know! You can contact me here, or on twitter.

Thanks much! Now send on the foxes.

ghostlinks for mediums

Continuing with my backlog of links. This time it’s media-related.

More specifically, things I’ve been obsessing over:

<>This cover of Bjork’s Joga, by Georgi Kay. Heard on the show Top of the Lake (which is worth a watch).

<>And this cover of Daft Punk’s Get Lucky, by Daughter. So much moodier, and…desperate. And fitting. I love it. For…for reasons.

<> Woodkid’s Run Boy Run.

<>Ever since finding the BBC’s production of The Hitchhiker’s Guide to the Galaxy in my hometown’s library in high school, I’ve loved audio dramas. I listened to the Secondary, Tertiary, and Quandary Phases over and over the summer of my senior year, while baking hundreds of pounds of granola and cookies. I can quote from it with ease (or could, at one time), but these days, AWAKE is the audio drama of my heart. It recently finished up, and is free to stream, and whether or not you’ve been looking for a generation ship murder mystery with a diverse, heart-punching cast, then congratulations! you’ve found exactly what you need. I have to admit that I haven’t actually listened to the last chapter, but that’s only because I really don’t want it to end. IT CAN’T BE OVER.

<>Because of Phobs, I’ve been tossed violently back into The Silmarillion fandom. I say violently, because I’ve been bewitched by her Melkor and Sauron. Yay for the dark lords of Middle Earth. ;  )

<>Stunning Nude Photo Series Will Make You Think Twice About The ‘Ideal Body’ (NSFW) I love many things about this, but something especially about the lighting, and the occasional vivid green biomass, and what it all speaks to.

<>I’ve been waiting to link to this post, Roads to the Heart: Cascadian Yule MMXII, because I hadn’t had a chance to fully sink into its loam. If you want to know what being embedded in the core of Cascadian music  (especially metal and folk) is like, read this. I finally got a chance to read through the whole narrative, and found it really beautiful. Reminds me a bit of Canis Aureus, which was a dark folk/black and doom metal festival held on private land near Eugene, OR this summer.

keeping myself alive

Writing and drumming and making things are hooks I hang myself on. These are the things I do. I choose to dangle from their lures. I’m my own bait and, being the narcissistic creature I can’t say I’m not, I will always catch myself. The hunt and its end aren’t always pretty or proper or fruitful, but the blood pattern (art) is always there.

My attachment to art and making is somewhat violent. In the mind. A trot on knife-edge. In my own context only, of course, because my life is pretty great compared to everything, everyone, else, beyond my bubble. My so-called problems are small in the global perspective, and will always be because really, I have no desire for world domination. But I do a lot to keep myself at bay; I’ve learned how to cope with myself.

In the past, I propped myself up with anorexia, and pro-ana imagery and record-keeping, and visceral films like (the original) Oldboy and Sympathy For Mr. Vengeance. I’m not anorexic now, but the possibility of it is never far; sometimes I use it as a threat–against weakness, or lack of control. I don’t doubt that my ability to vice-grip myself is still in here, and if I topple too far, I may just dredge it back up again.

But I didn’t start writing today to talk about anorexia, my constant ghost. I want to write about how I stabilize myself today. In a post a couple weeks ago, Theodora Goss wrote about Staying Healthy as a writer. After reading it, I knew immediately I wanted to react to it with words, because what she said resonated. I figured that, considering how eating and movement and body image and obsession and bull-headedness are all embedded in me forever, considering that I’ve written about anorexia before, about my history with eating in the skin I’m in, maybe it was time I wrote about how I stay healthy now.

First, I need to point out that my relationship with my body and food is, and likely will always be, fucked. Though this is a response to a post called Staying Healthy (a post I love, in case I haven’t said it already), I can’t say my own habits are healthy. I am healthy because of them, and I am–for the most part–comfortable with the structures and rules I’ve made for myself, but the strategies, the constraints, I use are not the best. Then again, I’d probably fall apart with without those bones. I’m feral in those bounds–on my long bikes rides (talking/narrating/burning/panting with myself), in the viscera of my story parts–but surrounding myself with calcified focus is how I survive.

At any rate, it’s better than starvation. And so, this. This is how I cope, as a writer, an artist in general, as a human being.

I think the easiest way to talk about all this is to detail the form of my day. (Note: this is my schedule as of the past three months. Note 2: this schedule will change in a couple weeks, when I start grad school. Maybe I’ll post a re-introspection once things have shifted.)

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MORNING

Usually I’m up at seven. Depends on what time I headed to bed the night before–usually midnight, which means I aim for seven hours of sleep, except on my rest days. On rest days, I sleep till I wake (which typically means I’m up by seven-thirty or eight. What can I say that I haven’t already said? A creature of habit. That’s me). Ultimately, I’d like to always get eight hours a night, but at this point, that’s a pipedream.

I get up, I eat either a slice of soaked (fermented) banana bread (if I’m going on a 20+ mile bike ride) with peanut butter and half a banana, or a piece of this sourdough rye bread (on the days of less extensive exercise). Or some variation of it, plus PB and half a banana.

After eating, exercise. This varies day by day, but my schedule is typically as follows:

  • Sunday: Upper body strength training + some kind of cardio.
  • Monday: Lower body strength training + interval training.
  • Tuesday: Active rest day.
  • Wednesday: Upper body strength training + yoga.
  • Thursday: Long bike ride (20+ miles).
  • Friday: Lower body strength training + interval training.
  • Saturday: Long bike ride (10 to 15-ish miles).

After exercise, more eating–of what I consider to be my breakfast. I have this tendency to mash my food together, so this typically consists of peanut butter, mixed with plain whole milk yoghurt, and sunflower seeds soaked with apple cider vinegar. An apple on the side, or some other fruit–preferably figs, if they’re in season and I’m lucky enough to find them in the 50% off bin at my local market.

MID-MORNING/AFTERNOON

I recently found that I write far faster with pen and paper (2000 words or so in a couple hours, as opposed to struggling all day for a few thousand), so after breakfast, I’ll type up whatever I wrote the previous day.

Then I drum, which consists of speed/muscle memory training, rudiments, learning new songs, and writing for my band. After that, I write half my wordcount-goal for the day (I usually aim for 2000+ in total, per day). Sometimes the drumming happens at night.

Also sometimes, I have lunch. And sometimes not. I’m trying to get better about eating three meals a day, but…it probably only occurs half of the week. It’s a work in progress. On the days I do have lunch, it’s typically protein (cheese, nuts, whatever [usually a combo of animal/biomass-based protein]) + veggies.

At three o’clock, I have a piece of chocolate. Usually it’s homemade (a mashed mixture of bananas, avocado, coconut oil, nuts, and cocoa powder, all poured into a cookie tray, frozen, and cut into daily doses), free of processed sugar, because the only time I eat sugar not in fruit/veggies/etc is on Fridays. (More on this later.)

EVENING/NIGHT

Dinner. Which could be anything, really. One constant: whatever it is, I mix it with greens. Lettuce, kale, spinach, whatever. If it is a leaf, and green, I will chop it and put the rest of my food on top. Basically, my greens are your rice/pasta/whatever you put on or beside your main course. There are good reasons/less good (see: messed up) reasons for this, but suffice to say, this is what I do.

After dinner, maybe a walk. And then more writing/a usually failed attempt to meet my self-assigned wordcount. Sometimes I make it. Sometimes I spend too much time on tumblr/Archive of Our Own and utterly fail. In the end, I can only do what I can do.

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The above varies, of course. Sometimes there are hikes. Sometimes (lots of times) there are shows to go to at night, which usually sees me writing during soundchecks. My eating habits, however, rarely change. My breakfast doesn’t really ever change. Lunch and dinner vary more, but generally, my diet is mostly fruit/vegetables, and protein. I refuse to eat reduced fat products. Almost always whole foods. Minimal processing. Lots of fermented and/or sprouted deliciousness. I don’t eat many grains (nothing against them, I just feel better, less ungainly and bloated, when I stay away), but when I do, they’re almost always lacto-fermented. Or, again, sprouted. Farewell, phytic acid!

The only sugar I eat is the sort that occurs naturally in whole foods (veggies/fruit, mostly), except for Fridays. Fridays are my sugardays. I eat ice-cream. I have honey with my pre-exercise bread, peanut butter, and banana. Plus other, small, things of processed/pure sugar.

And then, sometimes, I break my normalform:

 *Once a month, for one meal, I eat whatever the hel I want as an incentive to cleave to my self-imposed rules. There are more stipulations that accompany this, but I’ll leave it at this for now. Because I tend to repeat myself, the meal usually consists of chocolate-hazelnut granola, dates rolled in oat flour, and some sort of chocolate–all dipped in cashew butter.

Side note: I love the food corralled in my self-imposed rules, so the rules aren’t really synonymous with hardship. Which is probably why my free-meal is really not that different from my usual diet (except the granola).

 *Once a month, restaurant-food. Whatever that may be. Quality and tastiness are really the only requirements.

 *And of course, sometimes, I just break the rules. (Many of you may understand that when I say the rules, I mean me.)

 And…that’s pretty much it. Self-dissection, self-exposure, on display. Nothing more than a chronicle of my daily how-I-stay-alive routine.

Are there better ways to stay alive? Absolutely. Maybe? There’s no perfect way of being; what works best for me, is terrible for you. What’s terrible for me makes you superhuman. Truth: I have this constant urge to just let myself be, to trust my body to know, because on the brain-level, I know my body knows what it needs. But I’ve spent so long telling my body that it doesn’t know, that I know better (question: in this context, who the fuck is I?), that I no longer trust it. I don’t trust myself. I worry that the urge to let go, is just that: the desire to let go, to feast, to embrace excess. (What’s so wrong with that?) But mostly, I think I’m afraid I’ve pushed myself so far out of my context I wouldn’t know what to do to say fuck it all, and eat what/when/as my gut sees fit.

So I wonder: have I lost my instinct, or embraced it? Because I know what I need better than I did in high school. Making myself an exoskeleton to exist in is confining, and yet, it’s my exoskeleton. It fits, and it feels good. In it, I’m strong, and I’m me. It is me. It might be wrong, but so much of me is wrong, so much of everything is, so maybe my structure is healthy, maybe it’s not. All I can do is clench the words of Daniel Gildenlöw, and so many others, between my teeth–I don’t know. I just don’t know–and do my best to survive.