Monday, May 14, 2012

The Wives of Madame English: My English Graduate Program Application Personal Statement

Jessica Mason McFadden
All Rights Reserved (YEAH, that's right, *?*?*?*)
WIU Department of English, Graduate Program
Spring 2012

Part I: The Parable of Paths
One day you wake up and decide to take a hike in the woods.  So you grab what you need, probably a pair of walking shoes, and you make your way to the woods.  You notice the humidity and the bird calls, but you don’t think about the hike you’re about to take. You’re on your way.  That’s what matters.  When you arrive at the edge of the woods, you see a slip of paper under a rock.  On the paper are the words, “If you want to hike, you first must choose the path.”  You look up and see that there are four hiking trails with distinct arrow markings directing you toward the entrance of each footpath.  You start to wonder, “Do I have everything I need to make this decision?  Should I go talk to someone first?”  You go to the first path and look into it.  The sun is direct, and there are several varieties of cactuses and a band of thorny devil lizards crossing the path several feet in front of you.  You want to get away so you move your feet– toward the next path.  This path is lush.  Wildflowers are spread across the vast fields in the distance.  The rolling hills are green, the skies are blue and untainted.  You look twice and laugh.  This path is picturesque, you think, but it is not the path for me.
You walk over to the next path’s entrance.  You are captivated, instantly.  Mountains.  High peaks.  Waterfalls, high drops.  Summits, cliffs, gorges.  You can hardly take it all in, it’s so foreign to you.  Your mouth gapes open.  The contrasts: astounding.  The white peaks tower and loom over the green and grey tors.  This place looks good, objectively.  Then, unexpectedly, you feel a wave of doubt come over you.  You’re unsure.  You think this could be the path for you, but you’re ambivalent.  You ruminate to no avail.  “This must be the path,” you tell yourself.  You start walking down it and immediately trip over a skull-size chunk of orange garnet.  Your ankle throbs but you’re so consumed by the slatted shades of amber light over the surface of the garnet that you don’t notice.  You think about what everyone else will think when you show them the garnet and tell them about this path of contrasts.  You hobble on a little further, but as you walk, the sun begins to set.  The unfamiliar now seems terrifying.  You’re overwhelmed by the shadows falling on you.  You start to feel chilled as you think about the uphill climb ahead.  Turn around or keep going?  I’ve gone so far, you think; what if I go back and then regret it?  What if there’s something ahead that I can’t see that I need?  You cannot decide for yourself so you think of what others would decide for you.  Something tells you they would tell you to climb, so you start to climb.
Your muscles ache so you climb harder.  You start to curse and say terrible things about all of it.  And as you climb and curse, you lose your footing and skid downward until your foot lands in a pocket of sediment.  You cling to the rock, kneeling down, and you start to cry.  You don’t know why you’re crying. You have no answers so you do what feels right: you make your way down the mountain and back onto the path.  You have one more look around.  You think, Yes, I could do this. I could stay here.  But do I want to?  You now realize that the choice is yours.  You feel free and you begin to run.  You run as fast as you can out the way you came.  You’ve doubled in speed and momentum.  Your feet know more than your mind.  You trust them.  Then you start to imagine what it is that you want to find on the fourth and final path.  You imagine a variety of deciduous trees.  You imagine a variety of climate changes: mild summers and incredible winters.  You imagine hollows and hills, lakes and tiered waterfalls.  A contained but roaring fire, books, bungalows.  Community gardens and orchards.  And people.  People sharing.  Giving and receiving.  Laughter and life.  You imagine life.  You imagine your Eden.  You imagine home.  You long for it.  Before you know it, you are on the threshold of your path.  You see it.  You know it.  You love it.  It is your path.  Your feet knew, your feet were right.  It was the path that was with you, in your heart and mind, before you set foot on it.  You do not hesitate; you dance onto your path without reservation.  Your wonder and your ease are one and the same: you’ve been here before.  You fall into place.  When you finally notice that your feet are tired, you find a place to rest them.  And then you continue your dance-walk down the path for the rest of your days, because your path is your destination.

Part II: The Extra-Personal Statement
My sixteenth birthday was not a sweet one.  I did not have a Sweet Sixteen.  It was not entirely sour, though, either.  It did not fit into any one of the taste sensation categories, not even umami.  On my sixteenth birthday, I tasted it all and I tasted it all at once.  I had a Sensational Sixteen.  An Explosive Sixteen.  The effect of Pop Rocks in the mouth but with an entirely different, more dynamic and savory flavor.  The taste of my sixteenth year of life was like curry.  Thai curry. The best Thai curry you’ve ever had.  It was naturally rich, coconut-rich; but its richness was balanced by a hell of a lot of acidity and its acidity was balanced by a hell of a lot of sweetness and its sweetness was elevated by its full-bodied spiciness.  When I was sixteen, I fell in love with English Language Arts.  And I mean in love.  Head over heels, Never the same again, “Sanity be damned, I’ll sell my soul to the devil” in love.
The story of how the love affair played out, and how my parents disapproved and tried to have me admitted into a Psych ward in order to separate English and me, is irrelevant. I’ll spare you the scandalous details.  English was my first love.  It was for the love of English that I broke my vows of chastity and signed away my soul.  English removed my Venetian belt and made me a woman.  I broke the rules of my father’s house, snuck out in the night and met my great romancer, English, to commit unforgivable indiscretions.  It was with my forbidden lover, English, that I began learning about myself for the first time.  I learned that I was a stranger to myself before I met English.  I learned about the things that stir my immense passion and proliferation: language, song, melody, aesthetics, art, analysis, communication, intimacy, disclosure, interpretation, and all of the nuances within and horizons beyond those things.  In the omnipotent arms of English, I finally found home.  I loved being there, being me.
But a Sweet Sixteen, even a Spectacular Sixteen, cannot last forever.  It didn’t.  English broke up with me and I thought that meant it was over.  So I grew up and told myself I would have to find new loves and deny my love for English.  Seventeen came, and the rest is history.  I’m twenty-seven, now, and I’ve been around the block a few times – in love as well as toward and away from home a few times.  I’ve seen other paths and even traveled down some of them.  Somehow, though, I’ve made my way back to English and I love her now more than ever – out in the open, no longer in the shadows.  I’m ready to kiss adolescent games goodbye and play house with English.  I’m ready to sign the papers, and then to sacrifice them to the gods, to make a lifetime commitment to English. I’m ready to take her in sickness or in health for as long as we both shall live.  I am ready.  I know the path that leads to the House of English is my home path.  I cannot tell you how right it feels to write this essay as I run and leap toward English.  My upcoming marriage with English is a non-traditional marriage.  Others will disapprove and cut us out of their lives, but we are both older and wiser now so we can handle the exile.  If you, the Department of English, will give us your approval in support of our matrimony; we vow to hold a very colorful ceremony, to make the most of our marriage, to do right by the family name and to yield a bountiful harvest of English-McFadden.
While away from English, I have worked as a stay at home mother (yes, I am already married – English and I have an understanding that this is a plural marriage).  I have considered other disciplines, other paths.  On my way out of the mountainous regions of one path, the path of Clinical Psychology, I imagined what it was I wanted to find on the next and final path.  I didn’t know where I was going, and then I bumped into English (not hard to do, she’s been lingering around here all along) and remembered all the love we shared when I was younger.  I remembered all of the things that brought me passion when I was sixteen.  I added to those former passions the ones I have since discovered and developed – feminist theory, queer theory, women’s literature, poetry, minority narrative, feminist and lesbian psychology, and philosophy.  And then I imagined discovering more and developing further, with English.  Through my remembering, without the opinions of others clouding my perception, I knew that my path would include a decision to pursue a graduate degree in English and to be certified as a teacher so that I could spend my days spreading the love that has so infiltrated my being.
I have considered many of the logistics of my academic path.  It is my goal and expectation to work toward a Master of Arts in English.  It is also my goal to concurrently work toward being certified as a teacher of 7-12th grade English Language Arts.  My reasons for wanting to seek both English Education certification and an MA in English are twofold.  My reason for wanting to be certified in English Education is so that I will be able to teach in a secondary educational setting.  I hope to seek employment in New York State after graduation, and I will adjust my plan of study to fit and fulfill the NYS teacher education requirements.  I don’t have formal teaching experience, although I have informally been a teacher and mentor to others throughout my life.  I am thrilled at the idea of being a teacher in a formal classroom, not just in the Classroom of Life.  During my odd and extraordinary adolescence, my teachers were everything to me.  They shared their love of English with me.  They let me love her.  Their love for her inspired me.  They loved her more because of my love for her.  We all loved each other; it was one big Love Parade without a fatal stampede.  My English teachers enlightened and empowered me in the best ways possible.  They spoke about oppression, and I listened.  Then I began to speak about oppression, and others (my peers) listened.  My teachers saw me stand up for myself and for others, and in turn they were inspired to stand up.  They taught me how to stand up and speak up, and I also taught them how to do the same in other ways.  They gave me a place to develop my interpersonal and intellectual skills, and more than that they shared with me mutual respect and acceptance.  The Lovers of English have many individual loves of their own.  The Lovers of English are peaceful and inclusive lovers.  The Lovers of English love on a Commune of Coexistence.
I cannot talk about English without feeling love.  My reason for wanting a master's degree in English is because I love literature and composition, some of the facets of English, and want a higher education in each.  I want to be well prepared, well rounded, and to experience as much literature and poetry as possible before I begin teaching.  My love of literature and writing began when I was in high school and has continued and grown since then.  I tried and succeeded in other areas of study (Musical Theatre, for instance, which I studied for almost two years).  In the end, I returned to the combination of Women’s Studies and English that I began with at Hampshire College in 2002.  During my three semesters at Western, I maintained a 4.0 GPA, wrote invigorating papers, was named the Fall 2006 Departmental Scholar, and received numerous awards and distinctions.  After a few years as a stay-at-home parent, I began thinking about going somewhere.  For a hike.  An academic hike, a higher educational hike.  I began exploring my options, the various paths in my midst.  I looked into a number of possibilities before I came upon Clinical Psychology.  When I did, it stopped me in my tracks and I thought that maybe counseling would be a suitable career path for me.  I thought I could love Clinical Psychology.
I decided to start walking down the path of Clinical Psychology, and I saw quite a bit while I was walking.  I faced a longtime fear, and took a Statistics course.  I surprised myself and received the highest grade in my class.  I enjoyed the poetry I wrote in the margins of my notes.  I enjoyed the language of the material, but not the material for the material’s sake.  I completed two online Psychology courses.  I took the GREs on short notice and scored in the 86th percentile in the Qualitative Reasoning portion and in the 96th percentile in the Analytical Writing portion.  I applied to the Clinical Psychology program.  All the while, during my walk, I wondered if I was on the right path.  I experienced doubt and ambivalence.  I experienced resistance to the nature of the field and the style of the content.  I clung to the language for dear life and tried to fit it into a literary and humanistic context.  I felt scared.  And then I had a defining moment.  I was not accepted into the program because my application arrived late but I had the option of remaining in the program as a graduate student-at-large.  I felt rejected, yes, but also relieved.  Did I really want to wed Clinical Psychology, a Social Science?  I began thinking it might have been a tumultuous marriage.  I began envisioning another path.  The path in the margins of my Psychology notes: language, literature.  As I imagined the fourth and final path, I felt confident, comfortable and excited.  The path of my imagining was the path that was emerging in my notes, my papers and my mind-the path to which studying and teaching about language arts is central.  When I made the decision to apply to the Department of English’s graduate program, I immediately felt a sense of calmness and relief.  I felt a sense of knowing that this is the path for me right now.  So here I am, knowing I am in the right place.  This is the path I choose.  I am with one of my true loves.
My academic interests are centered in women’s literature, women in literature, feminist theory, feminist fiction, Shakespeare from a feminist and queer perspective, cross-genre narrative, hybrid works of poetry and prose, poetry by and about lesbians, language, philosophy, theory and rhetoric.  I am interested in ideas, language and art (as well as the intersections of the three), and I am interested in analyzing all three through a queer-feminist lens.  I am an out-of-the-box thinker.  I enjoy being challenged by others’ ideas and by course material.  Though I am sacrilegious, I feel very spiritual about language and art.  I have copious amounts of energy for writing and other creative projects that involve intellectual subjects that interest me.  I am thrilled to be writing this personal statement and I am excited at the thought of joining once again the Department of English at Western.  Although I know this application is arriving late in the game and is a little too long; it is true to my life and to my heart.  It is overflowing with love.  If it is at all possible for me to be considered for a graduate or teaching assistantship, I am interested in doing so at the earliest available moment.  I am committed to dedicating my time and energy, however long it takes and whatever it requires, to pursuing the goals I have described.  I believe them to be the next natural and supernatural steps down the path of my life with my long-time love, English.  Thank you for the opportunity to travel with the Department of English on this wild and strange romance.


Now, read this (Parts 1 & 2):

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