Monday, November 07, 2005
Mailbag for November 7, 2005
All right, I'm on time this week. A shock to all of you I'll assume. Let's start with a little fun and even a contest to get people's minds off those applications for awhile.
Riproaring in the Rose City has a response to my linking of Male Answer Syndrome (Male answer syndrome. noun. The tendency for some men to answer a question even when they don't know the answer. Also known as MAS) a few weeks back.
RRC writes: "This phenomenon is so terribly funny, and I have noticed it ever since I first had a boyfriend, at 14. One of my guy friends calls these answers "man-facts," and also uses it as a verb, e.g., "Are you man-facting?" Or, when asked for details on some assertion, replies, "Actually, I don't really know. I was man-facting." And have you noticed that man-facts frequently involve percentages?"
Regular readers of the blog know that I do my best to avoid man-facting, but I am definitely guilty of the percentages. But this brings up a whole new issue: While there is ample proof for the existence of Male Answer Syndrome, is there such thing as "Female Answer Syndrome"? There's got to be, right?
Okay then. The MFA Weblog sponsors the "FAS Definition Contest." Write a definition of Female Answer Syndrome, send it into the blog, and if it's chosen as winner, the lucky definition writer will receive a copy of the Creative Writing MFA Handbook. As in, one of the first copies, just as it comes off the presses in December.
And, Adam Johnson, the author of the story collection Emporium and the novel Parasites Like Us, and who has an essay in the MFA Handbook will add a bonus prize from the three below. Your choice:
1. "Lo Shi Tshu" a video celebrating the little cainines, in Italian.
2. Water: The Gift of Life" a video narrated by Charlton Heston--topics include streams, rain and waterfalls.
3. A vintage 502 set of Lincoln logs, "The Summer Camp" Edition.
And there's no way we're going to allow a man to judge this contest. The judge will be Chellis Ying, a graduate of the University of San Francisco MFA program. She'll choose a winner on Sunday the 13th, and we'll announce the winner here in next week's mailbag, along with many of the definitions sent in. Have fun with it.
All right. Onward...
I didn't understand Vexxed in Vancouver's question at first, but now I think I have it right: Since he/she is applying to MFA programs straight from undergraduate, is it okay to send partial transcripts instead of full ones? I don't see why not. They're the only ones you have. It's not unusual for students to apply to masters programs straight from undergraduate, though in the case of MFAs I've urged strongly against it in previous mailbags. Why? Well, read the previous mailbags and find out. I don't see why this would be a problem VV. Do continue contacting the graduate program, but if you don't hear back, I'd go ahead and apply if you're truly interested in that school. As always with the MFA, it's the writing sample that will count most anyways.
Was I "man-facting" there? Now I'm getting self-conscious about it. Good luck VV.
Kelly (from Kentucky? Kansas?) writes in and says she changed her personal statement based on previous weblog advice, and now it's a lot better. Thanks for those kind words and the others, Kelly. I guess we get some things right. Best of luck with your applications.
Feeling GREat in the Great Lakes writes in about GRE scores, and yes, that's his pun in the title, and he scored a 1010. He wants to know if that's enough. Sigh. This would definitely be man-facting, but I'm going to do it anyways: My sense is that that's okay. GRE scores don't count heavily in the process at all. They are simply for the Graduate School, as opposed to the MFA program. No promises, but yes, if I were you I'd be comfortable enough with that score to concentrate on my other items. Best of luck, GREat.
Erika D. writes in a comment in last week's mailbag, and it went a little something like this: "Just a few points about low-residency programs... some fairly new low-res programs do charge lower fees for in-state/in-region students. For two examples see the University of Nebraska MFA in Writing program and the Murray State University Low-Residency in Creative Writing program. Also, I've linked to a terrific resource from the Spalding University MFA in Writing program in one of my own blog's posts. Finally, as far as I can see the funding situation for low-res programs is pretty discouraging. Very few offer anything resembling full funding. One of the more promising programs in this regard seems to be the poetry-only program at New England College. Hope this information is helpful!"
It is, Erika, and we thank you for it.
Experimentally Challenged in Boston asks a follow-up to my response about experimental writing and the Brown MFA program from last week. The question is: "What exactly constitutes experimental fiction?" I dodged that question last week, and the only way I could answer it directly and avoid a MAS label would be to get a sex-change operation. And I want to be helpful to you, but I don't want to be helpful to you that badly. My answer is this, ECB: If you don't think your writing is experimental, then it's probably not. Everytime I sit down at the keyboard, I'm experimenting, but I don't think others would necessarily define my writing that way. As for what Brown thinks about experimental writing, look up their professors on their website. Then check out their work. That's the most direct route to an answer that I can think of.
If there's a Brown graduate out there, or anyone else who might have an insight, please don't hesitate to add an opinion in the comments section.
Kathryn G. asks where The Winged Girl updates went to? Good question. The latest one, number 10, where we meet Natalie's winged father, is up now. Sorry for the delay.
Riproaring in the Rose City not only kicked off our whole MAS/FAS contest, but has a number of questions for us. And, she's our codename winner of the week. Where is the Rose City? Oklahoma? I'm not sure. I am sure that RRC offered to buy me a beer if she ever came to San Francisco, and since last week I chose the codename winner using cronyism, this week I'm selecting it based on a flat out bribe. That's how I roll.
Question 1: Applying to Houston, Iowa, UMass Amherst, Stanford, S.F.S.U., Irvine, Brown, NYU, Syracuse, Cornell, Johns Hopkins, Sarah Lawrence, Penn State, UNC Greensboro, and potentially Washington. Is this a good list?
Answer: That's a very good list, I think. You asked me to cut some schools, though I'm not sure why. Anyways, if it were me, I'd cut Stanford (only 5 of 800 selected. Go to an MFA program first), Brown (if the above discussion applies to you), and Sarah Lawrence (not so good in the funding department).
This just occurred to me: Maybe it's not Female Answer Syndrome, but Female Question Syndrome. Just a thought.
Question 2: Take the Subject GRE just to apply to UC-Davis?
Answer: That's a lot of studying. One of my housemates is studying for the Subject GRE. That's like hundreds of hours of reading for one school. It would probably do you (or me) some good, but you'll have to decide if you have the time.
Update: Anonymous writes: "The UC Davis' Grad Studies website is a bit deceptive at first glance, but applicants to the Writing program are not required to take the subject test: http://wwwenglish.ucdavis.edu/grad_application.htm"
Question 3: If you come to San Francisco, can you buy me a beer and take me to karaoke?
Answer: Beer yes. Karaoke no. Though, you could come play bingo with me, Stephen Elliott, Eric Puchner, and others.
Best of luck, RRC.
My old homie Sejal S. gives us a shout out from the Big Apple, and we give her a shout back from the left coast. Rock on, Sejal.
Flummoxed in San Francisco was also referred by Erica from 826, as about half of our readers seem to be. I've answered a few of FSF's questions in previous mailbags, so I'll get to the new ones only:
If schools are looking for the 95th percentile in the GRE and if we score in the 92-93 percentile is that good enough? Sigh again. I don't know. What I do know is that every MFA professor I've ever talked with about the GRE (about two dozen of them) have all said that the GRE hardly counts at all. You need to take it, and you need to score within the range of other graduate students at that university. But it's not something that's considered strongly, or hardly at all, by the MFA selection committee. So FSF, hopefully that will be a good guide for you.
I think, by the way, that that's my answer to all GRE questions. So much so that I'm proclaiming a moratorium on GRE questions for next week's mailbag.
Finally, Flummoxed asks about possible "mid-range" or "safety" options for applying to school. In other words, he/she has a list of 9 programs, and would like to add a few "safety schools" to the list. I really sympathize and empathize with this question, but I have a straightforward answer: Don't think in terms of safety schools. Ever. Why not? Because the acceptance process for writing is completely unpredictable. Law, business, and medical students have some idea of where they'll be accepted, where they'll be "on the bubble," and where they have no chance. MFA applicants don't have this luxury (or curse).
You don't know who will read your work on a given day. Example: I applied to five schools. University of Massachusetts (first choice), Brown (second choice), Washington MO (third), Penn State (fourth), and Ohio State (fifth). What was I thinking only applying to five schools? I wasn't thinking. And more importantly, I didn't know any better. Always apply to at least eight programs.
To make a long story short, I was rejected at Brown, Washington MO, and Ohio State, and I was waitlisted at Penn State. Dejected (and wishing I'd applied to more) I waited on my rejection from UMass. Well guess what? I was accepted to my number one choice. Why did it work out this way? I honestly can't say, but I can say that my ranking of the schools didn't pan out the way I thought it would. So, no "safety schools." There's no such thing in the MFA experience.
One thing I would add: UMass is larger than those other programs, thus increasing my chances of being accepted. You might try this same tact. Instead of safety schools, consider larger schools. I think it's always a good idea to have a mix of smaller and larger programs in your list of eight or more.
Got to roll. I look forward to the "Female Answer Syndrome" definitions for next week. And a week of GRE-free questions. And your new questions, which, better late than never, can be sent here.