Last year at about this time I started getting a string of emails from Vanderbilt faculty, the first of which came from Mark Jarman, who at that time was a mythic character in my mind--one of those poets so accomplished that you don't even really think of them as a real person but as pure creative mystery. I had just left San Francisco and was driving back to Santa Cruz and checked my email on my phone. The email from Mark was cautiously optimistic and said that "nothing is final yet in our selection process." It was early Sunday afternoon, and presumably the 2010 recruitment weekend had just ended.
The 10 days I spent between getting that first email from Mark and getting formally accepted to the program were a weird mix of exuberance and despair. Once I had gotten a taste of a program actually rolling out the stops, it was hard to consider any others. I had gotten to the point where I was considering not going anywhere if I didn't get in off the waitlist, so that I could reapply and hopefully attend the next year. I was lucky. Mark called the day before I was supposed to leave Nashville to accept me, and I got to go out with three of the students for margaritas that night to celebrate. I knew I'd found the right people and the right program.
This year, our MFA advisor Margaret (who is amazing) asked me to be the poetry representative in coordinating the Recruitment Weekend. So with my fiction friend Jill, we planned out Thursday through Saturday, sent emails to admitted students, made arrangements to pick everyone up from the airport, transport to and from the hotel and events, and arranged lunches and dinners and tours and coffee, doing our best to roll out the stops for people who would hopefully become our community. Neither Jill nor I had been at the recruitment activities last year, but we both feel very fortunate to be here now and can appreciate the insanity that accompanies the application season and decision-making process.
I was impressed with the choices that the faculty had made. The personalities and backgrounds of the students are as different as my class this year, and the class that precedes us. But everyone seemed open and kind. Luckily for us current students, we're all glad to be here. When someone asked me about my experience, I could say honestly that there was nowhere I'd rather be, that everyone here is appreciated and the faculty go out of their way to make sure you get everything you need. The other thing though is that I genuinely liked everyone (which is good since I don't fake interest well) and went home a little giddy everyday at the prospect of these people being my peers. How cool to be on the other side, making sure that others feel welcome. I also know, though, how much of the decision depends on instinct. Even when people make you feel welcome, it might still not be right; no amount of urging or fun parties can make up for instinct. No matter what, you have to feel the spark. But by our last brunch today, the awkwardness of the first date seemed over. Real conversations were happening, summer plans were being discussed. Hopefully we'll get a second date.