It seems like every day I get another recruiting email from this graduate school or that graduate school. Some of them are on-point (“Come to our online open house and learn about what a career in public health can do for you!”). Some of them…not so much (“Live and work in New York while pursuing an MA in art and design!”). I read through all of them (except for the art and design ones) and then just leave them in my inbox, presumably to revisit on another day. Schools get added to and from my list of schools I want to apply to/am actively applying to all the time. I am doing this in a semi-orderly fashion, filing schools under online/on-campus/hybrid, making note of application fees, letting my references know where and when to send a letter praising my various quirks and qualities.
There’s just one problem. I honestly can’t tell if my heart is really in this or not.
Today’s story is one I have told before, in a different setting. See, there’s a reason my camp name is Goose, and it’s only partially because of my love of geese: I get called Mother Goose at camp because at least once a week I get called to a unit to tell a bedtime story. I never tell the same story twice; I make them up as I go. One night in my sixth summer, I told this story, and after the kids had left the circle, one of my coworkers scooted close to me on the bench and buried her face in my shoulder–she’d been silently crying the whole time. “I know how the North Wind felt,” she said in between sobs. “I know what it’s like.”
So did I.
Once upon a time in a city far above the fields of men, where the clouds tumble and tangle, the North Wind was very unhappy indeed. Her sister the South Wind had many friends down on earth, for her long golden hair smelled of the flowers that bloomed in her wake and her easy laugh sounded like the drenching summer rains that fell wherever she went. Her brothers the East Wind and West Wind also had many friends, for they were loud and lively and made up entirely of bright sunny days. But the North Wind was seldom welcome down in the fields of men. Wherever she went, ice followed, delicate frost-lace blooming wherever her feet fell, and where she slept, snow fell in the night, great sparkling white blankets that draped over the land. When she went down to earth, people fled before her, disappearing into their homes and locking the doors against her entreaties, building their fires higher and higher to drown out her pleas from beyond their walls. After a while, the North Wind stopped trying to make friends, and simply wandered from place to place, bringing winter with her.
The North Wind spent all her days alone and unhappy…until the day she discovered the boy.
This afternoon I received a text message that got the wheels in my head turning. “I have a painting related question: I want to start painting, I have no clue where to begin! Can you help/guide me?”
My first question: “What medium do you want to paint with?”
My second question: “What kind of stuff do you want to paint?”
There’s a reason I asked those questions in that order. I don’t care why anyone wants to paint or, really, do any art. Art has its own value. But from a practical standpoint, you need to know where you’re starting.
The first time I had a panic attack I didn’t recognize what I was experiencing.
It was an odd time to have a panic attack. I was out on the Blue Ridge Parkway late at night with my best friend, who was driving. We were listening to Natalie Merchant’s Ophelia album, which was one of a handful of CDs we could agree we both loved for those long late-night drives. I had just moved back to Asheville to resume school after a yearlong absence. Classes hadn’t started yet. There was no other traffic, and both starry sky and winding road were clear, but suddenly my entire body was seized with an all-consuming need to go home. My heart was pounding, my face was burning. I told my best friend I wasn’t feeling well. We went home. Once I was back in my dorm room, I felt a sense of relief. I was safe.
It happened again a few days later. I was at another friend’s apartment, drinking tea and talking on a cozy evening just after classes had started. I had had a good day. There was no obvious reason why I would be anxious. But there I was, watching the clock and trying to figure out how long I had to stay before I could escape back to my dorm room where I felt safe. This was no ordinary Attack Of The Introvert. This was something darker.
Okay, so it’s not quite a microfiction.
“Mrs. Ingraham’s babying that damn peach tree,” Edna said in a low voice to Kate as they washed the windows in the bookshop. “I don’t know why she bothers.”
Kate didn’t understand it either. The little tree had no business being in northern Wisconsin where the winters raged like some wild grieving animal and the springs were sullen, brimming over with dirty melting snow that turned to gritty mud. Mrs. Ingraham was somewhere Down South. Nobody knew where Mr. Ingraham was. He had gone away down south somewhere, and had come back with his pretty bride.
She watched as the woman carefully pruned the brittle branches that hadn’t made it through the winter, her dove-brown hair shining in the late-afternoon sun. The tree had been there for three years, but hadn’t yet borne fruit. Maybe it never would.
This week’s microfiction is really more of a flash fiction–it clocks in at just under 1000 words. But it needed to be told, because magical realism is the best. Shoutout to Jo, the girl with secrets in her hair.
Every family in Pendergrass had their quirks. Everyone knew, for instance, that the Breckenridge family could see in the dark as clearly as if the sun were shining; it was also common knowledge that the Deans had a way with animals, that their soft sleepy drawls could be understood by the cats, dogs, guinea pigs and parrots of Pendergrass as well as the barks, meows and chirps themselves could.
No one, however, could figure out what was special about the Arrington family…except for their hair.
Around 10:30 last night, I found myself staring at a submit button. This submit button was small, humble even, yet clicking it was kind of the equivalent of jumping out of a plane. That submit button would send 3 messy, painful applications to 3 different MPH programs–all of them programs I would love to get into. There’s something funny yet nerve-clawing that my top 3 were all due on the same day, that I had to submit those before I was really ready, before I’d even sorted out some last details of graduation from NMU. The feeling as I submitted them was not unlike the feeling I had at commencement: a sense of vague, dull panic twining sinuously around a cloud of this can’t actually be happening.
But it did happen. I submitted. The world moved on and I moved with it.
I don’t know what my chances are of getting into any of those programs. I am skeptical, yet optimistic, as I am with many things in my life. I would be thrilled to attend any of the three schools; I looked through their programs carefully, painstakingly even, consulted my research advisor and my life/academic advisor alike. I had my professors look over the rough draft and the less rough draft and the final draft of my statement of purpose; people on Twitter who I love and respect offered input as well. I looked at the cities in which the schools are located (I’ve only visited one of the cities in question, and even then, it was a brief flurry of activity at the airport and then a long drive out of the city). I have friends in all three states, though that doesn’t necessarily matter–when I moved to Marquette, I knew no one, and was profoundly lucky that I had friends from Michigan who had friends who lived in Marquette who were willing to pick me up at the airport and help me carry my stuff into my new apartment. Every camp I’ve ever worked at, aside from the summer I spent in Virginia, I went into the job not knowing anyone. I’m not afraid to be a stranger in a strange land.
…which is good, because in so many ways, my decision to apply for MPH programs, rather than continuing on with microbiology, is the very definition of being a stranger in a strange land.