(So it's been a painfully long time since I've updated my blog, but as a consolation prize I have an unusually news-packed series of updates for you. This is part two.)
|This thing was longer than my last novel.|
I thought I had a decent shot at getting into UIC. Their Program for Writers is very well regarded and I have some personal connections with a number of current faculty and students there. I figured if I was lucky my time spent participating in the Chicago literary world might mean something to the admissions committee. UWM was a longshot; so much so that one of my mentors at DePaul gently assured me that no matter how good I was it was very unlikely I'd get in due to their relative infrequency of admitting fiction writers as opposed to poets and other genre writers, and I should focus on either UIC or just applying next year.
I got, in early March, a two-sentence long perfunctory rejection letter from UIC, and I inwardly steeled myself to get the same from UWM. When my decision took longer than expected, I called the admissions office directly and I was told that my application was incomplete. This was months past the deadlines and I'd already started to see people posting that they'd been accepted on grad-school draft websites. I talked to a few friendly but not-very-encouraging administrators and they told me after reminding me that the deadlines were months ago that if I could overnight them the missing pieces of my application (two copies of transcripts from St. Lawrence University that I requested and SLU failed to send - thanks a million SLU) they could give me a decision. I overnighted the transcripts for $30 or whatever it cost, sure they'd have already chosen the half dozen people they planned to admit while my application languished in limbo, and were just going through the motions before tossing my application into the trash. I heard nothing for another two weeks, and I called again, feeling like I at least wanted $30 of someone telling me to my face that I was rejected and avoiding the misery of another clipped, emotionless UIC letter. Inadvertantly, the person answering their phones let it slip that I'd been admitted. "It looks like you were accepted. Did you know already?" she asked. "No," I said, stunned. "Thanks!" She told me my letter was in the mail and I didn't hear anything else she said. I hung up the phone and, for perhaps only the third or fourth time in my adult life, I sobbed.
So this is all well and good, right? Everyone who gets this far and gets this sort of acknowledgment when it comes to something they love has a story about how hard it was and how close they came to seeing their dreams evaporate, so what else is new? It happened that my wife had spent, a few months ago, a substantial amount of time researching our family histories. We were able to establiish that the Brands were originally from Glasgow, Scotland via a paper mill laborer named David Brand and his domestic servant wife Helen Creed from Cheltenham, England, and in over 150 years there have been no Brands in my bloodline to hold a Doctorate. Many of the members of the two most recent generations of my large extended family have gone far in college, and I wasn't the first, or even the fifth or sixth to have a Master's degree, but I will be the first to earn a PhD. In a little less than a month, I'm starting, and I'm breaking new ground. This was, and continues to be, amazing, and a little bit scary. I've made the trip to Milwaukee (a trip I'll be making twice a week in September) twice now and met many of the faculty members, all of whom were very friendly and welcoming, and I've been preparing my calendar and getting ready in a hundred other ways for the back-to-school rush, but I'm discovering that this time, like the MA, the BA, and even high school if you want to look back that far, has its own unique flavor of excitement that comes with it. It's wonderful that way, and I feel very, very fortunate to be able to savor it.