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Chalk full June 23, 2012

Posted by therealtinlizzy in Uncategorized.
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(pun intended)

I’ve been trying the past couple of weeks to zero in on completion of a particular writing task, but I’ve been doing nothing but circling the drain on it, as my sig likes to say. I’ve been trying to craft my personal statement/essay to submit to AMCAS  (central site for med school application submission): a 5300 character (char, not word) essay on “why you want to go to med school” (yes – it’s verbed just like that, which sounds adorably like something I would ask my friend’s 7 year-old). To that end, I’ve been approaching it head on – with a resounding lack of success.  It’s similar to why I found blogging for the Abortion Gang so difficult: when faced with the task of writing a thing under any combo of constraints such as  narrowly defined  topic, specific structure, or word limit– I go all deer-getting-writer’s-block -in-the-headlights.

So I realized, as I’ve been doing everything short of chaining myself to a chair to get the thing done, that – duh – in classic tin lizzy fashion , it’s like this: you know when you’re trying to look at a really dim star, but you can’t focus on it, because your retinas don’t have rods in the spots where your focus falls, so you have to look NEXT to the star and you can then actually see it peripheral to your focus? Or, also analogous – those neato Magic Eye posters from the 80’s? 90’s? where you can furrow your brows and scowl at the thing all day long and you’ll never see the hidden image. But just relax your gaze, space off a bit, and stop trying to see it – and voila – there’s the dolphin chasing the unicorn across the rings of Saturn.

Actually this one’s pretty simple…a greyhound maybe…or a horse with no tail…or maybe a horse-hound.

Anyway, clearly that’s exactly what I need to do in this case: rather than approaching this essay-writing in full-frontal-assault-on-the-castle-gate style where I settle into the precise task of trying to craft an essay  describing why/how the entirety of my adult life experience has led me to pursue being a physician, shoehorned into 5300 chars or less, I need to step back and approach it sideways. I need to find relax my gaze to find the dolphin.

I don’t write well, or often at all, when I sit down tasked with free-writing a particular thing (except on the MCAT – I pulled those 2 essays out of my ass in 30 mins each pretty well – but I also was prepared for the structure of it, if not the topics); I know full well I do my best writing when I’m looking off to the side. So that’s what I need to do – look off to the side, see if I can get a better view of that star I’m targeting than the utterly useless act of staring directly at it. And if it ends up being an entirely different star than the one I was looking for, well – it will be the one I needed to see. I can promise whatever it is, it won’t be chock (not chalk) full of corny analogies. And whatever all else, ideally my answer to the question “why do you want to go to med school” will be more compelling than if answered by a 7 year-old.

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1. Preflash Gordon - June 23, 2012

Ha! Boy, can I relate. I used to write the wordiest, most gummed-up essays imaginable in college and it took me years to figure out what the problem was. For me, it was simple. I started writing before I knew what I actually wanted to say.

It seems obvious but it’s not. You *think* you know what you want to say so you plunge in. “I want to go to med school because being a doctor matters a lot to me.” Nice, Einstein. But why? And that was always my problem. I hadn’t gone any deeper than the first knee-jerk. I never asked myself, why?

I’m not saying it’s the same for you. I’m just relating my own experience as a friend … you do this, and I do that. Maybe my ‘that’ will help, or just give comic relief. But I’ve learned over time that a key component for me, now, of any big writing project, is that I have to nail the philosophy of my subject before I even attempt to write about it. Otherwise it’s a lot of hooey. And the side benefit is, I actually figure out much more clearly than I would otherwise where I actually stand, how I actually feel, about a lot of things in this world. Gay marriage? Universal health-care? Euthanasia? Poverty? A little soul-scouring before being forced to actually write about these things has taught me a lot.

And the thing is, some of it isn’t exactly nice. There are certain social issues that I won’t go near, for example, simply because I’m lazy. Yes, yes, I agree that such-and-such is bad, but the thing is, to fix it, you seem to be suggesting that I set aside my life. That’s not going to happen. I’m not always proud of where it takes me. But at least it’s honest. And while I don’t believe that honesty is always a virtue, I do believe that it is always more of a virtue than harmful self-delusion.

But here’s a surprise. In realizing less-than-wonderful things about myself, I’ve also learned how forgiving others can be of these traits. I had a friend in Los Angeles who ran a theatre, and he used to say “I would prefer to hire an actor who acts because he wants a sports car than a guy who professes to act because he wants to save humanity. At least I can believe the first guy.” Agree or not, there’s a refreshing non-sentimental approach to this. And it teaches me that people who appreciate humanity, warts and all, are out there. I’m not saying that warts alone will get you any kudos. But a healthy willingness to admit that warts exist is a very human, and I also think very courageous, thing to do. It’s part of all of us. But how few are willing to admit it.

So if you tell them you want to save the world when you get out of med school, that’s cool. But I guess I’m also saying it’s okay to say you want to do it in order to get back at that third-grade asshole schoolmate who said you’d always be a loser. And an essay that mentions such a motive will, I suggest, be a bit more memorable than all the high-minded prose in the world. Obviously, you don’t *just* mention the asshole. You mention both. It’s the mixture that counts.

So I dunno … you didn’t ask for my advice yet here I am giving it … I’m a blowhard to the end, you see … but I’m just suggesting this. Reflect on why you want to go. Why you *really* want to go. And then don’t be afraid to tell them. The low-minded reasons are just as good as the high-minded ones. And if you’re anything like me, the sense of unfettered truth-telling will liberate your voice. And then they will see what I already see: an amazing woman they’d be lucky to have.

2. Stefanie - June 25, 2012

You know, I have no idea why you decided to go to med school (I can guess but that doesn’t matter) so write me a letter and tell me or just start talking and record it and then transcribe it. Once you stop worrying about why you are writing it and just spill it out there it will be easier to shape it into something more essay-ish. And by the way, these things are totally silly, I had to write a similar essay about why I wanted to go to library school and completely stressed out about it – if it isn’t perfect they won’t let me in! So I know how you feel. Once I stopped trying to make it perfect from the start and just wrote out all the reasons I wanted to go be a librarian it got so much easier. Good luck! I look forward to getting a letter from you 🙂


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