Natalie Zed: Defying Gravity

Monday, March 31, 2008

Department of Uncreativity

Two years ago, I received an interdepartmental email wishing my current thesis adviser well as she was about to embark on a year's leave. This was the first I had heard of her departure, and I was shocked. Neither she nor anyone else had ever mentioned to me that she'd be leaving. In the weeks that followed, she became increasingly difficult to get a hold of, as she repeatedly left the city to and went through an inter-provincial move. I would give her material, and it would take weeks for her to get back to me. It soon became clear that defending on time was going to be impossible. She agreed. I had applied to the PhD program, and when I got in with a very generous package, I applied for a one-year deferral.

My deferral was denied. The official reason I got for this denial was that I was in my second year, that i had completed all of the other requirements for my degree and the committee saw no reason that I should not be able to complete my thesis on time. I looked in to other options (switching advisers, etc.) but nothing would actually solve the problem. When my adviser left, and I had no choice but to turn down my offer of acceptance.

One of the committee members tried to reassure me by saying that when I did reapply, I'd have an even stronger application and was certain to get it.

Somewhere along the line, I started thinking in terms of "when" rather than "if" in regards to my PhD applications. So three weeks ago, when I found out that I was on the waiting list for the U of C, it was a blow. My application was much stronger than it had been two years ago, when I was not only accepted but offered a very generous four-year funding package. When I turned that acceptance and package down, I consoled myself with the knowledge that I would only be a stronger applicant the next time around. And I was: I had a book out, additional publications, a degree in hand. Being told I was not chosen in the first round was difficult, but far from a defeat.

When I got that news, I called University B. the U of C and University B were the only two schools I'd applied to because that was where I wanted to go. I would happily live in either city, be a part of either academic and literary community, and either place worked for Ed. At first, I was cagey. I said that I'd started to hear back from other schools, and wanted to know when I might hear back. I was then told that while the selection process was still underway, it did not look like I'd be receiving an offer.

Two weeks after I'd been put on the U of C's waiting list, I was taken off. They had chosen to accept seven PhD students this year, and I was not one of them.

(As aside, possibly fuel for another rant: the U of C is the one school in Canada where you can do a creative PhD. Creative Writing has been identified as one of the U of C's official "Pillars of Excellence." Number of creative-stream PhDs accepted last year: zero. Number of creative-stream PhDs accepted this year: maybe one.)

I called University B back, and was not cagey at all. I laid out my situation and I asked for an explanation for their earlier "maybe -- but no" response. I had a number of conversations that ranged from the friendly and supportive to the very odd. At one point, I was told that my application was strong, I was clearly a very talented but that University B was
"a decidedly uncreative place" and they just didn't think I'd be happy there. After that, stunned, I stropped trying to wrangle out a decisive answer.

So as of this moment, I have been rejected by both PhD programs I applied to. I've been showered with praise, and yet had the door closed firmly in my face. I will not be going to school in the fall.

I am not sure what to make of the situation. I was deeply disappointed; but I was also completely baffled. I don't fell like I am owed anything, but there is something about this situation that didn't seem right.

So, naturally, On Saturday I went out and got very drunk. My friends proved their awesomeness once again by all coming out, buying me drinks, saying very nice things, and not even making fun of me when I threw up. Well, not much.

This morning, still smarting both from the rejection and the hangover, things are much clearer. I now have this time, this raw potential time that can be filled with anything. Suddenly going to Sideshow School is easier. Suddenly I have time to finish a third manuscript. Suddenly I can study video games in Texas. Suddenly, rejection seems just a little delicious. I am a villain -- maybe I've just been given the freedom I need to build a death ray.


Natalie Zed updated @ 3:12 p.m.!!