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Sometimes, Pick Up the Phone

There are people out there who probably don’t obsess over things beyond their control. But I’m not one of them.

I applied to three grad schools back in December, and since then I’ve been doing my best to wait patiently. But then I made the mistake of logging on to the Poets and Writers website. They have a message board with a list of topics, one of which is “Choosing an MFA Program”. This is one of the most active topics. It goes all the way back to 1997, so there are seven years worth of posts. You can pick up the message thread anytime, but I chose the fall of 2003, when everyone was trying to decide which programs to consider. Everyone was full of advice and gossip and heresay, and as the months progressed towards the winter deadlines, anxieties mounted. But they were nothing compared to the anxieties of February and March, when everyone began to hear back from each of their schools.

What a fascinating drama to follow, with distinct personalities and dreams and varying levels of confidence. Undoubtedly there were as many “lurkers” as posters. I thought about posting but the idea saddened me. I may be obsessive, but I didn’t want everyone to know.

One by one they each heard from their schools, immediately posting updates full of cheer and, more often, disappointment. By my informal calculations, the average poster applied to seven or eight (sometimes more) schools, and were accepted to one, sometimes two schools, often relegated to the interminable hell that is the Wait List.

I became obsessed with this board, spending much of the last week reading through each year, through each crop of students (sometimes those who were rejected by all their schools would try again the next year, often with success.) I scanned each post for gossip about the three schools I was applying to, paying particular attention to when they were sending out their acceptance letters or even calling the lucky students at home. One year it was early April, the next it was mid-March.

As I read each post my own anxiety and dread mounted. I was aware of this happening within me. Most people would probably put two and two together, and realize that obsessing over one’s chances at acceptance was pointless. But my addictive personality, no longer indulged by drugs and whiskey, needed something to keep it busy. So I’d read these posts all day at work, and often into the night at home. The sum result was that I became positive that the situation was hopeless, and I began forming a plan B, in case I got rejected by all three. Each day I’d go home to The Mailbox, which contained My Future. Each day I’d only find a bunch of infuriating catalogues from Pottery Barn and J. Crew. Then I’d go back to work the next morning and start the whole process again, skipping back a year on the message board.

Yesterday I was at work and nearing the end of the 1997 posts. Soon I’d run out of posts, and I’d be all alone with my anxieties. Then my business line rang. I picked it up, annoyed by the interruption.

“Is this Michael McAllister?”


“Hi, Michael. This is Stephen O’Connor, from Columbia University…”


“Oh, hi,” I said, my voice pulling a total Peter Brady.

“Hello. We wanted to let you know that we would like you to join our program…”

“Oh, God…”

“And we’d like to offer you the Dean’s Fellowship, our largest fellowship, which is __thousand dollars.”


“We were very impressed with your manuscript.”

So, yeah. I haven’t heard from the two other schools (both in/around NYC).

But it looks like I’m moving to New York.

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