Statement of Purpose
Cat: Let’s make it catchy, right from the start. You know, with just the right amount of creativity to get the readers really excited about your application. Maybe begin with a haiku?
Me: A haiku, huh? You really think so?
Me: Something like this?
Alone at keyboard,
Characters speak and take flight,
Cat purrs on warm lap.
Cat: Hmm. Good try, I definitely like the cat part, but maybe a haiku is not the right approach after all. Perhaps a prose poem?
Me: Okay, although I like my haiku. Seemed like we were going somewhere with that.
Cat: Nope, definitely not. Shut down the haiku and move along or we’ll never get this done. And as you know, I get bored easily.
Me: All right, try this on for size:
An atypical man in a typical guy’s life, torn between the practicality of daily life and the bleeding heights of the sublime,
He’d done many things,
Carpenter, thief, back-up singer for a band,
Well, none of those things actually–
Cat: Wait! You’re not even trying . . . are you?
Me: Of course I’m trying.
Cat: But you’re not talking about yourself. What’s all the carpenter/thief nonsense?
Me: I’m defining myself using white space. It’s the poetic part of the poem. You know, all the words that poets put in there that don’t quite make sense. The stuff that makes poetry hard to read.
Cat: Somehow, I don’t think that sounds quite right. Why not write “an albino elephant lies down to die, while a conspiracy of ravens waits nearby”? Is that “white space” enough for you? And it sounds poetic and doesn’t make sense, right?
Me: Yes, you’re right, it doesn’t make any sense. But you’re missing the subtlety: every line has to kind of make sense. It’s a writer thing, you probably wouldn’t understand. Anyway, I was going to get to the meat of the poem – by that I mean the part about me – eventually. Do you even read poetry?
Cat: I live poetry. I eat poetry sometimes. I don’t need to read it.
Me: Is that right?
Cat: Yeah, that’s right. It’s a feline thing, you probably wouldn’t understand. Anyway, I’m starting to think that we’re taking the wrong approach. They probably don’t want flashy. I don’t know what I was thinking. They’ll throw you in the round file right away if you come off too unconventional. The poetry angle doesn’t really make sense in this context. Let’s think lyrical argument, inspired exposition . . . a statement that clearly expresses your plan in exquisite, breath-taking language. The readers probably just want you to tell them what makes you special – why you deserve a place in their program instead of the other five hundred million applicants.
Me: That’s just what I was working on before you came along. You want to hear what I have so far?
Me: Okay, here goes:
When I sit down to write, I have three goals. First, I write to raise my personal level of awareness. I have learned that writing is soulless unless I discover new insights in the process. Thus, writing is a form of meditation, a means of accessing a part of my psyche that helps me appreciate the extraordinary in the everyday – the taste of rain, the nod of a stranger, the sound of a cat fight in the dead of night.
Cat: Okay, so far, I like the part about the cats.
Me: You’re clearly biased. There’s more:
Second, I try to choose words that not only create linguistic beauty, both logical and surprising, but also most directly express the concept I am trying to convey. This challenge is formidable. Effective communication through language has been described as magic. But like any magician seeking to master a convincing trick, a fiction author must put hours, weeks, months, and yes, sometimes years of grunt work into every character, plot twist, and word of imagined dialogue in order to deceive his readers into believing that what they perceive is, in fact, real. The result can be magical; the task of laying down words to achieve this effect is, for me, so intensely difficult and consuming that I find myself irretrievably drawn to it day and night.
Third, when I write, I seek to create a piece that entertains my readers. I want them to fall into the world I have created and never lose interest. This may sound obvious, but it’s not always so simple. While I do not advocate spoon-feeding, I believe that good writing should be accessible and engaging – the kind of work that can keep a reader’s attention even if the couple sitting adjacent to her on the train is having a wonderfully terrible argument.
Despite my many opinions on the subject, I am at a nascent stage in my writing career, with much more to discover. If I were lucky enough to be accepted into SFSU’s MFA program, I would continue to write in the manner described above and to think critically about the nature of fiction. Spending the next few years learning from State’s talented professors and fellow grad students would be a gift, an honor, and, above all, an invaluable opportunity to continue to develop myself as an author and human being.
Cat: Hmmm . . . nope. That’s not it. Back to the drawing board. That was a good try though. Now I’m thinking that you should just be honest.
Me: That was honest . . . heart-felt and true. Couldn’t you sense that?
Cat: Sounded a little highbrow to me – like you’re trying to impress them with fancy talk.
Me: I am trying to impress them.
Cat: Nonetheless, it sounds like you’re trying too hard. Look, I’m getting really quite bored now. I think that’s enough for me for today.
Me: Wait, so what would you say?
Cat: Well, your readers may be university types and all, but I bet they would still appreciate something straightforward, don’t you think? That’s where we went wrong before. So I guess if you put a gun to my head, I would say something like this:
I want to write a novel that addresses the beauty and struggle inherent in the human condition. To further my pursuit of this goal, I need more time to write and expert guidance. Acceptance into your MFA program would provide me with both, and that’s why I’m writing to you today.
Me: No, no, no, Cat, that’s no good. Much too general . . . and boring. Talk about vanilla. I thought we were trying to get them revved up right from the start.
Cat: Yeah, I guess you’re right.
Me: Back to the haiku?
Cat: Looks that way, doesn’t it? But I’ve done my part now; I’m taking a nap. You’re on your own from here on out.
Me: Okay, thanks for nothing.
Cat: Always a pleasure. Good luck. I’m sure you’ll come up something clever.
Me: Here’s to hoping.