I’m hopped up on caffeine today, so bear with me.
I love words. I’ve always loved words. I distinctly remember the excitement of learning new letters in kindergarten each week, being versed enough in 1st grade literature to write short stories and poems about men eating their mittens, tracing loopy cursive in 2nd grade so I no longer had to print like a little kid. My mom was always very articulate with me, never dumbing down her language for my three- or five- or seven-year-old mind. “Don’t be so sarcastic, ” she’d say. “Stop manipulating your brother.” I loved these too-mature words. I’d absorb them, digest their context, and push them back off my tongue in the most inappropriate and defiant ways: “You’ah being sahcastic, mom. Stop manipulating ME.” (All with my childhood speech impediment that severely neglected r’s).
• • • • • •
You see it seemed natural, then – when I boarded a plane at 18-years-old to tackle the collegiate world in Rome – to define myself eternally as an English major, an artiste, a philosopher of all things creative and ethereal, fedora-donner and espresso-sipper alike. I was a writer. I’d been a writer since I first learned to play Reading Rainbow cassette tapes on my own and felt I could restructure the lessons with more games, less learning. I was born to conquer the verbal world, to rewrite all history pertaining to language, to lull even the most hostile soldiers into tranquility and peace with my poesy and cadence…
Academia seemed to agree. I did extraordinarily well in my literature, writing, and English courses (barring one Shakespeare class wherein I experienced my first and thoroughly-devastating C because my very-British professor detested my use of American Midwestern slang, or because I think Shakespearean plays are particularly superfluous. either/or.), and even did well in non-English courses that involved an ample amount of critical thought and written argument. I was ecstatic, once upon a time, thinking I may just be gifted enough to carve my niche in an otherwise difficult and exclusive area.
there’s no high on the crest if you know the trough
no Heaven above if you know Hell
only frenzy, and the idea that
the stars you wish on
are already dead.
• • • • • •
Okay, so it isn’t that dramatic. I’m just in a poetic mood today and saw the opportunity for a little shameless self-promotion. Check out my poem “rigid, tasting of saline” in the Walkabout Creative Arts Journal. (sorry.)
But anyway, I’m a writer, and – despite my wavering valor – it’s taken me awhile to find comfort in announcing this to the world as an intended profession. In fact, it took me nearly 23 years, a college degree, and a whole slew of positive reinforcement to wield confidence enough to say, “Hey, I’m Ashton. I write.” But nonetheless, once I did, this newfound confidence blossomed – perhaps, at times, bordering cocky-wink-and-point behavior – and I began looking forward to graduate school all arrogant-like. I thought, you know, I’m good. Piece of cake. I thought I would surely be accepted into an MA, JD, or MBA program, with the only obstacle remaining being the also piece of cake GRE, LSAT, or GMAT. Because I was the Jim Morrison of English, man.
ETA: (Jim Morrison was really the Jim Morrison of English. Like I said, sometimes cocky-wink-and-point behavior.) (Whatevz.)
So I began to study for all exams at once, high on arrogance and enthusiasm, taking practice tests religiously, strewing note cards across the living room floor to remind myself that chicanery is trickery and malefactors are male (don’t take that personally; where’s Freud when you need him?), joking playfully about the ridiculousness of it all while simultaneously thinking nbd bro I GOT this.
But, alas, arrogance and enthusiasm are unfortunate traits…
• • • • • •
Here’s what happened: despite my passion, despite my perceived talent, despite years spent scribbling poetry and prose on the back of probably-important bills, the plethora of practice tests through Princeton Review and Kaplan knocked me off my fancy-pants throne into an alternate reality by telling me this:
1) Law: You, Ashton, kick ass at the LSAT, and it’s unfortunate that you don’t actually want to be a lawyer. (why thankya!)
2) Verbal GRE/GMAT: lolol you will not be the next William Faulkner. (wait…)
3) Quantitative GRE/GMAT: We’re pretty sure you’re Isaac Newton. (WUT?)
In fact, I sat for the real GRE, the one where you go into a testing center, breathe rapidly in front of a godforsaken computer, bleed pent-up knowledge one question at a time RIGHT NOW GIVE ME THE CORRECT ANSWER THIS IS YOUR ONLY CHANCE NO SECOND GUESSING BECAUSE YOU CAN’T GO BACK AND LOOK OVER YOUR WORK HAHAHAHAHA.
It told me the same thing.
So now, here I am, a straight-A English student with a writing degree summa cum laude – possessing a vast portfolio of theses and essays, published poetry and articles – applying to grad school in writing and rhetoric and communications with tests score that trollingly tell the departmental heads I’m actually a mathematician and don’t believe a word I say otherwise.
Ah. Heavy is the head who wears the crown.
Wait, that doesn’t make sense.
• • • • • •
Anyway, this is the point in the story where it’d be appropriate to rant about the inadequacies of standardized testing, the inappropriate rigidity of boxing intellect into multiple choice questions, the woe of proving your academic potential via timed responses and a glitchy Windows XP OS, but I scored a 34 on the ACT in highschool and can’t bash the system too much for fear of negating the pride of that once-awesome and intimately-entwined accomplishment. So I’ll just sigh.
Ultimately, this is nothing more than the consequence of our world trying to quantitate creativity, right? Although I’d be lying if I said it hasn’t knocked me sidesaddle on my high horse. I’m no longer a fearless Word Warrior, because – for once – I’ve kinda failed at something relevant. And if we get into the discussion of my inability to find an actual job as a writer, I’ll end up fetal position beneath my high horse, shielding myself from the sh*tstorm that is post-undergrad life. But that’s no good, and never very healthy for the soul.
I guess I’ve learned that I need to take the high road with institutions I respect, and the comedic road with institutions that don’t respect me. Or don’t understand me. Or try to shatter my poetic aspirations just because I’m pretty good at solving for x. Because – in a whirlwind of hipster-level irony – Reagan went on to be President, and Snooki is a New York Times best-selling author (LOL). This world isn’t black and white, verbal and quantitative. It’s multidimensional, chaotic, and a vast opportunity to follow your passion, discover artistry, pursue that which makes souls sing and rainbows appear in eyeballs. So this is my plan, pithy and keen:
I will henceforth toss guidelines aside, turn my back on fear and disappointment, find that grey area and – no matter the internal and/or external obstacles – paint that sh*t gold.