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L.A. Fields
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The Traveling Hermit

L.A. Fields
I applied to three PhD programs for next year that don't require GRE scores. Here they are, curiously lined up directly in the middle of the country. For some reason both my sister and my best friend have really positive opinions about Nebraska, and I liked their application and program best, so right we all hope for Nebraska:

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Now it's back to jobs. I would take a PhD program over a job if I got both (I think right now), but I know better than to count chickens before they're hatched, so more job apps it is. The application process is keeping me busy and focused while I wait for a lot of decisions I have no control over. Please enjoy highlights and excerpts from this process:

- A listing asking for "a substantial record of fiction publication or awards" - a whole lot of mediocre books or one good one, either way.
- I finally ran into an application asking if I identified as gender-nonconforming or as a member of the LGBTQ+ community. The future is here! Usually it's are you hispanic, are you disabled, are you a veteran.
- I have one application letter for liberal arts schools and a different letter for regular schools. The one for liberal arts schools is a lot more effulgent, possibly to the point of trying too hard.
- Interfolio is my new favorite thing.

I got a required flu vaccine and a big-ass suitcase in case of Korea. The residency I've been waiting to hear about went to someone else, but left a corresponding Spring semester opening at the school where she teaches (I had already applied to it and now I know why it exists), and I'm applied to my alma mater for spring as well. What will bother me most if I get rejected from all these academic writing things is not that I'll feel I missed out on my true profession (I'll end up teaching something to somebody somewhere, and teaching is secondary to writing as far as true callings go), it's the deep bitterness of thinking that anyone's ever been consider more of a writer than me (can't help that, it's a gut emotion), and the knowledge that I've probably been robbed of a mid-career storming out of the acadamy in disgust to do something with animals or the sea (you know, something real). You can't reject what's never been offered to you, and that's tough.

The Meantime

L.A. Fields
Literally nothing has happened to or around me in days and days. Waking or sleeping, sunlight or dark, weekday or weekend, all the same.

- Pictures and then scans of my contract were not good enough for a work visa to Korea, so I sent in the hard copy and now I wait.

- Mid-October is here and the residency decision is nigh, but "mid" is vague, could be any time between now and Halloween (last year it was announced on the 28th). So I wait.

- I'm applying to a Creative Writing Ph.D. program for Fall 2015 like a disingenuous IDIOT. This one doesn't require GRE scores (I'm not taking a test to "learn" how to make all the art I already make, I have some principles), but it does want a critical work sample with a fictional one. Short of reworking my thesis, I don't have a critical paper from undergrad at least 15-20 pages long (the requirements back then were always 12-15 and I value brevity when doing something I don't want to do). Even a special final paper for a dedicated tutorial on Ulysses is only 14 pages AFTER I changed the font from Times to Courier. I admire me for my commitment to never, ever do more than the bare minimum, but now I have to get creative with this to meet the new minimum. I do this while my application fee processes. I do this while I wait.

- Speaking of my alma mater, the job for Writer in Residence has come around and at last I am qualified for it. I applied for that yesterday (very easily since I've been prepping to apply for years). The deadline there is November 1st, so I wait. They are interested in poets (for some reason--I took classes under poets while there and cannot recommend the experience at all).

- And speaking of those poet-run classes, I also had to find my way into my nearly five year old student account to compile a .pdf of unofficial transcripts for the PhD app, so while I continue to wait, please enjoy the narrative evaluation from my very first college writing course:

Lauren Fields is tied up into a gordian knot about her desire to become a writer of recognition. I believe she must learn to let herself go more often and just enjoy the act of writing for what it is. It is not a path to fame. It will only bring sorrow if you write to be famous and not write to live. She did a fair job on her projects but she was absent when her groups had to perform their poems. Lauren must learn how to interact with her peers in a deep manner and this will bring her more confidence in her writing.

Because the teacher was a poet, most of his evaluations were overly creative, to the point that most of the students posted their evaluations to the ol' student forum (for the amusement of all). He wasn't wrong on me--that's essentially the same evaluation I've been getting since elementary school (works well alone, not well with others), and I am desperate for recognition. A desire for positive attention in my Faulknerian demon, it's why I work so hard and care so much, and it's why I'm about to publish my 5th book before age thirty (which in grad school is a thing people admire, accomplishing anything before thirty). I have never enjoyed writing just for its own sake, it isn't drugs or a nap or a somersault, it isn't an essentially enjoyable thing to do. I enjoy making up stories in my head (which is not writing), and I enjoy rendering the story well, but to be done well it has to communicate what's in my head successfully to others. There is no joy in writing or recording anything if I am the last living consciousness in a godless universe; I would still make up stories in my head most likely (because I'd quickly go insane), but I would not write them down, there would be no point. I'd probably spend my down time organizing rocks into pleasing constellations instead, at least then I could enjoy looking at them. Cave paintings maybe, but certainly not writing as I do it now, typing long psychological explorations of nonexistant people. Most of the people I've met who write don't "write to live," they write so they can think of themselves as writers, whether they publish or not, and there's nothing pure about that either.

- So there's a couple of things that I might get for the Spring semester, which means I would not go to Korea. There are more things that I might get for the Fall 2015 semester, which means I would go to Korea and just give notice six weeks before my contract would otherwise end. That could be nice--work for a year, hang with my sister, live abroad (which is another thing people who never actually do it themselves think is very special), then come on back to my intended career path. You know, like a real life; an interesting, full, stressful, unmoored life.

Simple Pleasures

L.A. Fields
Oh, grocery delivery people. I realize that when YOU order pizza, chips, whiskey, and candy, you're having a party. I am having a normal weekday, no one is coming over, and you need to broaden your world view and stop harrassing me with your assumptions, okay? I just did a dry run on how I will crisscross a purse with a cat carrier in prep for tomorrow's vet visit; I don't have parties.

Anyway, the cat is due for her 3-year shots, precisely 30 days before I might be flying her to Korea, which is the minimum amount of time required after shots for cat travel. I will have to take her to get a health certificate within ten days of the flight, but Korea or no, these shots (and a blood test) need to be done exactly now, which is perfect.

I've been organizing and reorganizing my crap into smaller and smaller piles, more compact every time. I'm still very anxious to hear about that residency job, but I'm planning on getting my stuff all small anyway, because I really like the idea now. Five years ago all my crap fit into a car, now I want it all to fit into two suitcases and a footlocker, like a sailor.

"I told you once and you killed me twice."

Sparks
- Turned in my thesis on Thursday. Got a lot of congratulations, whatever, whatever, I'm jaded now, I'm over it. I was mostly jazzed that coming in early meant I ran into about 10 people I like--cohorts in the printing lab, in the grad lounge, my advisor, a tutee, a fourth year... humans. Sweet, vital human contact. And 600 pages right off the printer smells pretty good, so that was nice too. Then I waited four hours to watch most of my friends to go straight home, but whatever.

- I spot-read the thesis a bit as I printed: in one place I meant to use "defuse" as in make a situation less tense, but used "diffuse" as in to spread or pour out, but they both still work because I was talking about drinking and alcoholism anyway. I like it, that mistake was clever of my subconscious.

- I'm getting a steady stream of rejections for Loopholes, but I'm still convinced it'll be the one that makes me a bunch of mainstream money, and when I tell people how long it took to publish and how many people rejected it, they'll laugh and laugh.

- Every day I apply to either two writing-oriented jobs or two agents, one side has to give eventually.

- My credit card doubled my spending limit. Maybe they heard someone offerred me a job, maybe they felt it.

- A cab driver told me that Dubai was a much better place than South Korea for an American girl to marry well, so that's something to think about going forward.

- The temperature dipped below 40 degrees last night, it is cold time now.

- Twice in the past month I've had to walk several blocks into the northern part of the Loop here in Chicago. I was not aware how accostomed I'd become to the South Loop or how different they really were in atmosphere until a class hatred I'd forgotten I had reared up in me both times. Crowds of suits and straightened hair--my artistic soul rebelled! Shopping is not a hobby or a sport or a date, it is not a thing you should choose to spend a nice evening doing, but I was the only one who thought so in the North Loop.

- Today's bird in the Leopold-Loeb book was a skylark, brought to me by way of the verb, to lark. I'm going to finish the third chapter before my next trip outside on the coming Thursday (only 1500 words left, putting me at the halway point), to see my friends who better not bail this time.

- I've been the first done among thesising students before, but I have never once liked it.

Something's in the air.

L.A. Fields
- I just killed some weird black and white bee whose insides smelled like a green banana peel (cool pheromones, bug, but this is my apartment not yours).

- I once spent a full day properly formatting my thesis in Word for my rigorous liberal arts school--hyperlinking footnotes and a table of contents that automatically knew the page numbers each chapter started on, etc. This art school thesis? "Only the body text of each section should be paginated. Front matter, such as title pages, table of contents, and dedications are not paginated." Sounds like that numberless front matter is just going into a different document doesn't it? I don't have all day, I'm in the prime of my life over here.

- I'm really enjoying the snobbery I feel at having completed both a thesis and a novel before now. No one ever tells you, but the best part of finishing your first novel is the feeling of superiority you get for the rest of your life.

- I'm visiting graveyards tomorrow, and kindly the temperature is dropping tonight, so I get a nice gloomy cool cemetery experience as I search out the Leopold family graves at Rosehill (couldn't find them under all that snow last year), and stroll through Graceland with my rarest cohortmate, the one with the baby and the house fire.

- I'm entering the best phase of my time here in Chicago: the time between knowing I'm leaving it forever and actually doing it. It's a time of pre-nostaligia and it is the best. I never really enjoy being anywhere, but reflectling sagely on it all for a few weeks before leaving? Fantastic, gives everything a sense of purpose.
Motherfucking Adult
"Didn't you say you were waiting to hear about a residency?" Yes--I'm still waiting to hear about it, but I can't really rely on it. This is a job, a contract, a sure thing, so I have to act as if this is it. When I originally posted this I thought the Korea contract and the residency could line up one after the other but they actually can't, so now I don't know what I even want, so I'm just going to focus on what I have, which is Busan.

"How good is the placement?" So good. I'm 3 subway stops from my sister, a few blocks from Gwangalli Beach, at the foot of some hills full of Buddhist temples, and I'm teaching elementary students (which is the best gig because it can't go late, the kids are at maximum cuteness and minimum moodiness, the lessons are extremely easy to prepare). I'll be making like two thousand dollars a month with free rent, paid vacation, only 120 work hours a month (and twenty-five dollars an hour if I get scheduled to work more), they pay for the air fare there and back, and I think in the small print somewhere they promise me a unicorn.

"Can it get any better than that?" Yes, I might even get trained in Busan, which means I take just one long flight with the cat, hand her over to my sister, and wait for an apartment that my sister is already gathering stuff for (kitchen junk, a mattress, pretty much anything of hers I want, especially if I'm only there for a year and can hand it right back).

"Anything else?" My best friend is already planning to visit me, which means she and my sister finally get to meet. I'm probably about to have one of the best years of my life, on par with my senior year of undergrad. Finally. This post-college, grad school chunk has been in large part lonely, trying, and cold. Sort of a humiliating, dark, whiskey-soaked chrysalis stage.

"Are you filled with existential peace and happiness?" I sure am. I'm almost excited about all the clothes shopping I have to do before I leave, this decision has been that transformative.

Master of None

Booze Time
Sixty consecutive days inside is my new record to beat, hopefully to only be achieved in the future if I'm sick unto dying or comfortably retired to a cabin in the woods. Some of the people I told about the new 60 day record on Saturday night remembered my previous record of 42 days inside and looked sad on my bahalf (which is the correct face to make). Today I went outside again, to turn in some paperwork and have a beer in a hotel lobby with some of the cohort. Tomorrow I go out again, as weekly Thursday night hangouts have always been our thing, and then again on Saturday. Tomorrow night we're supposedly going to a new place in the Loop called First Draft, which is just such an on-the-nose title for a bar where Fiction graduates hang out I mourn that is hasn't been our spot the whole time.

I am two more trips to the mailboxes in the 624 S. Michigan building shy of being done with my MFA. I asked a new professor I met today how he got his job after his MFA, and he said he got a Ph.D. first, and my fist clenched. (His answer was good: "Might as well as somebody how they won the lottery.") Nobody needs a Ph.D. in creative writing. Nobody really needs an MFA, though I understand its purpose as a hurdle before you can teach, it's only that... I could just spit, I'm so demoralized. Anyway, my thesis AKA my fifth published book will out in October, about when I'm turning in a pruned copy of the manuscript to my committee.

It seems from the pattern of the checklist I made up, that I am only capable of so much in one day. If I exercise and drink plenty of water and take a vitamin/shower/trip to the mail box in the lobby, I can simply not expect myself to do much else with the rest of my time. After that: writing, digitizing/organizing old photos, and applying for jobs? I can pick maybe one. On days I go outside, going outside is the only thing I do. I may never master the ability to have one full, well-rounded day with work and exercise and cooking and bathing, let alone a lifetime of them, but this is the price of an artistic temperament. Jack of all trades, master of none, that's how I justify it.

Living In The Moment

Nathan Leopold
Rejection City, The Only Place I Truly Dwell
Job rejections keep coming fast and hard--I have one last job hope that I'll hear about in mid-October (this one I wanted so badly I mailed physical copies of my book, something I've never done before), but if that disappoints me, then it's Korea for sure.

A school an hour south of Seoul was interested in me, but I'm not prepared to move all the way to Korea and still be two hours from my sister in Busan. The company has schools all over the country and hires teachers pretty continuously, it's just a matter of time, and I had a last batch of student loans come through that could hold me here for a year, or get me comfortably to Korea (and a well-paying job with which I could pay back the loans in a year). I've been staving off the panic that seeps in when I think of letting go of 90% of my stuff (my precious STUFF that I LIKE) by convincing myself that every job I'm waiting to hear about is totally going to happen, and I'll get to stay in the states. This works well to keep me relatively sane until another rejection pops the bubble.

Likewise, moving to Korea I can think of as a vacation. A vacation from which I can never, ever come home again. That's fun, it'll be fun.

Stuff Evaluation, Sadness Edition
If I do have to let most of my things go, it still won't be too hard, because most of the memories attached to them are sad as fuck. For example I have a few nice-looking TV trays that I use as nightstands and such. They were given to my mom by her friend Sue. Sue is the person she sent her suicide letter to, but I never got to read it because Sue was an addict and a bad influence, and my father banned her from seeing us. Other things I know about Sue: she had been on Jerry Springer once, and she had a blood stain on the carpet in her living room from where her husband was murdered years before. Gonna be easy to let stuff go when I really explore exactly what memories they hold.

Look Forward, Not Backward
I've given myself a small daily workout routine because I've been inside for a personal best (!!!) of 56 days now, and there's a chance I'm starting to atrophy. My school is taking its time in letting me know the thesis committee and graduation procedures, which I would like to file away as quickly as possible in case I move to another country in the next two months, but as it's an art school full of flakey art people, I won't get my hopes up.

My cohort's back in town and people will start hanging out again soon. I'm going to clear an even 60 days inside before that happens though. I know you're all jealous of that, so there's no need to inform me individually. The 60 days netted me about 10,000 words on the Leopold-Loeb manuscript. The most recent victory in that pursuit was my discovery that the University of Chicago's mascot is a phoenix. BUT OF COURSE IT'S A BIRD. Of course it is.
L.A. Fields
While working on this Leopold-Loeb book, if I ever run into a block I ask myself, "How can I cram another bird in here?" Much the same way fanfiction prompts used to be all, "use this list of assorted words in a story somehow," and much like grad school did a kumbaya circle of everyone "reaching back for an unassociated word" and letting that word into your scene if it fits, this is the way I shake loose some more movement. Tonight I needed a book (a big one, the kind you could hollow out and keep something in), and found myself a nice list of books with birds in the title. Excellent.

Birds mentioned so far: canary, parrot, hawk, cock (of course), robin, raven, rooster, duck, mockingbird, falcon, chicken, and reminiscent shit like eggs, wings, nests, cages, scarecrows, weathervanes, etc. Planned for later: cuckoo, owl, blackbird, flamingo, goose, peacock, I mean the thing just writes itself sometimes (not often enough but sometimes).

Anyway I got distracted today by digging into the origins of my super cool initials (which stand for Lauren Ariel). Here, have some information:

These are where my mom found the names she chose for me. Lauren Bacall (a recently passed famous actress with a deep voice and great facial bones) and the Ariel and the Taeping (clippers ships that were neck-in-neck for the Great Tea Race of 1866; the Ariel narrowly lost that race and presumably sank on a later voyage). I am one year older than The Little Mermaid movie, I was not named after the movie. I did grow up telling people that my sister's middle name was Flounder though, and for a while I was under the impression that Flounder rhymed with her actual middle name, Cassandra.

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The historic origin of the name Lauren (originally a male name before Lauren Bacall made it popular for girls—all of the girls named Lauren today are named after her; all of the boys named Lauren today would prefer to be Laurence and their parents are dicks) refers to the practice of crowning Olympic victors with laurel wreaths. Ariel means Lion of God (name shared by a Shakespearian spirit, a moon of Uranus, a little mermaid as previously discussed) and is a pretty unisex name.

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I am working hard today, as you can see. I'm 7/10 of the way through Chapter Three of the Leopold-Loeb book and strung out on coffee. The weather in Chicago has been perfect for two days will continue to be perfect until winter. I still don't know anything about my future but I'm handling it well by just irrationally focusing on the internet instead of real life.