It’s all true.

Thirteen times I’ve clicked that little box at the end of the graduate school application, certifying that everything I’m submitting is correct. But not before I’ve panicked and gone back to re-check my application—to make sure that I’ve entered my test scores in the right boxes, that I’ve successfully uploaded my transcripts, that my personal statement has its final edit (an oxford comma), that I’ve typed my birth date correctly, that I’ve written my name correctly—and on in a spiral of paranoia.

I click the box because it’s all true (to the best of my knowledge), and because the dreaded, the glorious deadline is looming, shoving me back into my life.

And, yet, something David Foster Wallace said during a commencement address gnaws away at the conviction I’ve mustered, not unlike that hungry epigraph from last month:

There is no such thing as not worshipping. Everybody worships. The only choice we get is what to worship. And the compelling reason for maybe choosing some sort of god or spiritual-type thing to worship […] is that pretty much anything else you worship will eat you alive.

If you worship money and things […] then you will never have enough.

Worship your body and beauty and sexual allure and you will always feel ugly.

Worship your intellect, being seen as smart, you will end up feeling stupid, a fraud, always on the verge of being found out.

A fraud. I had thought I was the only one who felt this way. (How dare I quote Wallace, an author I’ve hardly read?!)

I first listened to this speech at the end of my senior year at Calvin. Exams were not quite upon us, but triumph was already in the air. I focused on what befitted the occasion—Wallace’s argument for a liberal arts education. (It’s always nice to hear your humanities degree validated.) But, as I stand on the threshold of Academia, knocking, after a gap year that slid (all too smoothly) into another gap year, I hear Wallace’s truth whispering between my personal statements and writing samples.

Because I did well the second time I took the Literature GRE Subject Test, which basically measures how well you can bullshit your way through the canon of English literature.

Because I like fancy words and know what to do with semicolons, which also happens to make people think I’m smarter than I am.

I knock—I am knocking—hoping the door will open because, then, I won’t be a fraud, right? My honors theses-turned-writing samples won’t be serendipitous flukes but very examples of my competency and potential. (When I first began revising them, after a year or so of dormancy, there were moments I could hardly believe I had written those complicated sentences.)  If I knock, and the door opens, then I will be a Graduate Student and, as such, must be Smart, must belong in Academia.

But I’ve read Wallace wrong. I’ve held onto the ends of his sentences, without remembering the beginnings. He’s issuing a warning: the more stake I put into my mind and nothing else, the more I will feel like a charlatan. Graduate school will not save me, and if I want it to, it will eat me alive.

I check the box. I type my name. I submit the application. Because time is up—I have to grab my apron and rush off to work; I have to pull on my boots and walk the dog, who’s been patiently waiting for the last half hour; I have to set the dinner table or run to the grocery store or visit a friend with a broken leg.

Here’s the grace from the God I want to worship: my ordinary-errand-and-chore-filled life that gets in the way of all the More Important Things forms me into a fuller person, saves me, in fact, from a blinkered self, interrupts my (constant) attempts of self-sacrifice to a lesser god. (I discover this as I write, not knowing where this post, which, since the beginning, I have been deleting and restarting, is taking me.)

Now, this blog’s deadline is upon me, and I need to work through the stack of books by my bed (thank goodness for this snow day) so that I can attempt to have intelligent conversations with seven professors and a Comparative Literature department with whom I’ll be interviewing this weekend. Research (which, so far, has only made frantic butterflies in my stomach) calls. But dog-walking follows close behind.

2 Comments

  1. Cassie

    This:

    “Here’s the grace from the God I want to worship: my ordinary-errand-and-chore-filled life that gets in the way of all the More Important Things forms me into a fuller person, saves me, in fact, from a blinkered self, interrupts my (constant) attempts of self-sacrifice to a lesser god.”

    P.S. Good luck at those interviews.

    Reply
  2. Katie Van Zanen

    Sabrina, I’m having lots of feelings about this myself. Thanks for reminding me to accept other graces, and believe in higher truths.

    Reply

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