Thursday, November 02, 2006

Writing: an all new experience for me

Sweet Jesus!

I just finished writing my first letter of recommendation for a high school student to get into college this year. (don't panic--it was sent on time, but this was drafted & then posted later)

Remember, I'm on disability. Which means I'm disabled. Which means my brain does not function at the same fast-paced, multi-tasking, insanely-super-human-person-who-may-have-
found-more-than-24-hours-in-a-day way that it used to work. It's slower now, more like an elderly brain that likes to sit in parks and watch the birds fly by while children play with their parents and puppies. Things do not happen quickly with this brain. This brain hears the alarm go off to take its medication, takes the pills out of the container, puts the pills on the laptop handrests, puts the container away and then has a conversation and forgets to take the pills until it decides to type again and there's something strange underneath the palm of its body.

Writing one letter took me all day. Seriously, I started at 9:30 a.m.ish and, except for a one hour stint reading to my favorite smart little 1.7ish year old neighborhood boy, I worked on it consistently until 5 p.m.

Letters of recommendation used to be accomplished in one hour. One hour! One hour.

One hour:
Fifteen minutes to read the counselors packet, which I love because they're funny and I almost always learn yet more amazing stuff about a kid I already adored in the first place. (Funny: The kids answer a bunch of inane questions and try to use big words and then rate themselves on things like "intelligent, sensitive, sense of humor." I love it when they give themselves the highest or the lowest marks in everything. Come on! Be real! Sometimes when they give low marks and they're in the room while I'm reading I argue with them--"but you make me laugh all the time!"), the parent letter (Unless the parent happens to be a good writer they usually write, "My kid is the best and the smartest and started reading really early and is nice to his siblings and I'm so proud of him and he also does a lot of sports and is active in the religion of our choice and he's very lovable and loving." This blather does not help me at all. Tell me a cute STORY people! Tell me something I do not already know!). Then the peer letter (Which is usually much funnier than the parent letter--remember I worked with honors students--and they give a far more vivid picture than the parent letter: "she can move like a jellyfish" I think was one phrase I read. I couldn't imagine this very reserved girl moving like a jellyfish, so I asked for a demonstration. This of course is only true if the kid hasn't blindly chosen a best friend she adores who is really kinda spacey and inarticulate, but somehow the kid hasn't caught on, in which case it's "I can tell her anything, I call her in the middle of the night, and she's always nice to me and everyone she knows, plus she's cute and lets me borrow her clothes" woo! hoo! That gives me a lot to work with.) I hope for transcripts and the kid's own college essay--that way I know I'm not repeating what they've already said and I don't have to try to remember what grade they earned two or three years ago or which year I met them. But I don't always get that. Then I spend 20-40 minutes of writing and another 20 minutes filling out the forms and making photocopies of everything, and if I got really lucky, 30 more minutes driving to UTC to wait in line at the 7 p.m. post office get the postmark stamped on the right day.

Anyway, I'm ranting. This letter was actually quite a pleasure to write--I love the kid, the information came to me early, she's an amazing writer and one of the best human beings I've ever met. But it took me all day.

Usually one hour--two tops, and that's only because they apply to 23 (I kid you not) colleges and I have to answer the same questions several times and they don't fill out the part where it says to write the school address because it's in the "teacher only" section.

But my brain. It's mushy. It still writes well in some situations, but formally it can't remember what it's already done v. what it's only thought about doing. So I'm at great risk of writing about the same characteristic over and over again. College admissions officers take that as a bad sign. Fortunately, I had Justin read it and he said it was good and not repetitive at all.

I am convinced this kid will get into this school. She would be able to do it even without my letter, though I must say I wrote a unique, interesting and glowing letter of recommendation.

But my brain is mush.

What if I had to teach today? Or if I also had a piles of essays or copy to read?

I really need to remember that I'm on disability.

Out of fear that I will fall deeper into the dark hole of depression out of which I seem to have crawled at least some distance upward, I am so busy keeping busy with "active distractions" that I'm forgetting about the fact that I do need more rest than the average bear, that I am supposed to do something relaxing and fun each day (and those are supposed to be two separate things--no double dipping), that I am supposed to be gentle with myself (not get angry with me for taking all day for one letter and not getting everything else on my to-do list done), and exercise EACH DAY.

So I need to take it down a notch or seven. It's not just the letters, it's also the PR for my friends and the homemade cards and the business cards for friends and the web stuff and the art shows and the art class and the household chores and the social events and the foreboding anniversary of all this shenanigans starting almost one year ago and how different last year's holidays were compared to how this year's might be and how sad that makes me feel.

Hey! Do not worry about what might be. Stay in the now. Breathe.

Right now, my husband has dinner ready for me and he is a good cook. This yummy-ness is where my focus should be.

Oh, but the point of starting this blog was to share this conversation, I just got a little distracted:
O: It took me all day to write one letter. One letter!
J: Now you know how I feel when I write.
O: Oh no!
J: You've sunk to my level.
O:Oh God! (Partly in dismay at my abilities, partly in dismay for all those students whose inability to write I never understood)
J: Yep. I just hope it goes away by June. (That's when I help him with proofing his applications for residency programs.)

That's all.
Good college vibes to all you kids out there who are reading this blog! And I really do LOVE writing your letters and do a good job (I think every Ivy League has a letter from me somewhere in its files and a kid working on its newspaper) and I am willing to do more if anyone still needs to ask--I'll just schedule it to take a day instead of an hour. It IS an HONOR, I just thought it would be fun to write about writing them. :) And you kiddies who are in college now--you'd better be making the best of it and becoming kind, thoughtful, mature young men and women; don't make me have to call the Deans and ask for those letters back! ;)

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