Monday, December 5, 2016

LIFE & ART: A lesson from KING CHARLES III and THE NUTCRACKER

This weekend, I had the good fortune to go twice to the theater. On Saturday night, I saw KING CHARLES III at Seattle Rep, and on Sunday afternoon, I was wowed by the Emerald Ballet Theatre's NUTCRACKER. I always cry when I see that Christmas ballet not just because it brings back childhood memories or because I am impressed by the virtuosity of the dancers, but because I identify so closely with those teen ballerinas who have given their childhoods to their art and are now on the cusp of having to forego (or delay) a college education or to walk away from the identity they have so arduously, elegantly crafted for themselves up to now.

Intriguingly, KING CHARLES III tells a similar story. It is a fictionalized tale of the ascension of
England's current prince to the throne upon the death of his mother. Charles has been waiting in the wings for seven centuries. Not unlike a young dancer, he has spent his entire life being cultivated to fill this unique role and so he must...of course?

Charles finds himself surprised by both the scope and limitations of his duties. He wants to be (feels almost supernaturally called to be) the "greatest king that ever was" but instead finds himself questioning parliamentary legislation concerning freedom of the press, causing a government crisis and provoking public chaos. Perhaps, despite all his study, he was not prepared for the life of the crown--did not really know what it meant. Perhaps his "greatness" lies down another road--one that involves stepping away from the throne.

Of course, the Rep play explores important questions about democracy and freedom. But in the context of a spectacular weekend of performances, the inquiry I found most pressing was: ARE WE wonderfully, entirely, only, tragically the thing we have been raised to become?

Many of the high school seniors I counsel have spent years cultivating their talents as elite athletes, performing artists, and student government leaders. Perhap they grew up dreaming of becoming professional athletes or movie stars and now I find myself advising them to consider their accomplishments only as ammunition for their college application essays and resumes--as experiences with end dates. No wonder they are terrified. The college application process is not just a simple step forward but, for many incredible young people, the setting aside of known accomplishments to take a leap into the abyss of their potential. No matter how many times I repeat, "I believe in you" -- No matter how many times I assure them that they will carry much of what they have learned into their future life and work -- can one ever really have certainty when they abandon one path for another?

Perhaps the Nutcracker's longevity is partly due to the fact that I can even see a parallel between our poor Charles III and the ballet's young Clara, who dreams of spectacularly beautiful diversions and then wakes once again, in her own home, to face the reality of what we call "growing up." Whether you are a seventeen-year-old ballerina or a seventy-something prince, this journey may be equally terrifying.

Monday, November 28, 2016

Advice and Links for Teen Writers

There's no single path to writing success, any more than there is a single definition of writing success (or success in any form). 

Careers in writing are tricky. And, journalism and fiction writing are two completely different animals. For fiction writing, the advice I always give to teens is read, write and learn about life (aka, an English major is not required to be a fiction writer and maybe college is a place to explore other intellectual interests, such as history or politics or math!). After that, that are two routes: 1. (If your goal is popular fiction) Write, get an agent, submit work. 2. (If your goal is literary fiction) Go to an elite writing grad program (such as Iowa, NYU, Wisconsin (Madison), Brown, Johns Hopkins), make connections/get an agent, submit work.

That said, I have met many talented teens who dream of seeing their words in print. So, to the extent that we can define success as publication, here are a few links:
Happy Writing!

Thursday, November 24, 2016

I AM THANKFUL FOR...

Coffee. Kindness. Creativity. Community. My four amazing sons. My adorable (extremely funny) husband. People who show compassion and respect for others, even those with whom they disagree. Live theater. Good friends. Connecting with others in real life. Books, books, books...and the people who make them. 


Enjoy today. Be happy. There is much to celebrate in this world.

Tuesday, November 22, 2016

It's College Application Time: What to do when you meet an admissions officer IRL

Whether it is at college fair, on a campus tour, or during an admissions interview, at some point you may find yourself face-to-face with an admissions officer. For some, this is even scarier than choosing the topic for their Common App essay. What do you say? What do you do? How do you make the best impression?

DON'T...

  • Recite your scores/stats/accomplishments. These will all be part of your application paperwork and admissions officers are not there to memorize your personal data--they are there to connect with you as a person.
  • Ask questions for which answers are easily found on the school website. You should know if your major of choice is available at their school, the level of Greek life, or whether their campus is urban or rural. 
  • Ask if the food is any good in the cafeteria or how they like the weather where the school is located.
  • Make statements simply to prove you've been on the aforementioned school website. 

DO...Ask a question that shows you are genuinely trying to learn whether you would be a good fit for their institution, such as:

  • How would you describe the level of academic intensity and the workload? How would you describe the study/social balance on campus?
  • How accessible are professors outside of classes?
  • What kinds of opportunities are available for undergraduate research?
  • Do most students participate in clubs, and what are the most popular clubs available on campus? (Specify your area(s) of interest if applicable.)
  • What ways do most students spend their weekends: on campus, in the town, going home?
  • Do many students have internship opportunities? Are they available to all majors?
  • What percentage of students in my area of interest study abroad and how does that work with their major requirements?
REALIZE...The admissions officer is looking to get to know you, too. Be prepared with answers for such question as:
  • Why do you want to apply to XYZ University?
  • What are your academic interests? Are you interested in a particular major or school at XYZ U?
  • What are you favorite extracurricular activities?
  • What is your favorite book or movie?

REMEMBER...This is not a one-sided process. While colleges can be selective in their admissions processes, without intelligent, motivated STUDENTS, their institutions would not exist. Both you and the admissions staffers need what the other offers. Keep that in mind when you have the opportunity to meet each other.

Thursday, November 17, 2016

It's College Application Time: INSIGHTS FROM A PANEL OF ADMISSIONS OFFICERS

Recently, I had the good fortune to hear a panel of admissions experts share insights about their roles and the college application process.  The panel was comprised of of admissions staffers from CalTech (Pasadena, CA), University of Oregon (Eugene, OR), American University (Washington, DC) and Whitman College (Walla Walla, WA).  All four individuals were excellent ambassadors with deep understanding of the nature and character of their institutions.

The event filled me with optimism and enthusiasm (not stress!). In fact, the more I learn about college admissions, the more I genuinely believe that stress can and should be avoided. Why? Because, whether you are hoping to play a D-1-2-or-3 college sport, want to bring a special creative ability to campus, or are simply a well-rounded student looking for a welcoming place to continue your academic pursuits, admissions officers are reading your resume in search of the same thing: FIT. They are asking themselves, "Will this applicant be able to complete our coursework and graduate on time?" "Will this applicant find, on our campus, the opportunities s/he appears to be seeking and, thus, have a satisfying and successful undergraduate experience?"

Honestly, applicants should be looking for the same thing. WHAT SCHOOLS WILL BE THE BEST "next step" for MY LIFE? Which communities can offer me both a fun four years and set me on an exciting post-graduation path? If your search is framed in this way, you are enhancing the odds that you and those admissions officers asking the same questions from the other side will find your way to each other.