practicing my grad school essay

Dear Grad School:

I haven’t known where I wanted to be or what I wanted to do for quite some time.

When I went to college for the first time back in 2007, I honestly picked Creative Writing as my major because the faculty was supportive and kind and the senior seminar snacks were amazing (THANK YOU, DR. COZZENS), and because I really just knew that I liked stories. I was planning to be an actor for all my live long days, you see, and I thought it didn’t really matter what my major was. I was going to graduate and plunge headfirst into regional Shakespeare, so I might as well just do the things I liked in the meantime, right?

Which is what I did. I immediately went full tilt for my acting dreams out of undergrad and, you know what, for all that I’m a self-deprecating asshole, it actually went pretty well. I played a lot of dream roles and I think I did a good job. I wore some pretty dresses and some pretty wigs and I spoke pretty words and I kissed pretty people. I played pretend for a living and it was enough.

Until, as you might have guessed, it wasn’t anymore.

At the end of 2012, when I was at the tip-top of one of my tallest depression hills, I tried stand-up comedy for the first time. The feeling of standing alone on a stage and reading words I had written about things that had actually happened to me… I’ve never been so terrified or liberated. This is what I like about comedy, I think: If I can make someone laugh with all my bullshit, then maybe it was worth it.

Stand-up made me realize how much I’d missed writing. How much I hadn’t really been doing it since graduation. Thanks to stand-up and, really, Reddit, a bright, shiny, perfect show called Write Club Atlanta found me and gave me the word “full” along with seven minutes and the courage to order a whiskey ginger. Write Club is a live lit show and I hadn’t known that such a thing existed. To get up onstage and pour my heart out in that loud, raucous basement…

I was starting to put the pieces of my nerd-word-heart together.

I kept performing, but as a tall, weird, gender-questioning creature, I increasingly felt like I didn’t belong in classical theatre. When I finally came out as non-binary, I worried there would be no more place for me onstage. And I was really sad and I was really angry.

In the summer of 2019, I was given the opportunity to direct an entirely female and gender non-conforming production of The Complete Works of William Shakespeare (Abridged) for the Atlanta Shakespeare Company. I’d poked and prodded about such a possibility for YEARS. (Sometimes being annoying really pays off.)

Part of the fun of Complete Works lies in getting to change and update the jokes. Before rehearsal even officially started, we had a little baby writers’ room as a company, pitching our own jokes and bits to keep the material fresh and relevant to us. It was also important to me to tell a story about three people who believed in and valued love and hope above all; love for one another and hope in the potential of the Bard, even in 2019.

Sitting in the audience on opening night and listening to people laugh at jokes I had actually written… I think it’s fair to tell you it’s been the most wonderful moment of my life so far. It was the last puzzle piece. That’s it, I thought. This is what I want.

Since Complete Works, I have done everything I can to make writing the focus of my days. I am looking forward to the opportunity to make writing the OFFICIAL focus of my life.

I haven’t known where I wanted to be or what I wanted to do for quite some time. To tell you the truth, I even tried to make a run for it and perform at an international theme park for a while. But then a dear friend of mine looked at me and said, “Dani, I think you want to go to grad school.”

And she was right. I really want to go to grad school. I want to become a better writer, because I believe writing might be my way to help. To support, to make people happy. I want to write onstage stories wherein other monsters and misfits can be seen and heard. I want to twist up classic archetypes and tropes so that everyone has the chance to seem themself a hero.

Another dear friend yesterday told me that one of their favorite things about me was my capacity for hope. I really want to write about hope.

To quote my hero, Kermit the Frog: Life’s like a movie, write your own ending.

For a long time, I thought my story was already told. My name is Dani and I am tall and geeky and I struggle with depression.

For the first time in a long time, I see the opening words of a new story and I am so thoroughly, terribly excited:

My name is Dani and I write stories.

And I will write stories even if I can’t go to grad school. (Not to brag, but I’ve written over 160k of Good Omens fanfiction in less than a year. TRY AND STOP ME.) But I believe grad school will give me the opportunity to focus on and delve into my writing in a way that I currently cannot for financial and logistical reasons.

I was so sad the first time I was in college. I’m ready to try again. I want to bake cookies for my peer review group and I want to buy a record player for my apartment and I want to be assigned reading assignments for class again. I want my shoulders to ache with the weight of the books and the journals in my backpack. I saw it all so clearly in my head today and I felt happier than I’ve felt in a really long time.

I can’t promise I won’t write a lot of bad monster puns. But I can promise you I will approach each word and sentence and scene and act with sincerity and faith.

Thank you for your consideration.

Dani H.

Published by Dani

I like breakfast, marine mammals, Star Wars, comedy, the song "Dead Man's Party," and Halloween musical revues at theme parks. Let's be friends!

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