Rainshowered, Rejected, Celebrating: On not getting a Fulbright but still laughing at this beautiful mess of life

January 21

Dear Les,

In October, I applied for a Fulbright grant to pursue a master’s in creative writing at University College Cork in Ireland. After learning of the opportunity on Fulbright’s website in September, I spent a month working on my application with extra attention to my three statements for my UCC and Fulbright applications. I compiled about twenty pages of notes for my one-page Fulbright personal statement as well as twenty minutes of voice memos on my phone. A mental block existed, but I completed the statement on 4 am the day it was due. I submitted my applications and prepared myself for the three month wait for Fulbright’s decision. Just two weeks later, University College Cork offered me a spot in their program, but the wait for Fulbright’s decision continued. While waiting for my bus to take me to the train station where I was to board an Amtrak bus to visit my friend Z in Salem last Friday, Fulbright informed I had not been chosen for the grant. Before reading the email on my phone, I had been smiling at the bus stop. Afterwards, I simply stood still wondering what this decision meant for me. While a long shot, the grant had been my only potential plan so far for next year. Now I was still a young, underemployed, living-at-home college grad, but without any clear potential plans for next year. Not interested in mourning, I nodded my head, accepted the decision, and put my phone away. When the bus wheezed alongside the curb minutes later, I boarded.

I had an excellent weekend in Salem. As soon as I arrived in Salem, Z and I got tacos with her girlfriend, were joined by her brother at a fancy cake place, then went to bars and a cafe downtown. In all of it was laughter, conversation, and room for thought. Back in her apartment that night, Z and I sat on her couch and talked about adulting and dating. I told her about the Fulbright. The next morning, Z was woken by her mother calling to say she and Z’s father were getting divorced. I didn’t want to be anywhere else in the world. We made tea, miso, danced to T Swift, and went to Minto Park along the Willamette River where we were caught in a huge downpour far from her car. On our way back to the parking lot, dancing carefully through mud and puddles, I threw myself into the wet— lowering my hood and feeling my head get soaked. I stamped my feet up and down, and with Z and I the only humans along the muddy river, called “Goddamn, goddamn!” savoring the profanity and savoring life—the rejections, splits, laughter, and soaked clothing.

And maybe that’s life:

stomping, laughing, screaming, drooling, and snotting, giggling at too wet jeans and sloshy shoes, watching the water meet water in a river dreaming of flooding, giving bad hugs (awkward and bony) and good hugs, straining your arm during air hockey and foosball and laughing about it for the next two days, flirting in a nickel arcade, knowing you didn’t get the grant you applied for—your one maybe plan for next year—or lying on your friend’s couch when she gets the call her parents are divorcing, drinking tea, making miso, dancing to TSwift even though your muscles are tight and joints are stiff, unconsciously slipping into a drawl, racing alone on the bank with feet slapping mud, with fists clenched yelling “Goddamn, goddamn!” and shaking your head “This is a great time to be alive!” knowing this: that we enjoy life, turn the flavors on our tongue, let it cascade yet still pull ourselves forward. Knowing I cannot truly say I am pleased I did not die years ago, perhaps because death is no enemy, yet also do not regret staying alive. This, this is life.

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