my college essay for brown university

The college essay that got me into Brown

I wanted Brown badly

I wanted to go to Brown University because all my favorite people from high school went there, many of them writers; I wanted to go to Brown because I knew there students had autonomy over course selection and I was used to picking for myself.  I wanted to go to Brown because…it felt like a natural fit.

And because I drank the elitist cool-aid, sorta.

I didn’t exactly approach the process with an open mind, more like a targeted mind that was open to me getting what I wanted most…

“I can see myself there!” I said.  And so said everyone else.  Sometimes, everyone else’s predictions for you feel annoying.  But it’s most annoying– and probably also most accurate– to imagine that all of that conviction could be irrelevant.Read More

It's important to understand what students do outside class

Try to Understand

If you don’t try, you may never understand.

My new student, J, was in his bright red basketball jersey and shorts, and he was doing his best not to shiver.  Starbucks was as cold as a meat freezer.

But what he was saying warmed my mind.  In the course of a short conversation, he’d already told me that as a kid he’d been pegged as “troublemaker.” Or, even worse, proving the little words matter: “THE Troublemaker.”

You wouldn’t know it now, from his composure even under the offensively strong air conditioning.  But according to his teachers, he had “too much energy” and bounced around the room and, worst of all, Socrates be damned, he had too many questions.

What does it mean to understand?
All answers should be questioned


I’m like: “Hold the sauce.  How is it possible to have too many questions IN A CLASSROOM?”

Read More

Is this meaningful?

How to make your college essay more meaningful

Here’s what NOT to do if you want your college essay to be more meaningful

False stabs at a meaningful essay go like this:

  1. Try to make your writing sound like someone else’s, preferably that person you know who got into Harvard early.
  2. Write it with one hand the night before it’s due while picking your toes and scrolling google for quotes by famous people that feel even marginally applicable.
  3. Flip out about it and decide that you have to write with overwhelmingly convoluted lyric sentences and complete absence of ego.

OK, now we got that out of the way, go for a walk.  Then–

Here’s what to do if you want your essay to be more meaningful

  1. Remember that you matter. Period.
  2. Decide that being stressed out about one more thing purely because everyone else is or tells you to be is boring.
  3. Decide you will not treat your college essay merely as something to have completed.
  4. Do not aim to use fancypants vocabulary words you would not use if talking to a good friend about a complex movie you loved.
  5. Slow down the writing process a little.  Ask yourself what you would write about if you knew you would be listened to and understood.
  6. Write in order to be listened to and understood.
  7. Ask yourself how many things that you do in life are meaningful to you personally. If the list is short, why?
  8. Ask yourself what the most true thing is at this moment for you.  What makes you sit up, stand up, rev up, tear up?
  9. Challenge yourself to describe a scene from your life with skin-tingling presence.
  10. Don’t check social media accounts while writing your essay.  This correlates with spikes in incomplete thoughts, and dips in contentment levels.
  11. Share your work with people who don’t HAVE to read it, and ask them if they are moved.  Then, talk about what you wrote.
  12. Drink a hot beverage you love, and go find some grass to look at. Some insects are living out their whole lives in that grass, at this very moment, not giving a damn.
  13. Give less of a damn, and more of your heart.

Did we miss anything?  

Surely, surely we did.  It’s hard to say everything you mean, right? Especially in your college essay.

If this list jiggled something in your mindset, let us know what, and what happened next.

And remember: your college essay means exactly as much as you make it mean, so pack it in.  Some people are going to tell you the opposite– to take it less seriously.  But I’m a fatalist and I think we only get so much time here to do important stuff, so let’s get on with it, and maximize the meaning in everything we do.

The cure for stuck is move

Feeling Stuck? Move!

Stuck really sucks

Do you ever just feel stuck? Literally? On the page, in your head, with that stupid crank in your neck? Twinge in your tight back?

If you said no, never been stuck,  you’re amazing, and also the exception.  You should come over and tell me all your secrets, which I can afterward try to pass off in a blog post as my own. (Just kidding, but you will obviously be on Oprah before then!)

Thing is: Most of us, most of the time, feel more stuck than not.

And the way to deal with that is so simple it’s like asking how you should end your sentences (with a period!): MOVE.

That’s right, move.

My friend and colleague Ruthie Fraser wrote this gorgeous little book about that: Stack Your Bones: 100 simple lessons for realigning your body and moving with ease.  Here’s more on that.

Each exercise has broad applicability; each encourages movement to be natural, but with clear energetic goals and room for improvisation. So “Vary Your Route” begins, “Come to your hands and knees. Lengthen your spine.  Extend your elbows.” These cues might be familiar if you’ve ever done yoga.  However, she encourages us to start with the familiar, and shift to novel shapes. “Habitual movements create habitual thinking.  Feel your mind open as your body travels new routes.”

She offers simple exercises– but profound, like a period is profound! One little dot indicating both an end and a beginning!– that can be utilized at any time, as a foundation for however you prefer to move or exercise.  They can also be used in stillness, as a computer break when working on, say, your college essay, or some other writing project that begs for nourishing interruption.

She hopes we can all feel firsthand in our bodies what unstuck could be like.

And perhaps it will help you align your ideas a little more clearly with your intentions.  Or introduce some wildness into bland sentences.

Speaking of wildness…speaking of moving…

I recently listened to an amazing interview on Literary Arts– athlete and memoirist Diane Nyad interviewed by author Cheryl Strayed.  Their mutual admiration is apparent, and their personalities as dynamic as their stories.  But Nyad, who, at 64, became the first person to swim the 111 miles from Cuba to Key West without a shark cage, emphasized one thing above all others: we don’t move enough. 

We need to move more, generally, and in more ways.

And with more awareness.

Honestly, it can make our whole inner universe open up– not just muscles and joints, but imagination and insight.

Try it.

And let us know the results– once we’re unstuck, there just might be no stopping us.  And then what if you wrote something, said something, wildly beautiful and true? I know I know. IT COULD HAPPEN TO YOU.

I’m doing it right now, while standing up in my kitchen, writing this blog post: feeling my feet on the floor, feeling my head and lungs floating. IT FEELS DAMN GOOD.

Say it again: it feels damn good.

I wanna move!

Buy Ruthie’s book, here.

Listen to Cheryl Strayed and Diane Nyad, here.

Check back for more insights on writing and movement next week RIGHT HERE.