On writing: Friendship’s love letters

I’ll confess: I have a box under my bed that has all of the love letters I’ve received from boyfriends since I was a teenager. The oldest one is from my first real boyfriend made me a set of stacked silver rings at art camp (I’ve lost two of the 4, but the other 2 remain safely tucked in the letter that he wrote for me when he gave them to me on the last night of camp). There are handmade cards and printed cards with notes in barely legible handwriting, drawings of birds on construction paper and nicknames scrawled under them. But mixed in with these notes from ex-boyfriends, are the love letters I have received in my friendships and I consider those just as important, if not more important.

I am a firm believer in the Birthday card. I have a ritual around this for my closest friends. I spend a lot of time exploring paper stores, searching for a card as weird and funny and quirky as my friendships are. I wait until I have time to think about what I want to write to them, sit at my desk or in a coffee shop, and prepare to pour my heart and all the memories of the last year into my loopy handwriting on the page. I usually cry when I write them, it’s the only way I know how to write with my full heart. Then I seal the card, tuck it into the gift (often a book) that I am going to give them, and get really shy when they read it in front of me.

I open the box and pull out the letters from my friendships when I feel really lost or down or find myself struggling in a friendship. These letters are a timeline. They are my anchors to specific times in our friendships and how much I loved them and they loved me in those times in our lives. When a friendship evolves, or we move apart and speak less frequently, their letters help me remember that love, like faith, exists because we feel it and not always because there is concrete proof.

My letters have evolved over time. I send birthday cards, holidays cards, and now random texted when I am feeling especially lovely thoughts towards a friend. I sent one this morning to a friend whose personal growth in the last year has inspired me:

I was talking to a friend who is having issues with their marriage, and they told me to remember that marriage is an agreement to love and celebrate the evolution of another person along their entire journey in life. 
 
I was thinking about that as it applies to friendships too this morning, and I am filled with love and pride in watching you grow in all the ways you’ve decided to explore. I love how much more often we talk now and what we explore together or what I learn from you all the time. I love you very much, my friend. In the long term friendship love journey, very psyched to be part of your life. 
 
I sent it knowing everything I said here and now was exactly how I felt about our friendship and her journey. It now exists, frozen and time in love, for us to return to at another time where we may have trouble communicating or remembering how we got to the place in our friendship were we find ourselves later. It’s nice to have something to hold on to and remember that this time existed, that this love and friendship was firmly alive in each of us. A memory I will look back on for a rainy day, perhaps when I feel alone, and it’s good memory will return a little more light to my smiles.

Header image: Ken Douglas / flickr

My graduate school (Ph.D.) application timeline

I promised a friend I would share my graduate school application timeline with him, since I just finished my successful application cycle a few months ago. This is how I scheduled my year (2016) to turn all of my applications for my Ph.D. program in by December’s deadlines.

January 2016:
— looked into programs that appealed to me, so I was inspired and had started building my lists of schools that I wanted to apply to, along with specific professors I wanted to work with at each one.
— Reached out to professors from my alma mater to meet with them in February to talk about applications/ask for letters of recommendation.

February:
— signed up for the GRE (for a June date), bought a practice book
— built my GRE practice schedule: worked for a few hours on Sundays and 1-2 evenings a week on practice tests, reviewed material I didn’t quite remember so I could do the tests without open notes
— Met with some of my professors from undergrad, gave them a timeline for when I needed their letters and when I would send them my research statement + personal statement, also offered to email them a reminder of what we had worked on together

March:
— GRE practice continued
— reached out to professors in the schools I was interested in applying to, went to do some visits and tell them about my research goals (this is not an option for all programs. For example: Sociologists want to meet you, economists do not. The best way to get a sense of what works/doesn’t is to talk to graduate students in the programs you want to apply to or someone in the field. The second best option for me was reading through the forums for graduate students on Quora).

April:
— GRE practice continued
— kept building and refining my list of schools/programs to apply to and specific things I could say about each professor I wanted to work with. Reached out to professors I hadn’t reached out to yet.

May:
— GRE practice
— started a draft of my 2 page personal statement: how did I become a researcher, why grad school, why did my questions matter now

June:
— took the GRE, decided to take it again in August to get a few more points
— completed a few more drafts of my personal statement by writing every morning, sent to close friends/colleagues for comments
— began a draft of my research statement

July:
— Focused on research statement drafts, gathered some early feedback on clarity with friends who had read my work before
— focused my GRE studying on the section I wanted to improve + continued memorizing vocab so I didn’t forget it
— ignored my personal statement for a month, to return with fresh eyes later

August:
— GRE round 2
— finished a full draft of my research statement, send it to my prof/mentor for comments and advice
— returned to my personal statement, sent to a different mentor who hadn’t read it yet for comments and a few friends whose writing I admired for style comments

September:
— had my final list of schools for applications: built a status doc with their due dates and requirements listed in each column

— wrote to my professors to remind them it was time to send recommendation letters to my escrow service (I had everything done through Interfolio. Not all schools accept it, Stanford and MIT did not, but the other ones I applied to did)
— created my Interfolio account and emailed them links for the letters with a due date for the first application to it
— prepared my personal statement for copy edits
— finished a new draft of my research statement

October:
— finished my research statement, prepared for copy edit
— gathered final comments on all of my essays, then started cutting them down to meet each program’s word count requirements
— sent my scores from the GRE to all of my schools

November:
— gathered all of my recommendation letters
— added all final edits to essays
— started sending in applications as they were done because I was BURNT OUT and couldn’t take anymore feedback

December:
— took a good long nap.

My additional notes, for my own sanity:
– there were days of the week I was not allowed to think about or talk about my graduate school applications (Saturdays, Mondays)
– I made sure I went to yoga 2-3x a week, because it was scheduled and that made me take a break and turn off my brain for a few hours a week
– I made sure to prioritize sleep so I could do a good job on the practice tests
– I refused to tell people, apart from a small handful of people, where I was applying and said, “let me tell you once I’ve applied!” to take the pressure of judgment and “advice” away
– I got used to explaining my research interests in 2 mins, 5 mins, and 10 mins depending on the level of interest the other person had for what I was talking about. This was really terrible at first but made it way easier to write my research statement later, so it ended up being really helpful.