As Co-Chair for the D. H. Lawrence Ranch Initiatives, I am tasked with bringing positive change to the property.
If you haven’t been to the Ranch, this video is an excellent introduction. If you have been there, please take a few minutes to learn more about the history of the property.
Like what you see? Believe in the cause? Share this video with the world!
For the past three years, I have served as a mentor in the Big Brothers Big Sisters Mentor 2.0 Program at South Valley Academy in Albuquerque. The young woman I mentor is now a senior preparing her college applications, and these are the tips I offered to her and her classmates:
Tips for Getting Your Common Application Essay down on Paper
The 2016-2017 Common Application Essay Prompts:
- Some students have a background, identity, interest, or talent that is so meaningful they believe their application would be incomplete without it. If this sounds like you, then please share your story. (According to the Common Application Essay Prompts, roughly half of the applicants so far—more than 800,000—have responded to this prompt. Keep reading. College admissions officers are bound to be sick of reading essays on this topic.)
- The lessons we take from failure can be fundamental to later success. Recount an incident or time when you experienced failure. How did it affect you, and what did you learn from the experience? (Note that this prompt asks for narrative and reflection—an incident in your life and what you learned from it.)
- Reflect on a time when you challenged a belief or idea. What prompted you to act? Would you make the same decision again? (This prompt also invites you to tell a story from your life and explain what you learned.)
- Describe a problem you’ve solved or a problem you’d like to solve. It can be an intellectual challenge, a research query, an ethical dilemma – anything that is of personal importance, no matter the scale. Explain its significance to you and what steps you took or could be taken to identify a solution.
- Discuss an accomplishment or event, formal or informal, that marked your transition from childhood to adulthood within your culture, community, or family. (Twenty-two percent of applicants responded to this prompt.)
Begin by Brainstorming
- I recommend that you write in response to #2 or #3, which invite you to write a narrative (story) and then reflect on the story’s meaning. Most narratives are written in chronological order. It’s easier to structure a narrative than an expository essay, and readers enjoy a good story.
- We’ve all failed many times, and we all appreciate hearing about the failures of others, so for the purposes of this exercise, let’s brainstorm on the subject of personal failures. Make a list, or, better yet, create a cluster like so:
- Come up with at least five instances of failure. Focus on your recent failures because these are the ones that will be of most interest to the college admissions officer whose job it is to read your essay. Additionally, the specifics of the story will be fresher in your memory.
- It may help to share ideas with your mentor—and for your mentor to share a story or two with you.
- Next, take a few minutes to make some notes. How did the situation start? When did it end? Who else was involved? What did you learn? Would you do things differently now or not? If not, why not? Write it all down. Don’t begin writing the essay until you’ve taken a good set of notes.
- If you can do so, ask others who were involved—Mom or Dad, say—to share their thoughts about the situation. Or, try talking through the situation with a friend or your mentor. Use others as a sounding board to get insight into your story.
- Now, you are ready to write your essay. Don’t worry about length or correctness in the first draft.
- Find a half hour and a quiet spot; sit down with your cell phone and activate the timer for 25 minutes. Put your phone away and write your heart out until you hear the buzzer. Don’t reread; don’t hesitate or cross out; don’t get out of the chair. You can do it. Spend the five remaining minutes patting yourself on the back.
Tips for Editing a Draft of Your College Application Essay
If possible, complete your editing and proofreading in several short blocks of time.
- Give your draft a little breathing room. If at all possible, let it rest for at least a day.
- Print out a copy and read it out loud, to yourself. Read slowly. Stop every sentence or two to take notes. Write in the margins.
- What do you write in the margins? Whatever you left out: details, description, dialogue. Have you told the whole story? Are you sure?
- Have you focused on the most important part of the story? Slow down and share the specifics.
- Take another twenty-five minutes to revise your essay to include the margin notes and any other additions. Don’t worry about length. Get the story on the page. You can cut later.
- Try to give your second draft a little more breathing room. Even an hour or two will help.
- When you return to the essay, sit down and pretend you’re the intended reader, the bored college admissions officer. Read it from his or her point of view. Have you left out information the college admissions officer needs to understand the situation? Conversely, have you included information that isn’t really relevant or useful?
Tips for Proofreading a Draft of Your College Application Essay
Ask others to read through your essay, checking to make sure
- each sentence is complete.
- the punctuation is correct.
- the dialogue (if there is any) is correctly punctuated.
- no words are misspelled.
- your sentences have variety.
- your essay is broken up into reasonably unified paragraphs.
- the length is acceptable.
FYI: The required minimum length for a Common Application Essay is 250 words. The maximum length is 650 words.
Additional Online Resources
“I’ve been absolutely terrified every moment of my life and I’ve never let it keep me from doing a single thing that I wanted to do.”
― Georgia O’Keeffe
This week, the Georgia O’Keeffe Research Center is sponsoring a forum on “Balancing Authenticity, Idealism, and Expectations at a Single-Focus Institutions.” This three-day event (Sept. 14-16) has drawn a number of museum directors, archivists, and independent scholars. As well as one English professor and novelist. That would be me. I am taking part on behalf of the D. H. Lawrence Ranch Initiatives.
Like Georgia O’Keeffe, I have often been frightened. Also like her, I have pushed myself to act in spite of my fear. Yes, I was a wee bit scared to attend the forum because, after all, what do I know about museums? (Shrug) I’ve wandered through quite a few of them.
Believing in yourself can be difficult, but believing in your cause, in this case the D. H. Lawrence Ranch, well, that’s not hard at all. The Ranch could be and should be a museum and it could be and should be a residency center for the arts.
(BTW: I don’t believe Georgia O’Keeffe was frightened every moment. That’s the sort of hyperbole that the Misfit indulged in at the end of Flannery O’Connor’s story, “A Good Man Is Hard to Find.” Do you remember the concluding line of the story? The misfit has just shot the grandmother, and he speaks this line over her body:
“She would have been a good woman,” The Misfit said, “if it had been somebody there to shoot her every minute of her life.”
But, as a result of my tour, I do know that Georgia O’Keeffe was certainly frightened during the Cuban Missile Crisis. Would you believe she had a bomb shelter built outside the bedroom of her Abiquiu home? The docent told us about the bomb shelter, which is built into the side of a hill, as well as all the supplies O’Keeffe ordered to be stored in the shelter. Once she was prepared for disaster, she went right on making art.
Seeing O’Keeffe’s home at Abiquiu is something I’ve dreamed of doing for years, and I am grateful to the Georgia O’Keeffe Research Center for the fascinating tour of both the Abiquiu and the Ghost Ranch homes.
In recent years, the caretakers for the Abiquiu house have restored the gardens where O’Keeffe grew most of her vegetables and fruit. History brought to life, quite literally.
While it’s true that Lawrence didn’t raise vegetables at the Ranch, he did have a cow named Susan, and he milked her whenever he could catch her.
In recent years, the Abiquiu and Ghost Ranch homes have been carefully preserved and lovingly tended, but such was not always the case. It’s up to those of us who care about an artist’s legacy to preserve it.
My thanks to David Henry Sterry of the Book Doctors for this interview.
Thanks to Brenna Gomez, Tom Barbash, and Ben Pfeiffer of the Rumpus.
This morning, I consulted Google images to find a cover shot of my first novel, Deep in the Heart. One of the images in the display caught my attention:
When I clicked on the photo, I discovered the blog, “Our Little Piece of Heaven.”
The blogger’s name is Anke, and her posts appear in both German and English. Here’s what she had to say about Deep in the Heart:
This hitchhiker scarf will be a present for our neighbor and I’m knitting it with Knit Picks hand painted yarn in the colorway “looking glass”.
My current reading material was picked up at the library sale for 25 cents. “Deep in the heart” by Sharon Oard Warner is a very captivating read and I would highly recommend it!
My thanks to MFA students at the University of Kansas for inviting me to read and discuss both my novel and the writing life. Take a listen!
Sophie’s House of Cards has been named a finalist for the New Mexico-Arizona Book Awards! What a lovely surprise.
The controversies surrounding Watchman fascinate me for a variety of reasons: First, because I read To Kill a Mockingbird shortly after its initial publication in July of 1960 and have read it several times since; second, because I came of age in Dallas during desegregation and experienced it firsthand; and, third, because I went on to become a novelist myself and someone who, like Lee, is compelled to explore social issues.
I am a forward-looking person, always have been. But reading Go Set a Watchman returned me to a crucial year in my life, my sixteenth year, when I was a sophomore attending South Oak Cliff High in Dallas, Texas. Given that my memories of childhood and adolescence are spotty, I did a little research on the history of desegregation in Dallas, and I learned the following:
In the 1960s, Dallas schools were designated for specific races, white or black, with other minorities typically falling into the “white” category. South Oak Cliff, for example, was designated a white high school when it was built in 1952. Then black families began moving into the developing neighborhoods around the school, and after preliminary court orders forced Dallas to open schools to students of all races in 1965, black students began attending South Oak Cliff. Four years later, in 1970, the school had changed from almost 100 percent white to almost 100 percent black. - See more at: http://oakcliff.advocatemag.com/2011/07/a-gray-matter-40-years-of-disd-desegregation/#sthash.rt30Vekh.dpuf
Memory tells me that in 1968, the racial distribution was approximately 25% white and 75 % black. Thanks to E-Yearbook.com, I was able to find my photo in the 1968 South Oak Cliff Den. (Our mascot was a bear.)
Here’s a screenshot of the page that verifies at least a few of my memories, including the awkward helmet hairdo I preferred that year:
Near the end of my sophomore year, Martin Luther King was killed. What a murderous decade: First, we lost our president, John F. Kennedy, killed in my hometown in 1963; then in April of 68, the Reverend Martin Luther King was gunned down in Memphis. A few months later, Robert Kennedy would be shot dead while delivering a speech in Los Angeles. Death, death, and more death.
I heard the news about Dr. King in class. By the end of the day, rumors of race riots swirled down the halls. I recall standing at my locker as a black classmate sidled up with a warning: Don’t come to school tomorrow. Honestly, I was more befuddled than frightened. I’ve never been one to catch on quickly.
Me and my white friends–we all received similar warnings–but we weren’t really sure what a race riot was, and we were afraid to ask.
Staying at home the next day wasn’t something I considered doing. But I had second thoughts when I arrived at school and saw that the curbs around the building were ringed by news trucks and police cars. All day, we were uneasy, students and teachers, waiting for something to happen, but nothing did, and that’s the takeaway.
Whites were few and far between, and we were fellow students, confused and reluctant, sure, but fellows all the same. I was the only white girl on the sophomore drill team. Everyone called me “Ostrich Oard” because I had skinny, white legs. No one wanted to hit silly old Ostrich over the head. What would be the point of that?
The first indication of Watchman’s real subject comes near the end of Chapter Two, when Atticus, finishing his breakfast, inquires:
“Jean Louise,” he asks. “How much of what’s going on down here gets into the newspapers?”
She isn’t sure what he means, so he offers another opaque statement: “I mean about the Supreme Court’s bid for immortality.”
He can’t even say the words; they’re too upsetting for breakfast-table talk.
Brown v Board of Education: these are the words he can’t say and no one ever does say in the whole of the book. This 1954 landmark decision–wherein the Supreme Court ruled segregated public schools to be unconstitutional–is at the center of the book Lee was trying to write. The shame is that she didn’t write it. To Kill a Mockingbird wasn’t that book, great as it was. Neither is Go Set a Watchman.
Now, I can’t help but count the years between the Supreme Court decision and my sophomore year of high school–fourteen years. I was only three years old when the Supreme Court ruled against segregation of the public schools. And I was graduated by the time busing began–in 1971.
One of the best reflections on Lee’s new/old book, appeared in the Huffington Post piece, and it’s called
“Here’s Why You Should Read ‘Go Set A Watchman'” by Maddie Crum.
Perceptive and persuasive, Crum argues that although Watchman “is not a good book,” it is worth reading because it serves to challenge our assumptions about Atticus Finch: “While separate but equal [schools] made it easy for passively noble citizens to advocate for justice for all, a more complete version of equality meant a violent shake-up of a long-standing caste system that in many ways still exists today.”
To recognize and accept the authentically flawed Atticus Finch is to move a foot or two in the right direction, towards a recognition of our own limitations and prejudices. People can change. Atticus Finch does change for the better or would have if Harper Lee had written another novel, say one that took place in the years after desegregation.
More on that Atticus in the next installment.