We Don't Like Perfect People

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Picaresque, pt. 3

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Now that you know everything about my current and former pets, I suppose it’s time to return to the topic at hand….

First, you should know that if you’re disgusted with me thus far, you’re not the only one.  I could try to defend myself by pointing out that I was young and stupid, but as all of this occurred last year, that’s not the greatest argument.  So, okay, I’m a bad person.  Moving on.

It turns out that I did manage to get in to Oxford of Emory.  I don’t know if it was the essay, which was full of bitterness and regret about my neglect of mathematics, or the fact that I worked my ass off and managed to get straight As at Millsaps.  Regardless, it sure was nice of the Oxford people to wait until the last week of winter break to let me know.  To paraphrase Ferris Bueller, if someone had managed to shove a lump of Christmas coal up my ass, in two weeks they’d have gotten a diamond.

Oxford of Emory is a weird little place.  It’s called Oxford because it’s in Oxford, Georgia, and also because they can piggyback on Oxford University‘s reputation.  When big Emory moved to Atlanta proper, they converted their old campus into a sort of a feeder school into Emory.  It’s supposedly dedicated to the liberal arts, but in my exalted opinion that’s a heap o’ crap.  The liberal arts don’t tend to flourish when everybody’s pre-med.

Basically what happens is, if your test scores or extracurriculars or other essential benchmarks of personal worth are not quite up to the standards of big Emory, the admissions officers might decide to admit you to Oxford instead.  After spending your freshman and sophomore years at Oxford, you automatically move to the Atlanta campus to finish your undergraduate degree.

“It’s just like Emory!” they claim, “Only smaller!”

The tuition is slightly cheaper, too, but still not below $40,000 a year.  Oh, and good luck trying to get scholarships!

Regardless, when I toured the place in October 2008, I decided it was perfect for me.  The girl who led our tour was a freshman, but she was cool and friendly and from Oregon, which gave her extra points in my book.  She’d spent a gap year doing something related to poor people in Latin America, because her parents could pay for it she was just that good of a person.

If she was the typical Oxford student, I’d have zillions of cool friends!  We’d have clever yet unpretentious chats about, like, literature and stuff!  Their conversation would be so stimulating, I’d be able to pen a smart contemporary novel within six months of graduating!


Okay, so I wasn’t quite that naive.  But I was looking forward to being surrounded by certified Smart People.  It was a bonus to the fact that in three and a half years, I’d have a diploma from Emory University to hang on my wall.

With that diploma, I’d never have to doubt myself again.


My dad is addicted to workahol.  In high school, he held down two jobs, in addition to playing football for Dorman High School.  Now he’s an engineer.  Though my parents are still married, Dad has lived and worked on the road for most of my life, coming home as often as distance allowed.  As the economy began circling the drain, that distance seemed to get greater and greater.

Right now, he’s living on an Air Force base in Bagram, Afghanistan.  He and his coworkers are in charge of running and expanding the base, while the actual military personnel fight the war.  He lives in a six-by-eight foot hut and sleeps on a cot.  He comes home for two weeks once every three months.  But hey, the pay is good!

Blah blah blah, this is what’s wrong with the American Dream, yadda yadda Daddy Issues, etc.

Except not really.  I have a few zillion neuroses, but I don’t think any of them are my dad’s fault.  I know he feels guilty for missing out on the minutiae of my childhood, but he was there for the important things like spelling bees, poetry readings, and my high school graduation.  He taught me to ski and to change my oil.

And he told me this story:

“My parents always said they’d pay for me to go to any college I wanted,” he said, “As long as it was Wofford.”

Neither of his parents had a college degree.  His dad worked at the post office, and his mom did secretarial work.  They lived with my great-grandmother until my dad was around ten years old.  On their income, they still managed to cover college tuition for my dad and both of his siblings, as well as medical school for my uncle Fordham.  As far as I can tell, they did this by driving the same Rustoleum-ed Plymouth for 30 years and subsisting on scavenged mushrooms and barnyard offal.

(Scrambled calf’s brains?  Vile!  And they wonder why they have high cholesterol.)

So of course, my dad appreciated what they’d done for him, but he’s an engineering type and Wofford is a liberal arts college.  He majored in mathematics, but he’s had some difficulty finding work in his chosen field because he doesn’t have an undergraduate degree in engineering (plus he took and passed the P.E. exam without going to grad school, but that’s his own fault).

He told me that he worked so hard, and was gone so often, because he was going to do me and my brother one better:  if we could get into the college, he’d pay for us to go there, no strings attached.

If he hadn’t kept that promise,  you wouldn’t be skimming through reading the tale of my grand college adventure with such marginal great interest.  So thanks, Dad.  Every great freeloader artist needs a patron!


Failure in the writing world is more frequent than success.  Many good writers who do end up being published are Ivy League graduates, from Sylvia Plath to Jonathan Safran Foer, and a lot of authors who (should) go unpublished went to, um, Brigham Young University. This is a terrifying prospect, but before you go crank up the Cure and hide under your bed, consider this:

If you feel better, don't read the next paragraph.

The thing about tried-and-true wisdom is that after a few million repetitions, it starts to sound stupid.  Anyone from Albus Dumbledore to the Swedish Chef could have told me that it didn’t really matter where my degree came from, but it would have taken a Memory Charm or a good whack to the head with a rolling pin to make me believe them.

I was not the best writer in my class at the Governor’s School, not by a long shot.  Those were some seriously gifted people, y’all.  One of them got published in Poetry magazine the month after we graduated.  But I’m not bitter, no, not me.  Not a bit.  No sirree.


It was so easy for me to imagine myself at fifty, sitting alone and wondering how different my life could have been if I’d graduated from Emory instead.

So in the last days of winter break, I dragged all my crap out of Millsaps and moved into a dorm at Oxford College that smelled EVEN MORE like nursing home than the previous one.

Do you believe in signs?

Written by Estie

March 4, 2010 at 9:46 pm

Posted in College, Me

One Response

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  1. And then there are some authors, like William Faulkner, who didn’t even graduate from high school.

    Don’t worry about not getting published right away, or not being the most gifted writer (because if only the most gifted writers wrote, we’d be missing a lot of great literature). First of all, it’s a lot harder to get published now, because everyone goes to creative writing school and thinks he or she can now write (well, they can, but that doesn’t mean it’s good enough to be worth buying), which floods the market with so-so writers with better contacts than you or me. Second, it’s a lot like dating: all you need is one “yes”, and you forget about all the rejections. Except in the publishing world, you may need more than one “yes.”

    All you have to do is ask yourself is two things: Do I enjoy doing this, and do I have something to say? I can’t answer the first one for you, but the answer to the second one starts with a “y.” 🙂

    Literary Dreamer

    March 4, 2010 at 10:55 pm

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