This is my wonderful dad, Steve Fairchild. He is 81. He is energy, curiosity, and exploration incarnate. So he loves the full-coverage Australian walking hat my sister got him for Father’s Day. It’s a key accessory for his daily strides around the neighborhood. My dad is in better shape than me!
A few years ago, my dad went to Guatemala to teach a business seminar. He currently role plays various patient cases as a “standardized patient” at UNC-Chapel Hill Medical School, assisting medical students in their training. He reads several books a week, just figured out all the ins and outs of Twitter, and found more followers in a few months than I have in years. He just published another novel.
Below him is Sonny, the orange tabby who is my little narcissist and personal teddy bear. He rules the Hawks Nest with an iron paw.
All these little details from my life would make great essay fodder. Why? Just like you all have been brave and vulnerable, detailed and specific in your brainstorming, your Personal Statement should likewise be imagistic, cinematic, and revelatory.
If I were to share these details above in my college essay, I might go on to say:
I value exploration and a high-energy lifestyle, just like my dad who at 81 walks miles daily and just recently mastered Twitter. A man who recently got back from Guatemala and is eager for more travel. I am likewise always eager to travel, to meet new people, and to learn new things. It’s why I’m traveling to Vermont this year and Atlanta, and hopefully elsewhere. It’s why I’ve been to Accra and Cape Coast, Ghana; to Ubud, Bali; to Kandy, Sri Lanka; and to Santorini, Greece. It’s why I lived in Paris and Tours for a year. Now I wish to go to China (for the first time) and India (for the second time). I want to see those parts of the world as the vastly different provinces and states therein. I know there are huge worlds within the smallest locales, villages, and hamlets. My dad taught me from a young age to embrace the adventure of meeting new folks and learning new things.
Which is basically saying, Hey, colleges! I’m the kind of student who would do well exploring classes of all types at your school and make the most of my education there. Also, I will probably pursue one of your study abroad programs.
Despite my lack of success raising my cat, I do know that I am compassionate and indulgent of others. I assume best intentions first. It’s my virtue and my flaw. My cat’s ability to manipulate me shows that I put others first, and it also shows that I struggle to create healthy boundaries. Every day I aim to seek a balance between self-care and selflessness. It’s why I’m setting limits on how much work I can accomplish in my business per week, so that I can make room for me and my young adult fiction writing.
The privilege of being a stepmom to Henry, a poet and sound designer and philosopher, and getting to help him with his college essays? That might be my greatest life accomplishment: getting to be there as someone unfolds their wings. Parenting taught me a lot about what I didn’t really know about life and what true compassion really means.
Which is basically saying, Hey, colleges! I’m growing and learning every day. I will be a dynamic student in your classrooms and dorms, not stagnant or complacent.
Not so long ago, I was in your shoes. I was fairly nervous as I wrote an essay for graduate school, the one that eventually got me into Vermont College of Fine Arts’ program for Writing and Young Adults.
Why Pomodoro (and Red Sauce) Matters
Are you struggling to get organized? Are you a little burnt-out at just the thought of attempting a Personal Statement? I’ve got a cool technique to pass on, if you haven’t heard of it: the Pomodoro technique.
Did you know you can work in only 25-minute increments and still get a TON done?
I find that my attention gets a bit fragmented, not only because I’m tired, but also because I’m sometimes anxious, overwhelmed, or distracted. I often tell my students, “You can break up those hour-long tasks I give you on your Action Items into these 20-some minute chunks of productivity.” That’s a service I offer: a clear calendar of weekly assignments so we can make meaningful progress and see the drafts unfold. We don’t drag this process out.
(I’m the daughter of two Virgos, by the way, so our number-one value on an average day is Productivity. Thank goodness Virgos like lives of service; otherwise, we’d be little machines.)
And why do I love it so much? Because my family is part Italian. Because we are a nation of Immigrants, Indigenous folks, and Freed Folks, and I am fascinated by history. And yes, because I adore food!
Below is a picture of James (Vincenzo) Fuoco, my grandfather, who immigrated from Pedivigliano, Italy. Great pasta sauce is a thing in our house. My very-Southern, born-in-Mayberry husband wishes he were Italian, he loves red sauce so much. (Though he makes great cornbread, fried fish, and taters. It’s a food extravaganza ’round here!)
Food and how it has specific meaning in your life is also a great topic for part of a Personal Statement–maybe even the whole thing! See a great food essay here: “Grandma’s Kimchi.”
Below is a picture of my grandmother, Katherine Schlegel Fuoco. She was an immigrant from Denhof, Russia. While she grew up with sauerkraut and potatoes, she learned how to make great meatballs and pasta sauce, which was always served at Thanksgiving, right next to the turkey. She grew luscious tomatoes in her garden.
She made a mean sauerkraut, too.
Family stories show the who of you. They are one of many ways to connect your wonderful self to those strangers, those very human admission folks, who are wanting to connect with you. Your sensory images, your personal revelations, your open-hearted self-portrayals will make them pause instead of skim.
Parents, if you’re tuning in, I just wrote a blog for College Essay Guy about how you can assist your child’s process, if time permits. Conversations about food is a fun way to get started!
Keep in mind some sage advice from author Bonnie Friedman, who wrote in her book, Writing Past Dark: Envy, Fear, Distraction and Other Dilemmas in the Writer’s Life:
“Your eyes never existed before on this earth. Let us see what they see, and you will have told us as powerfully as possible more than you know.”
Today I am hoping you are enjoying some great food with loved ones. On Father’s Day this year, my husband and I made huevos rancheros for my dad. Next time, maybe some pomodoro sauce!