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Monthly Archives: May 2013

The Admissions Essay

The Admissions Essay

This essay is what I came up with for my application to D’Youville. I, Nicholas Croston, wrote and posted this essay on May 29, 2013. On June 4, 2013, it was sent into D’Youville with my completed application.

I’ve temporarily removed this post in the best interests of my application.

Being Melvin Udall

Being Melvin Udall

A couple of nights ago, I caught the 1997 movie As Good as it Gets on AMC. It was a very acclaimed movie back when it came out, getting nominated for Best Picture at the Oscars while both its leads took home their statues for acting. It holds up very strong even today.

I’ve seen As Good as it Gets many times, but it wasn’t until the other night that I began to understand one of the reasons why I like it so much. The movie stars Jack Nicholson as a very popular author named Melvin Udall. Although Melvin clearly writes some affecting work, his ability to write people well doesn’t translate to his being able to handle anyone else in person. Melvin is extremely OCD and just as misanthropic. It’s difficult to tell whether Melvin simply hates people or is just more comfortable on his own, but neither one changes the fact that he uses a lot of harsh expressions to keep the rest of the world at arms’ length. Yes, there are times when Melvin is pissing off everyone on purpose, but he does show enough of a soft side sometimes to make you wonder if it’s intentional or not sometimes.

When Melvin is forced to care for his neighbor’s dog, it begins a transition for him which slowly integrates him back into the outside world, at least as far as his attitude is concerned. (It’s a great testament to the talent of Jack Nicholson that he’s able to do this so convincingly and make Melvin such a lovable character.)

Despite Melvin’s general insufferability and penchant for unleashing the most vile insults (when a fawning female fan asks him how he writes women so well, Melvin responds, “I think of a man, then I take away reason and accountability,” – a quote which was apparently first said by American literary legend John Updike), we get the sense that there’s a soft underbelly in Melvin that WANTS to be liked more than he is. By the end of the movie, Melvin isn’t being a prick because he wants to be. He’s actively fighting a hard battle between the man he is and the man he wants to be, and is entering the rocky territory which tells people he’s serious about his personal changes. It isn’t being an ass by choice anymore so much as it is fighting years of conditioning.

When trying to put to rest years of being an outcast, this transition exists. There’s no waking up one day and saying “okay, I’m not going to keep pushing people away anymore.” Actually, that’s a lie – there is, but that’s merely the starting point, where you actively make the decision. Maybe this is why I think Melvin is such a wonderful character. He’s not really a bad guy, but more like an enigma who trolls to such a point that no one cares to try to figure him out. By the end, Melvin is aware of what a pain he’s been to the people around him. He’s opened his home to his neighbor Simon, who needed a place for himself and his beloved dog Verdell to stay, something which would have been unthinkable at the beginning of the movie, when he stuck poor Verdell down a laundry chute. The decency of his character is clearly there, but it’s going to be fighting with his misanthropy for awhile.

That’s what it was really like for me to try to become a better person. At some point, it becomes less a matter of making the choice and more a matter of how it’s done. It’s really a very gradual process in which the small victories and little actions start piling up. The beginning of the change can be a very awkward phase, or at least that’s how it went for me: I could see myself acting like an antisocial jerk, but felt like I was too helpless to do anything about it. My move was a godsend because it helped me start over from scratch. I still spent a bit of time messing up – still do, in fact – but I was finally able to show a form of myself that I liked and wanted people to see.

I think it’s only appropriate that I close with the most pivotal line in the movie: “You make me want to be a better person.”

Bicycle Patch Kid

Bicycle Patch Kid

One of the great pleasures of life in the suburbs is that, if you’re a cyclist, everyone hates your guts. They’ll swear at you, make rude gestures at you, honk at you, and go out of their way to put your life at risk. They don’t clean up their streets, either, so it’s entirely possible to get your bicycle tire stabbed right through the stem with particularly large bolts that no one ever seems to throw into the streets in the city. On one of my latest rides, one of the goddamned things took out my tube.

Naturally, this necessitated a whole new tube. At least, that’s what I thought. I’m well aware of the existence of little kits full of patches which are supposed to cover up tube punctures. Now, the idea is a great one, but it’s spoiled by one thing: I have tried patches dozens of times, and they have never worked. Not once.

Aside from the fact that people in the Buffalo area are fucking neanderthal when it comes to bicycling, this is the most annoying fact of life for me about life as a cyclist. I know these patches work – I knew people whose tubes were punctured three or four times and basically held up with nothing but patches by the time they finally decided to replace the tubes. They don’t ever seem to work for me, though, which in Chicago was a real pain in the ass because if they had worked, I could have kept my tubes alive through numerous punctures for a $3 patch kit. As it happened, I had to run out and buy a tube every time. I bought three patch kits as a messenger, and none of them ever worked. When you consider that I was barely making rent half the time, that $3 I spent on those patch kits could have kept me fed for a month.

Yeah, you could say I learned. I learned to never trust a patch under any circumstances. Well, I finally tried a patch again after this puncture, and after doing everything to prep the puncture area and the patch short of massaging it and giving it a martini, I applied the patch, re-inflated the tire, and put it back onto the bicycle. Upon re-inflation, that patch appeared to hold up for the time, but I’m not stupid; I realized right of that it could have been a slow leak.

After two days, the tire still felt fairly inflated, so I filled it up all the way and went out for my inaugural patch ride. It went pretty smooth at first, and I managed to make it to the closest library. But by the time I got to the library, I started to suspect my tube had gotten a little bit softer. When I pressed it, though, it really didn’t feel much different. Unfortunately, I didn’t get to spend the next few days testing the tube; two days of bad weather followed that initial ride, and the following day required my presence at the production company I’m interning at. When I finally picked up my bicycle again on Saturday, I learned I wasn’t being paranoid after all. There had been a slow leak, and my tire had almost completely deflated.

At the very least, a full tube of air will get me over to the local bicycle store for a new tube. Even so, I’m pissed. I really thought I might have figured out how to work a patch this time, but no. Of course not. Patches just hate me for some reason. It’s not as if I never read or follow the directions, or that I under-applied or over-applied them. Maybe it’s like whistling or blowing up a balloon, where 90 percent of the people who use them have the trick figured out, but they never work for me. They never have.

Advanced School Life Experience

Advanced School Life Experience

So, apparently I didn’t mess up on my taxes TOO badly. I got one hell of a refund, and I’m going to be using it. I have my college applications filled out, and now I can send them in. The big one in my little paper arsenal is the one to Buffalo State, and I’ve also got one for D’Youville. Buffalo State won’t be a problem. D’Youville, being a private college, is giving me an addendum: I have to write one of those application essays.

You would think this wouldn’t be much of a problem. I’m a writer and hell, this isn’t even my first experience with college essays – ECC had me write up two of the damn things. Nick at 19 was a much different person than Nick at 31, though. Nick at 19 thought he knew everything and had no problem sitting still for two hours vomiting his idiot thoughts by pen, with the absolute certainty that he was providing the argumentative deathblow for everything he believed. Nick at 31 knows he’s a dumbass. If there’s a super-secret Adult Superbook that’s given out at the age of 30 which contains all the secrets of life, he didn’t receive his copy, and so he knows he’s doomed for eternity to keep making everything up as he goes. I’m being dumb enough even trying to get into my choice major. Lord knows, my choice – dietetics – is something I have a huge interest in. It’s invading many aspects of my life, and in doing so, its taken on a kind of pragmatism I wasn’t expecting ten years ago, or even five years ago, when I started thinking seriously about returning to school. With my interest in the working of my innards at an all-time high, I’d be dumb to NOT turn it into a career! Anyway, D’Youville is basically asking me about my life experiences and how they factored into my decision.

The long-perpetuated myth with things like application essays and job interviews is that there are no wrong answers. The day this country quits teaching those ideas and starts telling the truth, it will suddenly become a lot stronger. Essays and interviews aren’t like auditions for actors or musicians. They’re carefully treading through a semantic minefield while not trying to come off as flat and rehearsed. It’s real between-lines reading, and screwing up in the slightest way causes you to lose the entire thing. You better go in knowing full well there are right and wrong answers. Of course, I don’t even have to say that – it’s what’s known as a public secret.

While it’s true that I’m masterful with words, that’s not because I have an ability to make a journey to the local 7-11 sound epic and meaningful. So upon writing an essay like this, I doubt I would be able to fill it with saccharine sappiness veiled in layered metaphor. My life’s journey so far hasn’t been filled with mystery and wonder. I was a churlish, snarling social outcast until my early 20’s, and for those who have never been outcasts, I can tell you that being one makes it very difficult to have profound, life-changing experiences. What I excel in is pissed-off firebranding, and the few online readers I have who actually follow my work all seem to believe the appeal of my style is street-level bluntness. My half-serious joke is that most writers will tell other people that what they do heals the human soul. I prefer to bludgeon it to death. Yeah, it’s harsh, but writing is my way of both venting and making sense of a world which didn’t let me discover it until my teenage years had ended.

And so the big question has arisen: How the hell do I appeal to D’Youville? Do I pile on all the years I spent being a starving artist in Chicago and try to make them sound profound and soul-cleansing? Tell them the absolute, unfiltered truth, which is that I’m just a wannabe writer who get fed up with not being able to make rent? Do I mention that my motivations come in thirds – a third education, another third a chance to go abroad for a few months, and the final third to transfer the hell out of Buffalo? (Call it growing, people.) My counselor gave me her reassurance of my abilities as a writer. A few years ago, when I first applied for the University of Wisconsin (and couldn’t because I didn’t have any money), my good friend Katy – an alumnus who had also worked there in some capacity – said she was curious about what I came up with for an application essay because I have more life experience. Right now, it seems like the best thing I can hope for my D’Youville essay is to not disappoint her.

I just wrote my damned autobiography! Somehow, though, I don’t think my life story as told through a video game prism will get me very far at D’Youville.