Poetry Tuesday: XVI

Happy Poetry Tuesday!! It’s almost Thanksgiving, are you excited? I’m excited. I love eating. Anyway, onto poetry.

This week’s poem hits very close to home for me. First of all, it was written by a Pittsburgh native, Robinson Jeffers. And he’s talking about a piano. Now, for a little story time. When I was nine, my mom got an old upright for free from a church. It was old and out of tune, so they were going to throw it away. My mom wanted to take it apart for the woodwork (the front was hand-carved with acorns and oak leaves). I really wanted to keep it intact, so my mom set it up in our family room (fancy talk for “second living room”), showed me middle C, and left me to my devices.

I loved that piano. I could sit for hours poking at the keys and not be bored. Unfortunately, when Hurricanes Ivan and Francis hit the area in 2004, my grandpa’s house was destroyed and he moved into the family room, so the piano had to be taken apart. We were able to save some of the wood for shelves and decoration, and my mom saved a whole octave of the keys to make a wall-hanging for me, but we had to get rid of the rest. My mom, God bless her, bought me a wonderful electric keyboard for my birthday, but the old upright would always be my first piano. So with that, this week’s poem goes…

To an Old Square Piano

Whose fingers wore your ivory keys
So thin—as tempest and tide-flow
Some pearly shell, the castaway
Of indefatigable seas
On a low shingle far away—
You will not tell, we cannot know.

Only, we know that you are come,
Full of strange ghosts melodious
The old years forget the echoes of,
From the ancient house into our home;
And you will sing of old-world love,
And of ours too, and live with us.

Sweet sounds will feed you here: our woods
Are vocal with the seawind’s breath;
Nor want they wing-borne choristers,
Nor the ocean’s organ-interludes.
—Be true beneath her hands, even hers
Who is more to me than life or death. – Robinson Jeffers

I’m Going to Grad School!!

This post is looooong overdue. I don’t even know how to start. I suppose at the beginning is the most logical place.

In fall of my senior year of college I started applying for grad school. I had planned on getting my PhD in applied mathematics and being very happy as a professor for the rest of my life. I also wanted to make sure that I was less cavalier than I was applying for undergrad (I applied to exactly one school. Oh the confidence of youth).

So I put together my list of 7 schools, ran it by several of my professors, sent out applications, e-mails for recommendation letters, transcripts, and about $2000 dollars, then I sat back and waited. I got my first rejection on February 14.

As more rejections came in, I needed a back up plan. I thought maybe I would become a high school teacher. I had taken a trip to the Zuni reservation in January 2013, and visiting the school really made me want to make a difference with high school students. I looked around, and decided teach for america would be a wonderful opportunity.

I made it through the preliminary application and phone interview, but my group/in person interview went poorly. A huge accident on the parkway made me 10 minutes late, and I had a hard time regaining my footing. Two weeks later my friends sat in my room while I pulled up yet another rejection.

There’s no need to speculate over what went wrong. I’ll own up that the endless train of rejections were about 85% my fault. There were definitely some things (and people) out of my control, but for the most part I know I was to blame. I didn’t pick realistic schools, I didn’t do well on my subject GREs, I didn’t network well, and my personal essays weren’t focused. I’ll tell you what, failure feels a whole lot heavier when you know you could have prevented it.

Fast forward. Through 2 lucky internships, a string of miracles, and a love for going type-a type-a all day, a professor at Pitt took notice of my skills, and through another sting of miracles, I was offered a position in the Bioengineering PhD program. They knew nothing about me but the work I could do. That’s effectively the same as if somebody gave a welder a job as an engineer. I don’t write that to sound braggy, but I’ve often felt that people often underestimate the power of tradesmen, but I’m a computer programmer by trade, not by study. I definitely plan on capitalizing on this to prove that sometimes you don’t need a fancy piece of paper.

Now, if you know me, Bioengineering may seem like a strange field for me to go into. I mean, clearly I don’t have the background for it (biology-wise, anyway).

It’s hard to explain without giving the whole story, but I’ll try to summarize so you don’t have to read a novel. When I was little Patch Adams was my inspiration, and in high school all I wanted was to build the best prosthetics the world has ever seen. I wanted to make Automail a reality. But life, and people, and my own sense of indecision got in the way, and I ended up as a math and physics major at a small liberal arts school.

As a math and physics major at a small liberal arts school, I had time to become a decently good programmer in a couple different languages, which is what got me noticed by Pitt in the first place. So maybe the story here is that I’m incapable if taking straight paths to anywhere (if you know me, you might notice how true this is).

I wanted to keep this short, just to let you know how things stand. To let you know that I’m still standing, though admittedly, that’s more to the credit of my friends, teachers, and family than me. Now if you’ll excuse me, there’s a bakery across the street and I think I’ve earned a celebratory lemon bar.