Family and friends keep asked me if I was OK about it, and I told them that yes, I'm just peachy because there's always next year (there is, right?). But I'm not. I guess in reality I'm kind of torn up by this, as well as mightily pissed off, but I don't tell them this because I don't want them to worry and I don't want them to see just how much I care because then I think they'd share in my disappointment. I have an uncle or two in Scandinavia that I think went to graduate school, but I'm fairly sure that they went for professional degrees. But of the family that I grew up with here in the States, no one else has ever gone to grad school. And they're all looking at me expectantly smiling and prodding me on, expecting me to set a gleaming example for the younglings of my generation (I'm the eldest of the current generation). And in addition to this pressure, I put myself under more, muttering fervently the exhausting mantra: "Do more, be better!"
Failing to get into grad school, failing to even get so much as an interview, is not doing more or being better. And because of this I'm not so much pissed off at the institutions (they had very few spots, I understand) as I'm angry at myself. Angry at not selling myself better. Disappointed that I didn't find the wonderful advice that Eppendork, Dr. Isis, PhysioProf, Ambivalent Academic, et al have shared with the world via their blogs.
Part of this, I know, is that I am sick of being stuck in small-city Midwest, sick of the same grey weather, sick of the same fucking patterns of everyfuckingthing. Especially sick of the bougie locals who think science is just cute. But it's also largely that I'm restless, I want to move on, and as far as I am willing to see, the only direction to move on in is up.
But a larger part of it is that I am having a hard time separating my self-worth as an aspirant scientist from being rejected.
I want so badly to tear through some new applicable literature*, to sink my teeth into a new set of experimental skills and shake the living shit out of them until they splatter beautiful data everywhere, to learn further and deeper and have peers with whom I can discuss it all, to design and fail and design and fail again and again until I have hammered out elegance! Most of all, I want to be challenged!
The anger I currently hold is of a useful sort. I can use it as fuel. It was anger at being trapped in an endless surburban tract with people who cared more about their lawns' green-ness than the dynamics of molecular orbitals that motivated me to do well in high school so I could get the fuck out of the South**. It was anger at national politics that caused me to harrass the university newspaper's cartoonists until they let me into their club, and that later got me condemned by Catholics, fundamentalists, and Republicans across campus.
So it is this anger, me being mad at being mediocre, that will have me kicking in doors this coming summer and contacting specific professors instead of relying on the sparkliness of specific programs. It is this anger that will have me dissecting my essays several more times, and maybe even being more careful with whom I ask to write letters on my behalf. I am going to beat down the door to academia, even if I'm not sure I want a post-postdoc career in it, with manners and all the charisma*** I can muster. I'll keep the anger to myself, but I'm sure as hell going to bend it to a useful use.
*I frequently read papers on topics other than my projects, but it's always kind of bittersweet because I don't get to use them for anything.
**At the time I thought that I was getting out of the Midwestern mindset (I lived in the interface of Midwest and South) when I came to Michigan, but it turns out that Michigan was just as dopey and the food wasn't even nearly as good. Seriously, why do Michigan tomatoes taste like nothing?
***Note to self: get charisma. Best strategy likely to be attaching my name to a celebrity like a male anglerfish, but much handsomer.
Even Toaster's anger contains polka.