November 22, 2009

Adventures in the Ivy League

"You should also be looking at second teir schools," the lady sitting across from me said, "just to keep your options open. Cornell may not be the place for you."

I can't say I wasn't dissapointed, although I wasn't entirely surprised. I don't think she had anything against me personally, but being from Nebraska is somewhat like being from Mars. Nobody at Cornell had ever met a Martian, therefore they are a complete unknown, their education and recommendations null values in the hypothesis. Kind of like the error you get on a spreadsheet "DIV/0!" Not good, not bad, just meaningless.

Michigan they recommended, Illinoise at Urbana, North Carolina State, Kansas State, Texas, Colorado. Maybe I'd be happier in California?

Perhaps I would, but I like the East Coast better. It has more cool old buildings, convoluted urban structures, more history and better terrain. It has the things I like to study represented in a rich cornucopia of life. I'm from the MidWest. I've spent time in the Rockies. Been there, done that. I'm not interested in the south, be it east, west, or central. California might do, but no further south than San Francisco if you please.

"You need to work for at least two years. You really wouldn't be considered a serious applicant without work experience," she told me in a clipped Australian accent. She was in a hurry and had me pre-judged before I sat down. I didn't have a chance to explain the work experience I had achieved while in school.

Other professors, less hurried, seemed reassured when I was able to elaborate on my work experience. After that meeting I specifically asked, how important is this and does what I already have carry enough weight?

"Well how old are you?" another wondered. I didn't equate age with work experience, but maybe they were looking for something more indirrectly, like maturity. "You're not too young," she assured me. "Twenty-nine's not too young."

But she gave me some great books to read, the hurried one, scribbled down in red pencil on a couple of sticky notes I carefully saved in the back of my notebook. I found one text in the library. It's on the sociology of architecture, not buildings and not architects, but the field of architecture as a whole. And the author has a sense of humor, which I always take as a good sign.

Penn was nice, though the School of Design was, regrettably, a 1967 Brutalist echo, though it thankfully seemed to have more windows than most of its architectural first cousins. The next door 1881 Fischer Fine Arts Library, in red-brick Gothic complete with gargoyles, more than made up for it, especially as it houses some workspaces for the planning program.

The freedom offered by Cornell's program was tempting but the interdepartmental cooperation at Penn may be more helpful to my studies. More than one faculty advised I take a second look at MIT, hinting that their doctorate program is more creative and less technical than their graduate program appears to be.

Ithaca reminds me of Boulder. I like them both. The college is on a hill overlooking the town, caught between two stone ravines with cascading waterfalls. The trees were brown with November, but I had enough imagination to see the colors of spring, summer, fall, and winter on the rolling landscape. Two boys on the Commons sang made up songs to us as we walked by, one with guitar and one with drums.

"There go two happy people. One of them in a blue scarf. Blue is my very most favorite color. For scarfs. And there is a pointing child. He looks sort of puzzled..."

People in Philadelphia were helpful and friendly. I had been afraid they might not be so. The East Coast has that reputation (at least in the MidWest where everywhere that is not here has that reputation). I could handle people being rude or unhelpful for me, but I so wanted them to be nice to my mother. The lady at the ticket window at University City Station came back down to the platform with us and kindly asked the conductor if he could do her a favor and let us hop back on as we got off to early.

"A favour for you?" he asked. "Don't know if I can do that."

"Please," I asked, with my nicest I'm-just-a-helpless-little-girl smile.

"Now for her, absolutely," he said with a grin.

I don't pick up sarcasm well, but he had just been joshing with his coworker and I'm sure would have let us on reguardless. The trolley and bus drivers were similarly helpful. The owner of the Castle B&B where we stayed was a peach, giving us two rooms at my one room reservation price because she'd had a cancellation and now had the space. Her cats made us feel right at home. One puked on my rug and the other purred then bit me. Perfect. The students working behind the desk at the University of Pennsylvania library let us stash our luggage there while I went to my meeting, before we got to the B&B.

We stopped in a small town called Lisle on the way up. It was an antique store, a furinture store, a used bookstore, dance studio, fire hall, town offices, and a few houses squeezed up along the flat area beside the highway. We chatted with the shop ladies and sat on a bench by the road to eat the turkey sandwiches we had packed.

Mom doesn't take direction as well as Dad, who let me navigate in and around San Diego to my heart's content, while Mom and Brandon politely declined to back seat drive. Walking and riding transit around Philly was a new adventure. Mom can read maps and is used to giving direction, so she's a little less trusting in my ability, but we worked it out and after the one false stop on the way in, managed the rest of Philadelphia and the drive up to Ithaca and back without getting lost.

In five days together, Mom and I managed not to argue about politics once. Although, we have since made up for it when I went home on Saturday to go with Dad to the long awaited New Moon. We argued about health care and poverty and fearmongering, starting as soon as I came down to make my coffee in the morning. That's always a lesson in patience and keeping a leash on my tongue and temper.

While I never came right out and asked, wherever we visited I wondered what it would be like to practice there. When I spotted Japanese caligraphy of famous monks, Tibetan thangkas of boddhisattvas in faculty offices, an Asian import store on the Commons or a dharma wheel in Chinatown, I was reassured. It made the atmosphere seem friendlier somehow.

I very much want to deepen my practice wherever I end up. I want a sangha and a teacher. I want to not feel like I'm burdening my Christian friends every time I go on a bit too long about Buddhist philosphy. Heck, maybe I'll even start sitting regularly. You never know.

What I end up learning wherever I end of landing - that'll be the real adventure.