Wednesday, October 13, 2010

Hofstra Writing Sample

Hofstra asked me for a Personal Statement, a writing sample with the prompt "A book, movie, music or piece of art that has had an influence on you, and describe that influence". Word limit: 500. I wrote the following (sans image):

The Hitchhiker's Guide to the Galaxy is more of a religion than a book. Its readers are on constant lookout for the Ultimate Question (the answer, naturally, is 42), some await the coming of the Great White Handkerchief, and most of us have been caught absentmindedly scanning the sky for UFOs (preferably green). Somewhere between blowing up the Earth and witnessing the end of the universe at a fashionable restaurant, Douglas Adams managed to include some camouflaged lessons. There is practical advice, like "Take a towel" and "Never go back for your purse", but the deeper meanings aren't as spelled out.

Don't take yourself, or anyone else, too seriously. Most things don't make sense. Most people's motives will go way over your head and there's not much to do about it. Life is full of weird, unrelated coincidences that will drive you insane. Sometimes you have to ignore the little green men and their little green problems and get on with your own life.

There are no hard and fast rules. Things change and you have to change with them. You will eventually have to make a split second decision where the familiar rules don't apply. Here, you have to be flexible. A rigid outlook tries to force a situation into a known shape to apply the standard procedure. The devil in the details will have none of that. Chances are, important things will be overlooked because of the assumption that the shape fits, and everything goes wrong. I know all about this. From not bothering to read a test question and answering something completely unrelated to assuming my shoelaces are tied because they usually are, the results are less than pleasant.

I almost agree with the next lesson. According to Ix: "Isn't it enough to see that a garden is beautiful without having to believe that there are fairies at the bottom of it too?" The character is talking about a mythical planet but it's used to argue against the need for gods. I have no problem with mythical planets and the second argument doesn't interest me right now, the real problem I have with it is the suggestion that there's something wrong with garden fairies. I enjoy sci-fi and fantasy. I would like to believe that Ix is out there collecting information for the Guide's next update. I don't actually believe it, and there are a 1000+ other reasons for space exploration, but I like the idea of some hapless astronaut meeting a travel-weary alien who has seen too many other species to care much about humans. What a trip.

On the other hand, there really is too much beauty in real life to disregard it in favor of fantasy. Science astounds me. An Earth-like planet has been detected. Drones are getting more accurate and actually used in war. Computer technologies are advancing at a vertiginous pace. The fairies pale in comparison.

*I failed to mention Marvin the Paranoid Android, one of my favorite characters, but he never taught me much. Life is useless? Whine? It's all going to go "BOOM!" anyway?

* Actually, I do have a firm stand on the "gods issue", and no intention of disclosing my position on any essay. Not their business.

*There's a hilariously out-of-date role-playing game based on the books. You read white letters on black screen, type instructions that usually aren't understood by the program, and die. Great fun!

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