42. The Initiative, Or How I Stopped Worrying and Applied to NYU

Spoiler Alert: On October 27, 2016 at 5:26 PM, I submitted my NYU application. On February 28, 2017 at 11:23 AM, I received my acceptance email from NYU. On March 4, 2017 at 11:00 AM, I officially accepted my offer.

This is a reflection of sorts about my decision, and my unapologetic love affair with Frances Ha (2013). 


s t o r i e s

So, I’m using Frances Ha as the linchpin to my life thus far, but it’s not totally unrelated from my other posts here because it’s a movie–a love story really–that very much involves dance.

I’m using this film based on my memories from when I came across it then and now. I’ve only watched it twice, because it’s become one of my sacred ritual films–first in 2013 when I downloaded it and two weeks ago after I got my acceptance. It was the first movie I watched after I got home from work on that Tuesday, called my brothers, talked to my husband, and hugged my cat.

Slight rewind first–I’ve been thinking about one of my favorite Joan Didion quotes which helped me after I moved from TXST back to HTX:

We tell ourselves stories in order to live.

I think she’s not only talking about the literal stories we collect, like The Jungle Book or Little Women but also our personal narratives that we constantly are telling to each other and ourselves. Resumes are stories–albeit very straightforward stories. Essays are stories and choreography can be stories too. It just takes a bit of initiative to construct them with honesty.

So, I told myself that I’d only be living in HTX, doing whatever it was I’d end up doing post graduation, for a max of 2 years. As the first year ended, I couldn’t help but start searching once again for grad schools. HTX had a very definite story that would end after 2 years.

I started searching again and worrying more.

I have grad school rules: No auditions. No GRE. Plenty of possibilities. In TX everything looked the same, safe. In CA everything was too expensive or crowded. I can’t go overseas right now under the severely restricted Visa rules in the UK, because I couldn’t live without Steven for 2 years.

Most MA programs in dance aren’t set up for people like me–non-performer researchers with a very definite performance-driven study to conduct, aka I need to interact with dancers AND various majors across the university at any given moment and I can only afford to take writing intensive and research related courses now. And literature programs, like comparative literature or literary studies, don’t exactly unite the sister arts with their scholars.

NYU’s MA program through Gallatin had been on my radar since my first year at TXST for many of the right reasons. And NYC has been on my mind since high school, floating around the ether with my Witch Baby memories and Missing Angel Juan vibes (“Maybe the tall buildings will make the brick walls I build for myself seem smaller”) and all the Felicity quotes (“So, here’s the thing…”). I’ve briefly visited parts of the city twice and technically it’s the first city I flew to, not counting the Chicago layover. There’s always been something about that city that calls me to from afar.

But it also scares me a lot. All of my worries about living in an smelly, loud overpopulated and expensive city with only so many parks and no forests as far as the eye can see consumes me when I think about NYC. I know there’s the train escape upstate and surrounding wooded states, but I can’t help but feel like I’ll face grave days missing the wide, open skies of TX and the forest life, camping without a single highway for miles… Not to mention I’d have to leave about 80% of my “stuff” behind in storage… Yeah, moving to NYC makes me worry.

And then I saw Frances Ha and I was sold.

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Frances lives in New York, but she doesn’t really have an apartment. Frances is an apprentice for a dance company, but she’s not really a dancer. Frances has a best friend named Sophie, but they aren’t really speaking anymore. Frances throws herself headlong into her dreams, even as their possible reality dwindles. Frances wants so much more than she has but lives her life with unaccountable joy and lightness. FRANCES HA is a modern comic fable that explores New York, friendship, class, ambition, failure, and redemption.

Surprisingly, I didn’t go into to this movie for the dance aspects; Sam Levy’s  cinematography captivated me first, then Greta Gerwig’s acting and writing. I was just watching a movie about a dancer who’s a person living in NYC. Keywords–a dance as a person, not the other way around.

Most dance films like The Red Shoes and Turning Point feature a person as a dancer, following her scripted melodrama and filming only the most precise dance sequences possible. But in Frances Ha, here’s a dancer only about 5% of the screen time and just a normal, real person 95% of the screen time. It goes without saying that I loved that conscious film making decision to craft Frances as an individual, not just another dancer caricature.

Oh, and feature that (contemporary) dancer who is a (struggling) person in NYC and film it in stunning black and white, and visually I’m in paradise! Everything else fell into place as I watched that film for the first time after visiting NYC and again when I got that long-awaited email.

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Once I decided on Gallatin, I had to write MANY SoP drafts… I’m talking 22 drafts of 1100 words. If you’ve never written a SoP, let me paint you a picture: imagine everything you’ve known about yourself up to that point consciously being thrown out a very tall, bleak building–it gets smashed, crashed, and broken into tiny shards before your eyes only to be redesigned into this beautiful and complex mosaic with all your hopes, dreams, and aspirations in life placed in a new, more perfected pattern. That’s a graduate SoP.

As I held on for dear life writing out those 22 drafts, I kept thinking about Frances (and kinda Felicity too, except she’s a bit more frustrating a character than Frances). At first that “I’m not a real person” quote keep haunting me; I’m almost 30 and legit not a real person by most social standards just yet. But then this quote started soothing me:

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Preach.

The highs and lows of waiting for an acceptance decision for nearly 5 months is hell, obviously. But once it arrived it was this harmonious moment of unfinished clarity that Frances also finally comes across towards the end of the film.

My 2 years here are up. My HTX story is complete. If I hadn’t gotten in, I would have come up with something else later in the year, and we’d pack up to follow some other less-suited program. But with the clarity of an approval from a program I’m genuinely passionate about, I feel like the move to NYC makes all the sense. (And yet, this is also the worse financial decision I could ever make…)

It’s not going to be glamorous. No amount of filters on IG can cover up the fact that my husband and I are going to be dirt poor and struggling in a new city sans Kitsune for a good while… We’re going to live in a tiny overpriced room on the far side of BK or QB–most likely–and eat stale bagels, bland pasta, and PB sandwiches every day. We’re going to work hard and make a lot of random adult mistakes.

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But this is the next story I have to tell myself:


I’ll be intensely studying dance and literature in NYC under the guidance of dozens of wise professors from multiple disciplines and taking so many different courses from across NYU that’ll expand all of my previous research from TXST and SJC.

I’ll be writing and reading and watching and listening and maybe even dancing.

I already have a handful of great, creative friends in the city, and hopefully Steven and I will make some new friends too.

I’ll hopefully have a decent job at NYU and somewhere else close to home and school; not too draining but not too droll. Possibly maybe even get to TA undergrads again too.

I’ll experience the seasons as intended (granted there’s a monster blizzard hitting it right now, weeks before the Vernal Equinox…) and worship the locations I’ve seen on screen and read about in countless genres and heard rockers lament about. Eating every single (moderately priced) cultural food (financially) available.

Live (discounted) performances by NYCB, ABT, MMDG, MGDC, PTAMD, the list goes on and on and on. Weekly (free and discounted) visits to The Met, Guggenheim, MoMA, and NYPL’s Jerome Robbins Dance Division at my complete disposal as a graduate student…


I’m writing the next chapter for my story with these present future memories to come.

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My first visit to NYC in 2013. The Met, White Court: “Roman Statue of Artemis and a deer”

Leaving this with some of the best bits from Annie Baker’s Criterion essay, “Frances Ha: The Green Girl” and seriously encourage everyone to watch Frances Ha, streaming on Netflix still.

Baumbach’s young people are literally pirouetting through the streets of New York City but soundtracked, costumed, and rendered black and white by the French New Wave…

When Frances does a tightrope-style walk along the Seine, is she intentionally aping Jeanne Moreau in Jules and Jim? Or is being an aspiring twentysomething artist in a major city necessarily about trying, unconsciously or not, to make your life look like your favorite movie? And then does growing up simply mean letting go of the movie you thought your life would be?…

Slivers of her dreams come true. Movies usually either grant protagonists their goal or serve them their comeuppance; this one gives its protagonist a few little unexpected gifts, and whether or not she “deserves” them becomes irrelevant to us…

She is inside a movie learning that life is not a movie. Her dreams of adulthood and fulfillment arc across the past hundred years of cinema, and yet she is utterly original. The last scene in Frances Ha has Frances spelling out her full name and then displaying two-thirds of it. She has almost reached adulthood but isn’t quite there yet; still green, but less green than before; more herself, but still inside a movie…


For more about Frances Ha:

IFC Film Page

The Criterion Collection Special Edition

New Yorker’s “Frances Ha and the pursuit of happiness”

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