A Metatextual Reflection on Academic Rejection

By Amanda Hehner

A character, Sam, say, exists in a setting oooh, roughly the size and shape and biogeoclimatic zone of Vancouver, British Columbia. In this setting she does a number of things, partakes in uncanny yet structurally convenient coincidences, suffers from crises of the soul, and shoots off some really solid one-liners, albeit mainly to herself. One thing she does a great deal of is writing. Mainly she writes stories with thinly-veiled characters who unabashedly mirror herself in a bid to share what she hopes is a really alluring and unexpected inner-life, to be discovered and admired posthumously à la Henry Darger. 

In fact she was doing so much of this, and finding such personal satisfaction in it, that she decided to apply to a fairly well thought of creative writing program at an entirely fictional university by the sea.

This process proved to be both a useful exercise and devastating to her personal practice, as it wound up utterly consuming her creative efforts for months. This wasn’t all bad, as it distracted her from a number of pressing personal issues and gave her something to say about herself that wasn’t self-effacing at social gatherings. She liked saying the words “Masters Program”, as if just uttering the term transmigrated her to the monolithic institution of academia as she imagined it. She found herself imbued with heightened confidence and better posture, considering, as she did, herself to be already a part of the clan. She cut her hair and bought a blouse, wondering if it might wrinkle in her pannier on her commute to school. And perhaps most importantly, she began to disengage herself from elements of her life which were incongruous to her new, improved, highly erudite renaissance.

As is practically sacrosanct in works of fiction, things took a dark turn in the second act for the made-up character Sam. She was rejected from her Masters in Creative Writing program at the imaginary university by the sea, and suffered an aforementioned crisis of the soul.

Of her rejection, two things stung the most: the almost comical brevity of the rejection email, and the fact that whoever had decided to cancel her future vision of herself had apparently forgotten to sign it.

And so, the faceless and now nameless monolith of academia turned its marble back to her, as she stood weeping in its frigid shadow. Or something.


She was fed up with words, with the profusion and omission of them, and more to the point she was like, the complete opposite of stoked on herself. But in the wake of this broody downturn comes act 2a, in which the ego-shattering events of earlier result in a lot of self-reflection and learning, and which could be summed up in a pithy article entitled “Why Masters in Creative Writing Programs Are a Bit of a Fucking Farce” or something to that effect, which explores in a light-hearted but well-written way, the following:

1. That universities collect vast sums of money through application fees from hopeful prospectives who have very little chance of being considered. Similarly, literary magazines use the fees from quarterly “literary awards” submissions to publish the same set of authors they would have published anyway, which is probably a result of poor arts funding, another issue entirely.

2. That universities promise exceptional outcomes to general masses, a promise that can in no way be upheld and does not admit the crucial element in creative success, namely: luck. (And hard work. And lots and lots of hard work by hard working individuals who make their own luck through endless hard work, defeating the odds. Who by sheer perseverance and exceptional talent happen, by chance, to be read by someone in a position to propel them to financial, writerly, hard-earned success.)

3. That there are, at any given time, roughly 5500 creative writing students at the imaginary university by the sea, over 20 degree granting creative writing programs in Canada, and only one small Sam.

4. That these facts and figures are deliberately selected from a pool of many to support the refurbishment of a bruised ego, and that

5. She can write anyway, particular institution be hanged.

These arguments, though sometimes personal in nature, could then segue into a more general treatment of the idea of autodidactic learning (a needlessly fancy way of saying self-teaching), that the entire world, every minutiae, is a teacher, and that all one needs to pay for learning is attention.

Having come to these conclusions, Sam moves into the interminable third act of this story, which ends in an ellipsis, and is, overall, a feel-good kinda jam…