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Mexican Mummies Personal Statement- Please help me critique

Posted: Thu Jan 12, 2012 8:25 pm
by jport0408
Any helpful suggestions/critiques would be greatly appreciated. This is the 4th draft thus far.
Thanks in advance.

My shoulders still clinched tightly together I slowly picked my head up and rolled my neck upwards. Had I known that upon opening my eyes they would be met by mummified dried brown paper like flesh; I probably would have shoved the twenty pesos worth of coins back into the front pocket of my navy blue hoodie. The warmth of my teacher fingers interlocked in mine did little to alleviate the cold chill rushing down the back of my spine. Turning my head the full one hundred and eighty degrees I could see our entire 4th grade class stood surrounded by the former residents of Guanajuato. From wall to wall there were mummies of varying shapes, sizes, and ages. Each one with its own unique contortion and facial expression; ranging from the unburdened face of a young child to the empty socketed face of a woman seemingly wrenching from the torture of a live burial.
Though I knew our class would be traveling to a “mummy exhibit”; what I saw was not on par with my own pre-existing images I had formed. I was expecting to be met by bodies swaddled in dusty white bandages; like the ones I was accustomed to at home during cold nights of trick-or-treating. However, I was not met by tightly bound bodies like those I had seen in movies, what stood propped up in front of me was not even close to the mummies of Hollywood. There were no King Tuts, there were no Boris Karloffs; instead, I stood face to face with the hollow dried remains of former farmers and ranchers.
That night when I returned to my host family’s home in San Luis Potosi we sat down to a traditional Mexican dinner of savory “arroz con pollo” and freshly steamed tortillas. During our meal the host mother asked our family about the field trip and asked about what all we saw. Her children excitedly began to rattle off details; sentence after sentence, the fluidity of their foreign words had me stymied. As words poured seamlessly from my siblings’ mouths I tried to soak up as much as I could, feeling that I was leaving the discussion dry while still drowning in a sea of dialogue. “Y tu, Jordan?”, my host mother asking me what I thought; remembering how scared I was I blurted out, “susto”. Fear was the only word I could come up with on the spot, using it as a foothold I began to describe my experience. I started off slowly; pulling words from my Spanish vocabulary and lining them up together like pieces of a puzzle. As we continued to talk about the days events I began to feel more comfortable in expressing myself. After we had spoken about the museum for a while, the pace of the conversation slowed with each person taking their turn to describe their own feelings about what we had seen. When my turn rolled around, all of the verbal “puzzle pieces” began to connect and bit by bit they were forming a more vivid narrative. Like a jigsaw puzzle, these individual “tiles” were aligning to form parts of a larger picture; which for me meant piecing together a more fluid account of the day’s events. Carefully absorbing everything I could see and hear from my surroundings became more and more crucial for my everyday communication. Answering questions from my teacher and host mother became like solving brain teasers in which I would have to deconstruct, analyze, and reconstruct words in a specific sequence before answering. At first, choosing the right words and sequence was like playing a verbal Tetris; trying to find out in which order to place the “word” pieces to form a proper sentence.
More than a decade later I’m still accumulating more puzzle pieces and putting them in sequence. Daily I get to tackle unique puzzles with each new patient I work with; every situation, new vocabulary word, or dialect offers up a new set of pieces that need to be decoded and reassembled to convey the message. At times my brain feels like one of the Enigma Machines of the 1930’s, quickly taking in a coded message in one language; breaking the code and removing the language barrier and then spitting out the deciphered message.
On most days I would have been found working in one of the pediatric or specialist clinics; but on a warm summer evening in July I found myself doing laps around a busy emergency room in the main hospital. With each “tick,tick,tick” of my watch’s second I was nearing the end of a twelve hour shift. The day had been exhausting, seemingly filled with everything from febrile seizures to spinal fractures. Twenty-two minutes before my shift was to finish, as I packed up my work bag, I was paged “STAT” to one of cardiac rooms in the emergency room. Upon arriving to “Cardiac #39” I walked in on a young nurse using her best high school Spanish asking a disoriented “Mr.Abogado” what he had taken. Up to this point she had only gathered that he had chest pain, appeared drunk, and tried to poison himself. Taking my position between the two, I interpreted the nurses questions about what he had taken, how much, from where, and if he could describe the container. The smell of alcohol emanated from his mouth with each slurred word or phrase; eventually drunkenly muttering, “about half of the bottle, it was brownish, I think it’s called ‘Yimbee’…I got it at the CVS next to where I live”. Her eyes rapidly moved side to side while trying to think of what he could have ingested; eventually blurting out, “Yohimbe!? The stimulant? How much did you take and over how many hours?” she asked, while jotting in his chart. While it seemed strange to me, a red flag didn’t go up until he described how he had six or several small glasses just an hour before coming in; which as he described made him even more “envenenado”. While still moving dialogue between the nurse and “Mr.Abogado”, I tried to make more sense of his word choice. Still arranging and rearranging pieces of dialogue; in my head I kept looking for clues, scanning homonyms, colloquial argot, and pronunciations. After several minutes of internal trial and error I came back to “envenenado”. Rolling it around in my head I realized that I only entered the room mid-conversation and was forced to take the nurse’s interpretation of the events as true. His strange word choice was the missing puzzle piece that connected the other pieces of the story. “Envenenado” , which did literally mean poisoned, but it was a word that colloquially could also mean drunk. Once the last sentence came out his mouth I immediately interjected and told the nurse I needed to clarify a specific meaning. Having been lead astray by the words dual meaning , she began a new line of clarifying questions .
It was only then determined that “Mr.Abogado” had not come due to a failed suicide attempt from drunkenly swallowing poison, but rather because the alcohol that made him intoxicated was causing his heartburn to flare up. As for the brown liquid of which he had several small “copitas”, it turned out to not be, “Yohimbe”, but shots of “Jim Beam”. His lack of English pronunciation was made worse by the effects of the alcohol and subsequently made an anxious nurse jump on the first seemingly recognizable substance thought to be heard.
The entire conversation was complicated by many such mispronunciations and misunderstandings; but after confirming his story with his sister, “Mr.Abogado” was saved from having his stomach pumped and from the mandatory 24-hour placement in the hospitals mental illness ward.

Re: Mexican Mummies Personal Statement- Please help me critique

Posted: Thu Jan 12, 2012 8:29 pm
by rinkrat19
Really interesting anecdotes, but I'm wondering what your overall point is. And you have no conclusion; it just ends.

Re: Mexican Mummies Personal Statement- Please help me critique

Posted: Thu Jan 12, 2012 9:54 pm
by postn0bills
I agree with the above poster. I LOVE the storytelling, but what does it all say about you as a person and your desire to study law? I see a recurring theme with breaking codes/putting pieces together, but it doesn't come together as a solid point yet.

Re: Mexican Mummies Personal Statement- Please help me critique

Posted: Fri Jan 13, 2012 2:23 am
by JasonR
What the previous posters said. It's also way too long.

Re: Mexican Mummies Personal Statement- Please help me critique

Posted: Fri Jan 13, 2012 2:37 am
by nsbane
Overwritten. You are trying to be vivid with imagery, but went a little too over board. For example, you don't need to mention that you would have put the money back in "the pocket of your navy black hoodie". Does what you're wearing affect your emotional state? Why do we care? Also, you didn't just turn your head, you turned your head "the full 180 degrees." So unnecessary it's distracting. Some description gives context to the situation so the reader can appreciate the tension. Any more description and you are writing a short story, not an essay. You aren't submitting to the literary review.

Also, on the 2nd line you misused the semi-colon. Mummy exhibit should not be in quotations, unless you are using the term ironically (you aren't).

Not on par with the pre-existing images in my head. You used par wrong here. Try to find a better way to write pre-existing images. "It wasn't how I imagined"...?

Go through and eliminate every use of the passive. "I was expecting to be met..." = "I expected to see..."

In fact, it seems you are misusing the semi-colon almost every time you use it. Semi-colons connect two complete sentences that are related. Can you replace it with a period, and on either side have a complete sentence? If you can't, then you're using it wrong. Use a comma instead.

Don't put words in quotations unless it's dialogue. I.e. tick of your watch. And we dont need 3 ticks to know what the sound means. That pretty much sums up the problems of this essay - you use 3 descriptions when 1 (or none) will do. Cut out the over-writing, and it will be a tighter more effective essay. Put foreign words in italics, not quotations (i.e. arroz con pollo). And I recommend you translate it immediately after for all of the gringos (arroz con pollo, chicken with rice).

Some essays can just end, without relating it to law school. I think it works sometimes, but can be risky. In this case, I would write out the final paragraph about how this all relates to law school. You don't need to include it in your final essay, but you should know yourself what you want this essay to communicate. And then once you've written that paragraph, about how all this experience relates to law, take it out, and see if you think you have communicated that idea effectively throughout the essay.

Over all, I think you have good experiences to work with and it will be a good essay.

Re: Mexican Mummies Personal Statement- Please help me critique

Posted: Fri Jan 13, 2012 7:46 pm
by jport0408
I appreciate all of the help so far, especially nsbane. I'm going to take all the info into account as I update the PS. As for the points I'm trying to drive home, I want to show that some of my strengths are facilitating communication (even in the wake of challenges) and that I have strong analytical skills. I want the reader to walk away thinking that I view challenges as puzzles to be solved and that I enjoy the intelectual challenge presented by them. Any thoughts on this?

Also, I am curious to know if the introduction was able to hook the reader. Did it make you want to keep reading or did you feel you were having to force yourself to keep reading? Did it seem too dark, to the point where it was not appealing?

Lastly, I will be adding a conclusion that will hopefully tie up loose ends and drive the points home.

Per usual, any thoughts, critiques, ideas, etc are greatly appreciated. I'm grateful for the comments thus far and welcome further thoughts.

Re: Mexican Mummies Personal Statement- Please help me critique

Posted: Fri Jan 13, 2012 7:59 pm
by JoeMo
I think this PS could really hurt you. I understand what you said you wanted to leave as points. However, the reader could also be left with the idea that you have a very contrived way of writing. The point of the PS is to write a piece of your best concise writing, which this isn't. It's also supposed to give the reader an idea of who you are and this doesn't do that. Also, if you're going to write in Spanglish I would suggest not repeating "Mr. Abogado" (which did you really just use this because it means lawyer and you're trying to go to law school?) because it comes across as unnecessary since you could've just said "patient" and called it a day and "envenenado" which you don't bother to explain the meaning of until after you've used it several times.

This is a great piece of creative writing but it's not a good personal statement. If you want people to see that you've got great analytical skills and that you look at life as a puzzle, condense this story into one paragraph and flat out say something to the effect of "this is a showcase of the analytical skills that I have grown accustomed to using on a daily basis".

Re: Mexican Mummies Personal Statement- Please help me critique

Posted: Fri Jan 13, 2012 8:10 pm
by jport0408
I didn't want to repeat the word patient over and over. I thought that by giving a name it added a little bit more identity to the person I was talking about. As for the name "Abogado", that is not the patients real name. I wanted to substitute it with a name, I don't really expect the reader to know the meaning of abogado. I simply chose a name that I liked and the dual meaning was more for kicks. I know I need to edit it down so it's not so wordy, and I wonder once the essay overall is more concise if that will be necesarry to completly overhaul the essay? What reccomendations/ideas would you suggest?

Re: Mexican Mummies Personal Statement- Please help me critique

Posted: Fri Jan 13, 2012 8:29 pm
by JoeMo
I guess my biggest recommendation wold be to get out of that "creative writing" space. You're an awesome writer from that point of view but the adcomms don't need that level of detail. Go through the essay and look for "fluff words" and remove them. Then go through it again and think of every sentence in terms of "am I adding anything of value to the essay" if you're not, then remove it. I guarantee you you'll be down to a paragraph by the time you're done if you're truly diligent about it. Then use the opportunity to write something about yourself.

You say you look at life as a puzzle, elaborate on that. Perhaps that's one of those opportunities where you can talk about different situations where you can use this analogy. I know they tell you to use a moment in time but when this moment in time gets so specific maybe it's time to tie in other moments.

You say that you're extremely analytical, talk about how those analytical skills have helped you in life in general and get ahead in school. This should be an EXAMPLE in your story, not your whole story. You want the PS to help you and all I was left saying at the end was "but what's the point?"

Re: Mexican Mummies Personal Statement- Please help me critique

Posted: Sat Jan 14, 2012 10:38 pm
by jport0408
Assuming I cut it down drastically, I'm wondering if it would just be better to completely do away with the whole mummy story? And in doing so maybe also do away with the following paragraph about the family since it directly relates to the previous paragraphs. What do you guys think?

Re: Mexican Mummies Personal Statement- Please help me critique

Posted: Sat Jan 14, 2012 10:46 pm
by JoeMo
jport0408 wrote:Assuming I cut it down drastically, I'm wondering if it would just be better to completely do away with the whole mummy story? And in doing so maybe also do away with the following paragraph about the family since it directly relates to the previous paragraphs. What do you guys think?

Yeah, just write about your skills and qualities and sprinkle it with anecdotes like this one that help drive the point across. That's my opinion.

Re: Mexican Mummies Personal Statement- Please help me critique

Posted: Tue Jan 17, 2012 7:35 pm
by jport0408
I have been revising my essay and should have a new copy posted this week. Any other thoughts or suggestions based on the current posting?

Re: Mexican Mummies Personal Statement- Please help me critique

Posted: Tue Jan 17, 2012 11:17 pm
by nsbane
Advice? Outline your essay. Use line numbers to do it.

A double spaced, 11 pt font, 2 page essay with 1" margins (the Harvard requirements) has 50 lines. Outline your essay and use the number of lines you want to devote to each topic. Example:

1. Museum / mummy anecdote. 10 lines.
2. Back home with host family, trying to describe museum in Spanish. 10 lines.
3. Paragraph describing love of language and puzzles. 5 lines.
4. Hospital anecdote. 18 lines.
7. Final paragraph tying everything together. 7 lines.

Underneath each of these topics, you should bullet point out what you want to say. Example:

1. Museum / mummy anecdote. 10 lines.
- Opening. Shocked by sight of the mummy.
- Describe context. I am here with 4th grade class.
- Mummy does not look like anything I've seen before.

The purpose of writing out how many lines you want to devote to each topic is two-fold. One, it gives you a bigger picture of what is the more important topic. When you map it out, maybe you realize the story at the museum isn't that important, so it should have fewer lines. But when you wrote it out, it was such a vivid memory, that you wrote a lot more. It will help you realize you need to cut a lot out.

The 2nd purpose is that it will help you write a more efficient essay. When you only have 10 lines to devote to a section of your essay, you will write with focus.

In the end, the more detailed your outline is, the better the essay will be. The best essays have organization, structure, and write with an economy of language. The worst ones are indulgent, ramble, and include information that distracts from the main idea of the essay.

Outline outline outline.