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In English class this past month, we’ve been reading Hamlet, a delightful piece you may have heard of by one W. Shakespeare. Aside from the last week before winter break, when I was completely out of it on all fronts and had absolutely no mental energy to spare on even the tragedy of the Prince of Denmark, I’ve found it a rewarding endeavor, sandwiched as it was between integrals, roughly a dozen incomplete college apps, and a physics unit I legitimately do not remember one iota of content from. As preparation for reading the play, our English teacher undertook to refresh our collective memories, for the umpteenth time, regarding the plot structure commonly known as Freytag’s Pyramid. We might remember that this pyramid reflects a common structure of linear narrative: exposition, rising action, climax, falling action, and denouement. No major spoilers here, but applied to Hamlet, the climax occurs somewhere around the middle to end of the third act, with the fourth act constituting the bulk of the falling action and the tragic, yet fitting denouement closing the fifth and final act.
In the wake of my (honestly rather miraculous) submission of thirteen regular decision applications (well, one was Early Action II—let’s have a conversation about that admissions innovation sometime), with a fourteenth pending by January 15, I’m tempted to apply Freytag’s Pyramid in attempting to diagnose the feeling of “Huh, now what?” that has overcome me. No longer in the throes of the CommonApp’s “as hypnotic and time-fraught as the inside of a casino” interface, I wonder if perhaps that might have been the climax of my college admissions process. It makes sense: the next few months will constitute the falling action, with a neat little denouement in April when I inevitably must make the fateful choice, and then, well, there you have it.
Except that I’m not entirely sure I’ve reached the climax yet. To be honest, applying has thus far been so fraught with weird stretches of distended time and an inescapable feeling of being on the precipice of getting started that I don’t think the climax has quite been earned just yet. And what will happen during these next few months of falling action? Once I clear the hurdles of semester exams (next week, let’s see how that goes, watch any number of tragic Vines to gauge my feelings regarding my calculus exam) and financial aid forms (it’s a good thing Vines automatically loop themselves), there’ll be a number of weeks of nothing but waiting, with only the vagaries of second semester seniordom to distract me. Is this in any way narratively satisfying enough to be falling action?
So perhaps the climax will come with the deluge of admissions decisions beginning in mid-to-late March, setting off a possibly frenzied and indecisive April with a finally decisive denouement. In that event, perhaps the events thus far can be said to have been akin to exposition—providing the “background” for my life. The rising action will be the increasingly unbearable wait, which seems to make much more sense narratively than waiting as falling action.
Of course, it’s always worth remembering that life, in all its postmodern, nonlinear glory, does not actually ever follow plot structure and cannot be expected to. But, as a part of this project attempting to track the narrative trajectory of a year, it feels rather satisfying to consider that there is some underlying, streamlined path being followed, as opposed to chaos and entropy. Which brings to mind another consideration, the terrifying, Lacanian trauma of the real that constituted that chaos and entropy: having submitted my perhaps-too-many applications, they are now headed off to admissions offices I will likely never set foot in, to be perused and then judged by a multitude of different admissions officers with different viewpoints, different institutional priorities, and even different pictures of me (thanks to supplements). If my personal climax has already come via the submission of my applications, those documents’ journey has just begun.
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