As soon as I was considering life after high school, I had my heart set on Cooper Union. I wanted to make “cool looking shit”, I was good at it and CU was where the best in the world did it. Plus it was in Manhattan, my favorite place in the world and a 45 minute train ride. Plus it was free, and that to me was everything.
I could have afforded to pay for Pratt, or SVA, or RISD; I applied and got into all of them. My parents told me I could go anywhere; and considering my sister was at Amherst College, one of the most expensive schools in the world, and my brother ended up at Harvard, they weren’t kidding. But for me, it was the street-cred that getting into CU, where only 5% of the kids who think they’re good at making cool shit get in, that was so alluring.
I remember attending the info/interested students day thing, sitting in an auditorium, being handed a packet of instructions on cool shit I had to make to prove my worthiness, and hearing the MC, and oldish white dude who was probably pretty good at making cool shit, send us off with a “now go work your little butts off!”
Something about that rubbed me the wrong way. I got it; me the the hundred-odd other art nerds were a bunch of wannabees and CU owed us nothing. I looked over the packet when I got home, and saw 5 or 6 assignments: draw the plans for a new invention that tells time, paint an interior space with only solid black shapes, render an object as it morphs from one thing to another, and a couple others.
And I let it sit there. I had no inspiration to do it; it felt forced, and I kept thinking of that asshole treating us like sheep, as I had come to think of him. Days flew by as they do, and the deadline was in a week. I panicked.
It must have also been a very hard time in my life, and other things were causing me stress—my brother Matt was a constant source of disruption, I was trying to make state qualifying times for the 50yard freestyle, I’m sure my romantic heart was being torn up by a variety of love interests, and none of my friends from the previous class were around at school; they were around though, distracting me with all the things we loved to do and no island of school time in common to do it. I missed classes and my grades suffered.
So, staring at the pile of assignment sheets, and in a fit of white hot frustration, I punched my bed. I thought I was punching the mattress, but that was just the sheet hanging over the wooden railing. I shattered two metacarpals in my right hand—my art hand. The cast that ended up there shortly afterward prohibited any of the deftness and agility I relied on in my making of cool shit. I did the best I could with my left, but the results were hurried, shaky, and incoherent.
I took the train in and dropped it off a few minutes before CU closed on deadline day, although I knew I was wasting my time. And I was; the rejection letter, probably written by the asshole MC, came a few weeks later. It’s been a source of regret my whole life.
I ended up at a variety of SUNY schools, sometimes making cool shit and sometimes blowing it off, but never really feeling like I was in the right place. Eventually things worked out, once I connected with the right people and found faculty who didn’t put up with my bullshit, and inspired me to actually work. Still, any time I see CU on a resume, or meet people who’ve gone there, I’m confronted with feelings of immense respect, burning jealousy, and nagging curiosity: why were they able work their little butts off when I couldn’t?