My high school journalism teacher - one of the nicest and perpetually happy people I've ever met - told me the two most important decisions of your life are where you go to college and who you marry. At the time, I had just chosen to attend Claremont McKenna College. That certainly did turn out to be an important decision; one of the better I've made in my life, in fact. But getting there required one hell of an application. I recall there being much filling in of blanks and the reworking of a personal statement as well as an entire separate essay that literally made me weep with frustration and then with emotion.
So now we've come to decision two: who you marry.
And guess what I'm doing.
Filling out an application.
Unfortunately, this time around, I'm not surrounded by 103 classmates working on the same or similar application. It's like studying for the bar alone again.
I had the college application process down to an art. There was a post-board chart with dates and components. Color-coded markers and post-its. A file box. Hell, I should've started a business back then. I mean, I was ON THE BALL.
Everything old is new again: I sat and performed minor surgery on scraps of paper this evening, shrinking text for a particular visa form question to fit the space provided. It was a fillable pdf, yet the text wouldn't wrap so you could type all you wanted, but you'd only see the first 200 characters. Then I went four rounds with Rob over whether it was complete enough. Should I put "see attached" and less-briefly explain how we met and chronicle our visits over the past year and a half? Should I let the rest of the evidence provided flesh out the story?
If you google up I-129F or K1 visa or combinations thereof along with the word "sample" you get a mixed bag of advice - including many testimonials that are badly outdated. Anything pre-9/11 or bridging the pre-post world is suspect. Still helpful, but suspect.
Is the second-person narrative of this post bothering anyone else yet? Too late to change it all now.
I want our lawyer to be available for this sort of stuff. Of course, being a lawyer now, seeing the (wo)man behind the curtain, knowing that we aren't magic stores of omnipotence, well, I can't see the point in paying more for information that might be no better than what we've cobbled together from the advice we got from the first chunk of change and the 'net and stuff. I really should start another Pho spin-off. There's help to be given and stories to be shared.
But as much as the process frustrates me, it's made me oddly nostalgic. As I tab through pdfs, condense fonts, and reach for the scissors and glue stick, I'm suddenly back in high school, racing desk chairs around a Kinkos while shrinking text book questions and answers to barely legible proportions for study sheets. I'm plowing through college apps. I'm taking pleasure in the infinitely satisfying task of correctly filling in my name, my address, my birthday. I'm fretting about blank spots in my employment history. I'm wondering whether additional pages will be welcomed by admissions officers seeking depth and personality or rejected by Stanford because they made a four page application and they meant a four page application.
I am scared of over-thinking or underestimating this process. Our lawyer's suggestion to Rob was that he tell me not to be a lawyer as I move through these forms. My bigger worry, however, is that I'll be myself. And if we've learned nothing else in our relationship with the USCIS, DHS, and State Department so far, we've learned that my eager, dedicated public servant nerddom does me no good here. There's no points for effort, only reward for getting it right.