english

In Defense of the English Major (Sort Of).

Growing up, the one thing people said I was good at was English. Sports? I fell every two seconds. Music? I couldn’t get my fingers to cooperate. Dance? My feet were just like my fingers. But, English? That I could do.

It’s a rather broad statement though, “You’re good at English.” I wondered back then which way I should take it each time someone offered it up like a complement.

Was I good at writing, even though I never felt comfortable with the essays I turned in? Was I good at speaking, even though presentations made my heart beat in my throat and my words have extra syllables? Was I good at communicating, even though I didn’t know how to start a conversation with anyone my own age?

Was I good at English?

I didn’t think so, not then.

But, despite my discomfort and doubts, I was involved quite heavily in what my friends generically titled “English.”

I carried a book everywhere I went and ditched lunch for the library. I reviewed ARCs for Harper Collins, Random House, Simon & Schuster, and Penguin. I wrote a blog and built strong friendships in the blogosphere. I did well on writing assignments. I was featured in the yearbook sophomore year for being a reader and reviewer. I was put on the yearbook staff solely because a teacher liked how I wrote copy…and a year later I was editor.

I’m babbling, but I promise there’s a point to this.

There was evidence–public and glaring–that I was a lit kid, that I was thoroughly immersed in the infinity of English. It’s just that, back then, I refused to acknowledge any of it. I did what I did and I blushed, anxious and uncomfortable, when others brought it up. I was someone who did and didn’t see, who was and didn’t know. But, my friends, teachers, and parents saw these parts of my life and labeled me someone who could do English.

When college applications came around, I didn’t know what I wanted to be or do, and my school’s guidance counselors were glorified schedule-changers. I wrote “English major” on every application because, well, I didn’t know what else to write.

After all, how are you supposed to know what your want the rest of your life to be like when you’re not even two decades old?

Thus, as an undergraduate, I fell into being an English major.

It wasn’t so different from how someone might fall into school sports because their parents forced them to do little league for years. English was the thing others recognized me for, the thing I could do passably well in relatively easily, and the thing I enjoyed even when the work was challenging. If you’re good at something, you should do it, right? Apparently it’s not that simple.

Just as quickly as I fell into my major, I fell out of it.

(FYI, this is completely inaccurate.)

I read the news reports that called English a “soft skill.” I heard professors talking about the English program being downsized in favor of “more necessary studies” in science and technology. I talked to my peers and listened as they stated the import of their potential degrees in comparison to the uselessness of mine.

The talk? It got to me, a lot. But, even worse than the talk was the other English majors who were also abandoning ship like the penultimate scene from Titanic (1997). Into the icy waters of indecision we will go!

I changed my major once and then I changed it again. Then, just when I’d finished planning my next ten years, I changed my major again. Call me indecisive why don’t you.

I ignored the regretful twist in my stomach when I registered for classes like “Intro to Computer Programming” and “Accounting 2301.” I said that I picked English by default to begin with, therefore picking something else would be easy. I decided that who I was–who I was only just realizing I was–wasn’t good enough and I desperately tried to shed my skin.

It wasn’t working.

I realized I was at the wrong university and in the wrong degree program. I realized I was making plans that I didn’t want to come to fruition. I realized I couldn’t unzip my skin like a jumpsuit and step out with new interests and skills. I realized that I picked my path long before and I needed to do English with an awareness I didn’t have previously.

I reversed course and went back to the start. In very quick order, I switched to a new university, became an English major, registered for six writing courses, and started blogging and reading again. But, there wasn’t some magic spell that suddenly made everything okay. I still wondered about the practicality of getting an English degree.

I worried that I was just playing at doing English because I hadn’t written ten novels, forty fanfics, and four academic articles by age 19. And, only after months of hitting myself over the head for not being farther ahead did it occurred to me that that’s normal.

When I walked across the stage and officially received my Bachelor of Arts in English, I still questioned whether I’d made a mistake. There were a lot more business majors than English majors after all. But, I also knew that my choice of degree could be defended. Being an English major–doing English–means more than having a stack of old essays and loving libraries. It means:

~Strong communication skills

~Superior critical thinking and analytical abilities

~Deep connections and empathy with other people

~Genuine willingness to work and rework an idea or project

~Focused desire to create something from nothing

~Natural diversification of interests and knowledge

~Inherent fluency in the arts of subtlety and irony

The truth of the matter is that being an English major means having the precise skills and talents that are so in-demand, so necessary to life, that people will take them for granted unless we remind them.

English majors have necessary skills. English majors possess significant knowledge and experience. English majors can fulfill a need in almost any business or work environment in the world because communication is necessary everywhere–we just have to market ourselves as such.

Once we see ourselves, we have to make people see our skills, knowledge, and necessity too. It’s not about proving ourselves to anyone else, it’s about proving the continuing usefulness of English major and putting ourselves into positions where we can do what we love.

We have to shatter the idea of English skills being “soft” and instead showcase that we are masters of what every day, every moment of life requires. We have to wield our words like tools and weapons. We have to work for work, but as long as we are willing to make that effort, we’ll be fine.

Don’t fret too much; we’ll do English, it’s inevitable.

Without a doubt, being an English major is a meaningful pursuit. Holding a bachelor’s degree in English–or master’s or doctorate–in our hands will represent an immense accomplishment. It will be the moment.

And, in that moment, it won’t matter that we aren’t child geniuses with a list of thick novels to each of our names. It won’t matter that we changed ours major three times before committing to the English major. It won’t matter that we cried with worry and fear in our hearts before the graduation ceremony began. No matter what, we will be okay.

There will be doubts along the way to that fancy piece of paper with a college seal. There will be naysayers. There will be instances where we must explain our decisions. And, none of that matters because, once we’ve bypassed those people and breathed through those moments, we will do English and it will be more rewarding than anything else we could have done.

It may take a journey for some of us to come into this major, and it may take hard work to make others see why we stuck to this “foolish” path, but, if it is what we love to do, then we will do English. We will love and we will do and we will be, and it will be a perfectly imperfect existence.

Give the English major a chance and maybe, just maybe, you will end up defending it too.

Go do English.

 

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Courting Classic Literature.


(Source: La liseuse by Jean-Jacques Henner)

Hark, something is afoot. Wilt ye lend me thine ear? Oh, do not fret–tis not a matter of great weight, but tis a fullsome subject worthy of note. Friend, I shall address classic literature, of which time hath wrought much to discuss. I beseech thee: trow thine language, reflect upon what thou hast read…

Now that you’re having violent flashbacks to reading Romeo and Juliet in school and scrambling for No Fear Shakespeare, I’ll cease speaking like I have a time machine. (Although, I wish I did have a time machine; I would give the Doctor a run for his timelord money.)

ANYWAYS…

In case it wasn’t clear in mixed-period English, I’ve been delving into classic literature lately. Alright, alright, I saw that flinch; please, just give me a chance to explain.

I studied English and I’m an unrepentant book fiend, but with all of that said, I still didn’t get classic lit until about six months ago. So, after my TAMUCT courses forced me to read enough of it to fill a small library and the lightbulb finally flicked on, I got a bit excited.

Don’t misunderstand: before college I read a few classics. I fangirled over On the Road, loved watching my senior English teacher act out Hamlet, and used a bisexual flag to represent Whitman for “book in a bag.” But, I didn’t stop hiding in the young-adult lit section and learn to love the classics until college.

After all the old English fear, I can now quote Austen and my bookshelves are a bit beyond burgeoning. That’s what brings us to this post.

You see, as a relatively new classic lit lover, I feel that I need to declare my love, rom-com style. Since holding a boombox outside my love’s window is logistically impossible, this blog post is my declaration…and also my encouragement of everyone to be a bit more, shall we say, polyamorous with the lit they love.

Give me just a couple minutes and maybe you’ll want to disappear into Austenland or wish you could befriend a dead poet…

——

In general, there are two objections to classic lit: it is hard to read and it is boring/irrelevant. Well…

It may be difficult at first to get used to older language and styles, but there is a lot buried within all of those thee’s and thou’s.

For starters, Shakespeare has some of the most blatantly sexual and legitimately amusing scenes that I’ve ever read (*cough* Shakespeare, Sonnet 151 *cough*). Plus, Shakespeare has so many brilliant insults and dismissals.Wouldn’t you feel smooth if you called someone a “scurvy companion” (Henry IV, Part 2) or said someone’s “abilities were too infant-like for doing much alone” (Coriolanus)?

Plus, if Eric in Boy Meets World can act out Shakespeare, the least you can do is read some of it!

Let’s also not forget the great moments within other works like Don Quixote and A Modest Proposal though. I mean, Jonathan Swift responded to poverty by sarcastically suggesting that people sell and consume small children…what’s not to enjoy?

But, in the end, if the language is a problem, annotated editions are your friend.

As far as objections to the old-fashioned or “boring” plots in classic lit go, I have to say that is merely a false impression of the genre.

The Great Gatsby is about love, money, and the Jazz Age, with a storyline full of excessive partying, maudlin observations, and tragic deaths.

1984 deals with omnipresent government control, personal freedom, and the past, or essentially being tired of pretending that everything is peachy keen.

The Canterbury Tales follows a group of people headed to the same place for different reasons. Think of it as an old Love, Actually (2003) or Valentine’s Day (2010).

And, let’s not even get that far into The Odyssey. It has war, creatures, and heroism. Plus, most people don’t even realize that dozens of the most popular video games, shows, and movies were based upon it.

Precisely what part of all of that sounded uninteresting and irrelevant? Nothing, it is all amazing! Those books/collections are all amazing!

In essence,

No matter what you’ve previously been told, classic lit is enjoyable, relevant, and quite entertaining. Books transcend time and those within the classic lit genre are no exception. That’s precisely why I’m courting classic lit and calling you all to do the same.

If the Doctor offered to take you to another planet, wouldn’t you go? Of course!

Books are

So, why not take a trip by cracking open a new, old one?

——

Have I convinced you yet? Well, if anyone decides to venture into the classic lit world, or has already discovered it (you sir or madam, are a smart duck), let me know. Perhaps we can have a chat and start a ship war–I’m happily sailing Katherine/Petruchio, Emma Woodhouse/Mr. George Knightley, and Fanny/Edmund. Or, we can just have virtual tea and become Goodreads friends, it’s your choice.

Regardless, best of luck in the world of literature and always remember:

Note:

The introductory paragraph of literary torture–I mean, fun–via mixed-period English was brought to you by this delightful little resource: I Bequeath Thee.

Also, the inspiration for this post and my newfound appreciation of classic literature was this wonderful little lit-nerd tidbit: Disgruntled English Major.

Becoming an English Major.

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When I was little, I had odd ideas about what I wanted to do in the future. The first career idea that I remember telling anyone was architect. Then, over time, that evolved into wanting to be an architect and an interior designer. I also wanted to be a teacher, so at some point it became an architect, interior designer, and English teacher.

That combination stuck for a while and I repeated the combination dutifully to adults time and time again. By the time I was in high school thought, the architect idea had faded away, interior design seemed like a dead-end, and being an English teacher was what everyone expected out of me.

I have this pet peeve about expectations: I just do not feel the need to fulfill them when they are so much dependent upon what others want rather than me. Plus, why put clout in expectations when you know best whether you are capable or not?

At some point, I became adamant that anything to do with English was not where my life was headed. Despite my A’s in AP English and various Journalism classes, and a general enjoyment of writing, I blatantly refused to acknowledge the idea of going the obvious route and completing an English degree after graduation.

I swear, everyone thought I was out of my mind. Apparently my teachers and parents had a pet peeve too–something about wasting talent, but I never saw what talent they were referring to so I cast them aside as not knowing me well enough. It makes my heart sing now to know that someone noticed something special about what I could do.

In the start of my first year of college, when I was stuck in a Baptist college that held a student mold that I just did not fit into, I decided that military service was going to be part of my future. I had always been so proud of my father for serving in the Army–I had thought over and over about the military for myself–but I thought my parents would hate me for the idea of it.

Obviously, I dismissed that worry because the idea stuck for a while. I started working out, memorized rank tables for every branch of service, considered the Naval Academy, talked to recruiters, and went completely insane over the idea of serving.

Sometime between then and now I decided that an engineering, business, technology, or science-related degree would look best to the U.S. Navy, so I changed my major three separate times to different degrees in that realm. If any of you know me at all, you can see why none of those was strong enough to stuck.

Sure, sometimes I wanted to make myself a good prospective Naval Officer, and I wanted to get the degree that my older brother never got, but, be real. As I am now, can anyone see me running logistics on a computer or conducting a business meeting?

Now, in what should be the spring of my sophomore year but is actually the spring of my senior year, I am an English major, and everyone keeps asking me how in the world I ventured so far from this major just to come right back.

To me, it is a complete surprise to be pursuing this degree now, yet it feels somehow right. I never saw myself being an English major, doing English major things, and being so close to graduation already. Really, I should have seen in coming though! I have two settings when I really like something: I obsess over it or I completely avoid it. This just happened to fall into the avoidance sector.

I have no idea what I will end up doing after university as far as a career but, if the journey to figuring that out is as twisted and winding as the path to truly being an English major, then I am sure it will end up being an odd and eventful sequel.

I guess what John Lennon said is right: “Life is what happens to you while you’re busy making other plans.”