I am an English major in a numbers world.
One of my roommates (an accounting major) recently got a job offer, and so, this past weekend, the topic of conversation in my apartment was postgraduate employment, starting salaries and life after college.
When I first came to Assumption, I planned to major in marketing. The job prospects for business majors seemed promising, and if I was going to travel to another country for college, I needed to make the whole thing worth it.
As it so happens, business is a dog-eat- dog world. Unfortunately, in the marketing, management, accounting dog-eating-dog hierarchy, I’m like a declawed kitten, falling to the bottom with no hope of ever clawing my way to the top. The circle of “real life” is almost entirely dependent on college students making practical decisions. We must all, at some point, abandon our childhood dreams of becoming the Tooth Fairy or the next Princess of Genovia, and instead pursue something realistic—something that will land us a job. And because of this, I was extraordinarily hesitant to switch majors.
Okay, to be honest, I was not hesitant one percent. I was excited, because I actually liked English classes, and nothing bores me more than the 4Ps of marketing. I was, however, hesitant to reveal to people my new major.
People hear English major and they immediately assume you’re simply studying a language they’ve been babbling in since they were a mere ten months old. They assume you’re majoring in the placement of semi colons and grammatically correct sentences. They assume you’re attempting to master the subject the way a math major might learn geometrical shapes. That hasn’t really been my reality.
I’m not a master of English. I have no idea how to pronounce ‘clause,’ and I will probably never stop confusing Yates and Yeats.
I dread the typical “What are you majoring in?” question, because I hate the responses I receive. English? Why go all the way to the States to learn English? Don’t you already speak English?
And even though I think there are at least three million other pressing social stereotypes that need to be broken down before I even dare tackle the misjudgments of an English major, their answers annoy me all the same.
Because I don’t see my major as “English.”
I see it as experience.
I read about experiences, understand experiences, interpret experiences. On the side I must also live experiences so that I might be able to write my own. Because words are our connection to the past and the understanding we can give to the future. My major is taking moments and using words to solidify a memory. My major is making sense of these memories. My major is speaking to people who maybe already speak English, but who maybe don’t speak experience. Who maybe don’t know how to interpret love, sadness, heartache, joy, destruction, bliss or just life on their own.
We live in an era that is overwhelmed with speech. Whether it be in person, via email, text or Facebook IM, we’re in constant contact with one another. And to that extent, we all sort of possess a major in English (or whatever language you fancy) communication. We have mastered this. We’ve mastered the constant babble and most have managed to do so without also mastering comma splices. Our personal space has been invaded as we’ve all begun to live in one big social media bubble. And this, for me, has lessened the value behind my major.
Why do we need an English major? We all speak English (or some language). All day. Every day. And we’re communicating just fine even if we’re not properly citing textbooks or if we’re occasionally throwing the punctuation outside the quotation marks. We’re getting by just fine in a world of 140 characters and filtered pictures that speak 1,000 words with only an emoji as a caption. We’re getting by just fine in a world where English majors are so unneeded, they’re being told that they should “work for free.” Right?
And here is where I beg to differ.
Here is where I begin to kick and scream and protest. Because I am not simply a master of the comma; I am a writer (which means these dramatics are innate to my personality), and it also means you can continue to pay me nothing because writing is so engrained in me as a human being, that it is necessary for my own survival. But is that really fair?
Is it fair that because I’ve chosen to study a subject that differs based on each individual interpretation as opposed to a math theory that is consistent and forever the same, I should be told my job prospects are slim? Is it fair that I should be told to jump at every opportunity, even if it means selling myself to get there? Is it okay that I am told I should work for free? And is it fair that my response to the latter is that there aren’t even jobs for free, because free jobs are called “internships” and they’re offered to college students only in an attempt to trade credit for free labor?
No. It’s probably not okay or fair. But I, as an Experience Major, am able to ignore the prospect of post grad bills and the fact that soon I will be alone in the lonely “real world.” Because I know that Confessions of a Shopaholic came from those bills and it was Elizabeth Gilbert’s sudden aloneness that prompted Eat Pray Love.
And I also know that the great fiction I grew up with, the fiction that pulled me from marketing and pushed me into a field that I love, was written in an attempt to not understand reality, but instead to interpret experience by escaping reality.
Because, after all, would we even have Harry Potter had J.K. Rowling been worried about making money as opposed to making fictional characters?
And life without Harry Potter or imagination or literature or experience or words is just…life.
And to me, that sounds incredibly boring.