I know I have written about being an English major. I know I have explained my different career paths, major changes, minor additions and retractions. I know, I know, I know.
I also know what to expect every time I hear, “So, what are you studying?”
The moment I reply, “Creative Writing,” I know what to expect.
A sly smile crosses the questioner’s face. A small laugh leaves pursed lips. An almost arrogant attitude presents itself as though my major is not worthy enough to uphold an entire department of students on a college campus. When did this misconception about the arts begin? Does nobody understand the devout importance of reading and writing? Does nobody understand being an English major is about more than just reading and writing?
When I mention my experience with journals or conferences, people outside of the literary community always question: So, like, what is it? What does it do? It’s as though being a community that literally spreads empathy and awareness for whole groups of people isn’t enough. It’s as though if you aren’t working in a hospital or working in an office from 9 a.m. to 5 p.m. five days every week, your profession is not as worthy.
It’s as though I need to somehow feel validated by their approval of my passion.
I don't feel invalidated by their ignorance because I already feel validated by the people I see every day, the work I read, and the essays I write.
Being an English major isn’t about the money or the career or the lavish lifestyle. It isn’t about sitting by a fireside with Walt Whitman every night or getting coffee every morning with friends. It isn’t about sitting up for hours reading the work of dead white men. It isn’t about being pretentious. It isn’t about not knowing what kind of career to pursue. It isn’t filled with indecisive students. It isn’t about wasting time until you find another major to pursue. It isn’t about perusing bookshelves in your free time. It isn’t about entering this major because it possesses a quick financial gain. It isn’t about wearing chunky, unique sweaters. It isn’t about distant conversations with little substance. It isn’t about finding a partner so you can have a literary-charged romance filled with back alley cigarette smoke and coffee breath.
Being an English major is about using every aspect of your mind in order to give to the world. It is about theoretical yet concrete discussions in order to understand why the world is the way it is. It is about reading widely and diversely. It is about being a part of a community in which you never feel alone. It is about learning how to speak up. It is about expanding rather than shrinking. It is comprised of such a diverse student population that every future job market will most likely contain a former English major. It is about not limiting yourself to fit a mold. It is about possibilities. It is about creating your own future. It is about joining social justice platforms. It is about spreading awareness. It is about being co-editors with some of your best friends. It is about learning how to argue and articulate your thoughts while still respecting the person sitting across from you. It is about publishing a journal and then hugging it as soon as you retrieve it from its box. It is about smelling every book you will ever read. It is about finding your lifelong readers. It is about finding your lifelong friends. It is about discussing printed books versus e-books, how they differ, how they are similar, where publishing is going, and whether or not e-books are more accessible. It is about learning how to design every advertisement you will ever see. It is about writing your truest truth. It is about learning every detail of publishing. It is about making a brand for yourself on social media. It is about using your personality to your advantage. It is about taking risks and trying new things. It is about closing down the library because you have a double-digit paged paper due. It is about using Internet articles and podcasts and essays and journals and books and magazines and even interviews for that one paper. It is about learning the importance of diversity. It is about learning how to fuel your passions in order to be a marketable and creative prospective employee. It is about learning how to market yourself. It is about never meeting two like people. It is about genuinely liking who your professors are as people. It is about genuinely liking who your professional inspirations are as people. It is about drinking coffee more than water. It is about learning when to not drink so much coffee, but doing it anyway. It is about learning how to network without sounding like a robot reciting last week’s lecture. It is about rewriting your resume because every job you apply for is different. It is about gaining life experience. It is about learning a variety of skills. It is about sleepless nights. It is about falling in love with words. It is about not only learning how to be an empath in a harsh world, but also learning why that is a benefit and not a hindrance. It is about analyzing everything you will ever read in the future. It is about forming relationships with people rather than simply just networking. It is about learning every insecurity and every fear of your classmates in workshops. It is about not judging and always supporting. It is about learning more about the world and not just your department. It is about never selling yourself. It is about choosing your passion and learning how to make money with it rather than just settling for a major with a six-figure guarantee. It is about giving a shit for other people rather than just money. It is about volunteering and working for nonprofits and donating to charities and fighting the establishment because you have seen first-hand how important these organizations are for our society.
So when I am asked, “Why are you an English major?” I have an answer.
I am an English major because I give a shit.
Lauren is a Ball State University alumna with a Bachelor's degree in English and a concentration in Creative Writing. She enjoys breakfast for dinner with a side of literary enjoyment.