English majors receive tremendous flack for their ambiguous, hard skills-lacking, thought-provoking academic choices.
We are told we will never be prepared for the workforce, we might as well become teachers, and our peers will probably see us in drive-thru windows while we hand their coffee and frappes to them through their swank car windows.
While they button their shirts to their jugulars, recite scrawled messages from clients to their uninterested bosses, and slave away for hours for companies who only care about whether or not they make enough money for their overflowing pockets, English majors find careers they not only enjoy, but in which they also receive praise and adoration for their precise work.
People ask, “What can you do with an English degree?”
I ask, “What can't I do with an English degree?”
The options are limitless.
Not only are they limitless, but English majors do not possess any attachments to one specific occupational field. We spend four years honing our skills in writing, analytical thinking, communications, and perfecting core attributes crucial to any given work environment rather than honing our skills for distinct vocational trades.
Once I have an English and Creative Writing degree, I can pursue great ambitions to attend law school, dabble in the world of editing and publishing, or even aid authors as a literary agent in getting their work published. While I cannot attend medical school or other related specialities, I do not fret because I do not have any interest in pursuing those fields anyway.
With my degree, I can create a colorful resume and life. When I become frail and less agile, I can reminisce on times when I worked in a field because I not only loved it, but because I was also successful.
If you ever raise a child who chooses to pursue a major in English or in a related field, please do not fret. It is not a crisis, nor will this person reach a time when options diminish for future careers.
A major in English is for those who choose not to limit themselves. Instead, a major in English is for those who choose to believe they can not only explore the world and all of its possibilities, but they can also change the world with the help of the written word.
As someone who has remained relatively active on social media on all platforms ranging from MSN Instant Messenger to MySpace to Facebook to Twitter and then to Instagram, I have always loved to interact with people I know. What I had not realized until my course this summer in which other students and I help make the Midwest Writers Workshop happen, though, was the importance of wholly immersing yourself into communities filled with those who also possess your interests and who remain active in pursuing, bettering, and encouraging others to participate in those interests.
When my newsfeeds on various social media outlets are filled with people I went to high school with, family, and the occasional person I befriended either on vacation or through an internship, my newsfeeds begin to lose both focus and purpose. When our lives also begin to lose these two imperative assets, we can fall victim to losing our paths, which will then possibly lead to a loss of identity.
During free time I used to spend on social media, I realized how much negativity I exposed myself to and how damaging this truly was for me. I sometimes felt misunderstood, different from my peers, and as though I did not necessarily fit in with any specific interest group. While I did have a slight idea this had happened, I had not actually accepted it until my first meeting with the aforementioned summer class's interns and director, Jama Bigger.
How did I fix this unruly sense of negativity? First, I deleted my Twitter account. It was not anything personal toward people I followed, but, rather, it was something I knew I had to do for myself. I needed positivity and belonging in an aspect of my life in which I felt as though I was not only welcomed, but in which I also felt as though I was encouraged to pursue my ambitions. I took this opportunity to divulge myself in a social media cleanse.
Even though I quickly began to rebuild my Twitter account, I assured myself I would have a focus: I needed a literary community in which I could build both personal and professional connections. While I still do follow my close friends and others who also use social media to spread positivity, my Twitter account now has a clear focus. I can talk with others about novels, share information about what I read (such as the novel to the left, which was a wonderful YA read, and it seemed to fulfill my wanderlust needs even if only for a short while), fangirl over authors and the Midwest Writers Workshop, and share both positive and funny quotes and memes about reading and writing.
Before my social media cleanse, I felt as though I was trying to butcher through leaves and trees in the middle of a dense forest even though I was simply only scrolling through my Twitter feed. Now, though, I can see a clear path. Even though it still might be a little rough, I can share my travels along this literary journey with my fellow literary citizens without a worry of getting lost along the way.
Our lives are similar to puzzles. We have a multitude of different aspects within our lives, and we possess the responsibility to somehow place them in the correct sections of our lives in order to achieve an optimal balance between happiness and sacrifice. For some reason though, some individuals seem to think we must sacrifice our current happiness in order to eventually achieve lifelong euphoria. While in some scenarios this is the responsible approach to take, it is not the only approach.
I'm here to tell you why.
I used to be in a rough place in life in which I tried to make everyone around myself happy. This ranged from sacrificing all of my free time to visit others and leaving little space for personal time to trying to adapt to new ways of living in order to feel accepted. I began spending all of my time with someone who tried to form me into a new person, which then led to a complete loss of self. It is human nature to believe we will receive good karma if we constantly place others above ourselves, but this actually might be the highest false claim one can make.
Once I realized my downfall a little over one year ago, I took the responsibility of surrounding myself with good energy and eliminating the negative energy. The latter seemed to cloathe my lifestyle and bask my being in thoughts of needing to live up to others' expectations. During this transformation, I found the courage to imprint myself with a statement I had wanted for quite some time: ellipsis. Three simple dots. In writing, one can place ellipsis ( . . . ) in a place in which a section of a sentence or paragraph is not needed. For example, let's say a paragraph of a book says, "Some people believe in their dreams and others do not, and those who believe in theirs will succeed." If you were to paraphrase the sentence with ellipsis, you could say, "Some people believe in their dreams, and . . . [they] will succeed." Essentially, I want to live in such a way in which I can eliminate the unnecessary while still remaining true to myself. By eliminating the unnecessary negativity, I can lead a positive lifestyle consistently filled with happy moments every day rather than live a lifestyle in which I am constantly searching for happiness.
Good energy will surround you if you remain in the mindset of forbidding negative energy to consume yourself. When I begin to wonder why others possess an unnatural resentment toward myself, others, or life in general, I can look at my ellipsis and take a deep breath knowing I have control of my mindset. Positive living is solely based on one's mindset, and by understanding you are the sole controller of your personal mindset, positive energy should begin to surround you once you start the process of ridding yourself of everything except the bare necessities.
Essentially, focus on the good vibes. They are wonderful for the soul.
“What is your major?”
“I’m studying English and Creative Writing.”
“I’m sorry. Are you going to be a teacher?”
“Then what are you going to do with it?”
Unfortunately, this is how most of my conversations go when people ask how I spend my time at my university. Rather than being excited or intrigued when someone, such as myself, is studying an abstract subject, people tend to seem confused as though it is highly improbable I will ever find a career in this area of study. It is as though just because I do not receive training in a medical, scientific, or engineering field, I will resort to failure, and then succumb to working a menial job without benefits or a salary.
Well, this is where the latter point differs from the stereotypical idea of the English major. You see, even though my major is not designed for specific careers, I possess the ability to completely mold my future career.
Let’s create a physical model so you know exactly what I mean. Place your palms and fingertips together as though they are in a praying motion. Now, interlock your fingers. In almost every other major, this is how content area and careers align. In classes, you specifically learn how to do what you will eventually accomplish in your future places of employment.
Now, let’s move on to the English major: Place your hands in the same praying motion. Now, rotate your left hand slightly forward and your right hand slightly back. Do you see how you can longer intertwine your fingers? The goal of the English major is to shift them back to their original position so the fingers can interlock. We learn an array of what we call “soft skills.” They are the skills we learn in order to become successful writers, communicators, thinkers, and people. We learn the different ideologies the great thinkers of the past taught us, and we learn how to apply them to our everyday lives.
We can become innate teachers, professors, writers, journalists, lawyers, philosophers, speakers, explorers, thinkers, and doers. We are the people who took the “You can become anything you want” lesson literally when we were mere five-year-olds. We threw aside the stereotypical college career path, and we decided to mold our own because we realized the system could not alone help us. We realized we needed to become our own people, saviors, and believers because we did not want to be another product of the system.
Those who do choose to pursue majors in which they receive specific training chose those paths in the same way we chose ours. They enjoy the methodical and explained approach, while we realized we would not benefit in those fields. In the same way, those souls venturing into the world of well-crafted careers specific for their majors would not benefit from pursuing our chosen area of study.
Within my major, I have met people from all walks of life, and we tend to understand each other and our different backgrounds. Some people grew up with loving families, while others did not. Some people have known since they were in elementary school they wanted to be writers, and others are simply just now realizing this fact because they tried too long to ignore the burn within their chest taking them to the alter to declare a lifelong responsibility to hone their crafts.
We struggle with commitment to career choices because, really, we all love the written word. We possess the ability to create. We understand we need to transform our desires into physical beings held softly within our hands. Words possess the power to transform sadness into belonging, and we all want to be an aid to resolving the conflict others may feel.
English majors want to do more than write in our notebooks. We want to teach everyone words do have the power to heal and comfort. While we write to understand situations, others take words in order to make sense of situations happening they may not understand. Addiction may confiscate their lives or happiness may try to hide, but by reading even a simple sentence, they might be able to change their world. Wars are waging around the world, but words may be the only magic strong enough to heal.
Next time you doubt the future of a current English major, stop yourself. What are you doing for the world with your career path? Our tool belts may be just as equipped as yours.
It is unknowing.
Most of us hope to experience a great love to last the rest of our lives, but none of us really know if we will find it. We might think we have it, only to find out how fragile it falls alongside the not-quite-finished school project still warm with glue, or maybe it falls between our fingers with a donut’s powder. Our moment to find it might be sparse, a moment falling too short of a Popsicle’s lifespan in the hands of a child in the sand. Have we found it? We may not know. We might not realize it until the glue hardens, the powder stops falling, and the Popsicle has long been melted. It may be standing in front, behind, or beside us, holding out its hand and eager to continue this seemingly eternal flame.
The Main Event
Our eyes, minds, awareness were blinded by the light. We started the fire with a single match, a single moment, a single breath. It burned hot–almost too hot at first. We could feel the heat intensifying as we carefully approached it and allowed it to radiate upon our fragile skin. Once we realized we could stand before it without receiving a burn, though, we danced. We danced around it while our hands intertwined, interlaced with naivety and unaware of the harm gently lying before us.
Laughter arose higher than the smoke climbing toward the stars–evidence of lives much greater than ours. We can imagine ourselves looking down upon this scene and gaze at its deep simplicity. Was it ever truly simple, though? We dreamed of lives in which we hoped to live, but we remained ever unaware of the actualities of our trances engulfed with ecstasy: Happiness never greeted them in their ends. Death, instead, approached them. Its scythe sharpened as if preparing for the ultimate dividing cut. Once the flames died–as they tend to do–and the smoke clothed us in its suffocating warmth, we stole the scythe in order to poke and prod the dying remnants of past happiness. Eventually, we unearth the flames, and we welcome them while they emit their magical brilliance, their comforting embrace, and their desire to wrap around us until our last breaths.
The Great Demise
What, then, do we do when these flames cause our last breaths? How do we face the great demise of what we thought was an eternal flame? What happens, when amidst the smoke, it is us who creates the divide with a single swift move of the scythe? We find ourselves overwhelmed by the all-consuming smoke, while it buries itself deep within our throats and attaches itself to the walls of our lungs. Discomfort turns into the coughing up of poisonous smoke while our bodies try to fight the toxins. We try to reattach ourselves, but the damage has been done. Separation increases the anxiety. Coughing then turns into an act of trying to stifle the obvious distress. We cannot let those around us realize our departure after our seemingly blissful dance around the flames. They always knew we would get too close and become too entranced by the flames dancing alongside us, burning within us. They knew it would cause our great departure–our grand escape.
Coughing never ceases.
Pain only increases.
Arrays of medicine can sooth the sting and attempt to heal the wound, but only for a short while until we realize what made us dance also made us perish alongside the sticky puddle of Popsicle flesh surrounding our feet.
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.