This conversation happens to me, oh, every moon or so.
- Someone: And what are you studying?
- Me: I’m studying English.
- Someone: Oohhh. [nods slowly, face wipes blank]
- Me: Yup.
- Someone: So, you wanna teach?
- Me: [instantaneous death glare, replaced by sweet smile] No, I don’t. I want to write.
- Someone: Oohh. [nods slowly, slight look of concern] Write what? Like, journalism?
- Me: [laughs darkly] Probably not.
- Someone: So like… books?
- Me: Hopefully, yeah. And poetry, and novels, and short stories, and essays, and memoiric type things… kind of everything.
- Someone: [mouth gapes open slowly, resembles sleepy fish] Woooooww.
- Me: Yeee-up.
This bothers me. In fact, it kind of enrages me.
Not the fact that people ask me what I’m studying, or what I want to do with my life. Go on, please, ask me! I’ll make you tea, and we can chat about dreams and life. What bothers me is when people hear “English” or “literature” or “writing” and immediately unplug their interest oven. As if books are irrelevant and words are useless and writers are outcasts of society who have no potential and no hope for a world-changing future.
Um. Hey now.
I study literature because I love it. Because it brings me happiness. Because it breaks my heart and blows my mind and opens my eyes to new dimensions and perspectives every day of my life. I read things that people forget exist and things that people enshrine like cultural gods and things that make people change their lives and things that have changed the world. I’m not writing a treatise on all the ways literature has influenced this planet, but you shouldn’t need me to in order to know that literature changes things. Not all literature, certainly. But if literature has changed me, and has changed so many of my friends and family and people I admire, and has changed the people that write it, how can we possibly say that it is irrelevant?
Okay, yes, reality. Jobs. Money, insurance, bills, the stock market. You need money to survive and a lot of it to be stable in this society in the 21st century. I get it. It’s only been pounded into my head a bazillion times. I am aware, thank you, that being a writer essentially guarantees me enough money to buy coffee and a fifty cent comp book, repeat until I die. Beyond that, I’ll have to find a job. Which could be anything from journalism (I said probably not) to teaching (unlikely) (but who knows) to editing to publishing to working overseas to higher ed to who has any freaking clue. I don’t. And I don’t mind. I’m in my second year of college, studying literature, writing things I love to write (as well as some things I hate). I’m reading beautiful and terrible stories, immersing myself in the endless possibilities of words. I’m learning so much that my brain and heart can hardly keep it all in. (Reason #7,595 I need to write to survive.) And more than anything, I am learning that writing has the power to change people. It’s kind of incredible. And it’s only reinforcing my resolve. So what if I’m not destined to make a load of cash when I grow up? People aren’t happy with money anyway. I’d rather be doing something I love. Something I know could change things, make people think, make people feel. That is, if I work hard enough, even when I have to buy market-brand coffee grounds and ride my bike to London.
Rant about over. But–I just wish everyone could understand that just because I don’t have a laid-out future doesn’t mean I don’t have one at all. Actually, I’m more excited for my rather aimless future than I ever thought I would be. I’m not locked into anything. No one’s going to force me to do something I don’t want to do. I feel free to take opportunities as they come, to wander, to explore, to jump from place to place and experience to experience. Yeah, this is kind of idealistic. But I feel like I can breathe knowing I have unnumbered options open to me. And no matter what I do or don’t do, I can and will be writing, continually, always.
By the way. This goes for any major–particularly those that don’t get oohs and ahhs. Some of us have our futures set in front of us like highways. Some of us have wandery, hard-to-track footpaths through forests. And most of us have something in between the two. But the point is we’re all going somewhere. It’s probably not where we think we’re going, but it’s somewhere, and it’s going to be all right for us. So let’s stop pressuring people–each other–ourselves–to have it all figured out. Kay?
I’m dead serious. Guys. Hey.
(Pssst…this is one of those things I have learned by reading a large yacht full of literature written by people who know what the world is like. It’s not like a career pamphlet. Promise.)
(Pssst…here also is a secret my parents told me a really long time ago: life almost never turns out the way you expect it to. Like, never.) (Also: that’s scary but it’s also amazing. We get to run through a corn maze our whole lives. Hooray!)
A note to the “someone” in the conversation above (who could be and has been anybody from the president to your great aunt to your best friend to the guy in the striped pants on High Street in Edinburgh). When you ask me what I’m studying, ask me because you’re interested. When you ask me what I want to do with my life, ask me because you really want to know. “English major” doesn’t mean “boring,” or “useless,” or “poor.” For me, it means a whole world of wondrous things. If you asked me… maybe I’d tell you some.
A lot of us are scared of telling you that we’re scared, that we’re unsure, that we really have no idea what we’re doing. So maybe instead of asking us what we’re majoring in or what career we’re headed for, ask us about the things we’re passionate about. That’s where the better answers lie anyway.
Says the girl who’s 19 and too much of a dreamer for her own good.