Sorry, I’m not here to be cheery.  I’m here to give a reality check.

I don’t think I’ve ever explored the whys and wherefores of my decision to be an English major on this blog.  Don’t get me wrong, a lot of my reasons are evidenced in the individual posts, but I believe in being explicit.  So here goes:

First things first, before I even go into an enumerated list, let’s do an honesty binge.  The job market for English majors is, frankly, piss poor.  And not in the, “It’s hard to be a professional author, but I’ll make it someday,” way, but in the, “The skill set I developed in college has little to no effect on the reality of day to day living,” way.  This is why going on to a Masters and/or PHd is VITAL if you want any sort of semi-decent job.  Which, of course, still won’t pay for all those loans you took out to get the advanced degrees to get you the semi-decent job.  Also, that semi-decent job you slaved over degree after degree to get will most likely be thankless.  Being a teacher, a librarian, an editor, or a technical writer (to name a few of the more common paths of the English major) are jobs that you do because you love it and NO OTHER reason.  Editors are seen as the villains of the literary world (as you learn in your English major), teachers are used and abused with frequency, librarians are pushed to get more customers with less than adequate funding, and a technical writer is the poor sap that writes all those manuals that no one bothers to read.

Of course, the common outcry from this insular community (because every year the English major becomes more and more isolated from reality and entrenched in that illusory world of academia) is, “We don’t do it for the job, we do it because we love it!”  If that’s the only reason you’re pursuing an English degree, quit now.  I’m not saying love of literature, writing, or words is a bad reason.  It’s a bad SOLITARY reason.  Love sours when reality sets in.  It’s why so many marriages fall apart and it’s why so many English majors regret their decision.  If you’re one of those who pursue the English degree because it’s easy . . .  bwah hah hah hah hah hah hah hah.  Your life will be all the more miserable and HARD because you chose the  “easy route” in college.  Also, if you think satisfying the pedants that crawl out of the woodwork in every English department (for any of my former professors who may be reading this: you know who you are) will be easy, I wish I could be there for your first true reality check.  It’s going to be beautiful.

Now, why do I say this?  Because I chose the wrong reasons to go into an English degree, and I know it.  So, here’s the why, here are my regrets, and here are the reasons I’m glad I did it for the wrong reasons:

The Reasons Why I was an English Major:

  1. I loved it.  This being the main reason I did the English degree is how I know it’s a bad solitary, even primary, reason.  By the end of school, I hated it.  By the time I got my working life in order, I loathed it.  I couldn’t sneeze at Hamlet  for almost 18 months (Mark, you know what you did).
  2. I didn’t think I was capable of better. I sold myself short, thinking that just because my aptitude for the maths and sciences was lesser than my aptitude for language, I could do no better (not saying that maths and sciences are inherently better than arts, just that they would have been better for me).  I would have been much happier in a major I didn’t love and had to work hard at, because I would have felt like I accomplished so much more.  I should have switched my major to Chemistry my freshman year, and I know it.  And again, my junior year, I should have switched my major (and colleges) to Classics, since I declined to switch to Chemistry earlier on.  I now love these subjects both with a passion so much greater than English because I have to WORK at them.  I hate them with a greater passion, too, because I have to WORK at them.  But English was my first love (notice, not passion) and I was afraid of failure (and a lower GPA) in a different major.  I didn’t think I could do better and that stopped me from getting the major(s) I wanted.
  3. I value the arts and hate to see them devalued as they are.  What can I say to this one?  It’s a terrible reason to get an arts major of any kind.  I can value the arts in my home and personal life, I can even advocate for it in public, without screwing up my job prospects later on.  That’s why I declined to get a Theatre degree, why couldn’t I have been sensible and apply that same logic to an English degree?   Also, much as I value the arts, I value science as well.  In fact, what I so dislike is that the two are getting further and further apart on the educational spectrum.  Logic needs intuition, intuition demands logic.  Why do we insist on separating the two as if they aren’t compatible?

The Reasons I Regret It:

  1. My love for English has, indeed, soured.  Don’t get me wrong, I’m a bibliophile to the bone.  But I am not that into English academia, which is one of the few options of the Enligh major.  I also can’t imagine teaching children to love something that brought me so much misery in college.  Also, I realized how truly  inadequate English is as a communicative tool and I wish I could have not had that realization.  It kind of sucks that I spent my academic career studying something I have recognized to be effectively useless in not just financial but interpersonal areas as well.
  2. My choices are limited. Specifically when it comes to employment.  Thankfully, I have one of the coolest jobs in the world that didn’t require a degree of a specific kind.  But I am lucky in that sense.  In the other sense, should I ever want to pursue a career in any of the English related fields, I’m going to have to go to a lot more schooling to accomplish that.  Since I don’t particularly want to pursue English, I’m going to have to start pretty close to the beginning when I go back to school for museum studies.  But this limit of choices is also social–the English major is not looked on with great respect or dignity ever (MRS degree doesn’t always mean English major, but I know there are plenty of people who equate those two (I’ve met a few). Yeah, I totally didn’t start looking to date seriously until I graduated, pricks.).  Sometimes, I’m seen as stupid or lazy for my choice.  Sure, I didn’t love my English degree, but I made sure to take advantage of my education while I was there.  I may have made a bad choice, but I made the best of my bad choice and it’s annoying to have it belittled.  English is not a soft option, and I hope that I’m slowly changing that opinion by being an intelligent human being–in part due to my degree.
  3. I cannot enjoy books or blogs or conversations anymore! Oh, the complexes that come with being an English major.  We’re indoctrinated with the importance of grammar, spelling, and symbols/deeper meaning.  And it kills me.  Do I believe in the beauty and meaning of symbols in literature?  Yes!  But I did before my major and now I can’t read a book without dissecting it.  AUGH.  I also took a very long time to realize myself as a writer again.  I was so busy being a Writer of English and a Speaker of English that my casual communications, my creative endeavors, and every day conversations were stilted and horrible.  I’m doing better now, but I can’t really make any claims that this will continue to abate with time.  I leveled out awhile ago.  I am so screwed.

The Reasons I’m Glad, In Spite of Myself:

  1. I learned a lot about myself.  I love words.  I love books.  I love reading.  I love language.  I hate English.  I hate technical writing.  I hate pedantic academia.  I swear, if I have to get into one more connotative verses denotative debate I will punch someone in the face (preferably you, Groobs).  I am smarter than I give myself credit for, but not nearly as intelligent as I wish to be.  I don’t do well without intellectual stimulation, but I don’t really need a partner who is well-versed in literature.  I cannot handle “true literature” in large or medium doses.  I think Dante, Chaucer, and Shakespeare were hack jobs, but they’re still entertaining as ever (though I’ll admit to having a preference for the Bard ANY DAY).  I am spiritually uplifted by studying mythology.  Mostly, I learned that a lot of the ephemera that I identified myself by was just that.  I learned who I was when all that was stripped away by the misery of my major.  That self-knowledge would have been several years more in the making if I had done something else.
  2. I learned what I cannot be without. I learned, in the course of hating my major with a passion, that the BEST reason to do any major–but most especially an arts one–is because you cannot live without it.  This is why I made sure to take some college level Chemistry, pursued a minor in Classics (which I am far more proud of than my major), affiliated myself with the rodeo team, and accepted a membership in the theatre honors fraternity.  These were the things I discovered I cannot live without.  Science, logic, mythology, history, rodeo, and creativity are what I need.  The rest–including books, to a point–is really nice but not at all necessary.
  3. Sometimes, it comes in handy.  This mostly happens in random trivia games, but since that’s what my family mostly plays, it comes in handy at home.  Also, when I’m watching a movie with my roommate, and the hero boards a bus that has the destination as “Elysian Fields,” I get to tell her why that was AWESOME.  I get to have conversations discussing lexicons and grammar and language origins and I don’t get lost.  I have a better understanding of my religion thanks to all the religious symbolism in literature.  Related, I’m actually conversant in a lot of subjects that I wouldn’t have been if I hadn’t needed to do research to appropriately understand my readings.  Now, I’m by no means an expert, but I can follow most conversations, if not contribute.  Also, I occasionally edit a paper or two and make some money, though that is no where near as satisfying as the other stuff.
  4. I did get to spend four (ish) years immersed in an art.  Okay, I kind of took the coolest classes ever in my major (excepting my Classics classes–they rocked my world and were way cooler).  And I learned what true dedication to an art is.  I respect the heck out of those who can manage that level of passion and truth in their life.  But I learned I needed to quit now, as I didn’t have that passion.

So do I really think arts majors should quit now?  Not really.  I do believe that many of us do it for the wrong reasons.   I do encourage you to evaluate.  Ask yourself those all important questions like: Am I souring to my love?  Can I not live without it?  Is there something I can feel better about personally and professionally (because one does affect the other, never imagine that to be less than the truth)? Is there something I am passionate about?  Am I turning into the kind of person I hate because I’m studying this?

I quit now because there are better, healthier things for me in this world.  I quit now because I refuse to be miserable.  I quit now because I know that I’m doing a disservice to the passionate.  I quit now to better foster MY passions.

Arts majors who are doing what they do because they cannot live without it, I tip my hat to you.  You are the people who will make those piss poor job opportunities into something amazing.  You are the people who will inspire others to be creative.  You are the people who will bring arts back into our culture.  I am not that person.  I am grateful you are.

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