All About That English Major Life

As graduation season rolls around once again, the ratio of meaningful life reflections to “It’s Gonna Be May” Justin Timberlake memes scattered throughout my Newsfeed peeks at an astonishing 5:1.  These personal progress reports, ranging from the 140-character tweet (respect) to the facebook note novella, spark pre-mature nostalgia and prompt me to reflect on my own collegiate transitions. For one, I can no longer imagine an existence without the aid of Google Calendar, those merciful colored blocks, and the illusion of order they lend my life. For another, I finally mustered the courage to retire an outmoded, social and self expectation-fueled dream in favor of my true passion.

A year ago today, I was lying in my bed in sweatpants, wide awake for the 54th consecutive hour and surrounded by cyclohexanes (some of them printed on sheets of notebook paper, some ingrained in my vision). I was seeing chair conformations on the plastered ceiling, in the bathroom tiles, in the shape of my chicken finger. I was wasting time typing my nightly 2 am Word document ramblings, wondering why it was so difficult to face each day even after I managed to fall into a coma-induced stupor. Wondering at what point along the way I had misplaced my motivation. Wondering why I was afraid to allow myself a moment to think. 

It’s difficult to change. It’s difficult to re-examine a 3-year-old’s penchant for taking temperatures, white coats, and carefree assertions of “I want to be a doctor, mommy,” and as strange as it sounds, it’s difficult to realize that a different person now exists, one who has found more healing in words than in prescriptions.  It’s difficult to remember the words “You can do anything you put your mind to,” to confront the new edge of disappointment in those same voices, to realize the person you’ve grown to be and accept is no less for being of a different mind. That first phone conversation in the Woodruff parking lot, a week before the end of the semester, was the most difficult fifteen minutes of my life. In those fifteen minutes, I struggled into existence.

A year ago today, I wiped the slate clean of 19 years’ meticulous planning, stared into the terrifying blankness, and made the first mark. “I want to be an English major.”

Today, after a year of papers, novels, ideas, and reflection, I’m lying here on my couch in sweatpants reading an acceptance letter from   Emory’s 4+1 BA/MA English Master’s Program over and over until my eyes burn from the light of my computer screen (and a few delayed tears, let’s be real). I’ve spent all-nighters in search of the perfect line before poetry work-shopping day, sleepless nights burned away in a frenzy of excitement rather than sunk in weighty lethargy. I’ve completely re-written assignments 5 times, out of sheer joy in the exploration of essay prompt options. Last semester, I enrolled in 22 hours of course credit, wrote over 40 papers, read upwards of 500 pages a night. I can imagine no greater privilege. I’m still ambitious as hell, but I’m happy. I’ve allowed myself the simple pleasure of doing without any peripheral thought of my resume. I have a future again, but I also have a present.

In the wonderful words of Dr. Otis, “People ask all the time why study English, but we all inhabit stories of some kind. It’s important to realize what narratives you’re living out, to think about your own conceptions and understanding of reality, so that you don’t get swept up in someone else’s.” Even as my own conceptions of reality continue to alter drastically,  literature remains my equilibrium. Reading is pure creation.

Only when the last page comes, can I flip to the beginning and realize that there’s more to know and more that can never be known. Only when the last page comes, can I re-discover who I am.

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169 responses to “All About That English Major Life

  1. This is such a brilliant post, because I’m at the exact same point in my life. But I haven’t gotten it all figured out, and that scares the pants off me. I can only hope I’m courageous enough to make the right choice for me.

    • Considering that you’re much braver than I was in your self-awareness and recognition of the decision, I’m certain you’ll make the right one for you. Sending all the encouragement and well-wishes I can muster your way. Good luck!

  2. I love your voice. It is quirky and interesting. I am thinking about majoring in English as well so it is nice to read this in contrast with the constant disapproval of my family.

    • Thank you so much! I’m sorry to hear about the pressure from your family. My parents could not have been more set on me becoming a doctor, but once I made my decision, I realized that they wanted what I wanted. It just took a while to convince them that English was my true calling after a lifetime of believing otherwise. My dad still unwittingly makes disparaging comments about the practicality and applicability of what I study, but for every criticism, there’s an amazing professor like Dr. Otis reminding me why it matters and why I love it. No matter what your decision, there will always be people supporting you. Just take a glance through some of these comments, including your own- we English majors tend to stick together. 😉

    • Thank you for the congratulations and for the follow! Hope I haven’t disappointed by my tardiness in posting lately, but fear not, pages shall be filled in the near future! 🙂

  3. I am an English major as well, and I wouldn’t trade it for the world! Keep at it, you can do it!

  4. I was a French language major first….my father asked me what the hell I was going to do with that…haha…I didn’t really know either; I just knew I loved reading and learning the language. Then a pretty bad accident resulting in a brain injury cut that short. When I returned to college a couple semesters after, I was horrified to realize how much I lost while in a 3 week coma. I changed majors to English…but I still love listening to it being spoken (i live in south Louisiana where it is spoken pretty often especially with the older crowds.. it was my grandmothers first language) and love trying to read it. So now, I try to do my best and
    write, write, write….love reading these blogs y’all!

    • 2. French is a lovely language (I’ll be taking an introductory class this fall, in fact), and I’ve always envied those more fluent in it. I’m so sorry to hear about your accident- writing is the best therapy I’ve ever found, and I certainly hope its working its magic for you. 🙂

  5. “Reading is pure creation.” How true that is. Thank you for this. I was a creative writing major in college and am now a copy editor. Nostalgia flooded me while reading this. Congratulations and good luck!

  6. Loved reading this. Although I’m not an English major, I’m an avid reader and would-be writer, and sometimes when my husband asks, “What have you been doing? Just reading and writing?” I feel my passions to be little underestimated or invalidated. It’s nice to encounter someone who understands the power of words.

    • I’m so glad you enjoyed it! My dad sometimes makes similar remarks about the impracticability of what I study, completely unwittingly wounding me by writing off my passion and my calling as irrelevant. It’s strange how the people who love us most also tend to injure us the most and understand the least. I also find it strange how humanities advocates seem permanently placed on the defensive, but the wonderful part of being constantly questioned by others is that we have to question ourselves. We always have to evaluate why we love what we love and consequently, we never forget our reasons and the sense of purpose that drives our passion is constantly in our view. We simply aren’t allowed to take it for granted. Reading and writing is never “just” as long as labels like it keep reminding us of the power of words. I definitely know how grueling and impossible, as well as how powerful and rewarding, writing can be. Keep on keeping on!

  7. I was an English major myself- and though it may not directly affect my life in obvious ways right now, I have never regretted going with my gut, and studying what I really loved. Very cool post, I can sooo relate- Thanks for sharing!

  8. I have a BA and MA in English. I have another graduate degree as well but the English degrees are the ones that I am most proud of and the ones that I worked the hardest for … Because I loved being an English major. As an English major, you are studying language, psychology, sociology, history, political systems, economics, culture, gender. You are studying the world. You made a good choice 🙂

    • Exactly! English literature is the synthesis of every human thought and impulse to create. How could it not be relevant is a much more fitting question to ask! 🙂

  9. Thanks for putting this out there! I went almost 20 years on the “vet school track” with an English lit bent before I realized that I was never going to be happy doing either half-way. It’s a difficult choice to make, but isn’t it wonderful once you’ve made it?? (now getting ready to start a masters in lit too 😀 )

    • Congratulations! When I started planning my medical career in terms of what time I could make for writing and reading, I had to wonder if half-assing the rest of my life was worth it. So relieved and excited to be chasing after what I love. Good luck to you on the Masters. Fingers crossed for both of us! 🙂

  10. Reblogged this on 1WriteWay and commented:
    Here’s a post that wonderfully describes the difficult but subsequent joy of following your heart. In a comment to this post, I wrote that as English majors we study (or studied as in my case): language, culture, gender, psychology, sociology, political systems, economics … in effect, we study the world.

  11. This was an enjoyable read. My journey toward an English degree was due to a hand written letter from the first English professor I had in which she asked me to transfer colleges. I didn’t look back, and thoroughly enjoyed the literary criticism, the inherent philosophy of studying the stories and perceptive narratives of others, and expressing myself in poetry and prose, even if sometimes forced to do so against a creative void.

    I also had a sign on my wall for the longest: English Majors Untie! I’m a fan of the ironic, you see.

    MJ

    • Hahaha, I need more of that irony and less of the “creative void,” as you so eloquently put it. I’m glad you enjoyed the post as much as I enjoyed writing it and the English major experience as much as I have so far. Love me some literary criticism!

    • Thank you! I consider the ability to express another’s life through expressing my own one of the most challenging and important aspects of writing, so you’ve just paid me quite the compliment. I’m so glad you enjoyed it! 🙂

  12. I had a similar experience…except I actually went through with my major/degree and even got the “dream job”….but I was so miserable. I went back to school to get an English teaching certificate and I am now living abroad teaching English and I’m much happier. I don’t know what I want to do long term…but I’m glad I made the leap 🙂

    • Congratulations- I can’t even imagine how challenging it must have been to go back for a second degree. I admire your courage and I’m so glad you made the leap as well! Life looks amazing from the other side of that cliff, doesn’t it? 🙂

  13. Last week, my son told us he wants to major in English. Just found your blog and will recommend he follow it. This is a wonderful post; one I believe he should read and think about.

    • Thank you! I hope he finds it encouraging and helpful in his journey to know that there are so many people out there with the same experience who are loving every minute of it. 🙂

  14. I love your post! I graduated as an English major too, and although finding work in this field prove to be difficult for me, I never once regretted that I followed a study that I was truly interested in, one that I truly loved, and still do. The best thing you can do is follow your heart. Always. 🙂

  15. I’m glad you worked your way through the confusion and found your true calling.Good luck!

  16. I loved your post…you could be my twin… seriously! Ever since I can remember, I wanted to be a veterinarian (like Mummy and Daddy) and I set my whole life around that goal. But when I actually studied vet science, I realized that it is just not for me. I got depression and fled across the globe (to Australia) to sort out my life. Cutting a long story short, I ended up majoring in Literary Studies and Journalism and I am now in my Honours year, hoping to start a PHD next year. I have never been so happy in my life. So yay to your Masters and GO LIT MAJOR! 😉

  17. I just graduated in April with a 4.0 in English, and everybody keeps being so amazed. I feel like a fraud when they do, though, because it never seemed hard. It just seemed right. I think if you’re meant to be an English major, you just feel it and know it. I was always challenged and invigorated by my classes and I had to work for that 4.0, but I loved what I was doing so much that I never could have imagined doing anything else. Cheers to you for finding your place as well 🙂

    • Thank you and congratulations! I know exactly what you mean- it seems easy to work hard when you’re able to study your passion.

  18. Pingback: All About That English Major Life | octamal·

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