Tuesday, December 20, 2005

So How Are You Going to Use That, Then?

It's one of my least favorite questions, but people ask it often. This last time I was standing next to an older gentleman, waiting for my drink at Starbucks. He inquired about my order, and I reciprocated. He asked about Jack, and I said something, because for some reason it's important to me that people know, to indicate that I'm his nanny, not his mother. He asked if I was in school, and I said, no, that I have a degree already, and am not planning on a graduate degree just yet. He queried as to my major, and I told him, English. And then he asked the question. "So how are you going to use that, then?" And I didn't have an answer. I don't ever, really, except the smart-alecky one.

"I use it to create sparkling dinner conversation with my many suitors and also to feel superior to those who use apostrophes inappropriately."

I got an English degree because I like to read. That's all there is to it. I tried other majors, but nothing thrilled me as much as reading great books. I remember telling my mom when I was in high school that if I could major in anything, regardless of its usefulness, it would be English. I just wanted to read. It took two other majors and a threat of dropping out to bring all of us who were paying for my schooling to the conclusion that maybe I should just do what I love to do. And so I have an English degree. I have no plans as to do anything specific with it, and I really don't mind. I suppose I could say that I've used it to write a lot of really bad poems. I guess I could admit that I have more than one children's book scribbled on scraps of paper, bound together in a folder somewhere on my desk shelf. But those things aren't important to me in any professional sense right now. They're just for me, because I like them. I like my life as it is, with no pressure to take things further if I'm not ready or willing to put out the effort it would take to make something more substantial of that part of my life. My English degree is just one small drop in the bucket of all the things I've learned, and right now I'm making use of some of the other drops. The English degree deserves a break already. After all, I don't feel that my college education is more important than my other education.

Except, of course, when I'm making sparkling dinner conversation with my many suitors. Then it's downright crucial to my success.


Shiz said...

It is very satisfying to feel superior to those who use apostrophes inappropriately. I don't think that's a waste at all.

And those "alot" people! Shudder!

The English degree doesn't have the same obvious application as pre-med, but I think it's a great one. You have a liberal arts education, and you know your ps and qs better than most of the internet. And as Lynne Truss likes to point out, someone has to stand up for language. English degees are not career-makers; they are thinking-man-makers. And America needs more men and women who think. Like you.

Shepcat said...

Your actual answer is the best answer of all, Mary, except that I always have to preface it with, "If I could go back and do college all over again…" I suppose I'll just have to take some vicarious comfort from your experience.

Instead, I earned a journalism degree that, if nothing else, has empowered me to feel militantly superior to people who squander the gift of language. (Apostrophes are just the tip of the iceberg.)

Shepcat said...

As if on cue, Arianna Huffington feels our pain.

Anonymous said...

i certainly wouldn't know anything about this. i, of course, majored in something useful, and not at all fun. i enjoy using apostrophes incorrectly and i...

wait, who am i kidding. i was an english major too, simply because i love to read and i was good at writing papers. also i hate those apostrophe people as well.

<3 holly, your friend from amlit

marymuses said...

Oh, Shiz, the "alot" people--they drive me NUTS. Just use your space bar, people; it's not that tough!

Shepcat, of course apostrophes are just the tip of the iceberg. I'm glad Arianna feels our pain and is spreading the message to the public at large. Not that they'll care enough to change their ways, but still...

Holly, I have one thing to say: ENGLISH MAJORS OF THE WORLD UNITE!!!