Doing Whatever I Want with an English Degree

When I started doing my Associate’s Degree in high school I often had people around me ask, “What do you even do with an Associate of Arts?”. My typical reply ran along the lines of “Whatever the hell I want.”

This still carries over to reactions of me being an English major and I still give the ever-so passive-aggressive reply and sprinkle in some big fancy words. While I have had this attitude when pursuing a humanities degree, I do feel like it has in a way made me more colorful as a person.

Throughout George Anders’ text, I believe that there is some reassurance in following one’s passions in order to achieve something “doable” as someone with a liberal arts degree. This is something that I have always held true within my own studies, as I tell myself (in true liberal arts fashion) that I can only be happy with doing something that I love. In the first few pages of the book, we see Josh Sucher who was extremely passionate about all of the work he accomplished during his time at Bard College. However, in the few years following graduation, wasn’t as nearly satisfied and began networking. Led by his curiosity, Sucher was able to land a job at Etsy that not only utilizes his liberal arts studies but excites him.

Being led by a singular interest is something I found to be very difficult during a time when I am supposed to figure out what it is I am even interested in. At my small community college, I found very quickly what I was into; creative writing, history, and analyzing texts. What I absolutely hated; long persuasive papers, public speaking, and anything and everything related to numbers.

I will say that my forgotten time at a community college pointed out to me that I did have specific aspirations of doing something that involves putting a creative effort into any kind of writing I did. I took an entry-level English course with a young professor who reminded me of some kind of surfer dude with terrible handwriting. However, I was impressed by this professor’s passion for literature and how he talked about every piece that we studied. I was so inspired to the extent that I imagined what it would be like to have someone introduce my writing to their literature class with such enthusiasm. I did find it hard to excel in this class because this professor was using some stupid Harvard grading scale that just was Pass or Fail. I remember being absolutely gutted by the failing grade I received on a paper analyzing Sylvia Plath’s poems, but I still persisted.

I remember reading Lorrie Moore’s short story “How To Talk to Your Mother (Notes)” and our assignment was to create our own version of this story. I had never done a creative writing assignment since my middle school years, but I was always writing stories without any outside feedback—I was nervous. I did research for my story, as part of the formatting included historical markers and I did my best to weave fact within fiction. When I finally got my grade back I received the comment “You’re a very talented creative writer. Pass.”

Pierrot Actor

Transferring to College of Charleston I knew exactly what I wanted to major in and loved saying the mouthful “English, Literature, Film, and Cultural Studies”. I was brought back into the attitude of “doing whatever the hell I want” and eagerly signed up for a speculative creative writing course, being extremely nervous to share my work with my peers. Since this was about peak COVID times, I was severely isolated in a new city and was struggling with my mental health. Yet, this was the course that made me realize that I was meant to do something that allowed me to be fully in creative mode. My final piece for the course was possibly the most excited I had ever been. I wrote a story about a Pierrot clown who is realizing his industry is dying out (amongst other things and losing his mind, but I digress). I did a ton of research on the background of Commedia dell’arte and incorporated many aspects of the storylines into my story. It was so rewarding to have created something out of nothing and get a lot of great feedback from my professor and my classmates, especially ones who said that it was their favorite thing they read the entire semester.

I realize that my first two examples are more driven by creative writing courses and you might ask why I didn’t dive into that concentration. To be fair I considered it, but I would like to mention that I am still highly fascinated with historical backgrounds and how they show up in literature, so I take a handful of American literature courses to pursue that interest.

Author Zitkala-Ša

Particularly one project that stood out to me was a sort of video essay (really a PowerPoint with a voice-over) that I did about the writings of author Zitkala-Ša and Native American Boarding Schools. I found her short stories to be incredibly profound and thought-provoking, especially her work “The School Days of an Indian Girl” about her experiences in a boarding school. I had known previously about the histories of these boarding schools from an Anthropology course I took at my community college and dove into a lot of outside research about the Canadian Boarding Schools, but not the ones in America. With that knowledge, I created the topic of research myself and wanted to see where I could make connections to the texts I had studied in class. It was quite a disheartening series of research, where at times I had to step away because the subject matter was extremely overwhelming. By the end of the project, I had found myself bringing up the topic of these Boarding Schools to everyone I knew. It had also come out around that time that more grave sites had been found in Nebraska. This was something I ended up incorporating in my project and found rather haunting in making the connection to educating people on this kind of history.

Without diving too much further into my interests and how the English major impacted these interests I will turn back to the fact that I know that my whatever becomes of my future professional life, I will always be led by my interests and what excites me to push forward. I’m not too worried about what the future will bring, but I hope that I keep that same spirit of doing whatever the hell I want.

One Response to Doing Whatever I Want with an English Degree

  1. Prof VZ April 6, 2023 at 3:19 pm #

    You capture your interest in creative fields and historical analysis really well, and I appreciate the details that ground your overview here as you take us into specific project. The context for the second project, however, was a bit unclear–can you present that more clearly upfront?

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