Great White Snark

Saturday, May 28, 2011

How to be an English Major.

Accept the fact that your spare time will be whittled away nose-deep in a novel. You’ll have anywhere from 20-30 to read a semester, if you’re dedicated. Learn quickly which ones you must do a thorough read-through of and which ones you can skim. Idealistically, this should be done more than a day in advance. Buy a good coffeepot and some eclectic mugs. Develop an identity. You spend your academic pursuits bombarded by different personas, problems, and settings. How do you expect to understand others if you don’t understand yourself?

Try reading outside. You will quickly learn that although you look cute sitting under a tree reading Pride and Prejudice, you will get grass stains on your pants and bugs will inevitably crawl inside your book. Pretend this doesn’t bother you until you can privately freak out about it and pack up to go inside. Read the classics. Contrary to popular belief, you don’t have to love them. You should respect the impact they made during their time periods, and if they happen to resonate with you, that’s an added bonus. Explore different authors and various types of literature. Remember that the words you read mean something to someone, somewhere.

Pick up a pen and take a shot at poetry. Count beats, recognize rhyme scheme and meter, then scrap it and start fresh. Let the ideas flow and see what you produce. Chances are, there is a genre of poetry your work will fit. If you like poetry, read anything and everything poetic you can find. If you dislike it, there are better uses of your time.

Write and write and write and write and write. Do this until your hands cramp and your eyes burn from staring at the computer screen. You should have perpetual ink stains on your fingers. Create vibrant characters and rich settings. Make your characters laugh and cry and dream and dance and fight. Your antagonists are just as important as your protagonists, so invent people you love to hate. Words are meant to make us feel. If your own writing doesn’t stir something inside of you, it’s time to toss it and begin again.

Listen to the engineers and physics and math majors who ask you sarcastically what you’ll do with a degree in English. Don’t tell them to go to Hell. You’re articulate, remember? You can do better than that. Instead, tell them that you’ll be able to communicate with others and spell words correctly when writing a letter. Tell them you’ll know how to formulate a professional resume. Tell them you have knowledge of people and emotions and the ability to get lost in a place. And kindly suggest their entire life will be spent trying to understand a universe they will never fully grasp. Do this, of course, with vocabulary they will never understand. They will most likely stop harassing you.

Most importantly, realize that you possess something that not everyone does: the gift to mold words and use language to create something beautiful. Now go do that. I expect to see your name in a Barnes & Noble someday. Yes, you can do it. You’re an English major.


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