Storytime: That Time I DIDN’T Get Asked What I’d Do With An English Degree

Categories Blog, Storytime

Today I want to talk about a special moment, one that to the outside viewer might have seemed normal enough but to me meant everything. 

This moment occurred a few years ago, when I was still in college. That sounds funny; a few years ago, when I was still in college. It’s odd, remembering I have been a post-grad for fourteen months now; there’s a diploma hanging on my wall, college books on my shelves, student debt looming over my head like a swinging axe —


I was home for the weekend, and my mother’s friends were in town. They were her best friends from high school, and as such spent the few days there recounting a shared Indiana childhood and adolescence. I’ve learned, through the years, from the women in the house that weekend and other souls met during routine trips up north, what exactly my mom got up to as a teen. Stories of parties and church. “Stolen” cars and Madonna. School fights and broken hearts. From what I understand her life lined up pretty well with the plot lines of Molly Ringwald movies, complete with permed hair and puffy prom dresses. I hear those stories and an 80s montage plays for me, to a soundtrack of Prince hits and laughter, starring my mom, young, smiling, full of promise.

I was standing in the kitchen, the morning of the special moment, and my mom and her friends descended from the top floor of the house, recalling another story from a time long past. Despite the storytelling, they were here on a mission. One of the friends was a home business type, the type that came with hosting parties to sell whatever good they were peddling. Think Pampered Chef, Mary Kay, but, this time, essential oils. This weekend, the party was at my mom’s house, and the invited guests were her southern friends, in an attempt to spread the Indiana friend’s footprint.

Those types of things weren’t exactly my cup of tea, but they had fun with it, and there would be food, as parties tend to have. I was sampling some of the already prepared food — doused quite liberally with some of the edible essential oils — when the trio of women entered the kitchen. Not one for commotion, I started to back out, making my excuses. Gotta feed the cat. Have to text Zach back. Homework, and such. One of the friends, not the essential oils one, stopped me before I could make my escape and asked what I was studying.

Pause. We all know what I was studying, and anyone who even expresses an interest in majoring in English Lit, Creative Writing, or any kind of liberal arts knows this question and answer interaction is the most unpleasant part of the degree. The tightness of the face when we reveal our course of study. The look of pity in their eyes, the patronizing smile, and the sudden, uncontrollable urge to share with us their thoughts on a decision they’ve known about for two seconds, of which we’ve agonized over for ages. I hate the question, even today when it’s asked in the past tense of what did I study, because despite having a full-time job to show for my three and a half years of studying the English language, I’m met with the same looks of chagrin from people who believe I’ve wasted my potential.

Back to it then. Unpause.

“So what are you studying?”

Take a deep breath. Smile, tightly. “I’m studying English.” Wait.

A dreamy expression crossed her face as she leaned against the counter I’d vacated. “Ah, English,” she sighed. “What do you write?”

Screeched halt.

Nine times out of ten someone responds to my chosen degree with a question about whether I want to teach (the other response is, “What the hell are you going to do with an English degree?” — see here). So imagine my… joy, when someone finally asked me about what I really want to do with my life, because nobody else really does. Oh, sure, classmates and instructors, but they’re obligated. Some friends, curious about what I get up to in my spare time, will ask, but most of the time, if I want to talk about writing, I have to bring it up. This website has, at least, made it an easier topic of conversation, as there is a tangible product out in the world after I publish, and people like results. They understand results. They don’t understand a lost world struggling to find its way onto the pages of a worn notebook or new word document.

I talked for a bit with my mom’s friend about writing, and she seemed, like, genuinely interested. Asked questions. Listened. And for that special moment, the image of the lost world I was trying to recreate with letters and words did not seem so impossible to find.

I mentioned before how when I hear stories about my mom from years before I can see her, so young and full of dreams. It’s the sad reality of life that the promise of those dreams fades with the passing of years. I don’t know if I’ll ever have the writing life I want; I’m surely working for it, every day, but not everything is in the cards for everyone. But in that special moment, simply talking about writing, not about future plans I might have with a degree mocked for producing fry cooks, or what writing could do for me in life, I thought, “This is all there has to be”: just writing, and the pleasure of discussing it with someone who cares.

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