04 June 2010

what do you do with a BA in english?

The other morning on NPR, I heard this statistic:  English is the sixth most popular college degree.  Glad to know I was in the Top 10.  Although for all the jokes and charges of impracticality, I would think that fewer people would choose to study English.

Even I joke about it.  My senior year roommate was an accounting major.  “With an accounting degree, it's pretty obvious what you're going to be,” I told her once when I was mired in that fear-of-what-comes-after-graduation-when-it-doesn't-matter-that-you-can-recite-Wordsworth.

{“And then my heart with pleasure fills / And dances with the daffodils.”  Name that poem, you non-English majors, you.}

“You're going to be an accountant.  But I'm getting an English degree.  What am I going to be?  England?”

{insert laugh}

I wasn't whining then, somehow blaming someone else—anyone else—for what I had chosen to study.  I had wanted to be an English major.  I'd wanted to explicate poems and understand why comma splices are bad and deconstruct Romanticism.

I was more pointing out what everyone already knew—and what, according to NPR {and they never lie}, is still true:  the English major, while a cool major, does not line up with one specific job.  And that can feel a little scary as you try to find one specific job.

This reminds me of a song from Avenue Q, a musical I've never seen, but the songs pop up on my Pandora station for Belle.

Belle as in “Belle” from Disney's Beauty and the Beast.  I don't understand why Pandora thinks songs from a musical with lyrics like “The Internet is for porn” should be played on a station built around Disney {Disney!  That bastion of good-upbringing and rosy-tinted memories!}.

But the Pandora algorithm is not for me to understand.

Besides, this way, I get to hear “Belle”

Look there she goes, that girl is so peculiar.
I wonder if she's feeling well.

With a dreamy far-off look.
And her nose stuck in a book…

I get to hear

What do you do with a BA in English?
What is my life going to be?
Four years of college and plenty of knowledge,
Have earned me this useless degree.

I have no monumental thoughts on this
, besides to say that the English degree is not a useless degree.

My entire proof for that is that I’m not useless, and I have an English degree.  Not that my degree defines who I am {please see previous reference about how studying English does not make you England}.  I never was very good at those calculus proof things.

{My university had a class called Liberal Arts and Calculus; it combined essay writing with equations.  I remember very little from that class, except that my professor made a big deal out of the etymology of calculus. Etymology does tend to excite a certain brand of English major—my brand.  And calculus, for anyone who’s also etymologically excited, means “little pebble used for counting.”}

I really just wanted to share what I thought about on the way to work one day this week.

A musical.  Two, actually.

My degree.  I tried to remember where my diploma is.  I couldn’t.

My calculus class.


Wordsworth.  Daffodils.  Wandering like clouds.


Oh, and driving.  I did think about driving, signaling, braking, etc.

But let’s face it, it’s more fun to try to follow the circuitous, perhaps random route of my mind—much more fun than following my practically-straight route to work and to my cubicle and to my computer.  To what my BA in English prepared me for.

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