I just completed two "writing exercises" for a potential new job. I either spent a week obsessing over a dozen paragraphs I will never hear about again, or I am one step closer to an actual writing job. Who knows. Let's not think about it.
But in order to finish the assignment, I had to acquire a copy of the AP stylebook. If you put the pointy part of a compass on my house and pulled the pencil out 5 miles and drew a little circle, you would find no bookstores in that area. None. I know five miles does not sound like a lot, but let me remind you that I live in SEATTLE, where driving anywhere takes fourteen hours and possibly a detour to the emergency room to have your road rage stab wound disinfected. Also, I live smack dab between the two major highways (neither of which would take me to a bookstore) and directly above a lake, which is pretty, but which makes navigation rather difficult. After work I either had to go downtown and deal with nightmare parking or the closest Barnes & Noble and deal with nightmare traffic. I decided to hit up the University Bookstore which had the benefit of a tiny bit less traffic and the opportunity to feel smug about patronizing an independent bookstore.
Since I no longer fork over 100% of my income to my state's higher education system, I don't have a lot of reasons to go to the U District anymore. We'll go there for my favorite teriyaki or to pick up my sister or appease my bubble tea cravings (why must the bubble tea shop near my house insist on putting COFFEE in my peach milk tea? WHY?) but it's been a long time since I bought used CDs or saw a movie on the Ave. It's too bad, because the U bookstore is awesome (even if I could not find a simple hooded sweatshirt for under $40. Ridiculous.)
They didn't have my book in the general bookstore, so that meant I had to go down to the basement where they keep the student stacks. Buying textbooks at UW means hauling your miserable butt down to the bottom of the fancy pants U bookstore and wading through shelves and shelves of books, none of which are used. It's impossible to find your book, since there are hundreds of other sorry college students, just like yourself, wandering about in horror because the seventh edition of the Sociology 101 textbook is $492, even though the only difference between the seventh and sixth editions is the font on the cover. (What a racket. Let us all think a lovely thought for my sophomore year astronomy professor who did not make us buy a book lest we feed the flames of the textbook publishing industry.)
Okay, so I was not excited about going downstairs. Also? I am not a student. I am a PROFESSIONAL. I am in the REAL WORLD. I was wearing sensible shoes and pants that were not denim and dangly earrings. I had done my share of waiting in first-week-of-the-quarter book buying lines, thank you very much.
But I went down there and I was drawn- DRAWN, I tell you- to the stacks of novels in the English shelves. Well, first I asked a nice man to tell me where the AP stylebook was because I wasn't going to look for it myself, THEN I went and spent the next hour looking at all the books I have yet to read. I had to admit that I actually had a good memory of buying books: just looking at them. I even found myself getting a tiny bit nostalgic, thinking fondly of Victorian lit, the Greek plays, that crazy old bat who taught the Romantics. I almost found myself wishing I could take another literature class.
I went to a giant school where I could take pretty much any class that interested in me. I maxed out on creative writing classes and was eventually told I had to finish out my credits with non-English classes if I felt like graduating any time soon, so I didn't exactly give myself a well-rounded education. I didn't get a minor because I was too busy minoring in English. There are times when I reflect on my college education and wonder what the hell I was doing. No math? Only as much science as required? Not even history or art or the token acting class? (And we won't get into extracurriculars, which consisted of InterVarsity Christian Fellowship and not much else.) I would think of my dad telling me about his professors, late night bull sessions, intellectual debate and deep thinking. Me, not so much.
And for all my English classes, I'm not even particularly well-read. I've read some Greek plays, some Shakespeare, an important novel from every time period, but shouldn't I be able to hold forth on movements and schools of thought and themes? Shouldn't I have more to show for my degree than an all-abiding love of Edna St. Vincent Millay?
In the post-moderns class we read only four novels, one of which was my favorite book until very recently, Written On The Body. That class was all about discussion, which I bombed. There were a lot of humorless wannabe intellectuals in that class and though I desperately wanted to be like them, they totally intimidated me and I could never think of anything decent to say. This was true in all of my classes, actually, except for the class where discussion was 75% of your grade and the professor called on us randomly. (My favorite professor, incidentally. Hands down. No contest.) I did not discuss Written On The Body, but I wrote a 15 page in-class midterm on it and, when the teacher handed them back, berating us for doing such terrible jobs, there was a giant 4.0* at the top of my paper, along with a stern red "PLEASE SPEAK UP."
In the bookstore today I thought: if I were in school now, I would definitely speak up. I am a few years older. I am a few years more secure. I no longer want to be a humorless wannabe intellectual (well, not all the time.) I would get to know that Victorian lit teacher who really liked me, and actually go to her office hours. I would defend my embarrassing angsty poetry. I would volunteer to read Beowulf in Old English in front of class because really, how often do you get to speak Old English out loud? HWAT!
I've occasionally regretted the English degree, because I feel wholly unqualified for the work force. I've regretted not earning a minor, because I should have explored a different discipline. I've regretted not taking some of the more difficult lit classes, the ancient texts and philosophy, because why take those when I could take short story writing for the fourth time? But I LOVED short story writing! I loved those lit classes. I took exactly the courses I wanted to take. (And, to my unending dismay, four "science" classes. Damn that "Natural World" requirement.) I can't say that I regret taking those, or that I would sign up for different classes if I were back. It wasn't the art history shelf calling my name. And everyone needs someone in the office who can recite a sonnet, don't you think?
*That 4.0 is the best example I have of what you really learn when you are an English major: how to BS. She actually made anonymous copies of my paper for everyone to use as an example, which was totally embarrassing and extremely not fun because I got to hear everyone trash me and my "piece of crap" "THIS garbage is what she was looking for?" essay under their breaths.