Once upon a time, I was an English major in college plunking away on a manual typewriter or setting words to paper with pen in hand.
And since having an English degree alone didn’t necessarily lead to a lot of opportunities in the job market, I decided to put my degree to good use by becoming an English teacher. Hence, my Bachelor of Science degree is in English Education.
Often I wonder why I chose that major. I was the first one in my family to attend college, let alone graduate. From early on, my parents encouraged me to get an education, preferably in college. I remember my mom beaming when I told her I wanted to become a teacher.
My two older sisters had married young but still managed to obtain decent jobs with just a high school education, but I distinctly remember my mother trying to steer me away from a young marriage. That was fine with me because I didn’t want to get married, if at all, for a very long time.
Since my siblings were so much older than I was, I’m not really certain why neither one of them aspired to get an education beyond high school. One of them is extremely skilled with numbers, bookkeeping, and in business and would have made an excellent CPA. The other one is empathetic and has a personality suited to be a care-giver and I remember she considered being a nurse, but she did not pursue that field.
So maybe my folks just wanted me to reach for a different future than the rest of my family. And perhaps they hoped that when I went away to college, I would explore new horizons, not just academically but socially as well, and would discover that there was someone better romantically for me than my high school boyfriend, who wasn’t a real winner.
Whatever the reason, after I received my college acceptance letters, I made my choice about which school to attend and had to declare a major. I honestly didn’t know what to select. So in the end, I picked English because it was a subject I excelled in and I liked to read and write.
But I wasn’t a typical English major. I didn’t get my kicks out of reading authors’ works of prose and poetry and analyzing themes or archetypal images in classic or modern literature. Sometimes I would read an assigned work and think, “Huh?? What do I make of that?”
I remember sitting in class listening to my fellow English majors discussing those analytical aspects and me kind of shrinking in my seat, hoping the professor didn’t call on me to add to the discussion.
Because honestly, I had no clue what they were talking about. I didn’t see those analytical features that they so easily identified in a short story, a novel, poetry, or a play.
So I kept mum and nodded my head a lot and, if I’m honest with myself, pretended to be something I was not. If a thought did come to my mind, I feared it just didn’t measure up to the kind of discourse fellow classmates were having.
I thought expressing my thoughts would sound stupid or clueless. I just didn’t believe I measured up to being the typical creative, often non-mainstream type of person who was an English major. In other words, I felt extremely lacking.
But when it came to writing, there’s where I found my niche. I always had a good command of grammar, syntax, and excellent editing and proofreading skills. So crafting sentences and paragraphs, writing and re-writing, proofing and editing what I wrote (and often proofing non-English majors’ papers or helping them write) came easy to me.
“Let me live, love, and say it well in good sentences.” ~ Sylvia Plath, The Unabridged Journals of Sylvia Plath
I can still spot grammatical errors, typos, and misspelled or misused words immediately in reading material. Papa probably gets tired of hearing me spout off about all the mistakes I find in our local newspaper when I say “Don’t they teach these kids how to write well in journalism school now days?”
So writing is my thing. It always has been. But it wasn’t until I acquired a job as a reporter/assistant editor at a daily newspaper that I honed my craft even more.
I should have majored in journalism instead of declaring an English major, but by the time my university offered journalism as a major I had completed almost all of my requirements for an English Education degree.
The thought of changing majors and taking more courses which would require attending college longer just did not appeal to me. I was ready to be done and graduate and move on.
But writing was my saving grace. And it still is now, over 45 years later. However, I’m still not this vastly creative kind of person who has tons of novel and short story ideas floating around my brain.
I find the kind of writing I excel in is more real-to-life. I tend to be more of a journalist or an essayist, I suppose. I take facts and weave them into a story that hopefully appeals to and resonates with my readers.
Recently, while going through some old belongings and purging items, I found a journal in which I had written poetry from my high school and college days and as a young adult.
Bad poetry, is how I imagine my old English professors would rate most of it. But the poems were written from my heart at the time.
Here’s a sample:
"On the Death of an Uncle"
You floated in and out
Of my existence.
Why was your life
Snuffed out like a candle
In one short blow?
Why did you go
Without me being there?
When I was so far away?
People always thought
You were “odd;”
I always thought
You were “unique.”
I remember how angry
I was with you
For telling me I shouldn’t float my toy boat
Down the tiny trickle of water
Flowing through the yard.
“Watch out for copperheads,” you said.
Part of me, in all my 10-year-old wisdom
Called you a fool,
Yet the other part
You always enjoyed
Arguing and teasing with me.
And even scaring me
Yet I remember
The hand-picked bouquet of lilacs.
“These are for you,” you said.
And I believed
I remember the honeycombs,
Dripping with honey
Magically produced by
Those bees of yours.
But mostly I remember
How proud you were
Of them, the bees,
And me too,
I always thought
I was your favorite niece.
Why did you leave
Before I could say goodbye?
I know you didn’t like
Dealing with death,
I remember how
The two of us sat,
Huddled in the funeral home corner
When Great Aunt died.
Is that why you
Left so quickly?
To spare me the grief,
To spare me the tears?
It didn’t work, you know.
My tears sill flow.
My grief is still here.
Why did you go
And not say goodbye?
Tell me what you think. You can be brutally honest. I can take it, because I learned to be brutally honest with myself once upon a time.
“I would advise anyone who aspires to a writing career that before developing his talent he would be wise to develop a thick hide.” ~Harper Lee