This question is the bane of my existence. Every time I hear the dreaded words, I visibly cringe. My palms start to sweat, I begin to squirm, and whatever exuberant charm and confidence I had once displayed deflates like helium from a punctured balloon. I am usually assaulted with this abhorrent question in a bar setting, after go-to topics of where i’m from ( a town they have never heard of) and what brought me to San Diego( school, like everyone else) are completely exhausted. Then, like clockwork, the inevitable query is uttered. As I choke down the excruciating last sips of my free drink that I paid dearly for in dim conversation, I am presented with the question that I hate above all else. “Oh, you’re an English major? That’s so cool! What exactly are you gonna do with that?” I can practically hear the cheesy broken -record screech as the conversation grinds to a halt.
Thus, I feel that it is high time this issue was formally addressed, before any more intolerable bar banter becomes even further botched: If a girl ( or anyone- but probably a girl) confides in you that they are, alas, an English major, never EVER ask them what they want to do with that. The reason, which I feel is obvious, is this: We have no goddamn clue what we “want to do with that”. It is common knowledge that a major centered on reading classic literature and composing analytical responses to such literature is good-but really only good for one thing. That is to cultivate a lofty appreciation for verbose, convoluted writing, and an elitist mindset that prizes this exercise over all “practical” human occupation, such as stockbroking, accounting, commercial real estate, political lobbying, sales, and any other career whose worth is acknowledged by society and practice rewarded with any monetary profit. It is true: being an English major, one inherently does not know where and how in God’s name they can apply their skills in the workforce. Although we are skilled writers (hopefully), we tend to excel in writing prose that never reaches a human retina aside from that of another English major’s. Instead of parroting social media jargon that can ensnare the 99% of society that doesn’t give a rats ass about lofty vocabulary and a “scholarly” aura, we English major’s strive with each word to muddle our message with cryptic language, metaphors, and ambiguous undertones. Instead of speaking with our text, we focus compulsively on weaving a subtext that speaks our meaning truer. Where in the job market is there room for people like this? The eccentric poets, the intelligent but intolerable literature snobs, the brilliant, but unsociable introverts. What practical careers can these people occupy?
You might be thinking that this would have been a spectacular question to ask myself prior to choosing a major in English. And to that I would respond- “Shut the f*- ooook, yeah your right.” Granted, these “big” questions were ones I should have considered prior to choosing my major. However, I was formerly misled into thinking that reading and writing were marketable skills, and an analytical mind was one that could find an outlet in any field you can name. However, after four years of observing trades, competencies, and otherwise relevant world knowledge never bestowed upon me in an English classroom, I am beginning to feel that I missed the boat just a bit. Sure, I can read and speak well, and recommend a compelling classic novel to analyze in book club discussion; however, I couldn’t articulate the first thing about politics, finances, the “housing bubble”, pop culture, what constitutes good music, or how to successfully market products, ideas or anything of social value. I could tell you how the geography of (random novel) dictates its themes and characters, what symbolism is present in the novel, and how the American dream is depicted therein. However, this American dream remains inaccessible to English students such as myself, who are barred from financial success and enterprise because of our quirky and unorthodox interests. Yes, I’m beginning to feel that I should have declared a minor in “practical knowledge” to compensate for my “major” mistake in pursuing English.
Although, rest assured there is one option for English majors. The reason I can say this confidently is because it has been reaffirmed in every “what do you want to do with that” conversation I have ever took part in. The awkward-question assailant from the bar scene earlier will inevitably interject the one thing they know for sure about these aliens known as “english majors”, which is that they are usually the suckers that staff our public schools. I cannot say that this assumption is entirely wrong, but to me it punctuates the cruel reality that there is only one “practical” career move for an English major- go teach somewhere. And by “somewhere”, for most that will mean a low-SES school district where education is scarcely valued, and even less necessary for the attainment of menial jobs that low-income area needs its job-seekers to fill.
If this rant sounds pessimistic, that is not my intention. I suppose I am just discouraged about the commercial rat race of the job market, wherein somebody who does not enjoy pitching sales, innovating technology, expanding the World Wide Web, predicting economic downturns, or any number of robotic, corporate professions, does not stand a chance. With that said, if anybody has any more creative answers than “teach” to the dreaded, “what do you want to do with that” query, let me know! In the meantime, I will be huddled over my literature books, writing feverish responses to abstract, analytical essay questions in proper MLA format.