Tuesday, November 15, 2011

What English Majors Don't Want

I keep getting emails from a couple of graduate programs who seem to think an old gal like me is just itching to go get professionalized.  I don't know if they're wooing me because of my absolutely spectacular GRE scores (uh-huh...) or if they just send this crud to every schmo who has their name plastered on a uni website's TA listings.  Either way, they've got me (and many English majors) all wrong,

Does it seem to you that I would want to wear a grey suit? Straighten my hair and part it in the middle?  Pair this new style with some non-descript silver earrings and black pumps?  Drink water from tall, clear glasses?  Shake hands with similarly grey-suited, dark-haired man-children? Do you think I have a business card? (If I did it would be a haiku.)  And WTF is my "business"? 

Maybe this is what the school looks like? No. Wait.  No one wears a fucking suit vest to class. And they don't give you free water.

This must be the life I'll live as a junior executive after getting my master's degree in professional writing or some shit.  Right?

Seems like false advertising.  The grad school advert depicts career life, not grad school life.  I don't think anyone who is this "career oriented" (as the douches and douchettes in the picture) should even think about going to grad school.  These things don't happen there.  And you have to go through a whole lot of there once you sign up.  If your goal is the corner office, you'd do better to just climb the side of the building and wait for an opening.

I was a speaker at a roundtable discussion this evening.  It was six English graduates telling a circle of soon-to-be-graduates about avenues they might take after college.  A couple speakers suggested trying out as many things as you can, like temping, and seeing what you like.  A humanities education has made us into jacks of all trades, so why not?  I think that's good advice for someone who knows they don't want to keep going to school.  But one speaker, who had a very weird specialized job that no one else will ever be able to get, told the group not to go to grad school.  She told them that her friends didn't graduate, and that you can have a "meaningful career" without more degrees.  Well, what if some of those English majors are not looking for a "career"?  In fact, our major's tagline could probably be: "Career? No. Meaningful? Yes."

I think the very reason some of us study English is because "career" isn't even a thing for us.  As long as we can eat, and we can see a day on the horizon where we might even be slightly comfortable, doing English is the thing. So we're not looking for a way to make money.  We're looking for something to do.  Or even, a way of being.  What's the line they always give about diets nowadays?  It's a lifestyle decision

I know I have probably written about this ad nauseum on this blog, but the roundtable session tonight just reinforced my confidence in my decision about what to do with myself in this life.

It might sound silly to refuse to call what professors (instructors, TAs, etc) do a "career."  I use the word, yes, and even in my head I use it.  I was just thinking how I'll be over forty before I'm "mid-career,"*  and wondering if that's normal.  Maybe I can have a mid-life crisis and a mid-career crisis simultaneously.  (That sounds like an occasion for a party.) So, what we do can be called a career, but it is not to be conceived of as a career.  That is to say, it does not have a career teleology. 

*(Mid-career is from 7-10 years in, till 7-10 years from retirement.  Just in case you want to start throwing that term around at luncheon parties.)

Anyhow, to go back to the picture of executive youth, we don't even need to get all self-righteous about the English major to see what's wrong with this marketing strategy.  It's as simple as the grey suits.  You show me ironed hair and suits and and fancy water glasses and business cards, and I respond with profound discomfort.  You see, I have messy hair, I wear scarves, I drink tea from a second-hand mug, and I'm in the staff directory.  And I am quite comfortable.