(Click here to read Part I of the saga)
I still haven’t adapted to not being an English major. By dint of having spent so much time anticipating that l’anglais would be my path, I’ve developed a number of English-major habits that must now be adjusted.
“No, that’s definitely not how you spell ‘mediocrity’. Trust me, I’m an–”
Oh wait. No I’m not.
So what am I? Not that I expect you’ve all been on the edge of your seats waiting for the thrilling conclusion, but I figure you do at least deserve to find out.
Returning to school this year, I had firmly set my sights on the English track, and particularly on the writing concentration. Sadly, my university does not have a creative writing program, but the writing branch of the English major seemed an acceptable option. After all, one of the options for a writing concentration senior thesis was to submit “a long work of fiction”.
Hell, I write novels every November for fun. I even started my school’s Noveling Club. A long work of fiction as a senior thesis seemed like handing my degree to me on a platter. A platter covered in delicious, candle-strewn cake with the framed (and fireproof) degree set on top. YUM. Again, with an opportunity like that, how could I not be an English major?
But as everyone who has ever played Portal knows, the cake is a lie. And it is often followed by death.
You know this part of the story already. I picked my classes with great care. I was excited to try them. I attended the first day, which was universally uneventful because it was mostly about the syllabus and whatnot.
So it wasn’t until the second day of class that I found myself gazing despondently at the work of Geoffrey Chaucer and wishing I could apparate to my high school English teacher’s house and have a literary discussion that I actually cared about.
My dad always teases me by saying that two years of class with Mr. C spoiled me for all other literature classes–and I think he’s absolutely right. Kind, thoughtful, soft-spoken, funny, and passionate about stories and words, Mr. C was one of those teachers who inspired such zealous devotion in his students because he made literature relatable and he made it matter. Of course, literature always mattered to me, but that doesn’t mean Mr. C wasn’t a remarkable man and a big influence on my life. I loved his classes and his quirky quizzes and his thoughtful comments. One of my classmates once remarked that Mr. C treated characters and authors with the exact same love and respect that he showed real people. Truer words were ne’er spoken.
I also still vividly remember him telling me that he thought I had a gift for writing–I think I glowed for the rest of the week.
So college-style English was not for me…but this realization left me in a panicky state of confusion. It was already the second week of classes, and I wanted to change my major. That meant picking out a whole new course schedule. It also meant deciding (and deciding FAST) what it was I wanted to spend the next two years studying.
Which is how I hit upon psychology.
When I thought back to the courses I’d enjoyed the most in the past year, two of them turned out to be psychology courses. I didn’t take them because I wanted to be a psych major; I just took them because they were fun and super-interesting.
Those are key words, though. “Fun and super-interesting.”
I decided to give it a shot. So the next day, I sat in on some psych courses and found that they were all far more enjoyable than my English courses. After shopping three such classes, it was the work of a moment to go to my online student account, adjust my course schedule, and officially switch my major to psychology.
Impulsive decisions do have some consequences, though. That’s not to say that becoming a psych major has been a bad decision–merely that the speed with which this shift happened made me question the validity of my reasons for doing it. I was certainly relieved to be taking courses that I actually liked, but as with last semester, I found myself wondering whether I had any right to judge an entire department by a few classes.
More than anything, though, the change made me sad. I wasn’t sad to be a psych major; I was sad about not being an English major. The word that repeatedly comes to mind is “thwarted”–I felt like I’d been unfairly deprived of something I’d always expected to have. Plus, all my post-college plans were related to English. Not that I couldn’t be a writer or get a publishing internship with a psychology degree–a psych degree has all sorts of useful applications–but it still felt peculiar to contemplate. I desperately wanted some avenue of recourse.
But how could I go to the English department and say, “I don’t like the way you teach–would you please change?” In other departments at other schools, this might be possible…but trust me when I say that such a comment would not go over well here. I think my school ‘s English department is too old and sunk too deep in its own tradition to leave the stagnant pools of academia for the swifter, fresher currents of new thought. And even though I’d officially made the switch, my own thoughts were rather muddy. To once again paraphrase a Disney character:
Should I choose the smoothest course,
Steady as the sonnet’s beat?
Should I count the metric feet
And never wonder where they wend?
Or do you still wait for me, dream-giver
Just where all the pages end?
So I was sad and mopey and confused. And then one night, during a conversation with my “other mom” (Janie) I was reminded of a story:
Back when I was doing NaNoWriMo for the first time, I came to a point in the story where a character was going to (metaphorically) push a big red button. And something big was going to happen. I had it all planned out in my head at the time (though I don’t remember it at all anymore). I described the metaphorical button, and then the character reached out to push it…
I typed the words “Nothing happened.” I then spent about five minutes staring in bewilderment at the black marks on the screen.
That wasn’t what I’d meant to say at all. In fact, those words threw my entire idea for the scene out the window. But a central tenet of NaNoWriMo is that you cannot edit as you go. So instead I forged bravely ahead with this new series of events. And wouldn’t you know it, but in the end, the story turned out way more interesting than I ever could have imagined.
I must have told this story dozens and dozens of times to fellow writers, but before this conversation with Janie, it had never before occurred to me to apply it to my own life. If that big red button had “English major” printed on it, and nothing happened with that, I’m going elsewhere and doing other stuff that I enjoy. As Janie said, I’ll get where I’m going by another route that is uniquely mine, and the results will be awesome.
So here’s to two years of studying the weirdness of human beings. Because the mind is nothing if not interesting, and I don’t anticipate getting bored of it anytime soon.
P.S. As for a new, not-cake-but-equally-delicious senior thesis, I’d been pondering the idea of doing research into body language and facial expressions, aspects of human behavior that I am keenly aware of and endlessly fascinated by. However, today in the discussion section for one of my courses, the TA introduced herself as a psych grad student and explained that her research primarily focused on fiction and stories and why we care so much about events/people that are made up. Listening to her speak, I’m guessing I basically looked like this: