Literature


Ahhh, the question that is always asked of those of us who chose to major in English.

Understandable, indeed. After all, there has never really been a great market in being able to interpret color symbolism in The Great Gatsby or pontificating on post-colonial theory. And, as impressed as I am that my M.A. in English now allows me to say things like “Well, you’re viewing that through a Derridian lens, when really, a Althusserian approach might be more appropriate…” and use “other” as a verb convincingly, the rest of the world has never seemed all that jazzed about paying me loads of money for that. No, it seems capitalism is much more interested in things like “consulting” (whatever that means, bedsides that you have to wear a suit to work. Shudder).

But as I stare down stacks of college entrance essays and job applications — some from friends and some from students — I want to remind all the naysayers (and starry-eyed English majors everywhere) that beyond the intellectual and aesthetic  pleasures of English, there is a whole lot of practical value in knowing how to communicate, think critically and argue convincingly in writing oneself  well . Every year, around the time applications are due, my so-called “soft” option major suddenly become in great demand. (Just like how all the people who poked fun at my dropping the business major freshman year suddenly appeared with resumes and cover letters for editing senior spring… all full of high praise of the English major then)

Over the past 6 days, in addition to the 23 essays I read and offered pages of commentary on for class, I have also read/helped/tutored people to complete:

  • one full application to Harvard Business school
  • 11 different TOEFL practice essays
  • 7 undergraduate application essays
  • 2 C.V.s  for undergraduate admission
  • 4 G.R.E General Test writing section essays
  • 2 essays for a a Ph.D. in astronomy/physics (and I didn’t even know what half the words in that one meant…)
  • one letter of recommendation and one CV. for a post-doc fellowship in Medicine
  • and 2 essays for a Ph.D. qualifying exam (which actually didn’t need much editing, but instead just needed a thumbs up to assuage the fears of from stunningly brilliant yet always-academically-insecure friend)

So it isn’t exactly saving lives … but at least I can help make the world safer from the comma splice or vague adjective or awkward, wordy sentence … and thus help, in some way, people get what they want…one essay at a time.

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So, in an attempt to begin the fall semester “calm and prepared” (side note: HA! Since when has teaching ever been a calm job?), I’ve been trying to get my syllabi planned before I leave. The conversation part is pretty easy, since I want to use a lot of debate of current events. But my Contemporary American Women Writers class is like trying to choose between friends. Even after talking to the head of the Literature department at Pazmany, who was all for a two-semester offering of Women Writers (allowing more in, YAY!), I still can’t seem to decide who to put in.

And I thought packing clothes would be hard. But who cares about choosing between skirts? Right now, I am trying to choose between books and stories, which is much much MUCH harder because literature is clearly much more fun than clothes (and, literature doesn’t stop fitting you after too much chocolate. But I digress). Everytime I narrow down the list, I remember five more writers or stories I want to get in. My sense of being squeezed doesn’t get any better from the fact that I am also doing this in my childhood bedroom, which is — literally — the size of a closet. I am considering strewing my photocopies in the yard for organizing if it is nice tomorrow … which may only continue to exacerbate my neighbor’s concerns about my normalcy.

Oh, and to my former professors out there, fear not from the post title: Joyce Carol Oates, Toni Morrison, and Tillie Olsen are not competing for the syllabi list and will all clearly be making the journey with me.

Now, if I have to leave, say, all my pants behind to fit them in … well, who needs pants, anyway?