What can you do with an English degree?

When I first had to grapple with this question years ago, I told people, “I can apply to law school!” I was, as a very young adult, skilled in the art of telling people what they wanted to hear in order to temporarily cover up my true designs. If I’d told them that I had no interest in law school, I would have been treated to many useless lectures that older adults tend to smother younger adults with. (I try not to do that myself, as much as I’d like to sometimes. They need to learn and grow on their own, and as much as I’d like to think I do…I don’t know everything.)

But if someone were to ask me today, What can you do with an English degree?, my answer would be this:

You can recover from trauma.

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A recommitment to writing

I’ve done over the past few months what I often do, which is turn inward. I always tell myself I’ll keep a blog going, and it’s not for lack of words and ideas that I don’t. It’s more just that introvert’s tendency to want to live in your own head, in your own private writings, in your own little world.

I’m recommitted to writing – not that I left necessarily, but I got distracted by other things for a while. Now I’m clearing those other things out of my life so that I can get back to that one thing.

That got me to thinking about why it look me so long to get here…

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The art of subtlety in writing

I belong to a support group, and someone in that group recommended reading a YA book called ‘Jacob Have I Loved.’ It’s about a girl who grows up on an island in the Chesapeake Bay area with a twin sister who’s very different from her – favored and pampered by their parents and the community in general. The title refers to this Bible verse (even though it’s not a religious book):

As it is written, ‘Jacob I loved, but Esau I hated.’ – Romans 9:13

To give context, in the Bible, Jacob and Esau are twins. Esau is the older one, but Jacob deceives him and receives a very important blessing from their elderly father. The book invokes the conflict between Jacob and Esau in the title; the narrator relates to Esau, as technically she’s the oldest, but it’s the youngest who manages to take attention away from her.

I was reading with a purpose – specifically to look at the dynamic between the siblings and within the family unit. Art reflects life, after all.

What I found were great examples of ‘show, don’t tell’ and subtlety in writing.

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“The closing walls and the ticking clocks”

Studies have shown that there’s a powerful link between scent and memory. I have personally found this to be profoundly true. One breath in and suddenly I’m transported into the past.

I have smell triggers. Lilies remind me of funerals. The smell of matches reminds me of burning candles late at night in my room as an angsty teen. The salty smell of the ocean reminds me of going to the shore during summers as a child, which was one of the few truly happy parts of my childhood.

Today as I was leaving a meeting at a local conference venue, I was greeted by the heavy scent of cigar smoke, courtesy of a sheepish-looking gentleman who was having a quick smoke in the parking garage of a smoke free property. He needn’t have worried – I’m the type who snitches on people trying to enjoy a simple vice.

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Transcendental confusion

I was in high school when I first read Walt Whitman. I remember being introduced to the idea of Transcendentalism, finding something about it intriguing, and liking something I read by Whitman. He’s lumped in with both the Transcendentalists and Romantics, but if you think of Transcendentalism as the American spin on Romanticism, or as two highly entwined movements, that makes a lot of sense.

I picked up a copy of Leaves of Grass somewhere, in which the poem Song of Myself is prominently featured. When I read it, I realized with excitement that I was already familiar with it. I was in a choir as a child, and someone picked out several passages to arrange into a chorale piece. It’s about innocence and death, which Whitman seamlessly entwines without allowing it to become dark…

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