on pipe dreams

Thursday, February 09, 2012

As I mentioned in my previous post, I often end up in situations common to most liberal arts majors. Defending and specifying your life goals is old hat to us, and at some unfortunate point our explanations often turn into apologies, unwarranted dissertations.

It gets repetitive, much like people telling me I have small feet or asking where I’m from (no, where are you really from? Where are your parents from? Okay, fine, where is your nonwhite parent from?).

These things don’t bother me in the least; rather, it allows me to frequently speak on matters I find important, interests close to my heart, and things that I am proud of. I’m talking about being able to buy kid size shoes for myself, obviously.

I offer the following anecdote. I met a guy once in a favorite College Station bar. After charmingly sloshing his beer on my feet, he elbowed his way into my group of friends and introduced himself. He pretentiously name-dropped his major: Economics, but specifically of the Tulane school of thought. Only he wasn't an actual student - it was where he was "probably going to end up". 

I later learned that he wasn't even enrolled in his undergraduate degree anymore. Anyway - as I continued to make forced small talk with Econ, naturally the subject of my academic interests came up. I could tell I was in for an enlightening few minutes the second I saw the cynical grimace cross his face, and then the following interchange happened.

“English – literature, specifically, with a history minor.”

“So you want to be a teacher?”

“You know, no one has ever asked me that! No, I want to be a writer. I plan on going to graduate school as well.”

“Ha ha. Wait, really? Oh, uh, okay, that’s cool. Really? A writer? Do you really need to go to graduate school for that? I mean, I like history too, but I don’t want to be a historical fiction writer or something. What’s the point, you know? But for real, what are you actually doing to do an English degree anyway?”

At this point I was going through some elaborate and athletic eyebrow athletics, in a desperate attempt to convey MAYDAY to my friends. But we were surrounded. If only there was a college bar equivalent of calling in air support. The fascinating, inoffensive banter continued:

“Well, there’s a lot I could do with my degree. Law school, I mean even medical school if I really wanted it…but I’m also someone who believes it’s not so much the subject of your degree unless you have really specific intentions, but rather what you choose to do with it.”

“But like, what exactly do you want to do?”

“Write. Be a writer. Work in publishing.”

“But like, what are you going to write?”

“Fiction, hopefully novels and short stories. Some book editing on the side, maybe something journalistic.”

“But like, what are you going to write? If you write about history, what’s the point since it’s all in the past? What kind of impact is that even going to have?”

“About as much as you saying Tulane has the only significant economic approach of any school in the world, and you refuse to support any other plausible economic theories.”

“What did you say? It’s kind of loud in here.”

“Nothing. Listen, it was really fantastic meeting you, and yes, I actually do know the difference between saltwater and freshwater economics, but I’m going to take a few steps left and never speak to you again. Bye!”

Oh, how easy it is to shoot down a stranger's dreams and belittle someone's passion. I admit I've been guilty of this -- if I heard someone say their major was Ag-related, I mockingly laughed and assumed they were A) on the football team and therefore dumb as hay B) hoping to some day run for political office, nationally embarrass themselves, and generally screw shit up guns a'blazing (laser-sighted pistols, specifically). I had the same attitude toward any business major, or the rarer philosophy major.

But no longer, because it doesn’t matter to me. I’m not saying I don’t care – I’m saying that I would much rather hear your interests, passion, and goals than berate you for choosing an ‘impractical’ major. Let’s talk about how you want to fulfill your life, not how many zeroes your intended salary consists of or the tax bracket you anticipate filling. Hell, how about having a real desire and doing no matter what it takes to get there? No?

I’m ambitious, I’m smart, and I’ve seen that in the majority of students I went to college with. That is, if you ignore the statistics on yearly jager bomb consumption between the second and fourth undergrad year. When you tell me I'm wasting my intelligence or my money on what I want to do with my life, what do you really know about me then? As an English major, I’m not devoting four years of time, (mostly) diligent study, and (importantly) a significant amount of money so I can bring up Chaucer in everyday conversation and spend my weekends rolling my eyes in a dark corner of an open mic-amateur-beat-poet night. That’s why I’m going to graduate school.

But seriously, when did it get so easy to cross the line of small-talk inquiry about personal goals into openly disdainful, condescending judgment-land? I stated at the beginning that I have no qualms sharing my plans or even defending myself if necessary, but I can’t tolerate those who have a knee-jerk, inflammatory reaction to anything creative or unusual like Tulane Hopeful did. Yes, I can still take an English-major-living-in-a-cardboard-box joke, and I will probably rib you for majoring in Sports Information, but all in good humor. Gentleness, folks.

I very much understand the logic of such naysayers. Consider me an idealist, then. If you can be pigeon-holed by what you chose to major in, then so be it. Call me a romantic for seeing that people aren’t wholly represented by their degrees or their subsequent careers, and believing in the possibility of having external skills and intelligence. Apologies abound for refusing to see college as vocational school. Please, continue to shoot down all us pipe-dreamers and our obvious dislike of money and security. We are really, painfully unaware of such things.

So, to finally reach something bearing semblance to a conclusion, an idea for us, from someone like me. Someone who believes in ambition and dreams and not living a commonplace life. Naive, yes, but hell, I believe anyway. Let's not care about statistics on your college major or how much money you are supposed to make according to your parents, gender, or ethnicity. Here's to the rest of your life, and happiness, and understanding that it's long and short and that everyone struggles, but, as Marshall Mathers so eloquently relates, "you only get one shot". Whether it was full of regret or a valiant pursuit of your wild dreams, you have some say in it. Do whatever the hell you want with it, and let the killjoys talk.

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  1. Speaking as someone who had their choice of college major questioned, scoffed at, and blatantly insulted for 6 years (the 2 preceeding college, and 4 years at college), I feel for you.
    Once, I had an unkempt/slightly inebriated man in his 60s go on a 10 minute unsolicited tangent about how I was wasting my life with my major (I was 19) while, as far as I could tell he was simply riding his bike around college campuses telling kids how their life is ruined on a daily basis.
    No degree will garuntee job security. If anyone (especially and economic "student") hasn't learned that based on the job market in this country over the past couple of years, then I weep for them.
    Stay strong, keep fighting for what you want! Sometimes even pipe dreams lead to bigger and better dreams!

  2. Thanks for the comment and encouragement! Isn't it funny how easily some people demean and belittle others. Cheers for dreaming and pushing limitations.


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