WHY I STUDIED ENGLISH

posted on: August 27, 2012

The following rambly post is written for my twenty-year-old self (and to you, to those of you who want it). This is what I know and believe now. I did not know it then, or even a year ago.


It was April in 2011, I was graduating soon, and all of my graduating friends and I could not stop talking about the things we were going to do next (even though most of us had no clue).

I remember we were driving back from Salt Lake City--I was in the passenger seat, and my friend Laura veered off of I-15 via the University Parkway exit. Back to Provo, back to BYU. At the red light, I told her that I would not give back my English degree for the world. That though my interests had broadened and changed during my four years at Brigham Young's university, though my very person had broadened and changed, I would still choose my major and take all the same classes again. I'd choose it all again.

But, I said emphatically, I will not study English in graduate school when and if I decide to go. I will not spend more time reading books and writing long discourses about why they matter. I'm not sure it does, I said to my friend. In the end, it just does not matter, I said.

My voice did not shake and my eyes were just fine, but I said that for the very first time aloud and I may as well have bashed a baseball bat around at my insides. I broke my very own heart. You can break your own heart, you know, and it's the worst kind of break. I convinced myself that all of those stories and the things that I learned from them, while beautiful and full of grace, did not matter to me or to anyone. They do not save people from death or fill empty stomachs, after all. They do not stop guns and bombs. They do not find lost sisters or puppies. They do not keep people from falling out of love.

My friend agreed with me then, and we talked about something depressing. Like business school.

It's been a year now, and I know that I was wrong.

Stories matter. They matter so much.

I've read stories about real people and imagined people, and I have thought, that is me, that is me right there, we are the same. I am not alone. When you are wholly alone, you might as well be dead--that's how it's felt. But if Jo March, Clyde Barrow, Joanna Brooks, Elizabeth Shulman, Jakob Beaer, Steve Jobs, Hermione Granger, and my great-great-great grandmother are alive somehow and I see myself in them and them in myself--well that's a lot of people. That's a lot of people to feel together with. And I did not die the deathly death of loneliness. The stories have saved me.

All the stories I've read and heard and seen, through words and music and paint, on stage and in the world right in front of me, all the stories--they've helped me learn contentedness inside and hope for more compassion outside. There are a lot of people in the world who need help and hope, me and you included.

The stories tell me that I'm not alone. And so I can't be alone in this either, right? Tell me the stories matter to you too. Tell me that they really do matter.




(Post note: I am not completely averse to business school. I'm very much in favor of it, actually.)

7 thought{s}:

  1. I have to be careful not to be a dream killer to myself no matter how practical or impractical. Even though I change, I always find that there is a reason why God felt I should learn the things I did thinking back in retrospect.

    Love this.

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  2. My high-school English teacher changed my life, especially as she showed me how enjoyable reading, writing, education and learning are.

    Where do doctors (who "save lives") go to "save their own life" at the end of a busy, hectic day? Many of them, I'm sure, want nothing more than to sit down and read a good book. It's a simple pleasure, sure. But the simplest of activities are often the most powerful and revitalizing. Think about it.

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  3. I've thought a lot about this too. I think that good literature helps us learn how to read or orient ourselves in our own lives and relationships. Check out the beginning of this podcast. I love the discussion about the uses of literature and philosophy:

    http://french-italian.stanford.edu/opinions/landy.html

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  4. Oh gosh. I said the same thing, but you know - some things matter more to others. Some people want the money, or the equations or the skills but I'm with you. I just want the stories.

    Love this.

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  5. Sometimes I feel the same way about being an English major but it's so true, stories do matter. If they didn't matter, they wouldn't play a huge part of every single culture; but they do. I think literature heals people. I'd love to be able to pass that on, which is why I'm an English major.

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  6. Here's the thing: I am utterly convinced that the stories strengthen our experiences. The stories matter, and they move beyond the pages and help us maneuver graduate school and own our own businesses and run families. The stories help in all these things... are all these things. I wouldn't trade the stories for anything, and isn't it nice to know that when we break our own hearts, healing somehow happens anyway? Beautiful post, Brittany.

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  7. you are amazing with words brittany. i loved reading this. hope to see you at book club next week! xoxo

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