It was a startling, slightly disturbing realization the day my literature professor broke it to us that literature wasn’t everything. I think I took it well. I didn’t faint in class or anything. I even let the idea sink in and slightly penetrate my conviction that the study of literature basically encompassed the study of everything. Over Christmas, I gradually allowed the idea to fester and bother me until I couldn’t sleep at night…if literature isn’t everything, if it’s not the only way to encounter and understand human nature, than what is? How can I call myself an English major who wants to devote her life to writing great works of literature that will transform the world if I do not believe in the exclusive power of literature to change the world?
Okay, as usual, I’m slightly exaggerating. I’m still quite happy with my major and my career choice. But my professor’s statement did get me thinking. I realize that literature, while it is very important to me, is not everything. How can it be when reading Jane Eyre is never going to find the cure for cancer? Or scanning poetry is never going to restore peace in the Middle East? I get it that the stereotype of humanities majors is that we have our heads in the clouds. I’ll admit that I am impractical most of the time, but I think that’s okay right now, so long as I realize that I’m impractical. I can’t study everything. And, believe it or not, there is no major, no matter how lofty or practical, that can encompass everything. In fact, there is no major that is better than another. I think that is the most important. Once I realized that, I realized that it was still okay for me to study literature and to love it and embrace it.
I could continue this blog post with all the amazing aspects of being an English major and bore everyone who isn’t reading it as an affirmation as their life decision (aka other English majors). But I think I would actually bore myself, so I won’t do that.
I’ve been noticing a trend in the various blogs posted on Facebook that contain lists of activities one should complete within a given time frame or instead of doing something else: 24 Things to Do Instead of Getting Married before You’re 24, 10 things to do before you die, 100 flavors of gelato to try before leaving Italy, etc., etc., etc. I have therefore decided to write a list of my own based on my humble experience (or inexperience). Because as much as I love literature, I don’t want to just be an English major. College, if we’re being honest with ourselves, is four years of self-indulgence under the pretense of bettering ourselves for the sake of the world. It’s a pretty good pretense, since most of us really do intend to do something important with our lives and to help others, be it in education, law, medicine etc. But while we are here it’s really all for our own sake. And I think we—or at least I—have the tendency to think the whole world revolves around me and my major.
So here is my list of ten things to do instead of studying…what I mean is, ten things to do instead of ONLY studying for my major. They are ten things to make me move outside of my comfort zone, out of my lovely little world in the clouds. It would be great if I could do all of these before I finish college, but if not, I suppose I have the rest of my life to work on them (wait, there’s life after college?) .
1) Read a book that has absolutely nothing to do with your course of study.
2) Travel to another country and try a new food.
3) Learn a different language and try speaking with a native speaker.
4) Discover a new hobby.
5) Tell your parents thank you.
6) Make time for old friends.
7) Make friends with someone whom you’ve always ignored.
8) Learn about what’s going on in the world…and try to make a difference (vote, help campaign, etc.).
9) Spend a month of service in an impoverished country.
10) Learn to laugh at yourself.
I read somewhere—and shamefully I can’t remember where—that it is the crime of youth to take itself too seriously. Maybe it’s true, and maybe it’s a forgivable crime. But I think the world would be a better place if we all laughed a little more at ourselves and cared a little more about everyone else.