I was an English major. In high school, I was a regular student with AP classes (including English) and was definitely more of a words person and less of a math person (still am). Throughout my education, when asked what my focus was, what my major was, I’d reply with “English” and get sneers, tongue tsks, and the dreaded question full of confidence that this person has successfully put me into a box: “So you want to be a teacher then?”
No. I don’t want to be a teacher. I actually hate English grammar and those classes in middle school were just as torturous as multiplication was. But once we got to reading, to book reports, to understand the meaning behind the language, I was just good at it. I liked it. Probably because of my Mum who threw books at me from before I could talk. But the world didn’t want me to be an English major. No one thought it was worth anything. Not even the people that had the degree! Except a few. I wanted to switch to Journalism at one point – thinking it’d sound better to potential employers afterward until a reporter and news director told me to stop it. That he’d rather hire an English major than a Journalism major, and I’ll be more well-rounded if I stick with what I love. Thanks, Tom, I’ve never forgotten it.
It wasn’t my dream to be a reporter, though, and I didn’t really have a passion for journalism in the generalized form either, so after graduation, I started applying to anything and everything. Advertising firms, oil companies, famous clothing lines, and little travel agencies. I threw my resume at them like little paper airplanes – desperate for someone to even notice it. I taped my resume to the door of Life Is Good after finally actually finding a job offer for a creative writer – but they wanted to see published work of mine…and I had just graduated, and although I had a ton of years learning to write, I had zero years of learning how to sell my writing. In the interviews, I’d mumble my degree under my breath (ahem, B-R-E-A-T-H not B-R-E-A-T-H-E) and pray they’d focus on something else.
Eventually, as most of you know, my Italian minor got me a terrible job in Lynn, and I ran away from that with enough “sales experience” that the student travel company here thought that I’d make them money, and I didn’t, because I am not a salesperson, I am a writer.
Here’s the kicker: I am now the person all of you run to when you need to draft an important email. I’m the one that looks over your resume before you send it out to all those big companies that are going to pay you lots of money because you studied something “hard” (difficult). I rewrite your speeches so you don’t sound silly. I reread your essays and nitpick the grammar that I may not be able to teach you, but can’t definitely put a red pen to it. All those years, you all told me I was going to have to be a teacher, and I guess in a way I am, to all of the ones that apparently still need one.
When researching for this little rant, I found that in 2016 half, HALF, half of the people in the United States of America, can’t read above an 8th-grade reading level. This is terrifying. It’s why I have to dumb down my writing when being published, and can’t even write in complete paragraphs. It’s why everyone is watching videos instead of reading, and if they have to read, it’s in listicles. Know what I read in my spare time? Books, yes of course, but also government documents and historical literature. I read poetry and short stories and everything in between. When you think that “anyone can write” you’ve apparently forgotten about the 32 million adults (I’m horrified) in the US in 2016 that couldn’t even decipher words, nevermind make them interesting. When I write, it’s because I was “trained” in it. Self-taught with way too many books, and educated through the years and years of the US school system
“So you’re just going to be a teacher then?” Yes. I’m going to school you on how to put words together in my free time, I will be a teacher and a writer and an editor for all of my friends and family (and strangers when the mistakes are just too terrible to let sit there) and spend the rest of the day trying to persuade others that have money (mostly from graduating with “better” majors) to give me some for the work that I can do but they can’t.
It’s a crazy world out there, guys, and someone has to write about it – just make sure the people that do, know what the hell they’re talking about. And pay them for it.