In Defense of English Majors

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Receiving my English degree

I keep thinking I need to update, but then I sit for a long time, staring at a blank page. Between work, grad school, and general adult responsibilities, I’m in a permanent state of exhaustion. That makes it rather hard to be creative when I sit down to write, but here goes.

Twenty plus years ago or so, I wrote poetry. I don’t think I was particularly good at it. But I wrote it anyway. I dabbled in playwriting, too. I wasn’t good at that either. Short stories? Meh.

I also made an attempt at a novel and gave that up. I still have it somewhere on my hard drive, and it might be fun (or horrifying) to read it. I expect a glass of wine or two will be mandatory.

I think most writers do that, don’t they? They experiment until they find what works.

Nonfiction ended up being my jam, specifically the personal essay. The travel essay, in particular. But I don’t travel much anymore, which is a sad state of affairs.

Maybe I always knew nonfiction was my true genre, somewhere deep down. I started out in undergrad as a journalism major. I wanted to tell stories – true stories. I think I majored in journalism for about a year, but I ended up changing to creative writing. I got this idea in my head that as a journalist, you would have to hound people frequently to get a story. And that’s not always true, which I know now. But at the time, that’s what I thought. And I didn’t have an assertive bone in my body, so I figured that wasn’t going to work.

Well, creative writing didn’t work either. I enjoyed the classes, but I think I had too much of a thin skin at the time to really handle the peer reviews. One poetry instructor strongly discouraged me from becoming a poet.

I don’t remember when I changed my major to English. It might have been shortly after I transferred to Ohio State from Bowling Green State University. Because I took some creative writing classes at OSU, too. But in the last two years of undergrad, I was immersed in literature, and creative writing took a backseat.

Of course, I heard the jokes about majoring in English. “Embrace a life of poverty.” “It’s a useless degree unless you become a teacher.” Blah blah blah. Twenty years later, not much has changed there.

Yes, STEM is the thing now. But there is still a place for English majors, too. Critical thinking seems to be in a sad decline these days. English majors? We have those skills. (Humanities in general, I hasten to add.) Writing? Editing? English majors are likely to have those skills, too. (I’m not saying all do. Trust me. I’ve seen that firsthand.)

And contrary to popular belief, not all English majors end up being teachers. That seems to be the obvious career path, and everyone assumed that’s what I would do. (And to my teacher friends, you guys are rock stars! I appreciate you!) Well, I actually hated teaching, to be honest. It took two years as a graduate teaching assistant to figure that out. So, no academic life for me.

So, back to writing and editing. You *can* make a career of that, and I have. Sadly, journalists seem to be disrespected a lot these days and there have been massive layoffs at newspapers. Editors don’t get much love either, it seems, as they are often the first to go if there are staffing cuts. (Why yes, I have noticed a sharp uptick in errors in print and online publications in recent years.)

But there is always marketing. And there will always be a need for marketers. And English majors are a great fit for this career, though you can come into marketing from any background. (Storytelling makes great marketing, and English majors know stories.)

I’m currently in the Buckeye Pen Pals program, an Ohio State-sponsored initiative that pairs a current OSU student with an alum. The pairing is based on major and the student’s career plans.

While I wasn’t paired with a student this year (more alumni were signed up than students), I am still in touch with my pen pal from last year. She’s an English major who is considering a career in professional writing. I know she’s concerned about her career prospects after she graduates. That’s understandable. I just don’t know how much of that is tied into being an English major – a lot, I suspect.

So, while an English degree is not the path to riches, it still has value. It does open doors.

Don’t believe me? Here’s proof:

The Washington Post: The world’s top economists just made the case for why we still need English majors

Business Insider: People said majoring in English was a waste of time and money — but here are five ways I use it in my everyday life

Grad student.

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That is part of my identity now, and I’m still trying to wrap my brain around it. After one attempt at a master’s degree from 2001-2003 that didn’t end well, I’ve spent far too much time thinking about a do-over. Not in English, as I originally attempted, but in something else. One time, I was considering library science. Another time, it was instructional design. Then law (but only because I earned a paralegal certificate).

Thankfully, I kept putting it off. Maybe I wasn’t ready, despite feeling like it was unfinished business I needed to attend to. It never felt like the right time.

Early in June, I was at a banquet for the OSU Alumni Club of Franklin County. I was talking to an older woman sitting at my table who already had one master’s degree and was about to go back for another in a completely different field. That was the moment I decided it was time for me.

I’m in my 40s now. What am I waiting for?

I reached my one-year anniversary at my job later that month, which made me eligible for tuition assistance. I was already casually looking at master’s programs in marketing, which is my current field (and one I’ve been interested in all along, but it took a long time to wedge my foot in the door). Then I found out the Columbus chapter of the American Marketing Association (of which I’m a member through work) had a partnership with Franklin University for a 20% tuition discount on the Marketing & Communication program.

Things clicked.

Without second-guessing myself, without overthinking, I applied. I figured I’ve already been thinking about getting a master’s degree for 18 years. Any barriers to doing so were being created in my own mind. I jumped through the hoops at Franklin University and at work, getting everything squared away to make this happen. Again, just doing it. Not wondering if I’m being ridiculous. Not questioning if this was worth my time.

So, here I am. The second week of classes is coming to an end. So far, so good. It’s a vastly different experience than I had the last time, but that’s for the best. I’m older now and wiser.

My expected completion date is August 2021. I take a moment each day to envision walking onstage at graduation to get that diploma and hood.

I will do this. I’ve spent a sizeable chunk of my life dreaming about it. It’s time to make it a reality.

Grit and Determination: On Ultrarunning and Life

My brother, Marcus, is an ultrarunner. He has finished (and not finished) several long-distance trail runs over the past decade or so, with the maximum distance being 100 miles.

Two weeks ago, he came back to Ohio to run the Mohican Trail 100. Mohican is a special place for us. We went there frequently as kids. So, I understood why this run was important to him. He attempted it in 2015 and didn’t finish. The weather conditions made the trails treacherous, and he was concerned about injuring himself and being unable to do another 100-mile race later the summer.

So, why am I writing about this? Well, it has some applications to life outside of running.

I was part of his crew for this most recent run. It was me, our mom, our aunt, and my husband. I have never crewed before. None of us had, except my Mom (Mohican 2015). My sister-in-law, Marcus’ wife, was also on the crew during the daytime hours, but she paced him at night during the worst part of things. Just calling her crew really does her a disservice, but she was there. And she is experienced at crewing, which helped us a lot.

Let me tell you, it’s WORK. If you have never crewed an ultrarunner, well, here’s a brief summary of how that works:

You haul the runner’s gear to every aid station you have access to. This means a cooler filled with whatever they choose for nourishment, and a bag filled with extra shoes, clothes, anti-chafe products, etc. You do this AROUND THE CLOCK. The runners don’t stop, so neither do you. You check at each aid station to see what food they have available there, in case your runner wants pizza or a cup of hot broth.

There is a lot of waiting at the aid stations. You watch runners get medical treatment (and sometimes leave in ambulances). You cheer for other runners as they come in. And when your runner comes in, you get them whatever they need to keep going – a bottle of Ensure, a grilled cheese sandwich, a leg massage. And above all, you stay positive and encouraging. It’s a mental game even more than a physical one.

And because things aren’t hard enough, we got torrential rain overnight. Bad for the runners. Bad for the crew (because parking wasn’t always right by the aid station, flooding was widespread, and keeping his gear dry was a challenge). Bad for everyone.

To make a long story short, he finished. The rain made the trails slick and muddy. There was poor visibility throughout the night. He told us that he could hear trees falling somewhere in the forest during the night, so conditions were even dangerous. His clothes and shoes were soaked through. Hypothermia was a very real possibility. The conditions slowed him down enough to where we were concerned he wouldn’t finish by the cut-off time (32 hours). But he pushed through, and he picked up the pace when daylight came. He needed that finish.

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Pure grit and determination.

That’s the takeaway from this.

I’m not a runner. I couldn’t even run around the block unless I was being chased by a machete-wielding maniac. But watching him finish was a victory for us, his crew, as much as it was for him. We were all invested.

And now I have my own long-distance run (metaphorically speaking) to finish. I’m starting grad school in the fall. This is my second attempt at grad school. I didn’t finish the first. I’m not going to get into the reasons for that – a lot of it was beyond my control.

But this time, I will finish. And I have a support system to cheer me on and push me forward. I can even visualize my graduation day. I need to keep that vision in my head. Eyes on the prize.

I wonder, at this point in my life, if I’m too tired to do this. If I’m too busy to do this. I feel overwhelmed a lot of the time with adult responsibilities, and now I’m piling on another one.

Grit and determination. If ultrarunners can get through what seem like insurmountable obstacles to get to the finish line, I can surely do this.

The Nest

For me, one of the great joys of spring is when birds choose to nest in my yard. We had robins and mourning doves last year, and we did again this year.

The robins decided to nest in my weeping cherry tree, low enough that I could photograph it fairly easily. The babies just left the nest earlier this week (bittersweet!), but it was a fun two weeks watching them.

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The dove nest appears to only have one baby. Got my first glimpse of it today.

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Evolution

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I’ve been keeping some form of a journal or diary since elementary school. It all started with a little diary that locked with a key – perfect for writing third grade secrets. As I got older, I would use spiral-bound notebooks or the nice journals you buy at Barnes & Noble. (I often got them as gifts because it seems an obvious thing to give to a person who likes to write.) As I got older and carpal tunnel set in, I posted on Live Journal instead. The primary difference, aside from the medium, is that I no longer wrote for myself. I had an audience.

I still try to hand write in a journal on occasion, though it often causes a carpal tunnel flare-up. And my handwriting is much worse than it used to be.

For years, I kept every diary/journal I wrote in. A few years back, I looked at my very first one. I believe I was eight or nine when I got it. As you might imagine, it contained no deep thoughts – just a brief summary of my day and escapades with friends I can no longer remember. My entire world was home, school, church, and Girl Scouts, more or less. I didn’t feel the diary was worth keeping.

Recently, I pulled the remaining journals out of a storage container to arrange them on a new shelf. I thought it might be time to revisit them. I haven’t read most of them since I filled out their pages.

Last Saturday, I started reading through the journal I kept from 1991-1993, covering most of my junior year up through a few weeks after my high school graduation. I cringed in mortification at much of it. I had a certain obsession with an unrequited crush. Days alternated between the best day ever or the worst day of my life. My world seemed to be ending at every bad thing that happened. I clearly only saw the world in black and white. And I was so unrealistic about romantic love, clearly falling for the fantasy you only see in fairy tales and Disney movies. (And cheap romance novels, too, but I wouldn’t have known a thing about that at the time.)

So much teenage angst. I was embarrassed at myself after reading my journal, but I also had to forgive myself. What did I know of life from age 16 to 18? Hell, I’m almost 44 now and I still don’t understand anything about life.

I destroyed the notebook. It was spiral bound with pink-lined paper. It had bright pastel geometric designs on the cover. Very ‘90s. It was easy enough to rip out the pages and run them through the shredder. The thought of it outliving me and anyone finding it and reading it – it’s unthinkable.

I’m glad I read it, though. As cringeworthy as it was, it reminds me that I’ve come a long way from that awkward teenager. I have a much thicker skin, for a start. I have the strength and experience to handle adversity. I have more realistic expectations about the way life is – the way love is.

My life certainly didn’t turn out the way I thought it would at that age, but I’m so very glad it didn’t. I’ve had more adventure in my life than I ever dreamed possible.

And now I have other journals to read. The next one picked up where my last one left off in the summer of 1993 and finished up just before I started classes at Ohio State in 1997. That will, no doubt, cover a lot, as I attended community college, dropped out to go to travel agent school, failed as a travel agent, then went back to college (Bowling Green State University).

I may have more to say about this topic after reading that. It’s interesting to look at the evolution of my life.

Garden 2019

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Last summer, when I wrote The Accidental Gardener, I was in the middle of my second successful growing season. My stepdad helped me, insofar as choosing the plants or seeds and planting/sowing them. I took over from there.

I decided this year would be different. I would choose my own plants and seeds and plant everything myself. I even changed out what I was growing.

The past two seasons, I grew Better Boy tomatoes, which are incredibly productive and delicious. But after two seasons of Better Boy tomatoes up to my ears, I wanted to try something different. This year, I have one Cherokee Purple and one Husky Red Cherry – these I bought at Lowe’s (Bonnie Plants). I love to roast tomatoes and smaller ones are better for that. And I was attracted to the Cherokee Purple for the color.

I already had garlic sprouting. It didn’t grow last year for some reason, but it started shooting up through the soil in February. It wasn’t part of my garden plan for this year, but I worked around it.

The strawberries are starting to come back from previous years. And I dug up a couple of my raspberry bushes – three was two too many – and the one I kept is coming back. But I have to be vigilant. I have vines starting to pop up in the lawn and in various places in the garden where it’s not supposed to be. It’s really hard to control.

I bought the book Carrots Love Tomatoes: Secrets of Companion Planting. I highly recommend it if you’re a gardener. I really helped me map out where to plant everything for the best possible results, including pest control. (In previous years, the raspberries in particular have been prone to pests. I’ve had Japanese beetle infestations, which I’m hoping to better mitigate this year.)

I wanted non-GMO seeds. And I wanted to support a local business. I ordered my seeds from Ohio Heirloom Seeds, which is based here in Columbus. To be honest, I picked out the carrots I’m growing based on the names – Cosmic Purple and Atomic Red. I am also growing Detroit Golden beets, Black-Seeded Simpson and Buttercrunch lettuces, Cherry Belle radishes, and Bloomsdale Savoy spinach. I also picked up some sweet yellow onion bulbs from Walmart (also non-GMO).

I added more garden soil this year and mixed in some fertilizer. Believe me, the soil was plenty fertile the first year because the previous homeowners composted the heck out of it – it was still pretty nutrient-rich last year without having to add anything to it. But I figured it was probably due for fertilizer.

I also bought some straw to use as mulch. With the garden prepped and all my supplies purchased, I got to work.

Two weeks ago, I planted the cooler weather crops: lettuce, spinach, and radishes. They are all coming up, but the radishes in particular are doing well. I need to thin them out today, actually. But the greens are good to eat (though with a bit of bite to them, just like the radish itself), so nothing is going to be wasted.

Earlier this week, I planted everything else. I had to cover the tomatoes last night because the weather has been chilly and blustery (no frost, but wind chills close enough to freezing that it’s better to be safe than sorry).

I’ll have to plant more seeds throughout the season to keep things going, though some things, like the lettuce, don’t do so well in the heat of summer.

One of my co-workers recently said that gardening felt too much like work and he couldn’t understand the enjoyment I get out of it. It gives me great joy to see these plants emerge from the soil, knowing that I dropped a seed into the earth and nurtured it. And it’s even better once that plant is ready to harvest and eat. Yes, it is work. But there is reward. And that reward is being able to pull a jar of homemade tomato soup out of my freezer in the dead of winter to enjoy the taste of summertime.

 

Columbus State Writers Conference

I attended a writers conference last Saturday at Columbus State Community College. It’s a free annual event. It doesn’t compare to the Antioch Writers’ Workshop I attended last summer (which, sadly, was the last AWW workshop – RIP), but I felt it was worth my time. And, as I said, it’s free.

The first session I attended was Susan A.C. Hogan’s “Writing Across the Landscape: A Workshop on Writing About Place.” As a former professional travel writer, I was curious about this session. She asked us to do a free write about our favorite place. Honestly, it was more difficult than I anticipated because no “favorite place” came to mind. So, I started to write about being home and, more specifically, my garden. Then I suddenly got a very vivid memory of watching the sun rise over Crater Lake. I ended up writing about that instead.

That is a beautiful memory. My husband and I were spending the night at Crater Lake Lodge in 2011. We were on a road trip from Seattle to Fairfield, California. He was still asleep, but I was awake early, so I crept out of our room and made my way down to the lobby with a book. I was going to read in front of the fire. But first, I found a spot on the porch and watched the sun rise over the lake.

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Afterwards, I sat in front of the fireplace in perfect peace and contentment, sipping coffee and reading a book. It was a highlight of the trip for me, and my husband slept through it all.

The second session I attended was Casanova T.L. Green’s “It Shall Spring Forth: Making Your Writing Revelatory.” It focuses on moving past personal barriers (trauma and bias) and creative barriers to produce impactful work. We didn’t do any free writing in this session. I suppose that’s a good thing. If you have a lot to unpack, it’s probably not a good idea to start unpacking it in a 50-minute session.

And believe me, I have a lot to unpack. I have written a little already about the emotional abuse I endured growing up (and well into my adulthood until I decided I needed to take control and put an end to it). There is a lot more I can write about that if I ever take the time to sit down and focus and unpack everything.

But what’s at the forefront of my mind now is the disastrous end to an otherwise successful two years I had in graduate school. Were it not for that, I would have a master’s degree. It’s something I need to write about. It’s been 16 years, and I’ve buried all my trauma and resentment from that time. I’ve made several attempts to start writing about it and haven’t been able to break through whatever barrier is holding me back. But I actually came to a revelation a couple days ago doing my morning free write – a habit I’m trying to get into. It’s something I never thought about before. And I think that lifted the barrier to writing about it. It’s just a matter of taking the time to sit down and write the story. I’m no longer ashamed of my failure. We all fail. It’s how you rise above it that matters.

The final session was Susan Flatt’s “How to Tip Toe Around Our Internal Editor.” Confession time: I am horrible at turning off my internal editor while I write. I edit as I go, which pretty much everyone says not to do. But I can’t help myself. I tried just this past week to free write for 10 minutes every day without correcting typos or any other mistakes, and the red squiggles that highlighted my mistakes were so distracting, I could think of little else. This was an interesting session, but I’m not really sure it helped me tell my internal editor to back off while I write. Old habits die hard, I suppose.

I think the sessions could be a bit longer, but otherwise, it’s a good event. I am hoping to go again next year.