Life Support for English Students

It’s no secret that simply being in the arts gets you a LOT of flack. People don’t take you seriously, and it’s really easily to lose confidence in your self, your convictions, and your talents, when the world is designed to cater to businessmen and science-brained people. But the truth is, I can’t change the fact that books got me through a lot more than numbers ever did, that the only math I’ve ever been good at is calorie-counting, or the fact that I’m just a very emotion-driven person. It’s who I am, and so is English. No matter what, I am an English student. Even though some days the thought of that makes me cry for hours, and second-guess my entire life, and that some days I definitely don’t FEEL like an English student, or a writer. But it’s as permanent as the tattoo I got when I was seventeen just to prove something.

I realized today that I spent six years building up my body image, and neglecting my self-esteem when my intelligence and convictions are concerned. I no longer think I need to weight 95lbs and get a boob job, but I cried over a C and ripped up a paper that I got a B+ on because I’ve convinced myself that that’s “not good enough” and that to be an English student I have to be the best. NOT TRUE. The thing I love about English is that no two papers are ever the same. No two class discussions ail ever even be similar. There’s so much diversity and room to be who you are in English studies. And a B+ is NOT bad. 

I’m not going to be a nurse, or a doctor, or an engineer, or even a business woman. I might have an office job at some point, because I’m organized and creative, but I hope I’ll end up teaching kids about Jane Austen and F. Scott Fitzgerald and reading Harry Potter to my own children. 

I was struggling with not just English, but also writing and poetry, because I write for people, NOT just other poets. I write in a way that I like to think can reach anybody that needs to hear it, not just people who’ve studied poetry analysis and understand metaphysics and anadiplosis. Because, yes, I’m a privileged, whiny, nineteen year old girl, but I still have some pretty important things to say. Things that I want to go beyond the ears of JUST poets. So I will tell my stories how I want to, not how a book on writing or a professor or the MC at a poetry SLAM tells me. 

Once I stopped crying and looking for reasons to drop out of school and go hide under the blankets with my cat forever, I wrote this. Thanks to Amar and Maddie and Amy and Maham (and my entire family), I can breathe again (for now) and I’m not going to give up on myself, my writing, or my education. And in five years I’ll be standing in front of my grade 12 students, using this poem to rationalize them studying for their English diplomas. (First draft, but I’m okay with that.)

Life Support for English Students

 

If I wanted to switch degrees

I’d lose 30,000 dollars

after barely a year

and a half.

 

But I don’t want to switch degrees,

not really. 

 

It’s just that the constant metronome

of business students

and engineering students

has me thinking

that I’m worthless

 

for counting the metaphors for 

class struggles 

in Jane Austen novels

instead of cataloguing

marketing strategies and 

risk management assessments.

 

For writing essays on modern obsessions

with Lolita’s

and the breakdown of gender

in Shakespeare’s plays

instead of climbing the corporate ladder

or solving calculus problems 

in a classroom of 500 people.

 

Because not everyone is designed

to cure cancer

or build skyscrapers.

But that doesn’t mean that literature doesn’t change people.

That doesn’t mean that I can’t save lives

with words

the same way a doctor 

resuscitates 

a car-crash victim.

 

That doesn’t mean that I can’t bring someone back

from the blade-bones of anorexia

with book recommendations

and poems.

 

Because books

to English majors

are life support machines.

 

We plug into them

like cancer patients

and we breathe in new ideas and pretty language

and breathe out relief

and solace.

 

But this “career services”

propaganda

has me devaluing

the English language

when the study of it was developed

to increase the morality of students after World War two

to ensure that another Hitler’s growth

was stunted

by academic and social integrity.

 

So if that isn’t noble, I don’t know what is.

 

I spent six years woking on my body image

and neglected my intelligence.

So that when someone mentions

that my degree is useless

my entire life’s work

dissolves.

 

–I’ve kept everything I’ve written since I could hold a pen

but I just tore up an essay 

that I got a B+ on

because I convinced myself 

that that’s not good enough.

 

The last book I read outside of class

was a self-help book

that told me 

my career choices were useless.

 

But they’re not.

Because when I grow up 

to teach The Great Gatsby to fifteen year olds

I will cry in front of my students

because that’s how important English is.

 

It deserves tears. 

 

It deserves classrooms that aren’t in the basement of an old building

with enough chairs for all of the students.

It deserves the same respect that

business

and engineering

and medicine

garner

because English makes better human beings

it’s more than a certificate to pin to the wall

of your one bedroom apartment

 

it’s a way of life

and it is a way of giving life

breathing it into

children

and adults alike

 

like plugging families into 

power outlets

to recharge their batteries

and read peter rabbit to 

baby bumps.

 

Because all of these doubts

are just road blocks

 

and we are riding on the dog-eared pages

of our favorite novels

to find careers in the spines of our favorite books.

 

Because English deserves tears.

And this is our life support.

 

 

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