family, writing

on the English major & blogging

I’ve spent a lot of time lately trying to figure out what part I want writing to play in my adult life. I spent most of high school in denial, telling myself that I loved chemistry just as much as I love fiction and journalism and hell, even editing. I’d say to people that I’d be a research scientist and write on the side, because that’s what you do. I’d actually make money, I’d be helping people, and I’d still get to write.

But the transition to college has made me think hard about what kind of life I want to have, and it definitely isn’t one where I’m stuck with my second choice, subconscious or not. I’ve pushed past all the bullshit and realized that writing is who I am. Even so, I do want to help people, just not necessarily on the scientific front.

Vague, right? Yeah, I don’t know what it means either. A double major in English and Psychology? English and Global Studies? The important part, though, is I have time to figure that out. And whatever I end up doing, I know I’m an English major first and foremost.

And that, ladies and gents, knowing I need to write…that’s pretty much why I started this blog.

My stance on writing is a lot like Sylvia Plath’s. Poetry came naturally to her, but she often felt that the most significant professional writing was fiction. I think many would agree that plot, characterization, theme, and everything else that goes into a novel or short story feels like more work than a poem. There are many arguments to the contrary, of course, as poems can get very complex and metaphor can be hard to work with. I’m not denying that. I’ve just always felt that my fiction mattered more than my poetry. I get this immediate, burning, raw feeling when I write a poem, but even if it’s a product of years of experience it only takes an hour or a day at most to write. With prose, even if I’m basing a story on something I feel or know or have done, it requires more preparation–more conscious effort–to craft an entire world. The product feels more whole somehow.

My problem, strangely enough, is also a lot like the one Plath had. Fiction is harder for me. I often feel like I’m projecting my own life onto characters and working out my problems through them. I have a particular issue with short stories: they come out sounding like fragments of a novel. Probably because I have a hard time separating a single event or time period from a whole life–my whole life.

This isn’t to say I don’t want to address things I’ve gone through in my writing. I just end up doing it too much. That’s why I think journaling–or in this case, blogging–is so essential for me and for writers in general. It’s a way of weeding out feelings I’d otherwise project in fiction so I can focus more on the characters and their feelings. Like clearing my head. And knowing that people might be reading and liking what I have to contribute? That’s amazing. (Speaking of, the number of likes and comments on “packing & the worst kind of nostalgia” when it was Freshly Pressed last week was crazy! I am humbled.)

A few days ago I was thinking through all this, the blog and going to college and finally focusing on words, and for the first time in years I remembered a transition I went through as a kid. lt was tiny and unimportant in the scheme of things, nothing compared to my parents’ divorce, but it stood out to me and it was the most annoying part of my life for about a month. I’m talking about The Switch.  From Two Spaces. To One. Yes, that one.

Wow, just putting those two spaces there felt wrong. What a long way I’ve come. Anyway. If you don’t know what I’m talking about, it’s pretty simple: I learned to type when it was normal to put two spaces after a period. (At least, that’s what my dad taught me. He was one of those stubborn people who stayed behind the times.) It was–and is, I suppose–a habit left behind by those pesky typewriters, and by typesetters hundreds of years ago, because two spaces used to make the text easier to read. Modern fonts have long since fixed that issue, and typographers everywhere have agreed upon one space as the universal rule, but I didn’t know any of this. All I knew was that I was ten and very set in my typing ways, having learned at around six and put a lot of work into it. And then out of the blue my dad goes, “Oh, Trina, by the way, it’s just one space now. You don’t need two.” I was in shock. Paralysis. Shocked paralysis. I felt like I was going through withdrawal, and I didn’t even know what withdrawal was. The following month was hellish, ripping that space out of my life.

Okay, so that may have been a bit of an exaggeration, and I’m pretty sure this is the first time I’ve even thought about it for at least five years, so that says something about how significant it was. But it made me realize I could adapt, get used to new things. And really, college is exactly the same. I’m getting rid of that pesky second space, all the stupid obligatory classes and chores and controls, things keeping me from finding out what I want to do and who I want to be. I’m clearing out my room and bringing only the essentials, about to cram myself into an atmosphere of intellectual growth, ready to find new ways to keep writing in my life. I don’t need the second space. Hell, the second space made it harder to read. Typographers say so.

I’m still slowly preparing to leave home, and for the most part I’ve kept by my promise to do more with my time. Just today I went out with my dad and bought a ton of toiletries (hooray!); I now have all the soap and shampoo and deodorant I could want. Last night I finally read Melville’s “Bartleby” for my lit class, and I started Angels in America, which may be the most hilarious, heartbreaking play I’ve ever read. I also officially have one suitcase packed full of clothes. It’s small, but it’s something. With about a week left, I can already feel that second space closing up. It’ll be terrifying when it’s gone, but I know I’ll find a way to make do. After all, I managed when I was ten, didn’t I?

“Life is full of horror; nobody escapes, nobody; save yourself. Whatever pulls on you, whatever needs from you, threatens you. Don’t be afraid; people are so afraid; don’t be afraid to live in the raw wind, naked, alone….Learn at least this: What you are capable of. Let nothing stand in your way.”

–Tony Kushner in Angels in America, Part One: Millennium Approaches

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5 thoughts on “on the English major & blogging

  1. Nice post.
    I too started college intending to major in science (biology), but then I switched to English during my sophomore year. I really enjoyed my English classes. But the experiences that I most remember – both inside and outside the classroom – were those related to my biology classes. They gave me material to work with. In hind sight, it shouldn’t have been an either/or choice. In fact, good science writing is in demand, and most of the good ones come from a science background. I now wonder what my life would have been like if I stuck to the science degree and kept writing on the side.
    Not to be a downer, but English majors have a tough time in today’s job market. Very few employers want a generalist. They want someone who can hit the ground running with specialized knowledge. The last refuge for English majors, journalism, has shrivled to almost nothing. Sad, but true.
    By the way, I still use the double space after the period – a legacy from using a manual typewriter and my high school English teacher. If the style police find me, I’ll have to plead guilty.
    Best of luck in college, and keep writing.

  2. I just have to say, I love your writing. You have this wonderful mature, yet humorous style to it, and it’s a joy to read. I’m a student heading off to college for the first time too, and reading this post, and your one about packing and nostalgia, was great because both of them put into words the same feelings I’ve been having: finally getting rid of the superfluous in life, suddenly being reminded of old memories, all that. I’m excited to read how your college journey unfolds and see how it differs from mine! Keep up your great writing!

  3. Some how I missed the memo about only needing one space. Thanks for clearing that up. Now to fight myself from going back and editing every piece I have ever written.. if you need me I will be over there rocking back and forth. ;)

    • Oh god…you’re welcome? Your comment made me laugh out loud, which adds to the guilt a little. I wish you the best with your mental breakdown! Worst case scenario, search and replace!

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