Listening to my contemporary literature professor talk, I’m reminded of that one professor from Harry Potter.
You remember, the one that died and didn’t realize that he had, so he just kept going about his life like nothing had changed?
Yeah, I’m pretty sure that happened to my professor.
I didn’t even realize that a voice could be that low or that monotone! All around me, eyes are growing glassy and pens are finding their way to paper, scribbling cute little flowers or skulls in place of notes.
Nevertheless, through the fog that has started to rise in my brain, some of his words do get through to me.
“What is the importance of contemporary literature?” he asks. “Honestly, is it even important at this point? I’m not convinced that anyone can even get through a book anymore, and it certainly doesn’t hold the same value to people as it did a hundred years ago. Why are you guys even studying English, really? I’d truly like to know.”
There we go. At least that captures my attention.
Why am I studying English? This isn’t a question I haven’t heard before – it’s bordering on trendy at this point.
“You’re an English major? What can you do with that?”
“Oh, so you want to be a teacher, right?”
“Isn’t that just something you do after you tuck the kids into bed at night?”
When people ask me this question, my simple answer is always: “I want to be a writer – I never really considered any other option”, which is true. When high school graduation approached, I applied to be an English major because that had always been the plan. I was going to grow up, be an English major, and then write until I died.
But that isn’t enough, is it? I mean, this is a pretty big honking deal here – I’m majoring in something that won’t make me buckets of money, like something in the sciences or even a trade would. So why am I doing it? What worth can English have if it isn’t going to make me rich?
Well, here’s my question: “What else would I major in?” I know, I know, something that makes me money, but why would I do that? I’m not passionate about any of those things. I didn’t grow up looking at astronauts and thinking, “Gee whiz, I hope that’s me someday”. No, I grew up saying that about J.K. Rowling and J.R.R. Tolkien.
Now, I know that everyone thinks their passion is the most important thing in the world, but I honestly do believe that stories are the most important thing in the world. Everything is built on them. Our history, as we know it now, is one great, big story. Stories inform who we are. My family on my dad’s side are particularly guilty of this. “We’re Halls,” they say proudly, with a self-satisfied grin on their face. “We come from a long line of hard-working farmers, people who made something of their lives.” That, right there, is a story.
And, not to mention, there’s also the way that stories tell us how to act, how to go through life, what values to hold. The stories told in the Bible have influenced human behaviour for centuries, and even if you aren’t a religious person, I’m certain that there’s some story out there that told you who to be. The story of Buffy the Vampire Slayer taught me to always remain strong, even when it’s hardest, while the story of Walt Disney’s life taught me that I should never give up on my dreams. Those stories have become integral to who I am as a person, and that fascinates me. Stories fascinate me, like nothing else in this world ever has.
So why would I waste four years of my life studying something I don’t care about?
“Because of the money”, you say, horrified that I would even suggest that there might be something more important. “You can’t pay your bills with stories. You can’t raise two-point-five children and keep a husband happy with stories.”
No, I can’t. But I can keep me happy.
Call me naive, but my experience with depression has taught me that there is nothing in this world more important than happiness. Everything else will fall in place. Bills, a house, a spouse and children should I decide to have them – all of that will come along in one way or another. If that means that I have to spend my life working a second job, then so be it. As long as I have my stories.
So there’s your answer, Professor-Binns-from-Harry-Potter. That is why I decided to become an English major: because it makes me happy. And so long as that’s true, what else matters?