“Are you an English major so you can be an English teacher?” No.

Courtesy WildHoney83 (Flickr.com)
Courtesy WildHoney83 (Flickr.com)

Alone in my tranquil, monastic dorm I’m surrounded by novels, collections of poems, anthologies and even a quill and ink (courtesy a friend who stopped by Stratford-upon-Avon over the summer).

My internet browser has tabs open to Facebook—a tragic affliction in my life—and two literary magazines to which I plan on mailing poems.

Facebook is filled with status updates from friends who are working or going to grad school.

I’m procrastinating writing this column, an article that someone may read, but will more likely gloss over for the cute horoscopes in A&E or the always witty “Cheers and Jeers.”

I have yet to read “Beowulf” for my medieval literature course, so I decide to walk around campus—a campus filled with hundreds of freshmen, unfamiliar faces roaming a place I’ve called home for the past three years.

I realize I’m going to graduate next year (fingers crossed).

This is the point of no return.

There will be no changing majors.

There will be no transferring schools.

I’m in this for the final stretch.

This is what I’ve committed—or condemned—myself to: a life in the literary arts.

I love reading and writing like no other, but, unfortunately, it feels like I have to validate my chosen major.

Not just during those sometimes annoying “What’s your major” conversations—

“What’s your major?”

“English and writing.”

“Why, so you can be an English teacher?”

I sigh and shake my head

—but the little things people do or say that have nothing to do with me personally.

Like people’s instinctual reaction to declare their hatred for reading the minute after I reveal I’m spending thousands of dollars here to read and write papers.

Or the starving bookshelves in dorms I’ve visited, desperately in need of “Leaves of Grass” and “The Awakening.”

Some folks judge you by what you wear; I judge you by what you read.

I always look at a person’s bookshelf the first time—who am I kidding, every time—I enter their room.

Chances are, if there are books, they own fiction (at this a small knife enters this poet’s heart; no offense to prose writers out there, you’re in the struggle too).

Chances are probably large that the fiction will either be “Harry Potter,“ “Twilight,” or “The Chronicles of Narnia” (the knife goes deeper).

If there’s poetry (the knife draws out) then it’s probably written by someone who’s been dead forty-ish years (here’s looking at you Sylvia) and no one living, or deader (and the knife jumps back in).

Being an English major affords one an interesting position.

Despite attending a liberal arts college one always feels surrounded by practical minded folks out for a safe job and nice benefits, which in this economy who can blame them?

Still, you always feel slightly out of the loop.

I’ve got a friend who attends Texas A&M; she’s an English major and always finds it funny that the school stuffs her classes in various random rooms throughout the campus usually reserved for engineering majors.

There’s an atmosphere of what’s the point of humanities, and why would anyone be crazy enough to major in a humanity, not just on campuses but across the nation.

What this whole debate seems to hinge on is the nature of “practicality,” which implies “making money.”

Being an English major isn’t practical.

Being an English major won’t make money.

Besides the fact that there are plenty of successful English majors, mull over this: would you belittle a priest or a lawyer as being useless or impractical?

Besides literary studies, writing and the visual arts, the humanities comprise history, law, theology, philosophy, music and the performing arts.

Our culture idolizes actors and musicians, respects the clergy and relies heavily on lawyers.

I proudly declare my love for the humanities, but I don’t think I’ve ever mentioned why: they force you to slow down.

When I go to museums I try to really look at a painting for as long as I can while passersby give me an odd look.

I listen to Carole King’s “So Far Away” over and over and over just for the part at 59 seconds where she sounds like she could cry.

I watch all of “Streetcar Named Desire” just to see two titans, Vivien Leigh and Marlon Brando, square off in the movie’s tragic climax.

To quote “Death of a Salesman,” studying the humanities teaches one that “attention must be paid” because we don’t know everything.

The humanities are rooted in the human, rooted in the ideal of understanding the self and everything that is beyond our comprehension and articulation.

But, then again, that’s just an ideal at the end of the day.

That’s just my opinion on the good days.

Perhaps we should stop trying to validate the humanities as “practical” because we’re not.

At the end of it all, I’ll be out there hustling with the business, marine science and exercise science majors trying to pay for food and keep the lights on.

Derrick Austin can be reached at daustin@ut.edu.

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