Friday, February 6, 2009

Majors and minors

I remember the year I had to declare my major. I was a wreck. I'd come in as a "talent" (my SATs weren't spectacular) and discovered I didn't want to be a fine arts major in the department I found myself in. The Stony Brook art program was, at the time, in the grip of abstract zealots; my desire to learn the passe and practically recidivist subjects of perspective, anatomy, and color theory caused the professors to throw up their collective hands and label me a failure--no worse--ordinary! The shame. I crawled away from gallery shows featuring piles of dirt, ennobled by buzz word artist statements. Malarkey. I escaped over-ripe malarkey.

I decided to major in reading books. I understood that English majors were expected to produce reams of intellectual crap but it was better to explore well written books attempting to use my wits and scholarship than to paint blobs and write statements of blobbism. I knew gazing at the lint I picked out of my belly button just was not going to teach me as much as studying giants like Virginia Woolfe, Chaucer, Lord Byron, Shakespeare, Jane Austen, William Yeats, and Alexander Pope.

So imagine my surprise when my daughter Caitlin told me she is thinking of majoring in English, minoring in studio art. She was kinda sheepish about it. Told me she didn't want to be copying me. But...there it was. She really enjoyed the English classes. They challenged her. Even though the only B+ she had gotten in many years was in the English class she took last semester...

Yeah, I said, it took me awhile before I got the hang of writing those English essays. But once I did, I clearly got it: a couple of professors were soon accusing me of plagiarizing graduate school papers! Ah well, Stony Brook in those days was not known for reaching out to its students. Sink or swim. If more of them had actually taken the time to talk to me they would have known I'd written every paper myself. And despite it all, I loved being an English major.

My daughter will have a far better entry into her major because she is at a small private liberal arts college where they pay attention to every student... With an adviser, for instance. I know she will enjoy the class discussions and all the "ah hah" moments. She will learn to think, discuss, and write convincingly. The reading will also teach her far more about creative writing. It is all very cool. What is it I'm feeling? I think I'm smiling.

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