I was not born an English major, but over the course of twenty or so years, I became one. Going to college, I studied literature, read essays, wrote critical responses, short stories and analytical papers and all of it led me here. To a desk beneath a window in building in a native village where I am currently working on a grant for funding from the EPA. The Environmental Protection Agency. No one here cares if I read Beowulf in six translations.
I look up water quality data, and I email environmental firms and I ask how much a baseline water quality laboratory analysis will cost. And when I’m done, I work on the Integrated Solid Waste Management Plan for the village, compiling data (once I procure it) to assess how we should proceed in this village with our recycling program, or our landfill projects, or our protests against Pebble Mine.
In short, perhaps I should have followed Heather and Ethan and Liz and majored in Environmental Science at Willamette. However, I did not. And I am the better for it.
As it turns out, my English major has afforded me an incredible cornucopia of ideas and connections, and I can see now why those science nerds (you know you are, just put down your rock polisher and raise your hand) were so interesting to me. They (you) offered me something that the comparative lit scholars could not: you (they) offered me–and all of my POEM kin–a more concrete, critical view of the world, and not just an idealistic one based on story or myth or symbol.
As scientists, or environmentalists, or both, you saw the world differently from the way I did and I knew enough even at age 20 to pay attention to that, and to understand what you meant when you said literature could help you see the science more clearly. Now I have its corollary in my view of Pedro Mountain: science can help me see the literature more clearly. And not only from a reader’s point of view.
Here in Pedro Bay, when I write these grants or proposals, or draft an email to an engineer or an environmental scientist, I don’t constrain myself to the lofty language of academia; nor do I settle for the banal banter often appearing in many manuals or plans of this scientific nature. I am able to see what I write more clearly, and to know what it is I am asking for, saying, or making sense of. It is the marriage of these two hemispheres, the creative and the concrete, that makes us solid thinkers. In an earlier post I discussed the practical-whimsical and, again, I find it is here.
I married a poet. He is incredibly creative, holding an MFA and writing haiku as often as possible. But at one time he had hoped to major in geology, a decidedly more scientific field than verse. This early penchant shows in his ability to manage this little village’s governmental–and other–business. He was not born a poet, perchance, but over the course of several decades he achieved it, with no little help from the questions he posed in geology.
When I was in college and reading my Autobiography of Alice B. Toklas I remember noting that Stein had been pre-med, or maybe full med, on her way to becoming a doctor before taking a major u-turn to become Gertrude Stein.
The cost of a degree may be great, but it’s worth it. Whatever the major, the learning is the key, and the interest in furthering the knowledge, putting it to use, and making sense of the details all add up to this: Love what you do. The rest will follow.