People tell me things. Stories to be exact. Sometimes even Tall Tales, which have often been the most, fun even if the hardest to believe.
But for as long as I can remember, people just start talking to me, and they often end those conversation with, “I don’t know why I told you that!” Or “Thank you so much for listening.” Or just a blanket statement like: “You are such a good listener.”
And I take all these conversations and stories to heart. Because sometimes, even if I never see those folks again, and our paths, as far as I can tell, will never again cross, I know I’ve made a friend.
Mostly because I was there and not only listened to them but HEARD them when they felt they had something to say, and wondered if anyone even cared or if anyone was even listening.
And I do care because I LOVE stories and the people who tell them! I love to know Who Dun It? And did they live Happily Ever After? And is this a To Be Continued or a The End.
So I’m glad the grown up me got a degree in English…not the study of the English Language, mind you, but a Degree in the things human kind has written and told in story form for centuries, eons, from the time of thought incarnate…
And not only have I been told I am a good listener, but I have been told I am a good student. And I suppose I should finally accept what people told me then, because I have a degree on my wall with some sort of Greek wording around my name, and I had to stand for pictures on the day I received my degree, with red, yellow, blue, and green cords hanging off my shoulders, and pins on my lapel that read Alpha Chai, Alpha Lambd Delta, and other Greek things of that nature.
And in order to earn all those shiny pretty things, and that piece of paper with the funny Greek words, I had to study Hard. I had to not only read stories, but I had to criticize them, tear them apart and put them back together. I had to take on the great Masters in my field and first prove to my professors, the Doctors, that I knew exactly what was being said and what was not being said. And then after I had shown them I could do that, I was told before I could walk across that stage I had to Prove to THEM, and them alone, that I could not only tear something apart, but that I could put it back together. And not into what it was, but into something new & different, and uniquely My Own Story with supporting evidence from other professionals in my field, and it all had to be precisely documented, and Most Importantly, it had to make sense.
It had to be crystal clear, because it would be something that stood alone. Alone to be judged, to be torn apart, to be used as needed for whatever purpose the new reader chose.
That is what an English Major’s Life is for 4 years. And that is what it culminates in to get out of University with your paper & your debt…we call it our Senior Thesis, and we begin working on it our Junior year (if we are lucky enough to be able to start that early!)
My Thesis was titled
“Beloved Through a Marxist Lens: Increasing the Value of Self.”
That year it won 1st place in the University’s Research Paper Competition, a competition opened to all disciplines and all students. As the prize, winners were given $100 and told their work would be held in perpetuity in the University Library.
What a gift that was to hear as an English Major: Paid for my words and assured that folks would be able to read it long after I am gone.
So yes. I am an English Major and I am good at words and stories, or at least that is what I have been told.
And still people tell me things. I don’t announce my background to every individual I meet, and I have found that, sadly, English Degrees are referred to by some as a “dime a dozen” so to speak, and not thought of in their true light.
And still people tell me things, just like when I was a child.
And somehow they know that I will never use their stories to twist things to my advantage, or talk openly about things that are private between two individuals. Somehow they intuitively know these things when they see me smile at them as we pass along the street, or from across a busy lunch table. And I’m happy because I know I have a new friend just by looking in their eyes.
People Tell Me Things.
I do not share those things for one simple reason: Their stories, and all the minute details, are not my stories to tell.
Thanks for listening.
SU Class of 2004