Here is the first of six questions I received at the CW Post LIU reading last week. It’s still strange to me why one year ago nobody would ask me these questions and now I seem to have grown in my knowledge of the publishing world so much that I now both be asked and feel like I can answer. As my wife and son would say, now I am a somebody. Somebody or nobody, here’s my answer to the first question.
Why didn’t I get an English degree? Why did I get a business degree?
I have asked myself this same question many times. I think I would have been happier in school if I had gotten an English degree or a degree in creative writing. It’s a strange thing to say but it’s the truth. I did not like getting a business degree. Two years of business school was more than enough. My honors electives and some good teachers helped me to make the best of my last two years.
I know I thought of getting a degree in English in high school but when I talked to my parents about it, my father, always practical, said, “If you get a degree in English the only thing you’ll be able to do is teach English and there are no jobs out there for English teachers. If you get a business degree you can do anything.”
So it ends up he was both right and wrong at the same time. He meant well and I was not strong enough to disagree.
When I got out of school I got a job in a small medical publisher doing customer service work. I worked next to a bunch of people like me only they had degrees in English and Philosophy and History – degrees they mostly enjoyed getting. I’ve worked many places in a variety of types of jobs since then and my degree has helped in each of them because of its practical nature. Yet, I wish some days I had gone the other route. Perhaps my path to publication would have been faster? Or maybe it was slow because I had lessons to learn about writing and simply needed time to learn them.
It comes down to two things.
One was that I was not confident enough in myself at the age of 17 to be able to say, “I want to get a degree in English because I want to write.” My father would say, “But you can’t make a living writing so make sure you have a degree to get a day job.” By the time I developed enough confidence to say, “But creative writing is what I want to do and I need training in it,” two years had already passed. By then, I figured it was best to just finish the program I’d started. So I used what I had available to me, as Lefty from my novel Open Wounds would say, “I used what I found in the trenches.” With the help of the honors program I used my elective classes to take writing workshops and business classes focused on the publishing industry so all was not lost. I graduated with more credits than I needed but I was out in four years and wrote on my own during the whole time.
The second thing is that I didn’t know enough about life, what I could and could not do, what I could challenge my parents over and what I couldn’t. That was something my brother did very well, but I did not. So using black and white thinking typical of a young adult with a still developing pre-frontal cortex and an executive suite that was just not there yet – I did what I was capable of doing. I went to business school and developed my belief in myself as a writer by writing. I can neither blame myself for my inabilities nor my parents for suggesting what they thought would be best for me.
The moral of the story? Work with what you can and what you are capable of – don’t regret what you didn’t have or were not capable of. And of course, no matter what – if you want to write, write.
… as in evocative of past memories.
The reading at CWPost was great. At least I had a good time. I think the students did also. As my friend and professor from undergraduate days, Dr. Joan Digby said, “There were a lot of people asking questions so that’s a good sign that you didn’t scare them away.”
I’ll get to the student’s questions and my answers over the next few day’s posts. Today it’s about the pictures and what resonates for me.
I went to Post as an undergrad and Dr. Digby (who is in charge of the honors program and has been so since I was there) has since invited me back a number of times to read short stories and talk about my various careers to students. It’s great to have a teacher believe in you especially long after your class-taking days are over. I’m taking her to lunch next time we get together. This kind of faith keeps a writer writing.
So the reading, in the art museum at Post, as the inaugural event for their newly opened poetry center, was very cool. There was standing room only with over 70 folks in attendance – young adults to older adults pretty much 18 and up. It was something to stand there with my book in front of me and speak to folks who were in my seat thirty years ago.
It resonated like a long, loud, ringing, Om.