I never thought I’d be an English major. Although I liked to write as a child, I had never enjoyed reading and as a child often had difficulty finding a book to borrow from the library. The Short Story class I was taking was enjoyable but I didn’t see how it related to life. Who reads short stories other than academics and students? I needed to find a practical major. Two years of searching had left me disappointed and directionless. I was no longer looking for a dream job or a career. I had given up on that. I just needed a major. And if I couldn’t find a major that provided a path to a job title, at least I needed to study something that would impact my life in the long run. And so I chose English, not because I loved literature and writing, but because I thought I would improve my writing ability, a skill I could transfer to a future career, whatever that would be. I was not particularly content with my situation. The lack of certainty surrounding what I’d do with an English major made me uncomfortable. I was at Plan C and had to live with it.
Sophomore year summer I took an English class at UCI. Since I was late in declaring my major, I needed to make up some units in order to graduate. The only course offered through Open University at UCI was Contemporary American Poetry, so that’s what I signed up for.
The class wasn’t what I expected. Instead of analyzing and writing papers about abstruse poetry, we attended in-class poetry readings by local poets whose poetry we had been assigned to read. Again, I was sat riveted in my seat the first week of class. I had the same feeling I had in the Short Story class but the feelings of empathy and belonging were even more intense. Flesh and blood poets poured out their souls, talking about their work and answering questions. I connected with them and felt strangely awake. The course also required that we keep a poetry journal where we were to reflect upon the poetry we were assigned to read and perhaps compose some of our own. The poets wrote about their experiences so I wrote about mine. Years of unprocessed pain–sadness, shame, disappointment, confusion, anger, frustration, loneliness, angst all began to emerge. The constraints of poetry provided aesthetic boundaries for my random, disjointed thoughts and I experienced the pleasure of creating something beautiful. I had strangely stumbled upon something meaningful and very “me”. I had found in writing poems a voice and piece of my identity.
I showed some poems to my best friend, May. She hated them and asked why I was so bitter. Me, bitter? I was shocked at her statement. It was the first time I had realized the amount of negative emotion I harbored. I had been hurting and needed to forgive. I was broken and needed healing. I began to process my pain. That revelation would prove to be a major turning point in my young adult life.
At the end of the summer I remember receiving my grade for the course. It was an A. Although it was a relatively easy class, I noticed something odd and unfamiliar as I looked at the A. I was smiling, even laughed. I felt happy.
Questions for Discussion: What do you think about my rationale for choosing a major? Have you ever made a life-changing discovery when you weren’t even looking for it?