This is your major, should you choose to accept it…by Deb Emily

emilywinslow_headshot_bI once heard a second-hand story about an undergrad at my friend’s college who had married young, been widowed young, and was supported by her husband’s estate so long as she was studying full-time at college. I can’t say for sure I remember the details exactly right, or that the story was 100% true to begin with, but as I recall this was to be her third bachelor’s degree. The first two were in theatre and business. Now she was studying horsemanship.

I would never wish grief on anyone. But at the time I was told this–around age twenty–I glossed over the loss of her husband and focused with amazement on the opportunity. Full support throughout any full-time education! Imagine not having to choose between the practical and the idealistic. Study French lit AND zoo management AND cello. Become a dentist AND an expert in the history of costume. Or get an MBA and a theology degree. Anything you like!

Another (possibly mangled or apocryphal) story I heard from the same college was of a young man with a trust fund that would be triggered by his getting a bachelor’s degree, from anywhere, in anything. As soon as he did that, the money was his.

He hated school so much that, in the years that my friend lived in that town, he didn’t manage it. I don’t know if he ever did.

While I can sympathize with disliking certain aspects of schooling, I can’t fathom not liking *anything*. How can someone not want to learn *something*?

Young writers often ask if they should major in creative writing or in something more likely to get them a job. I suggest studying what you want to write *about*. I got a master’s degree in Museum Professions as research for a play I was writing. I never worked in a museum afterward, and that play never went anywhere. But I don’t regret a thing. I got to work behind the scenes at the Metropolitan Museum of Art, and dig up artifacts in Jordan. As far as practicality goes, I think much of what makes a degree valuable in the world of work is demonstrating that you saw something through at a certain level, not necessarily exactly what that something was. And now, in my novel THE WHOLE WORLD, I have a narrator who majors in Art History. It was handy to be able to weave art references into her voice naturally.

What would you study if you could take the time to learn anything in the world?

Thanks for Mary M. for permission to plunder her college memories 🙂

13 Replies to “This is your major, should you choose to accept it…by Deb Emily”

  1. Oh man, if I could go to school forever (without first losing my husband, that wouldn’t be so good), I totally would. I’d try to get my French back, maybe a masters (or three) in different aspects of history, some literature degrees… I could go on and on.

  2. Would love to go back to school someday. I definitely didn’t pay enough attention the first time around. I’d study more psychology, anthropology, maybe art history, too… I totally agree with you, that it seems impossible not to want to learn something. One of the great things about writing is that our profession never gets stale or boring. There’s always the chance to learn more and improve.

  3. My husband and I have discussed that if we should ever win the lottery, we’d both get one degree after another. Oddly enough, we’ve never discussed what, exactly, we’d study. That almost seemed beside the point.

    But since you asked, I love anthropology, and sociology, and psychology (can you tell I find people fascinating?) and history… I had lousy history experiences all through grade school. How can someone take history — which is the story of human experience in all its drama and variety, in fact at its most dramatic and monumental — and suck the life out of it? Well, that’s exactly what happened.

    In college I had better history classes, but I struggled in them because the foundation I had was so poor!

  4. Oooh I have all kinds of things I would like to go back and study. Even though I already have the English degree I would take more English classes because it’s like a giant book club. I love talking books. I would take history and science and art history. Heck, I think I might go to film school too.

    I’ve become totally addicted to The Teaching Company. They sell courses (I down load them onto my ipod) taught by (in theory) some of the highest ranking professors in the area. I’ve taken a course on mythology, two on Egyptian history, one on heretics and witches and I just started one on WWII. The lectures are a half hour long so they’re perfect for the car too. I’m too lazy to look up their website, but they should pop right up in Google.

  5. I think I’m more of a trade school girl. I went to University and frankly, there were too many required boring classes and also politics for my tastes. But if I could, I’d learn to be a carpenter. I’d learn to design clothing and sew. I’d probably take some interior design classes. And definitely some cooking classes (vegetarian only, thanks!). I wouldn’t even mind learning stuff like basic plumbing and wiring so I could work on my own house.

    My degree is in theatre and while I did use it to some extent, it has paid me back in spades in regards to writing. I use things like structure and dramatic tension and dialogue every day when I write…all things I studied for my theatre degree. You never know how you’ll use what you study, so I agree, study what interests you.

  6. I could have stayed in school forever but two Masters seemed enough. However the very thought of having The Metropolitan Museum of Art as one’s classroom…pure heaven. Why or how would anyone stop learning?

  7. Joelle, I studied theater too! It sure is handy as a writer. First-person comes easily after years of playing characters on stage.

    Coincidentally, my editor was a theater major too.

  8. Wow, what a poorly written will. I can’t imagine being condemned to remain a pseudo-adult for the whole of my life by my own husband.

    You are correct about the widowhood thing. It’s not so romantic.

    If I could go back to school, though with a B.A and an M.A. already I can’t imagine why I would, I would get my M.F.A. and then find some nice little college to teach at while I wrote.

  9. I assume the will was written that way because she was so young when they married. He knew it was important to her to finish college, so he made sure that was provided for. The loophole was that there was no limit on how long she could choose to stay in college.

    I have no idea why the money wouldn’t have all gone to her in any case–perhaps he had children from a previous marriage who had “first dibs” on the money? I don’t mind the presumption that she would be able to support herself after obtaining her degree. Anyway, this is all speculation on my part and just the assumptions I made on hearing the circumstances.

    Annie, I hope you have not had to personally experience widowhood. If you have, I’m so sorry. I can’t imagine how sad that must feel.

  10. Just completing an MBA in Economic Development and I’ll be 60 in November–it’s never too late! If I go back yet again, it would likely be for anthropology, Biblical studies, perhaps another language–or two. Right now, I’m trying to get back and increase my Spanish for my internship clients & learn a bit of Swahili for an upcoming project planning trip. Life’s never boring–and shouldn’t be!!

  11. Congratulations, Kate!

    I love hearing everyone’s thoughts. I hope more lurkers will come forward and confess their secret educational longings 🙂

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