What are you going to do with THAT degree?
For the love of doubt.
It’s a common question any granola-loving hippy with long armpit hair studying the arts will hear more than a handful of times. Our grave supporters are so kind to offer free prompts that are meant to spawn a reassessment of our interests, talents, desires, goals, and soul. (By all means, please do!)
It starts like this.
“Oh, you’re in UNIVERSITY!”
(It’s so nice to have fans).
“Yes. Yes I am”
“Bravo! So is my niece, Petunia. She’s studying architecture. What’s your major?”
Palms are sweaty. Knees weak, arms are heavy. There’s vomit on my sweater already.
With a voice crackling like a boy with one too many moustache hairs and collarbone pimples,
“What are you going to do with thaaaaat degree?”
My natural sassiness would incline me to say something such as, “Don’t worry. I’m faking this whole school thing! I’m pushing heroine. I’m building an empire and spawning a big clan of kids and I’ll fund their way through engineering school because that’s all we need! Have a good day! Love you!”
But their worry—or doubt—came from a good place, and, more than anything, they feared that at the end of the road paved with student loans and good intentions, I just wouldn’t have anything.
With all of this disbelief around me, a doubt in that degree was presenting a pretty solid argument.
It just so happens that I always see the value in a solid argument, so I continued on my merry way. For the sake of the story.
I got myself into this kerfuffle of a literature degree because of my irresponsible parents. Absurdly, they always said, “You can be whatever you want, as long as you’re happy.” Even more absurdly, I followed through.
It hasn’t left me empty handed.
So, first thing’s first, I have them to thank first for my choice of a “useless degree.”
I have the images evoked in stories that were so clear to me as new reader I still remember them as though I was in the stories, too. I can’t remember the name of this book but it centres around a young girl just starting school. On the first day, she sings the national anthem and says, “Donzer Lee light” instead of “dawn’s early light.” To add insult to injury, during recess, she raises hell from tugging on another little girl’s hair, just because it was curly and springy and frankly she felt like it. How could she not?—I still agree.
I have the more embarrassing roster of my library that kept me inside on a summer day (reading with a sunshine glare? please), instead of having handstand competitions in my neighbour’s pool. I’m talking about you, Shopaholic series. Sophie Kinsella you were my first love.
I have the projects in high school that I actually remember. The assignments I stayed up for hours working on, because, although I didn’t know it at the time, they meant something about who I was or who I was afraid of or who I was going to be.
I have the moments during university that taught me the many faces of doubt. It wasn’t a what are you doing with that degree doubt. It was a doubt in the way we remember the past. A doubt in the status quo. A doubt in the unfolding future. A doubt that, more than anything, brings a level of comforting certainty to the concept of doubt itself.
I have memories of this doubt that was constantly in motion. I didn’t experience it alone. I felt it with others. I felt doubt sitting in a lecture hall. I felt doubt in a cafe. I felt doubt in a living room. I felt doubt in a bar. I felt doubt in words and reading and doubt in the value of it all. One of my friends even wrote a little something on his tumultuous relationship with reading while finishing up his degree. And one of my favorite writers released a timely article to say that the kids are alright.
I have the first story that got me back into the groove of reading after a post-university hiatus. The images, like the young girl yelling “Donzer Lee light” are visceral. I think of the story and I remember the feeling the young woman had as she felt the city’s fresh morning air on her way to grab a bouquet of flowers. I’m not sure why I feel something when I think about this—I’m not sure if that even matters. I’m just not sure. But that’s okay. Because doubt, I’ve realized, isn’t such a bad thing after all.
I have my reading habits today, not too long out of formal education, which are defined by my realization that the little things matter. Such as a pretty sentence artfully strung together, woven with ease into a paragraph. Just a couple of right words can change the way I see a story—or remember a story—forever. I was gifted a book this summer I wouldn’t have normally pulled off the shelf myself, and I’ll always remember it fondly for one descriptor that I love. It’s the perfect combination of wildly apt and pretty (I wish I came up with it myself). It reads, “clung onto the island like an afterthought.”
Part of me wishes I could end this with telling you how I’ve literally made a life of my degree. I’d tell you that I’ve set up shop on the corner of Need A Shower and Hopeless. I’ve constructed a home built by old course packs. I keep warm at night with my blanket that’s comprised of torn pages from my Victorian Literature anthology. My pillow is an old tattered nightgown haphazardly stuffed with softcovers. I wear Ulysses, opened midway, as a hat. My door is my diploma. When I fling it open to welcome you in, we toast to Beowulf and sip roof runoff water out of paper cups made from old essays. We’d concur that we are living the dream and that yes, in fact, this does count as a room of one’s own.
But a story that is so predictable — a story without doubt — isn’t worth all the fuss.