The Ex-English Major: Loving Literature After College

I’ve asked my friend Elisa Bryant to guest post on the blog this week. She’s talking about how literature impacts our lives, even when we aren’t reading. Enjoy!

When people used to ask me what I did or who I was, I loved being able to reply, “I’m an English major!” The response from the person, usually an impressed one, made me feel good about myself. Now that I am graduated, I have struggled with what to tell people. I have been trying to come up with something, and I think I have found my solution. I told someone I had a degree in reading books, because I think that pretty much sums up what an English major actually is. All in all, I was honestly bummed I couldn’t call myself an English major anymore, since graduation, and I sometimes still feel that way. I had lost that identity when I moved on from college, but I still try to find ways to make literature part of my life. I still have an inherent desire to find the meaning in everything, often over-analyzing the world with all its symbolism and themes. Literature is still very important to me, even though I’m not spending every day of my life reading anymore. Dealing with the life after college, I still must find a way to connect with literature and I had the most unusual and wonderful experience doing just that a little less than a month ago.

To give some quick background, I had gone to Colorado with my husband and his family for a ski trip. We rang in the New Year tucked away in the cozy, snowy mountains, “skiing until we dropped” as my mother in law put it. By the end of the first day I was dropping and ready to go. By the second, I was unbelievably sore and in a lot of pain so I left the group and headed back to our rooms. When I finally reached the door, I realized I had never learned the entry code and, by then, my group could be anywhere on the ten peaks of the Breckenridge Mountains. I could hardly walk because of the clunky ski boots and I didn’t have my cell phone with me. I had no way of reaching my husband, or anyone. I was definitely screwed. I didn’t panic though because I had a feeling that everything was going to work out. After thinking for a minute, I heard a girl’s voice coming from the apartment next to ours. Something prompted me to knock at the door and ask for the loan of a phone. The girl who opened the door looked as surprised to find someone her own age as I was. I explained my situation and, before I could even finish, she ushered me in to use her phone. She was incredibly friendly and kept talking as I shuffled painfully inside. She had fallen on the slopes the day before and had decided to take the day off. Lucky for me! She turned the TV down while I texted and called my husband a million times, hoping he would pick up. I knew it could be a while before he got back to me so I settled in. The girl and I continued to talk about skiing, where we were from, and other small talk. She had been watching Harry Potter which sparked our conversation as well. After we had covered the basics, things got a little more in-depth and we started talking about plans for the future. She mentioned she might go into law but, first and foremost, she was an English Lit major. That was the spark! We couldn’t stop talking after that. Something was unleashed within us and we kept building momentum, feeding off of the other’s passion and love for this subject. We talked about everything; why English is such an important subject, why it has value, what are favorite pieces of literature were. Soon, I had forgotten my dilemma and what could have been a disastrous experience became one that impacted me to the point of writing about it!

I have always believed that literature connects humanity through its themes and stories, and here I was experiencing it firsthand! I can see how any piece of literature is relevant to our lives; whether it references escapism, family, marriage, love. One reason I love reading literature, especially pieces written decades ago, is you learn not only about life in that time but about the very real truth that humans have not changed all that much. I am currently reading Jane Eyre and have enjoyed the universal themes throughout the book. Jane is a very relatable character, whether you are female or not, living in her time or ours. She deals with many circumstances and issues that even the modern reader faces. Literature, like Jane Eyre, can take you out of your little bubble of existence and broaden your thinking and experiences. Some of us are limited in our ability to travel, our ability to meet new people, to have adventures and see great things; but literature brings those experiences to us. I find myself when I read about Jane’s loss and love and brokenness; when I see her struggle to make her voice heard, we are so very human, together. How can we extricate ourselves from societal expectations, Jane and I, and assume to position of autonomy? And it isn’t only Jane Eyre. I believe you can pick up any book and find something that you can relate to. Because that is what literature is all about: making sense of ourselves and the world around us.

At this point, being called an English major isn’t as important as it was nine months ago. I am just glad I can still find ways to connect my love for life and my love for literature. I was hundreds of miles away from home and found myself in a potentially disastrous situation. But literature found its way into my life again, and, in a way, it saved me.

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