Last night someone close to me—and thus very accustomed to (and probably tired of)—hearing me complain about my on-going search for a decent post-grad job suggested I apply for a job in website design. We were leaning against the bar of a lounge in New York’s Flatiron neighborhood. I was holding an overpriced cocktail, nostalgically named Strawberry Fields in my hand. A chandelier hung from the gleaming white ceiling above us and music played live, loud music filled the room. A cocktail waitress in a tight red dress that squeezed into the crease between her butt and her thighs glided past us.
I laughed. “I can’t do that!”
“Don’t you know HTML?” he asked.
Working in a marketing office, I had seen the computer engineers at their computers, typing frantically away in a language I didn’t understand. I’ve studied two romance languages, French and Spanish. Three, if you count love—which I do. And I have my own frantic language of beats and rhythms that my fingers tap onto the keyboard when I write. I like languages that express love, feelings, story...
“God! What did you learn in college?” he asked.
I think it was rhetorical. And I’m sure it was one of those things that a person says without realizing that gravity of their words, but for a moment something in me was pulled down.
I have a BA in Fiction Writing and Gender Studies. I have a certificate in French. My MFA in Creative Nonfiction was, admittedly, redundant. In undergrad, I read classic and contemporary literature. I wrote lyric essays and short stories and learned how to construct a novel. I wrote research papers on women’s issues. I thought. I thought about the world, about myself, and about myself in the world. And I wrote about it. That’s what I learned how to do well. I can read people and situations. I can form an educated opinion. I can articulate my thoughts. I can write a blog in under an hour—following my thoughts through to their origins and back.
I think about being alive and what it means. I can’t design a webpage. I’ve read Bartleby the Scrivener twice, so I have a point of reference for how I feel in my office jobs. I make fun of meetings. In my head I say, “I’d prefer not to.” I’ve also read Death of a Salesmen, which is what I referred to in my last job when I met an aging salesman with missing teeth, three children and a shortage of clients who would buy my ten cent licorice ropes from the corner discount store.
To say that I learned nothing of value in college would be to devalue the human experience. Even if I go broke because I have no skills with which to land a decent paying job, at least I can adequately reflect upon the state of my life and make something out of the nothingness that may very well be on my professional horizon. Studying literature, writing, history, art, gender studies, languages...It is all a lesson in how to process the experience of being alive. In reading about others, we can both learn about ourselves as well as learn empathy for those who are different from us. History and gender studies teach this lesson as well. As does studying a foreign language—which also teaches the importance of self-expression, as well as the quiet fact that words do sometimes fall short, feelings don’t always translate, but there are some things that are unspoken and universal. Art teaches the importance of perception. It shows how people have looked at the world and asks the viewer of the art to consider how they perceive things. Art bring a person face to face with the fact that, as Anais Nin wrote, “We don’t see things as they are, we see things are we are.”
There is value in studying practical pursuits. And my the three people I like most in the world all have that particular skill set, but I wouldn’t be who I am—or be confident enough to be sure who I’m not—if I hadn’t made the choices to learn what I did. And I’m happy. Somehow, outside the fact that I have yet to find a mentally engaging, enjoyable, decent paying job—I am happy. (I think.)
I’m not sure what great bit of wisdom there is knowing there is value to what I have done with my life thus far. But I thought about it. And now I’ve written about it. And maybe that’s the point.