In Defense of a Useless Degree

A blogger friend tweeted this article the other day.  And as I adore Nap and that she keeps me inform, I read the article.  Basically it floats around the idea that we encourage college students to get degrees with the greatest return on investment.  You know, so they don’t feel like they’re just blowing their money. (The article does mention at the end, it shouldn’t be the only criteria, but still….)  Other than the fact that as we pump the world with business people and lawyers, we might overindulge and therefore make those majors worthless, I would argue that getting the useable degree is not for everyone or most everyone.   Like me.

I worked my ass off in high school to get to college.  I worked hard in school.  I swam, did drama, and was an Honor Society Member.  I lettered 9 times.  I babysat whenever I could get a job, and I saved almost all of my money.  I applied to a dozen schools and applied for dozens of scholarships.  I was driven.  Hell, one of the reasons I didn’t date in high school (besides the fact I had brothers who taught me that teenage boys were just a few years more evolved than a chimp) was that I refused to fall in love and be derailed from my goal.  College.  Out of state college.

When I searched for colleges, I found the degree I wanted.  Creative Writing.  It fit.  Like a gong inside of me.  That was my major. That was my calling.  Not drama.  Not English.  Not religion.  Not marine biology.  Creative Writing.

And that went less than well.

“Hey, Fae, what is the most asked question of liberal arts majors?”

-“Do you want fries with that?”

“Fae, guess what the liberal arts major said to the lawyer?”

-“Do you want fries with that?”

“Fae, I bet you haven’t heard this one-”

-“Do you want fries with that?  I heard it when I was twelve.”

Get some new material.  Honestly, the clan told the joke in a dozen different ways.

And then there was my mother.

“You’re wasting your time.  You’re wasting your money.  What kind of job are you going to get?  You don’t want to be a teacher.  If you want to save the world.  If you want to help women, then go into law.  You can do law.  You’re smart enough.”

“Mom.  It’s my decision.”

I chose a school with my degree and went off on it.  And then I filled every open credit space with whatever took my fancy.  Chemistry.  Philosophy.  Religion.  Psychology.  Sociology.  Women’s Studies.  I was all over the map.  So much so that the registrar called me up one early morning at 8:30 to ask me what my major was.  I came in declared.  Geeze.

All the while my mother complained.

Until I got a job for the Dean of the Law School.

“Miss ———-, have you ever considered a career in law?”

The Dean was the age of my grandfather and had only moved out of the South recently.  A man of his era and place.  I gave him liberties that I never allowed anyone else.  Like humoring him when he asked me to make coffee and asking how was I going to be a good wife if I didn’t know how to make my husband his coffee.

“No, sir.  I never have.”

Which was lie, but I disregarded the thought mere minutes after conceiving it.

“You are a very bright young woman, Miss ——–.  May I ask your GPA?”

I told him.

“Now that is a solid GPA.  You do well on your LSATs, and every law school will be fighting to get you.  I’ll tutor you myself.”

“There’s one problem, sir.  My degree is Creative Writing.  I hardly think any law school would want a writer of fairy tales.”

“Nonsense.  Give me a student who can write over a pre-law student any day.  My dear, you can write and communicate, and that is what is needed in law.  You must be able to communicate your point effectively.  And since I know this school has a fine English department and I have also seen your work in our brochure, you will be a fine addition to any law school.”

“Thank you, sir.  But I don’t think it’s my cup of tea.”

“Just think about it, Miss ———-.  And fairy tales, you say?  You’ll have to let me read one some day.”

“I’ll make you a copy the next time I borrow the machine.”

You can imagine my mother was thrilled.  And for two years, the Dean never let off on that idea.

I learned several things in college.  But one was to follow my bliss.  Later in life, I couldn’t just get the degree I wanted because I felt an obligation to spend the family money wisely.  I had worked hard for those four years, and I grabbed what called to me, and I was happy.  I never had one regret even after applied for hundreds of jobs in a worthless pursuit for work, which is how I stumbled into the fascinating career of cashiering.  At least I wasn’t asking, “Do you want fries with that?”

Besides how boring of a world would it be to have it filled with business and pre-law majors?

The Birth of a Tyrant

More years ago than I remember . . . .

I entered the class room with the All American Boy.  It was a small class room because it was a small class, and that what’s nice about going to a small private school.  It was held in one of the original buildings dated before the 1900s, and the floors creaked.  It was an upper division creative writing class, which is to say, it was everyone’s favorite.  Well except one.

The AAB was finishing his story as we sat down, and I bantered back.  We had a creative writing professor who once told the class that he liked listening to AAB and I talk because we were naturals at dialogue like watching Seinfeld.  The business major walked in, a minute late.  This wasn’t his favorite class; he told us on the first day of class he took it to learn to write better.  Unfortunately the cream of the creative writing crop all took the same class.  Accidentally together.  I just had the luck to join them.

Business Major: (smiling) Hi, Fae!

Me: (smiling) Hi, Business Major!  How’s it going?

Business Major: (sitting at the far end of the circle) Good.  What’s up?

Me: The sky.

The Business Major chuckled and then dug into his bag, taking his attention from me.

AAB: (lowering his voice) Stop it.  He’s not your type.

Me: (matching his voice) I don’t know what you mean.  Besides any guy who thinks I’m a writing genius is my type.  (I smiled.)

AAB: (rolled his eyes) I don’t remember you being so shallow.  But he’s not your type.  He’s a business major.

Me: Your point being?

AAB: You hate capitalism.  You don’t believe in business men.  As though they’re Santa.

Me: I don’t hate capitalism.  I think it needs some repairs.

AAB: You bite your thumb whenever you pass the Adam Smith bust. 

Me: He was a jackass.  Look at the quote they put on his bust!

AAB: Exactly.  And *he* chose that business school to get a degree from.  He is not your type.

Me: Pssht.  I-

The Writer: It’s been 10 minutes.  Marty’s a PhD.  We have to wait another five.

I looked at the clock.  Bummer.  I returned to banter with AAB.

Four minutes later, Drug Dealer Boy (The college best friend swore that the guy was one, and during one conversation with him, I found out he was.) hurried into the room.

DDB: Marty is outside talking to the Dean.  He says start without him.

We all looked at each other.  I looked around the room at Cat and Lyria, both writers with a cutting sense of humor in their writing.  The Writer sat with a stack of papers in front of him, and I always loved his work, even if it was post-modern.  Drug Dealer Boy took his seat next to The Torture Artist (so named because AAB and I made fun of him for having to write everything on an old typewriter “because it’s more real.”  Pssht.) who had a stack of papers next to him.  The Business Major smiled at me when I caught his eye.  I smiled back.  Then silence settled in the classroom.  Awkward silence.

Well, hell.  I love this class.  If no one was going to speak, then I will.

Me: Any one do any cultural events?

Marty required us to attend one cultural event a week because he believed writers had to be among the people to be good writers.  He envied the countries who used to send their artists and writers off to other countries to do their craft and be among the people.  Many of the professors felt the same.  Most grad students had to give their orals at one of the bars around the town because if you can’t have a beer and discuss your writer than you didn’t learn enough.  Marty’s sense of cultural event was wide, including a good bar, a sporting event, a movie as well as poetry readings, art galleries and such.

We waited for someone to take the reins and begin the class.  A class full of natural leaders and writers, who loved the class, and we all just sat there, staring, waiting.  Oh. F it.

Me: I went to Disneyland this last weekend.

Cat: Don’t you always?

Me: (I stuck out my tongue) Yes, but it’s still a cultural event.  But if you want more, I saw The New Movie this weekend.

The Writer: Me too.  Opening night?

He used to be a film major, and I hung out with film majors.

Me: Of course.  The Block.  10 o’clock showing.

The Writer: The Block.  9:35.  I liked the dialogue.  Intelligent, quick.

Me: Me too.

DDB: I went to a poetry reading at Beyond Braroque.

Business Major: That place was cool.  I went with Fae and AAB a few weeks ago.  Who read?

A few more comments, and then the silence began again.  We waited again for someone to start the class.  F it.

Me: Ok.  Who’s got stories?

The Writer: (He smiled at me.)  I do.

He passed around his story and began to read as we listened and took notes.

Half way through, Marty entered the room.

Marty: Oh, good!  You started!

Me: Yes, Martin.  We did.  If you would please take a seat, The Writer is in the middle of reading his story.

Marty gave me a smile that conveyed his thoughts, which were, “Stop being a smart ass, Miss _________.”  I returned it with a sweet, innocent smile.

Ryan finished reading.  We all turned to our professor who stared back at us.  A beat.  Another beat.

Marty: Go ahead.  I always wanted to see how a class would ruin without a professor. 

Me: So you want us to do your job, while; you still get paid.

Marty: Yes.  I think it would an interesting experiment.  Go on.

A beat.  Everyone looked at me.  I sighed.  I launched into my critique of The Writer’s work.  He nodded, listening to me.  The others in the class followed my lead.  When we were done discussing the piece and Marty had his say, I called for the next story.

***

At the next class, I walked in with AAB, telling him a story.  We were laughing and bantering back and forth when we noticed the room had gone silent.  It was time for class to begin.  Marty sat there at his usual seat at the foot of the circle in front of the white board and near the door, waiting.  We all waited for someone to speak.  It only took a an awkward beat.

Me: Ok.  Who has a cultural event?

I looked around waiting for someone else to lead the conversation.  Another awkward beat.  Fine.

Me: Ok. Who has a story?

AAB: I do.

He handed them out and then read his story.  A natural beat followed his story, and I began the discussion critiquing his work.  Then another story and more discussion followed.

The next class began, and I didn’t wait for the awkward beat to descend on us.  I launched the class into the cultural event discussion and then I moved us on to reading stories.  This time I had a story, and I’ll be damned if I was going to waste the time.

Class ended.

Marty: Fae, you’re doing a good job.

The Writer: She’s a regular tyrant.

Me: Any time you want to step in.

The Writer: Uh, no.  You’re doing fine. 

AAB: But you’re still a tyrant.

Me: Fine.  I’m a tyrant. 

Cat: And a damn good one.

AAB: She has lots of experience.

Me: That’s me.  Fae _____: Tyrant.  Actually.  I like that.  (Using my hands like I was spreading out the words.)  Fae ________: Tyrant.  You know, I’m going to make business cards.

AAB: House of Insanity business cards?

Me: We already have a phone line and a business stamp!  And I just sto- found a lab coat.

AAB: Come on, Tyrant.  Let’s catch the cafeteria before it closes.

He gave me a gently shove towards the door.

The Writer: I’ll walk with you guys.  As long as it’s ok with the Tyrant.

We walked out the door.

Me: You may walk with us.  I should get a crown!

AAB: Tyrants don’t have crowns. 

Me: Says who?

AAB: They have military uniforms.

Me: I have fairy wings!

The Writer: Fairy wings?

AAB: You haven’t seen her running around the quad with fairy wings on?

The Writer: I thought it was a joke.

Me: Hi Myron!

The boys: Hi Professor!

Myron: Good evening, Fae, boys.  Stay out of trouble.

Me: Maybe I should get a theme song.

AAB: See what you started?

The Writer: We’ll wait her out.  If we all start calling her Tyrant for the semester, she’ll get tired of it.

AAB: Wanna bet?

 

The View of Siblings

Saturday night before the game, we tailgated.  While I tried to corral Sean and convince Evan to eat, my brother and a couple of his friends showed up to liberate us of some of the food.  Proving that he is growing up, my brother also brought some beer to share.  As Sean decided to play in the dirt, I stood talking with one of the friends who was a bit tipsy and always flamboyant.  In the middle of the conversation, ranging from his reading only Maxim and his business plan of opening up a baby proofing store, he told me how cool it was that my brother and I got along and how my brother always says the nicest things about me and how I’m the serious one, the one with goals.  Excuse me? 

 

If I didn’t know the friend better, I would have thought he was a recent addition to my brother’s circle.  But the friend in question has been hanging out with my brother since he graduated high school.  And like most of my brother’s friends, my parents know and like this kid.  My mom claimed, on Saturday night, that the friend was welcomed to come by even with out my brother.  (It should be noted that though they still don’t think things through thoroughly, my brother’s friends are a bunch of comedians.  Think the show Jackass but with a cute lovable little brother side.)

 

So that’s when it hit me.  We are truly different from what others see of us.

 

I.  The Serious One.  The One With Goals.  Ok, granted in high school, I put my head down and rushed through high school, determined to get to the other side, collage.  I worked my butt off to get good grades, doing my time in National Honor Society.  I lettered in swim team three times as well as drama.  I became straight edge and spent many a Saturday night babysitting to make money towards college.  I went away for college, working my ass off because I was paying for it and I loved it. 

 

But me serious?  I was doing run by knockings between reading Goethe.  After freshman year, I adopted the theory that if I didn’t know my stuff by finals, I was in deep sh- anyways, so why stress.  I told other students that I had a fake major, one that could be purchased for 500 bucks through a mail course.  I did pranks that would later put me on probation, and I ran a miniature theft ring, stealing plastic gems from Disneyland.  (All in the name that it was ridiculous to charge five bucks for a bag of plastic that cost pennies to make; not real sound logic and incredibly stupid and self- centered.)  Hell, my best friend and I stole the local Republican headquarters’ Bush/Cheney 2000 sign that was 3 by 6 feet and ran it the several blocks back to the car because we didn’t have a car.  Before kids, I believed a healthy lunch was a carton of Ben and Jerry’s ice cream, and I threw a Halloween party in March.  I can quote whole episodes of The Simpsons, and I break out in songs and dances.  I’m completely not serious.  And if I was good with my goals, I would have a published book by now like one of my college friends.

 

My brother, now he’s serious.  Ok, granted he went through an alcohol-consuming, pot-smoking, girl-chasing phase, but underneath it all was the calculating, logical, serious brother.  He has always had his eye on the prize, imagining what business venture would make him the cash he wanted.  He’s a math wiz, wanting to major in engineering.  He loves cars.  He went from engineering to biology to finally business as majors.  Business!  Does that sound as non-serious as a creative writing degree?  He’s getting a minor in Spanish.  How absolutely practical, which compares to my two semesters of Italian.  He has his goals lined up, and he knocks them down.  He may have spent a semester in Florida partying, but he spent a summer working for my husband while selling jewelry on the weekends. 

 

It’s just amazed me that we see each other so differently.  We are pretty different.  I was the creative writer, wishing to be an artist; he was the designer of cars.  (I swear he was the first one to think of a Hummer limo.)  He puts people at ease; while, I am completely tactless.  He was the cool one, refusing to acknowledge me at school unless he needed a ride, and I was the one hanging out with all the nerds with enough pull to keep people from beating up my brother when he stepped on the wrong toes.  School and athletics came easy to my brother; I struggled to figure out how to learn.  As we grew older, college fit me like a glove, and my brother tried to understand the new concept of college learning.  When I was debating on going and getting my PhD in women’s studies, my brother was contemplating a career in breast augmentation.  At one point, I swore there couldn’t be any more different siblings.

 

But at least it’s nice to hear my brother likes me.  I like him.  It took years for us to get to this point.  At one point we both wished the other would just fall off the end of the earth.  We fought viciously to my parents’ horror.  But now I call him every week or so, and sometimes he even answers.  Really, he’s a great guy.  I just can’t believe he thinks I’m serious.  I wear fairy shirts for crying out loud. 

Feminism and Motherhood

“Don’t call yourself a feminist.  I hate feminists,” said my college friend with disgusted horror.  A boy at the table said, “Yeah, call yourself an equalist, someone who stands for the rights of everyone.”  I was confused; did I not work my ass off for four years get scholarships and an entrance into an university?  And I find people like this here?  I looked over at my best friend, who shrugged and started bobbing his head to music only he could hear.  By the rhythm, I guessed it was Spice Girls and realized he was not going to come to my aid, not because he agreed with the other two people at the table but because he didn’t want to waste his time on petty arguments when he could think of something happy.  (Please don’t confuse this with stupidity.  My friend is wickedly smart, an environmental scientist, who could solve math equations that took three pages to solve.  He just finds political talk boring, except with me.)

I sigh and turn to the boy.  “You don’t believe in equal rights, so don’t get cocky.  You don’t believe in gay marriage or any gay rights because they’re ‘special rights’ (Yes I did use my fingers for the quotes).  You’re homophobic and suppressing issues.  We all know it.”  With that said, I turned to my girl friend.  “I guess you’re right, feminists are pretty scary.  They’re women who think for themselves.  But isn’t it nice to go to college and have a career?  Isn’t great that we can have our own bank accounts and houses?  Gee, it’s swell that our husbands don’t have the right to beat us?  And I love wearing shorts and jeans, don’t you?  (yes, she was wearing jeans.)   So you might not like feminists for some crazy belief that they hate men or are dikes, but without them, we would not be here.  I gotta get to class.” 

I was reminded of this conversation as I read some blogs were women wrote that they didn’t consider themselves feminists but Sarah Palin motivates them.  Well, I’m glad they found some woman to motivate them.  Lucky for them, none of the liberals are going to be pissed off that Palin is a working mom, or that she had a child so late in life or that her teenage daughter is wrong to be pregnant and even keep the kid, or that Palin is a faminatzi.  Because that’s feminists have fought for those choices.  They keep fighting for choices for both men and women.  And also lucky for the newly realizing conservative feminists, no one is going to call them men-haters because they like a female politician.

But back to motherhood.  My mom was a feminist and her mom and her mom.  Actually, there hasn’t been a weak-willed woman in my mom’s side in living memory.  And my dad, well, he did marry my mom, but he was a feminist too.  And the stories I hear of my great-grandma, well, she was steal and silk.  My mom made sure us kids understood the value of choice and that we couldn’t judge anyone.  It wasn’t our job.  She raised us to love justice, hate injustice.  She was like every other mom out there, wanting her kids to be better than she and her husband.

As for me, I’m a mom of two boys (so far).  I, who taught her favorite babysitting charge that boys were bad.  I, who wouldn’t date in high school because “boys are like apes.”  I who claimed the only uses for a guy were killing spiders and sex.  What do I teach my boys of feminism?  Well, first I’ve got to stop making all those jokes about men.  But I grew up with brothers, so I know their inner workings.  Second, I have to show them what is expected of them as men.

I have to show them that it’s ok for guys to do work in the kitchen and go to dance class.  I have to show them that you can watch football and take care of children.  I have to show them that we respect people’s feelings and opinions.  I have to show them that it’s ok to cry, it’s ok to be strong. it’s ok to kick someone’s ass who’s being an asshole (when the need arises).  I have to be a strong woman, illustrating that women can fix a sink and dinner, wear make-up, or choose not to shave her legs.  I have to teach them to include everyone and not to make fun of someone who is different, whether she’s a girl or he’s a different religion.  I have to teach them that relationships are important and your partner’s feelings are just as important as theirs.  And finally, I plan to scare them with the thought of teenage marriage if they get a girl knocked up and she decided to keep the baby.  I have to teach them there is nothing they can’t do.  Every night I pray that they will be smart, strong, sweet, and the good guys.

I stay-at-home with them, and that is my choice.  One day I’ll probably go back to work, which most stay-at-home moms have to work at some point or another.  That will be my choice too.  That’s what feminism is really about: choice.  It’s working so everyone has a choice in their own lives, just like democracy. 

In the end, we’re all trying to make sure that our kids are better than we are.  My boys have dozens of various balls and a kitchen.  They have arrows and swords and baby dolls and stuff animals.  They play with my make-up brushes and my purses.  They were their father’s shoes and hats.  Granted Evan will climb into any heels he finds laying around.  They play with fairies, King Fu Panda, and cars.  We read them books about girls and boys.  So I think they’ll be pretty well rounded.  But if they think they’ll become sexist pigs, they learn they’re never too old for their mother to discipline them.