how to be an english major: part one.

One of the staples of small talk as a university student is the subject of, well, subject. “What are you taking in school?” is an all too common question with which to begin benign conversations. My response however seems to illicit less than amiable reactions. “I’m an English Major.”
I’ve heard a plethora of reactions, ranging from “ew, why?” (from a geology major) to “well, your English is very good” (from an ESL hair stylist making small talk). No one that I have talked to (I tend to avoid other English students) earnestly finds English interesting. Not even I am a fan of the subject. English is not something I’m passionate about. I’m an English student because I find it easy enough to complete, and for my intended career path, it really doesn’t matter what degree I have.
“Easy?” I hear you say through your screen, mouth agape. “Since when is English easy?” Peace, my dumbfounded cohort, I shall explain. English is easy because first and foremost: we use it every day. People often forget that the language of books, essays, and (cringe) poetry is the language we use in everyday activities. Granted, the grammar and construction are dissimilar, but who (outside of English majors) gives a shit about that stuff, anyway? I know you don’t. Usually, I don’t either. But, put someone in a literature class and they freeze up, like the just got off the wrong train in Malaysia (do they have trains in Malaysia? If not, this simile would work a whole lot better). What I mean to say is English is the same language as English, and people seem to miss that fact.
Take Shakespeare for example. People shy away from his work because it seems like a whole ‘nother language. But it’s English. It’s shitty English (even for the time) but it’s English nonetheless. “My naked weapon is out. Quarrel, I will back thee” (Not to be confused with “Quirrell, I will back thee”, what Voldemort said before wrapping his fetal self in a turban) is a line from Shakespeare’s Romeo and Juliet. (I’ll rant about Romeo and Juliet, later) Although it sounds pretentious, it doesn’t take a genius to figure out that he’s saying: “I have my sword ready, if you start I fight, I got your back.” It also doesn’t take a genius to figure out that that’s also a dick joke (see? Literature can be fun, too). And all of Shakespeare is like that: using stupid words to say regular things. If you just realize that it’s all English, a whole new world of literature will open up to you. It’s a fantastic point of view. And when I’m way up here, it’s crystal clear that now I’m in a whole new world with you-now I’m in a whole new world with–unbelievable skies. Indescribable feeeeelings. And, uh. Yeah… That.

Hold your breath. It gets better.
People also hate writing essays. And, as an English Major, you have to do that like, all the time, right? But that’s because people think academic English is different from normal English (SPOILER ALERT: it’s not). In all my years of writing essays, the best trick I learned (which makes things easier and gives you a better grade) is to not write essays. Don’t don’t do it. Essays suck; you know it and I know it. And if you write an essay, everyone who reads it is going to know how much you hate essays.
Essays came from some French dude (because of course they did) who wanted to try something new with writing. In fact, that’s what essays are: trying out a new idea. The word essay, comes from the French word “Essayer” (pronounced like essay-yay, a sentiment no student shares) which means “to try”. In this sense, the point of an essay isn’t to write properly, or eloquently, or even to write at all (“essai” doesn’t translate to “stay up all night before your final and type out some paper that you don’t even give a shit about while simultaneously browsing Facebook and contemplating your suicide”, at least not directly). The point of the essay is to test out an idea. When have you ever seen any kind of test (of something relatively untested) that was as clean and concise as an A-grade essay? (CERN doesn’t count because if they fuck up, everybody dies) Never, that’s when. Essays, just like any other test, are supposed to be messy. They’re supposed to be in regular-ass English.
“But wait,” you say, exasperated because you’re still reading this thing. “If I submit messy essays (dibs on the band name), I’m totes gonna get a bad grade!” You’re right, especially if you say “totes” in your essay like you did just now, imaginary person I just made up but is probably super annoying (seriously, who says “totes” in normal conversation, anyway?). Nowadays, teachers, and people who have authority over your academic career in general, have drifted away from the idea of a solitary genius pouring over his parchments in the dim candlelight, writing until the ink runs dry and he’s gone through a whole pheasant of quills (I don’t know what quills are made from) and convoluted essay writing from an expression of pure intellect to an amalgamation of MLA standards, empty vocab words, and circle-jerking that probably does damage that no neuroplasticity can fix. (I’ll rant about teachers later). Teachers expect a certain level of academia in any of the so-called “essays” (if that’s even your real name) they assign, and not giving it to them can get you anywhere from nowhere to back before you even started. But that doesn’t mean you can’t retain the free-spirited, goose-massacring (quills come from geese, not pheasants), idea testing origins upon which essay writing was founded. And here’s how you do it:
Step 1: kill a pheasant. This step is optional, but if you want to write a really, really good essay, you’ll have to shed some blood (preferentially, not your own). Also, fuck pheasants.
Step 2: know what you’re writing about. This step is not optional and is, in fact, super duper important. This part can get difficult, especially for university students. Do not do this step alone. If you can, talk to your professor and figure out exactly what they want you to write. Agreeing wholeheartedly with the professor can be the difference between and A+ paper and chronic homelessness for the rest of your life.
Step 3: write everything. Just write as much as you can as fast as you can. It doesn’t have to make sense, it doesn’t even have to be about the topic. If you know something, write it down. If you don’t know something, write that down, too. If you have a question, don’t worry about the answer, write down the question. If you figure out the answer later, don’t go back and find the question, just write it down wherever you are. This doesn’t have to be formal, it doesn’t have to be in complete sentences; this is just you rambling on about this thing that you’re a’sposed to be writing about (and you technically are). This is the heart and soul of your essay. If this was a hundred years ago, you’d be done. Hand that shit in; you’re a winner.
Step 4: go do something else. After you’ve run out of stuff to write, take a break. Go watch the latest Ben10: Alien Force, or go make a bacon cheeseburger with fried bananas in it, or go watch a BBC documentary about whatever with your hand down your sweatpants, I don’t care what you do, as long as it’s not writing an essay.
Step 5: organize all that shit you just wrote down. Go through what you wrote down in step three and fix it. If things sound like the go together, put them together. Go find the answers to all those questions you wrote down. This is the shitty part, but it’s also super important. If you think of some new stuff while you’re at it, throw that in there, too.
Step 4: do step 4 again.
Step the next one: make it fancy. This is the part where you go in with the MLA Handbook (or Elements of Style, if you’re not a freak). You go through your whole essay and tweak it so that it looks pretty and reads prettier. Put your brown nose on, because this step is just to suck up to the people that have to read that dribbling mess you handed them.
Step the last one: turn in your paper on time. This was the hardest part for me growing up. I’ve been told (rather aggressively) that’s it’s important. So, do that, I guess.

part two


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