Whenever I get really really stressed, doing something creative always helps me unwind. With finals looming ahead, everyone might need a little literary study break! When you find yourself feeling frazzled, I encourage you to try some out some blackout poetry.
All you need is a loose newspaper article, a book page or a magazine you are willing to part with, and a sharpie! Your goal—create a brand new story using the existing text in front of you. To begin, glance down at the page and box in any phrases that for whatever reason, really strike you. Now, see if any of these phrases fit together. The catch? You can’t move any of the text and you still want the poem to read correctly from left to right. You can choose whether you want to make a broad story out of just "big" words like nouns, verbs, and adjectives or if you want to create a more coherent narrative using big words and little words like "is," "of," and "the" to move the story along. Once you have a stanza or two marked out, you are ready for the fun part! Blackout EVERYTHING ELSE on the page, and feel all of your angst instantly melt away. If you want to get super fancy, you can even create pictures on the page to match the feel of your brand new poem.
I love blackout poetry because you can create something uniquely your own that stems from writing that’s already out there. There is something special about finding secret messages in unlikely places, and I swear the entire process is ridiculously therapeutic.
Have fun & happy last week of classes!
Written by Ellie M.
Depending on who you ask, creativity strikes on its own whim. It comes when you’re in the middle of a bio test or sitting in rush hour traffic or when you’re invested in a deep conversation with your best friend. Then, when you sit down at your desk, ready to write, it’s like it was never even there in the first place. We’ve all been there before. Where do you start when the poetry gets stuck, when the characters are all wrong, when the words don’t exist yet for something you haven’t even thought of?
According to one study, people are most able to do constrained thinking (like concentrating on solving singular, linear issues) when they’re at full mental capacity, which varies person to person. If you’re a morning bird, this will be when you wake up; and as a night owl, it’ll probably be easier later in the day. Thinking expansively, though, in a creative capacity where the bounds are nonexistent and the opportunities are limitless -- this is actually better to do when you’re not feeling so hot intellectually. The idea is that when you’re mentally “on,” you have the focus that you can dedicate to one task. When you’re a night owl still in that morning haze, your lack of concentration actually allows your mind to take all sorts of paths, which will likely produce some unique ideas.
Routine is how most of the greats became great -- rise, focus, write, repeat, on the same schedule every day. This repetition gives you subconscious cues that it’s time to get into the thought patterns that help sculpt your stories from the ground up. Once you’ve got your routine down, make sure you can stay in the flow. High intensity noise over 95 decibels - think a food processor - is not going to be conducive to your writing, and if you want to be most productive, split your work into 1-3 hour chunks followed by a break. Keep in mind that these are pretty broad generalizations coming from psychologists, and that maybe you function differently - like Allen Ginsberg, who could work anywhere, or maybe like Ray Bradbury, whose constant inspiration negated the need for a schedule.
When asked about his writing habits, E.B. White replied, “A writer who waits for ideal conditions under which to work will die without putting a word on paper.” So if you’re trying to get your wordplay into the world, consider this: make your ideal conditions every day, so that in the end, you are the master of the word count.
If you’re looking for more information, here are some good places to start.
Written by Kristen Hickey ('20)
I came across the poets Nesbit and Gibley (who describe themselves as “two old men who write poetry, short stories and other things”) while scrolling through my WordPress Recommendations. One of their poems, titled We Are Fragile Things, had gone viral. Intrigued, I explored the rest of their site. The poems below are just a few examples of the poignant poetry the pair have written (check out https://nesbitandgibley.com/ for more).
Poem #1: We Are Fragile Things
We Are Fragile Things acknowledges the great achievements of humans (“They’ve explored the deepest trenches, / Climbed the highest mountains, / Even travelled to the moon and back”) but notes that “we can be fragile things.” The use of “we” implicates us, as readers, as the humans the poem is talking about. We struggle with “death and accident,” but “we can be mended, / Healed by truth and trust.”
The last sentence of the poem is: “We are fragile things / Broken by loss and fixed with love.” The change from “we can be fragile things” to “we are fragile things” demonstrates that we cannot escape the struggles that life presents to us. We can, however, be “fixed with love” and the companionship of those around us.
We Are Fragile Things – https://nesbitandgibley.com/2016/09/23/we-are-fragile-things/
Poem #2: To Lighten The Load of Her Heavy Mind
The poem introduces a girl’s mental turmoil with the quote: “‘It’s not the world I endure, but myself.’” We quickly learn that her greatest enemy is herself; the girl struggles “to venture out for the newspaper” because even simple acts like that one apply “gravity / and pressure” to the girl’s “shoulders, / [and] to her beautiful mind.” The italicizing of “pressure” emphasizes the persistent burden to appear normal for other people, a new kind of struggle that the girl is “not quite used to.” Nevertheless, the poem reassures her—and us—that having a bad day is “not the end of the world.” In fact, it is perfectly normal.
To Lighten The Load of Her Heavy Mind – https://nesbitandgibley.com/2016/11/08/to-lighten-the-load-of-her-heavy-mind/
Poem #3: Wireless
Many of us are glued to our phones and our laptops. But the poem reminds us that we can—if we wanted to—leave “the mean glare of a white screen” and “fully embrace the magnificence of being human.” As humans, “we’re wonderfully wireless,” able to forge meaningful relationships without the use of man-made gadgets.
Wireless – https://nesbitandgibley.com/2016/11/01/wireless/
Poem #4: Milk
What happens when someone constant in your life passes away?
This poem brings an unexpected twist to that question by detailing the impact of a community milkman’s death on the residents, despite them “not knowing his name.” The loss of the milkman’s presence is seen in the doorsteps that remain “empty bottled,” but as the same time, life continues to go on. The repetition of “will” in the subsequent lines (“The trees will shed their leaves,” “the traffic lights will blink,” and “the sun will rise at dawn again”) also suggest that there is a constancy to look forward to. The poem ends on a hopeful note, saying that “tomorrow, there’ll be milk on our doorstep.”
Milk – https://nesbitandgibley.com/2016/11/11/milk/
Poem #5: We’ve Only Fleeting Minutes
The length of the poem (it’s only 6 lines) reflects its message—that we should live in the moment. Confronted with our fast-paced lives, we may think of pictures as the only way to “capture the moment before it ends.” But, as the speaker of the poem points out, we should let the moment end, for “that’s the beauty” of it all.
We’ve Only Fleeting Minutes – https://nesbitandgibley.com/2016/11/03/weve-only-fleeting-minutes/
Written by Evelyn Syau (’20)
In these times of stress and fatigue, I have found it exceedingly difficult to read for my own enjoyment. The things that inclined me to be an English major in the first place - those long nights wrapped up in the pages of another world - no longer seem open to me. There is simply too much to do. That essay, lab, or internship is just more important.
So, I want to use this writing space to bring up a piece by one of my favorite novelists: Isabel Allende’s “This I Believe” personal essay for NPR, called, “In Giving I Connect with Others.” In her essay, Allende details how her daughter’s untimely death led her to a revelation on how to live her life. Like many of us at Rice, Allende “lived with passion and in a hurry, trying to accomplish too many things.” However, when her daughter Paula died, everything stopped for her. Through a harrowing grieving process encompassing two years in which she reflected on her daughter’s life, Allende discovered a personal mantra to live by: You only become rich through spending yourself.
I think it is easy for us to get lost in the routine drama of life. When something like losing a loved one happens, it’s like getting a bucket of icy water to the face. All of a sudden, we see the bigger picture.
While Rice champions a culture of care, individual acts of kindness can still be forgotten in times of monumental stress. I have been guilty of this myself; when a friend was in need, I still chose to pursue my academics rather than support her. At a higher level institution like Rice, it is expected that people would need to spend more time focusing on academics. However, I think it is equally important to keep in mind that GPA and leadership positions are only a few small facets of life. When we focus in on things like grades, it is easy to become blind to the bigger workings of life and the people around us. Allende’s essay reaffirmed a tenet I always kept in the back of my mind: human relationships are the most important thing in this world. That’s probably a drastic and somewhat naïve thing to say, but it is something I see confirmed again and again in daily situations.
So I guess what I’m trying to say is this: while life is definitely stressful (especially with finals coming up), it may be beneficial to step back and see all the wonderful humans we have around us—and to be grateful for the relationships supporting us.
Also, if you want to read Isabel Allende’s personal essay, here it is: http://www.npr.org/2005/04/04/4568464/in-giving-i-connect-with-others
I highly recommend it ☺
Written by Jennifer F.
The following interview appears in the 2015 edition of R2. This interview was conducted by Alison Liu.
George Bilgere is a Pushcart Prize winner and the author of six books of poetry. He received his MA in English Literature from Washington University in St. Louis and his Ph.D. from the University of Denver. His work has appeared in Billy Collin’s 180 More: Extraordinary Poems for Everyday, Ploughshares, and The Kenyon Review, among others. Currently, Bilgere is an Associate Professor in English at John Carroll University.
Your poetry is both so accessible and humorous. Can you talk to us about what it’s like trying to find a balance between humor and solemnity in writing?
"Well, it’s true that most of my work is built around trying to find this balance. I think a successful poem should be like an exciting musical composition: lots of shifting in tempo and cadence and tone. So I like the idea of keeping the reader off-balance by moving unexpectedly from the somber and austere to the funny and comic. If you’ve ever read a collection of poems by an extremely gloomy and angst-ridden poet you know how tedious it can become. I don’t want my readers to get complacent. Someone, I forget who, once said that the world is a tragedy to those who feel, a comedy to those who think. And since all of us both feel and think it only seems natural for poetry also to wear both the mask of tragedy and the mask of comedy. It’s taken me a lot of practice to and that balance. Too much humor and your poem is just a joke. Too much darkness and you risk dull sentimentality. When it’s right, when the balance is achieved, I rely on my ear to tell me so. Or my disgruntled readers!"
Do you have a favorite joke?
Sadly, the best jokes are those that can’t be shared in public, don’t you think? The very nature of the joke is subversive, often cruel. A joke that’s polite and careful to offend no one usually isn’t very funny. But okay, I do like talking dog jokes, and here’s a favorite: guy walks into a bar with his dog and says to the bartender, I have a talking dog. And the bartender says, okay, let’s prove it. And he asks the dog, what’s that thing over our heads? And the dog looks up and says, “Roof! Roof!” And the bartender says, not bad. Now what’s that stuff covering the trees out there? And the dog says, “Bark! Bark!” I’m impressed, says the bartender. One more question. Who’s the greatest baseball player that ever lived? And the dog says, “Ruth! Ruth!” And the bartender gets angry and says, this is nonsense, both of you get the heck out of my bar, and he throws them out. Outside on the sidewalk the dog looks at his owner with confusion on his face, and asks, “Dimaggio?”
For some reason that kills me.
Do you think poems can be used to tell stories, or are characters in poems more of a prop to convey certain emotions?
I do often use characters in my poems. In fact, I guess there are almost always people in them. And I want to say something about the humanity, or the vulnerability, or the wonderfulness, or the sadness, or the silliness, of that person. So I guess, to answer your question, the two are inseparable. To me, Jerry in “The Problem” is both kind of funny (he’s one of millions of amateur writers writing about fantasy realms) and kind of sad (he’s one of millions of amateur writers writing about fantasy realms).
What’s the first book you’ll read to your son when he’s old enough to understand? Michael is twenty months now, and I love reading things to him like The Polar Express primarily because he’s in his Train Phase and I loved my Train Phase. And I really do think he kind of “gets” it at some level, if only in the sense that he responds to the mystery and beauty of the illustrations as they pass by him while the words I’m reading become a vaguely musical if not entirely comprehensible soundtrack. And I’m very good at saying both “choo choo” and “whoo, whoo,” which he loves to hear. But when he’s old enough to really understand a narrative, I’ll be reading him Robert Louis Stevenson’s Treasure Island and Kidnapped. These books are essential reading to anyone interested in running away from home and becoming a pirate.
Some of your poetry employs details from your personal life. How does the idea of sharing part of yourself with strangers affect you or your writing?
My poems do tend to be about my own experiences. And more and more, at least in the last few books, the poems tend to be about me, as a character, moving through the world. And generally I portray myself in one way or another as a kind of foil, as a kind of comic figure, a victim of the world’s peculiarities or my own insecurities. Look at a poem like “The Ineffable,” in The White Museum. That character, who is similar to but not exactly like me, took a lot of work, and life, to develop, and I’m sticking with him. I like my poems to somehow address the fact that reality isn’t always a comfortable t for me. It’s the tiny ways we fail to move smoothly through the world that interest me. And if I can make a stranger interested in that persona, if a reader can somehow connect or empathize, I feel the poem has succeeded.
In what ways does teaching affect your writing?
I think I have the ideal job: I teach poetry workshops at a university, and I write poetry. The school is very nice about giving me time to write my poems, and my students
are very nice about giving me new approaches and insights into writing all the time. For one thing, they’re new enough to writing that they don’t mind asking the obvious questions, things like “why do poems have to be written in lines?” And I find myself thinking about things I hadn’t thought about in years, and thinking about them in a fresh way. Also, when I give my students a writing assignment, I do the assignment myself, and share the results with them. It’s encouraging to them to see how often their poems work better than mine. Of course, I’m not always happy about this, but such are the perils of teaching!
It is often said that poets, more so than other writers, must sit around waiting for inspiration to strike. How do you begin to write a poem? Is there a process that you go through when you are writing?
My feeling is that inspiration is what happens when you’re already at work on the poem. You’re plugging away at something, hoping that somehow the draft you’re working on will take o into some exciting new direction—and every now and then, very rarely, BAM! Inspiration comes along and lifts your crummy little poem into something better than you thought you could do. It’s a thrill. But yeah, I don’t think “inspiration” is something that suddenly just strikes you as you’re strolling down the sidewalk. You have to go looking for it.
At the risk of sounding cliché, do you have any advice for the aspiring writers that read our magazine?
Yes—and it’s always the same thing. Read. Read read read. Find out who’s writing the good stuff and read it. Go to your library and look at the poetry journals. If you see a poem in there you really like, or a poem in a contemporary anthology, go find a book or two by that poet and do your best to steal from him or her. Imitate, borrow, steal. That’s how every poet, every musician, gets started. And then, as you work and grow, you find yourself slowly becoming—yourself. It just takes a while to get there.
Every month, R2 runs a writing and art contest based on a prompt we decide earlier in the month. October's month was "Our Monsters," and we had to choose between some incredible pieces on a variety of topics. The winner of the contest was "A specimen of Bulimia nervosa, observed in captivity" by Sonia Hamer, and can be found in the Thresher this month, along with the winning art submission, "Can't Let Go" by Justin Bishop.
However, we'd also like to shed some light on two pieces we designated as runners-up. In no particular order, here are our two honorable mentions from this month: "Mawyer" and "Counting Sheep."
Your roommate beats his mother.
When you told me, I couldn’t picture
this polite, loving, red-cheeked
boy calling her a pussy-faced bitch and
punching her when he thought you weren’t
looking. You drank beer and
watermelon vodka, and sunburned on
Rehoboth beach; you ate his grandmother’s
bad cooking, bet on the World Cup;
you flirted with Scottish and Slovakian girls, all with him,
and you tell me all this over the phone as I lie in my
yellow dorm bed picking strands of dried grass from
the sheets. I hear your deep voice travel though
the air and radiate from cell towers
and I can hear you say that I too am a stupid bitch
for not knowing the definition of imbroglio.
You have turned into vinegar while I was gone.
I miss you baby, you soften. And I’ll kill him if
he touches you. Well, okay, I say. Well, okay.
It used to take my parents a good night kiss and a wind up music box to tuck me in. Now I've got it down to a game of make-believe in my bed or sometimes yours. I wish I could count sheep but instead I'm counting the ways you could be touching me and you're not.
The glow in the dark stars on my ceiling don't last all night. They fall asleep before I make it home, and the heavens don’t wait up for me anymore. So I leave the curtains open. Maybe some passerby will take pity and stand guard at my window until the war is won. It hardly matters one way or another. I'm here until morning, embracing a corpse and a tongue-scaled dragon all tangled up in my blankets. They come by the darkness like clockwork in my blood. That's why I sunrise in a sweat, raw-throated and panting against the wall.
I wish I could count sheep but instead I'm counting the years between us. It's a bullshit classification but then again, so are we and maybe that's what I fell in love with anyway. It's nice seeing you, I mean. It's been lonely with nothing but a quiver of splintering arrows and the basilisk in the mirror. The couch has padding enough for one last rally so I think I'll sleep here tonight. By sleep I mean it's four o'clock and I'd do it again, again.
What I'm saying is I wish I could just count sheep but instead I'm counting the footsteps of the demons that you loaned me and you know I guess it's what I donned the armor for but cardboard isn't enough against a lifetime of hellhounds and broken words and I think I could use another cup of coffee or maybe just a bedtime story.
I love ink. There’s something about words on a blank page that pulls me in as a reader, sparks my curiosity, makes me want to learn the substance of a story.
I just so happen to feel equally enthralled by ink on paper and ink on flesh.
I dream of a literary sleeve – one that runs from my shoulder all the way to my wrist, on my right arm (my write arm), the arm that, god willing, will one day produce stories of my own. I dream of making explicit on the surface of my body the density of ink that flows through my veins. Maybe one day, when I sit down to write, the words in my mind will flow through the blood of that arm, filter through all the stories that tore me down and built me back up again, the stories that made me the being of words and flesh that I am today. My stories will gain strength as they go. And out of my fingertips will be born new words. A new story to be read.
My literary sleeve is one tattoo in the making. The single word, “Moira”, in the international phonetic alphabet, embraced by brackets on my wrist. A reference to The Thirteenth Tale, a book about book lovers, a book that held my soul between its pages from first read to fifth.
It’s a remarkable thing when you can find yourself in a book. Find yourself, when you didn’t even realize you’d been missing. And bring yourself back.
In a blessed accident, I stumbled upon a website called The Word Made Flesh (http://tattoolit.com/), and the website’s wonderful and highly recommended (by me) book, The Word Made Flesh: Literary Tattoos from Bookworms Worldwide. If there’s one thing I love more than tattoos, it’s literary tattoos, and if there’s one thing I love more than literary tattoos, it’s people explaining why the tattoos are significant to them. The Word Made Flesh, both in its website and printed forms, is a photo album containing people’s personal stories and explanations of why certain quotes resonated with them. The artwork is often beautiful; the stories always are.
So now I see “that I have been putting off the essential,” to quote Margaret Lea, the narrator of The Thirteenth Tale: “it rather looks as though in forcing myself to overcome my habitual reticence, I have written anything and everything in order to avoid writing the one thing that matters.”
Margaret Lea, as you will discover in the book’s second chapter, if you happen to read it, discovers that the reason she has felt so alone in the echoing emptiness of a grand world is that she had a twin, and now she does not. Margaret’s twin died minutes after birth. Mine died in a miscarriage. I feel her absence every day.
I have never written a story that was not, somehow, about my twin.
If you go on to read The Thirteenth Tale, you will discover Margaret’s adoration for the IPA, you will discover how she habitually writes her twin’s name in its illegible, upside down and sideways lettering, keeps the scraps of paper always near her, always around.
Ink on flesh – a scrap of paper I will never lose, a proximity I will never forfeit.
This tattoo is my way of keeping what I lost close to me, of displaying on the surface that which dwells deep in my heart. My story, on the blank page of my skin. It is merely the first of what I hope to be many dozens of tributes to books in which I lost myself, books in which I found myself.
You can read me like an open book, if only you know how.
Written by Indigo V.
From the moment I first laid eyes on her work, I knew Sharon Olds was the poet for me. Anyone who can render casual sex a mystical religious experience deserves my love and devotion, and I happily have given it. After my introduction to Olds with “Sex Without Love,” I felt compelled to check out her collected works from the library, where I encountered other poems that changed my life, such as “Space Heater,” and “The Pope’s Penis.” Really, the pope’s penis, you ask? If this is not poetry, I don’t know what is.
Next week, Olds will visit Christ Church Cathedral in downtown Houston to give a reading of her latest collection, Odes, as part of an event hosted by Brazo’s Bookstore. I was surprised and delighted to find the reading at an affordable venture, given her status as a Pulitzer Prize recipient and well-known figure in the literary world. Given her fame, I didn’t think I would ever come into contact with her other than through the pages of a book, but now I have the opportunity to hear “Douche-Bad Ode,” "Ode to Buttermilk,” and “Celibate’s Ode to Balls" in real time.
Yes, Olds writes a lot about sex, but this is not what primarily attracts me to her (although it is certainly not tangential). Primarily, I love the accessibility of her poems. Olds benefits from a sense of immediacy and honesty that turns on even the most ardent literary naysayers her way. While she writes in what we might call “plain English,” and not “poetry jargon,” (or whatever the equivalent is), her poems are anything but simple. They are deceivingly complex, beautiful and brave.
Take this excerpt from “Ode to my Sister:"
"I was almost
as essential to her, as she to me.
If anything had happened to her,
I think I would not be alive today,
and no one would remember me,
as if I had not lived."
Old’s Odes (say it five times fast) are a mix between epithet and lyrical mediation. They present moments of quiet contemplation punctured by precise imagery, often from Olds’ own personal experience. Olds seems to drift so easily between philosophical modes of thought and material reality that it takes a moment to notice the careful work that she is doing to make these leaps, like in the case of “Wild Ode,” which begins,
"Early summer morning, the sun just up/
I was thinking about women’s farts,”
and transforms into a discussion about the relationship between the self and the environment.
Even if you are opposed to poetry in general, or think contemporary poetry is only for hipsters and old white men, I encourage you to rethink your stance in light of Olds. She really has something to offer everyone, young and old. If you can’t fall in love with a poet who deems a condom, “best friend of the earth,” then there is no hope.
Written by Sophie N.
For the entirety of this semester, I have been trying to read one book (an ambitious goal for an English undergrad, I know). The book sits on my desk with a bookmark a laughable third of the way through. While I’ve finished more books this semester than I ever have, I can’t get through this one. The wrinkles around the crushed base of its spine look like a furrowed brow.
The book is House of Leaves by Mark Z. Danielewski. I honestly can’t really offer a good summary (the Wikipedia page makes a good effort: https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/House_of_Leaves), but the bare bones of the story involve a mysterious death, Russian-nesting-doll-like layers of stories and their narrators, a lost documentary about a hallway, and a house that defies the laws of physics.
It belongs to a class of books termed “ergodic literature”. This format requires extra work on the part of the reader. You have to search through the piece to read it properly, perhaps skipping forward or backward, or turning the book around to see the words. In House of Leaves, this ergodic element comes in the form of misplaced text and footnotes. So many footnotes. Sideways footnotes, hidden footnotes, footnotes in different languages. Footnotes with their own footnotes, footnotes left by different narrators. Footnotes that spiral outwards from the center of the page, footnotes that are poems and pictures, footnotes that cite books that don’t exist.
That is what’s amazing about this book: it can’t be reduced. It is dependent on the format that it takes. The experience of reading it is so integral to what the book actually is that you can’t separate the two. It defies Cliffs Notes and eBook format. In an age that prizes convenience and digital, there is something so fascinating about forcibly returning to the analog. It feels like a new genre, yet it takes an almost old-fashioned approach.
I’m wading through the book at a snail’s pace. The plot and the format require it. It’s confusing and challenging and convoluted, but incredibly immersive. It makes me think about the physicality of reading. Searching through the footnotes makes me feel like part of the story. I am confused along with the characters. I explore the mystery with them. When they do research in the story, I do research, too. The confusing layers of narrators couple with this ergodic effect to blur the lines between the reader and the story to create something that’s unlike anything I’ve ever seen.
Reading in small chunks is new for me. I’m a self-professed speed reader. I can honestly say that I have never been so defeated by a book. But I really, really have enjoyed it. While reading slowly originated in my frustration, it has morphed into a kind of purposeful rationing. I like this story and I don’t want it to be over. I’m saving it, savoring it.
Reading in a new way and challenging myself has made me fall more in love with books all over again. A lot of times, I think we tend to limit ourselves when it comes to literature. We say “I like this kind of book” or “I read in this way” and then self-confirm by seeking out only what we know. But the experience of reading outside of your comfort zone is too good to pass up.
So if you feel stuck in a rut with your reading or writing, try something different! Try a new format. Read a different genre, or read in a different way. Think about the process and purpose of reading in a new way. And if you’re feeling particularly adventurous, pick up an ergodic novel. You won’t regret it.
Written by Megan G.
My friend told me a while back that he encountered an "astounding ass." He was returning a textbook at a UPS station, and the man assisting him asked him his major, to which my friend responded that he wasn't sure yet.
"Well, let me give you some advice," Mr. UPS Man said. "Whatever you do, don't become an English major. I mean, why would you major in a language you already speak and know?"
My friend relayed this experience to me with righteous rage and frustration — probably half of which was for my benefit.
I wasn't even upset by the story. I mean, recently a Rice administrator literally said on the record, with extraordinary nonchalance, that our incoming humanities majors this year had lower test scores than STEM majors.
I've come to expect this attitude, at this point. It's so easy to feel the projected stereotypes — English majors aren't good at math, English majors have it so easy in school, English majors want to publish a novel and become the next J.K. Rowling. It's always a surprise if someone says, in response to my "confessing" that I'm an English major, "That's really cool, I don’t think I could ever do that!"
How many times have people I barely know asked me what I was going to do with an English major? How many times have people asked me why I wanted to be an English major? How many times have people asked me if I'm also pre-med or pre-law, as if that'll somehow justify "what" I am? Why can't I just be an English major?
Every first club meeting, every casual introduction during which we detail name, college, major, I flinch when I have to follow “CHBE” or “kinesiology pre-med” with plain old “English.” It’s a knee-jerk reaction of feeling, like I have to explain myself, because apparently being an English major is intrinsically confounding.
It's not just others' perceptions; I've begun to believe the prejudice myself. I won’t lie — I've had more than my fair share of moments of inferiority. When I hear that someone, especially a girl, is majoring in computer science or bioengineering, I feel awe and a strong pinch of jealousy. I always ask myself, "Why couldn't I do that?"
And I think this feeling of inferiority is especially prevalent at Rice, a school so obviously focused on STEM students, that every English major I meet is a treasure to behold, a rare sympathizer and genuine peer.
Some people think we sit on our butts all day and think about books, that we don’t actually do anything while other students are at lab or research or the OEDK. Yes, the STEM students are incredibly busy — I respect that. They’re brilliant and they do so much in school and the real world. But the fact that English (and really any humanities) majors have shockingly fewer class requirements does not invalidate what we do. We make sure we’re busy, and we choose what makes us busy. Trust me, we’re loaded on the extracurriculars, and our classes take time too, in a different way.
Such critics should be ashamed for shaming us and what we love. What right do they have to criticize the choice we've made? Maybe we know something they don't — something hidden in the (literal) hundreds of books we have to read in school, our analyses, the millions of words we've written.
Language built this world. Who cares if we all already know it? In the Old Testament, when the people grew too arrogant and tried to build the Tower of Babel with an intent to reach the heavens, God only had to take away their ability to communicate, and they fell apart, just like that.
English teaches us about people and how to understand them. It teaches us about experiences we have yet to encounter. It teaches us about the many facets of the world about which we would otherwise have no idea.
So before you assume English majors had no other choice and that they are literally incapable of everything else, ask yourself if you're able to analyze the hell out of a seven-word sentence the way we can, or turn a three-second encounter into a 16-page short story, or even begin to comprehend the world in all its layers and people and confusions.
And before you take to criticism, ask yourself if you love your major as much as English majors love theirs. Very few people these days can boast they truly know their passions. In the millennial world, where instant gratification (not to mention instant money-making) is all the rage and ladder-climbing is considered an absolute necessity, many have lost sight of what they genuinely love. If there's one thing I know about English majors, it's that we all love what we're studying.
English majors aren't the lackadaisical, last-resort people some might assume them to be. We didn't swivel around looking for anything but this and find that we had no choice but to sigh, settle for English. And so what if being purely an English major without a pre-____ track sometimes means having to "wait and see"? There's nothing wrong with that. People jump from job to job in their 20s anyway — sometimes later than that.
I'm tired of defending my life choice to people. I'm tired of having to cite people like Mario Cuomo, Sting (ha), Diane Sawyer or Steven Spielberg. Do I really have to justify my major based on celebrities' successes?
I’m not going to make it my mission to critique your or anyone’s major because it’s not like mine. Major in whatever the heck you want. The point is, don’t shit on *insert major here* because you probably have no idea what you’re talking about.
Trust that it's nearly the same across the board for any major: If we work hard, we'll get somewhere. Simple as that. Even if our “somewhere” is not as concrete as "I'm going to be a pediatric oncologist" or "I'm going to be a software engineer," doesn't mean it's not valid. We'll figure it out. There's nothing wrong with giving it a little time.
Written by Julianne W.
Beauty is terror. Whatever we call beautiful, we quiver before it.
R2: The Rice Review
Rice University's undergraduate literary magazine. Here you can find event updates, monthly writing contest winners, and opinions by the R2 staff on what's new, interesting, or subject to discussion in the literary and arts world.