Side Effects of Being An English Major

Jessi Lewis

Staff Writer

Jessi Lewis has her MFA in fiction and an MA in Writing and Rhetoric. She was one of the founding editors of Cheat River Review and now works to bring her own fiction, poetry and essays to eyes each month.     Twitter: @jessiwrit

English majors were taught to analyze, to find humanity in writing, to see society reflected in texts. Once you break free and can look back on graduation, however, there are some side effects:

1. You can read books, all of the books, and find your own secret stash of meaning in the chapters. It’s just tricky because it’s so very hard to get anyone to pay you to read.

2. When somebody wants a resume from you it’s nearly impossible to keep it to a page- not because you’ve had a complex history of employment necessarily, but because there’s just so much you could say. Suddenly, the Curriculum Vitae sounds like such an awesome concept.

3. You have a direct answer when somebody asks you: Who’d you rather party with, Hamlet, Beowulf or Dalloway?

4. Your back muscles went through a great period of strain and then strength when someone first made you buy the Norton Anthology.

5. You notice the recession-victims who struggled around you and couldn’t get the grad school assistantship, the job, the publications, or the internship. Life is commonly a challenge to keep on swimming through your job.


You left your academic English ways behind for something a little more practical, a little more you, or even a little more lucrative. Every once in a while, though, you’re caught off guard when someone you meet is far too ironic to be a character in real life.

6. You get sentimental when you think about using a blue book for a test.

7. Someone at some point has told you that your background would allow you to sell insurance, write grants, or sell wine.

8. You have written some incredibly nerdy emails to other English majors who are equally interested in the modern presentation of the Confederate and Union army relationship, Disney’s presentation of voice actors of color, or maybe even how much you actually enjoyed Billy Budd.

9. You still remember that paper where you argued the purpose of a theme so well that your professor bought it. And then you wondered if it was true, if you had argued it into existence.

10. Drunk poetry was an actual event for you at one time and now you kind of miss it.

11. You keep waiting for someone to jut into a room unexpectedly and say, “Hey there are free books at the library sale,” and then for everyone to stand up and follow.

12. You miss the days when the guy who could speak and translate Olde English was impressive and useful on a daily basis.

13. It’s shocking how few people around you ever write by hand.

14. You highlight or edit lines in your beach reads like a pro

15. You keep tabs on the old authors and regularly mourn deaths of people you’ve never met, like Gabriel Garcia Marquez, Maya Angelou and Kurt Vonnegut.

16. You know what a predicate is. You know how to scan a poem. But you also know that along the way, the editors, companies, or professors who chose what you should read missed some important authors you really should have read.

17. You have a complex opinion of postmodern literary theory that very few people want to hear. When someone mentions the Elf on the Shelf as a potential example of a panopticon, a bell goes off in your brain.

18. You’ve realized how nice it is to talk to someone about books who wasn’t an English major because it’s nice to know your freak flag isn’t actually freakish. Besides, you’ve got other freak flags to display that are far more legitimate.

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