Dear Doubter of My Desired Degree

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Dear Doubter of My Desired Degree,

You aren’t the first to tell me that there is no place in the world for English majors.

During my Freshman year of college, I spoke to my then-history professor about my ideal career and college goals. Upon learning that I wanted to declare a major in English, the short, fat, balding, graying, red faced man chuckled.

“My son was an English major…now he’s a waiter on a cruise ship.”

Well just because your son was a failure doesn’t mean I’ll be.

In retrospect, that was rude. I’m sure his son is a great guy and an excellent waiter.

But little did I know that this would be the first of many people to tell me that my degree is either useless or only useful for instructing others. Don’t get me wrong, I have a gigantic respect for teachers. My mother is a teacher, some of my greatest mentors as a child were teachers…I was raised among them. Seeing my mother stressed out over grading, or frustrated with a reckless child–it means that I’ve never seen a teacher as anything less than a human being.

It’s also something I just don’t want to do.

“So…you don’t want to be a teacher,” you confirm with a frown, “You want to be a writer? They don’t make a lot of money, you know.”

First of all, Person Without a Face, don’t let the idea of the American Dream fool you. Not every choice involves making money. I’d much rather have a major I love, and make an average living, than have a major I hate that’s financially promising. Some of the worst professionals in the world exist because they care less about the job and more about the money and perks.

Second of all, think outside the box a bit. English majors are so much more than just writers and teachers. Take the website you’re reading this on, for instance. If this website and its features contained multiple spelling and grammar errors, you would find it far less credible. Who do you think proofreads every word? Let’s think a bit bigger.Everyone wants to be a lawyer, a scientist, a politician, a doctor. Think of how many people would be discredited if you found out that they couldn’t spell words like “definitely” or couldn’t differentiate between “there,” “their,” and “they’re?” Or “here” and “hear.” “Where” and “Were?”

Even if you claim you wouldn’t care about misspellings, deep down you would…just a little bit.

Naturally, I don’t feel that it’s my duty to prove anything to anyone who doubts the worth of my future degree. But as I approach my graduation, more and more people are telling me to pursue my Masters degree: specifically people who aren’t paying for my education. When I ask why they think I should go for my Masters, all they can say is that “it looks good.”

Okay.

Maybe I want to see what I can accomplish in the here and now. Maybe I want to get to a point where I’m well established in my preferred profession, and therefore am able to move up while simultaneously paying for it myself. I don’t doubt that a Masters isn’t important. But c’mon.

Nonetheless, the English degree (like an art degree, film degree, music degree, fashion degree) is so much more than just creating things to look/sound pretty. The value in my education shouldn’t be dictated by how conventionally and ostentatiously productive I look to you.

We can’t all be scientists and politicians.

Sincerely,
Get Off My Back

P.S. Here’s a non-exhaustive list of all the professions an English major can have

Copywriting
Corporate Blogging
Editing
Entertainment
Film & Screenwriting
Freelancing
Grant Writing
Inside Sales
International Relations
Investor Relations
Journalism
Law
Library Science
Lobbying
Marketing
News Reporting
Policy Analyst
Political Analyst
Public Relations
Publishing
Social Media Management
Stock Broker
Teaching
Technical Writing & Editing
Writing

22 Things I’ve Learned by 22

As of now, it is currently 12:52 in Paris, France. Thus, it’s officially my birthday and I’ve been feeling incredibly reflective these last few months. Being in Paris has made me come to terms with a lot of things, and thus I’ve been able to break down how much I’ve learned about myself and what I’ve experienced.

  1. It’s important to be okay with learning. Instead of dropping difficulties and staying in my comfort zone, I should try to learn so that I eventually can know.
  2. You have to be independent. Being in Paris has made me realize that I’m far more resilient than I initially believed. The first two weeks that I was here, I was navigating a foreign country completely on my own, with very little knowledge of the language. With time I managed to assimilate and learn how to navigate the city by myself.
  3. A good education is a privilege. It’s unfortunate that receiving an education is a right, but it’s not necessarily equal in quality across the board. I found that I’m really lucky to have been able to attend the schools I have, and that I have two parents willing to push me to better myself, academically.
  4. Letting go is important. Letting go doesn’t mean absolving someone of the wrong they’ve done. Rather, it allows your own spirit to heal.
  5. Change is hard.  Struggling to accept the change doesn’t necessarily mean that someone is weak. It just means they need more time to adjust.
  6. Growing up isn’t always fun. Okay, yeah, I’m old enough to go to rated-R movies alone, and I can go to bars whenever I want without a fake ID. But I would give all of that up for afternoon naps, coloring for homework, and trips to the zoo. Gross men don’t beg you to let them buy you drinks in the butterfly house.
  7. She isn’t my competition. I’ve learned recently that the girls I envied for appearing to be perfect really didn’t feel perfect at all. Her success and beauty doesn’t mean that I’m any less successful or beautiful. Rather, we are two different women with two different types of success and beauty.
  8. Friends that stop you from being yourself aren’t your friends. I once had a friend in middle school who used to tell me that I spoke like a white girl. She also wrote a fake love letter and put it in my locker. We don’t talk anymore.
  9. Coming to terms with your sexuality is a constant thing. There are moments when I doubt myself and my sexuality, because I’m not always necessarily adhering to the textbook definition of bisexuality. Then I remember that it’s fluid.
  10. Divorce sucks. After your parents have been separated for over half of your lifetime, you see so many other people with happily married parents, and a part of you feels a bit bitter. You also wonder what life would’ve been like had your parents still been together into your adulthood.
  11. Seeing your parents date other people also sucks. According to my father, I was always highly suspicious of every woman he dated. I’ve learned over time that it’s a common thing for children of divorced parents to see every potential new girlfriend or boyfriend as undeserving. Eventually I learned to let that go. But I’m not sorry.
  12. Putting on a front is draining and not worth it. In seventh grade, I went through a phase where I would wear nothing but “urban fashion” (i.e. Baby Phat, Rocawear, Southpole, etc.).  I’d pretend to like rap music, and I’d pretend to know certain slang. It was my attempt to try and bond with my black peers more, because I felt like my real personality wasn’t black enough. That phase was quickly dropped, because I really, REALLY didn’t like Lil Wayne. Pretending to was unhealthy for me.
  13. Middle School Sucks. Pre-teens are assholes. It was possibly the most teasing I’d faced my entire life…though I was relatively lucky in the grand scheme of things.
  14. Just because someone seems nice doesn’t mean that they are. “I wouldn’t hurt a fly” is code for “I want you to believe that I’m a good person and not a shit head.”
  15. Depression is real, and it’s scary. Running on autopilot and not being able to remember blocks of time is a scary experience, and something that I never want to experience again. Managing my depression is imperative for my health and well-being.
  16. It’s important to ask for help. People aren’t always going to sense that something is wrong, so it’s important to speak up when you really need to. Independence is important, but not everything can be handled alone.
  17. “Being on track” is a myth. On College Signing Day, I was one of the only people among my group of friends that hadn’t been formally accepted to any colleges. I felt awful, like I’d fallen behind. I learned that my pace won’t always match everyone else’s and that’s okay.
  18. I need to accept when I’ve screwed up, and also NOT do it again. During my Freshman year of college, I screwed up really badly and ended up falling behind a full year behind all of my friends. It was due to my own laziness and inability to take things seriously.  I was lucky enough to receive a second chance to make things right, though most people probably wouldn’t have.
  19. The energy you put out is the energy you receive. If you act like you hate everyone and don’t want to be talked to, people won’t talk to you. It seems like common sense, but I often forget that my desire for solitude often comes off as aloof and cold. I also believe that I can be aloof and cold as a person.
  20. Black womanhood is a beautiful thing. The love and support that I received from other black women and being surrounded by women who faced the same struggles were main contributions to me learning to love myself. I’m proud to say that the black women in my life are the strongest people I know. Even though we have so many barriers in our path, I’m so proud to be a black woman.
  21. Love isn’t cinematic. When I finally realized that I loved someone, it didn’t really hit me the way I thought it would. I was thinking that it’d be a moment of realization with fireworks (mentally, of course) and fanfare. I thought it’d be a whirlwind thing that Rom-Com meet-cutes were made of. Instead it was very quiet. It sneaked up on me, and kind of just sat in my lap as if to say, “Hey…here I am.” And I knew it was love, because he was more than just someone I wanted romance with, he was also my best friend. If all was said and done, and we were just best friends, I think I would’ve been content. I knew it was love because we had absolutely nothing in common, but I was excited to actually try experiencing something I never would’ve (in this case obscure horror, for instance), simply because he seemed so enthusiastic about it. I know it was love, because if I ever experience something similar to what I did before, I think I’ll be very lucky.
  22. I am a complex person. I am multi-faceted and multi-layered. I’m more than my mental illness, my body, my sexuality, my brain, my talent. I’m more than what I can give to others and how I make others feel. I’m worthy of love, I’m worthy of joy. Every year I’m given will never stop being a blessing to me, and there are so many things that I’m so excited to experience.

To The Matriarchs I’ll Never Meet

To the ones who came before me, I honor your resilience.

I think of the thousands of women who came before me, beating the odds and choosing to continue on when the moments were too much to bear. My heart breaks when I think about all of the abuse and turmoil you were forced to live with, and I wish more than anything that the world didn’t treat you so poorly. I don’t know your names, I don’t know what countries you were born in or the amazing things you did  in your lifetimes. But I thank you for making me who I am today, though you will never know your impact. I thank you for my too-small nose, and big eyes, and full lips, and wide hips. I thank you for my brown skin, my wild hair, my flat feet, my small hands. I thank you for the rich blood that runs through my veins, the result of thousands of years of stories that I’ll never know. I thank you for my artistic spirit and my empathetic soul.

You sacrificed so much…physically, emotionally, mentally, spiritually. You sacrificed more than you were given. I’m not sure if you ever dreamed or thought about the future. I’m not sure if you ever thought that you’d have a young woman in your family  free to make her own choices and learn to her hearts content. Perhaps you never believed that, one day, one of your future daughters would see the world and experience the things that weren’t guaranteed to girls like her for such a long time. My only true hope is that I can make you proud. Should I decide to become a mother in the future, I’ll be equally proud to pass all of these inherited qualities onto my own child.

You’re all in my thoughts, wherever I am…whatever I’m doing.

She

In the moments when
She
Looked to the brilliant violet sky
Searching to find replacements
For the stars snatched from her eyes
And
Crushed in the center of a powerful
Palm
She;
Consistently hardening
In a world that denies her softness
Accusations of submissiveness
Torn between
Aggression and Servitude

She;
Earning space
Both invisible
and
Not invisble enough.
Sending love letters to
Soft hips
Soft stomachs
Softness

She;
Curling up in the comfort of
Quiet

She;
Shifting through thoughts too
Loud

She;
Trying to remember what it felt like to just
Be
She.

The Diversity Myth: It’s complex and necessary.

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As  person with a strong desire to go into publishing (specifically YA) in the future, I’m aware of how often the topic of diversity rears its head. There are always questions of “if I include this character who isn’t white, is it diverse enough?” or “if all of my characters are Latino, that qualifies as diverse, right?” Even in television I’ve watched countless shows that include either one character of color in a predominantly white cast, or various characters of color in the cast. Diversity is a complex subject, though people may not realize it.

Many people usually believe that a “diverse group” involves a large number of people that aren’t white. Someone may go into a predominantly black neighborhood and describe it as “racially diverse.” Meanwhile a predominantly white neighborhood may be classified as…well white. If a film features a black cast with one non-black actor, they may classify that as diverse because the cast is primarily black. Ultimately diversity means “showing a great deal of variety.” In other words, the cast of Hamilton is a diverse cast because it includes actors of various races and ethnicities such as Latino, black, white, and Asian.

Furthermore, there are various forms of diversity outside of just racial or cultural. A group can have diversity of sexuality, gender presentation, mental and physical ability, and socioeconomic standing. So while a YA novel may include a racially diverse group of people, it’s just as realistic for 1 of maybe 5 characters to be a member of the LGBT community, or mentally ill, or lower/upper/middle class. But, again, this is based primarily on environment. I’ve met people who (think they) have gone their entire lives without meeting someone who wasn’t cisgender, able-bodied, neurotypical, and straight.

As a teenager, many of the YA novels I read were about white, thin, straight teenagers from the ‘burbs. I couldn’t identify with them at all, but I tried to as best as I could just so I could lose myself in the story. As a sort of test when I was a bit older, I decided to stop reading YA novels if the protagonist was white. Unfortunately, it was really hard to find novels with brown or black girls as the protagonist if it wasn’t based on hyper-realism and misery. In other words, many of the books about girls who looked like me were about racism, abuse, addiction, etc. If the majority of YA books (in various genres) only feature cisgender, straight, able-bodied, middle-class, white teenagers, and these books are offered to teenagers/pre-teens who don’t fit this norm, what does that tell them? That these stories either aren’t for them, or that they need to fit this norm in order to be accepted by society. Even if the protagonist of the story is white, sometimes I even appreciate when another character isn’t and has their own story line. Sometimes if the book seems interesting enough, I’ll just read it anyway regardless of the diversity aspect.

Anyway…

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This is why shows like Gossip Girl, Girls, Sex and the City, Friends, How I Met Your Mother, etc. are often criticized for their lack of diversity. New York City is a ginormous place. And while it’s normal for people to latch onto people most like them, it’s highly unlikely that every person they meet while going through the motions of life will look/behave just like them. I can’t imagine people living in Williamsburg or Harlem not meeting people outside of their own race. And many people who criticize these shows (or most YA novels with the same problems) are shut down for trying to “force” diversity. You can’t really force what naturally exists, though many may try to deny it. In a post that I may publish in the future, I’ll further elaborate on why diversity is so important. But, simply put, diversity in the literature and media we consume is important because it doesn’t exist in a bubble. How people of various groups are portrayed in the things we consume can ultimately cause us to form opinions of them. This especially goes for the groups that we may not know in real life. It’s also important to note that it isn’t enough to JUST have a diverse group. They need to be positively represented as well. This can help build the self-esteem of readers and maybe allow others to think outside of the box.

I suppose diversity can be easy to forget– okay not easy to forget, but a non-issue if it isn’t really something that effects you as an audience member. That’s understandable. But in the changing world that we live in, it’s an important aspect of media consumption that we need to really pay attention to.

Spring

It’s 2 AM.

By twenty-one I’ve learned to deplore the phrase “late bloomer.”

I’ve always felt like the phrase was drenched in pity. In context, it always seemed to mean that one wasn’t necessarily growing because they didn’t do everything “the right way.” They didn’t get their first kiss by 17 or lose their virginity by 20. They didn’t date in high school and have their first serious relationship in college. They didn’t have a first love…or a second or a third. They’ve never had awkward fumbling in the dark, or too-wet kisses, or hands gripping at them like they needed them. They’ve never felt the stress of distance or incredibly close proximity. They never suffered long sleepless nights or moments of helplessness. They didn’t develop mentally…physically…emotionally in the way they should’ve by now. But it’s fine, because the flower that blooms the latest is the most brilliant.

We’re always growing. Coming to terms with who you are, what you like, how you want to exist in this world is a constant motion of blooming. From birth we’re flowering slowly. And when does the blooming stop? At what point are we a full fledged flower and at what point does it all start to go downhill?

What if it’s by choice and you bypassed those checkpoints to make your own? A network of vines  touching various checkpoints at random along the way but still stretching for more. Or choosing to bypass the process altogether.

Some are flowers, some are vines. Some slowly grow up, others slowly grow out .

 

What’s In A Name?

When Naja’s super-logical-brain desperately needs to categorize everything, including her own social standing.

Over the course of the development of this blog, the concept of identity has come up quite often. From my ethnicity and race, to my speech and ideology, my identity has played a huge role in who I am. It’s in my nature to always desire a concrete sense of self, and gray areas freak me out. I don’t necessarily like not having something stable, and yet stability isn’t exactly one of my stronger suits. If I can’t fit into something (a role, an expectation, a dress I bought last year) I freak the hell out.

For the longest time, I’ve been a bit of an “outskirter.” Not necessarily in the crowd, but not really an outcast either. I suppose this is the product of being an introvert: I can be social when I have to be/want to be, but if I don’t want to be it’s pretty obvious. The standard version of this would be, for instance, coming around to say hello, initiating conversation a bit, slowly drifting off, and then disappearing completely. Not because I hate the person I’m talking to or anything. I could be absolutely enamored with the conversation partner. But as most introverts know, if you’re not feeling it, you’re just not feeling it. And that feeling of not feeling it radiates from you like a bad odor.

College may actually be the world’s worst place for introverts. Because it’s the first time you kind of HAVE to put yourself out there if you expect to get anything back. In middle school and high school, it was easy to just hang out with other introverts. Especially the ones you’ve known since elementary school. Since coming here, though, I’ve realized that it’s very easy to just go to class, go to work, and then go back to your room and stay there all night. Believe me when I say, as I’m typing this, that sounds like a dream. But it’s also a very lonely life to live.

Being in college has made me a lot more open to meeting new people, thanks in part to my sorority (shout out to KLP) and also thanks to the whole roommate thing. I think I’ve been lucky that I haven’t had to deal with an asshole roommate, yet. At the moment, I’m 3/3 in regards to having people I like living with me.

But, as I’ve stated, I like names. I like having a group to belong to. And since joining college, the lines of “grouping” have become more and more blurred. The question of what necessarily constitutes as “belonging” always seem to change and shift in my head. Because it’s very easy to say that you’re a part of something. But if you don’t feel that way, are you really? That’s like saying that you’re on the football team, when you’re constantly on the bench nursing your water bottle. Being a part of something in name doesn’t necessarily mean you ARE a part of it. And for most of my life, this is something I recognized. I don’t think there’s one thing I can say I’ve jumped into with both feet…save maybe writing. I’m a writer. Everyone knows me as a writer.

That’s my thing, thus, that’s what I am. But it’s odd when that’s all people can associate with you (I say as I write). That and being quiet and black..

It’s like when you’re in middle school and you’re forced to say 5 nice things about your neighbor. I remember everyone going around and saying things like “you’re so funny!” “you’re an amazing dancer!” “you’re the coolest person I know!” “you’re so pretty and honest!” “you’re such a great friend!” Then the circle would get to me and it was always, “You’re nice” and/or “You know a lot of stuff.” Then silence, as no one could think up 3 more things because they knew me about as well as they knew the teacher. Maybe even less so.

And I suppose there’s nothing wrong with being called nice and smart. But when that becomes the go-to answer for every single ice breaker. You realize that you’re not really a people person.

It’s a bit stranger when the qualities you believe you have aren’t even defined enough that you are immediately identifiable. For instance, for the longest time, I genuinely believed that I was a nerd. I liked comic books (well…some). I loved comic book movie adaptions. I loved TV shows like Glee, Game of Thrones, and The Walking Dead. I argued about characters in forums (for a time). I was a nerd. That’s who I was. But then I started talking to other nerds, and I was hit with the full realization that I wasn’t quite as nerdy as I thought I was. I wasn’t even nerdy enough to hang out with other nerds. The conversation would go to places and I’d be left in the dust, completely confused.

I’m not a partier. I’m not a hipster. I’m not good at sports. I’m not good at visual art. I avoid science like the plague. I’m not a giant ray of sunshine, nor do I still participate in the performance arts anymore. I don’t have definitive personality trait, or a multitude of talents. I don’t really stand out much, even in the clothes that I wear or the way that I speak. I mean aside from my writing, and the fact that I can be clever sometimes, I believe that I’m mostly average (sorry, mom & dad).

So…now what?

Someone suggested I go get my nose pierced and dye my hair. That may be number 3 on my list of things to do before I turn 25.

My ability to blend in like navy seal and disappear at will could benefit me in the long run should I ever decide to fulfill my dream of becoming a travel journalist in the future. It gives me the chance to go from country to country, without causing any international incidents while I’m there.

All of that aside, turning 21 has given me this inner desire to change…something. I don’t know what. It was triggered by something the school therapist once told me. When I told her that I was having issues fitting in, she told me, “Why can’t you just be everything at once?” And I suppose it made sense.

No one is 100% one thing. Even if their largest identifier happens to be a certain trait.

Then one night, a few nights back, I was in bed listening to The Avett Brothers. The song “Head Full Of Doubt/Road Full Of Promise” played. Typically, when I’m listening to Pandora, I tend to zone out. But this time around I chose to listen to the words:

“When nothing is owed or deserved or expected
And your life doesn’t change by the man that’s elected
If you’re loved by someone, you’re never rejected
Decide what to be and go be it”

The clouds in the nigh sky opened up, and the stars began to shift to spell out “Naja the the hell out of your own head and just live.” And I had an awakening of epic proportions. Because the therapist was right in that I don’t necessarily have to fit in one box. I don’t think anyone cares about this except for me. If I want to do something, I just have to put on my big girl pants and get shit done without worrying about it going to crap. I already know my mom will read this and think, “Duh, I’ve been saying this to you forever.” I’m sorry! Things have to be sung to me through the accompaniment of an acoustic Gibson guitar, sometimes.

If it wasn’t evident, I have epiphanies at least three times a month. This may be my second, and I’m due for another.