December 1, 2023

You are an English major because you don’t know what you want to do with your life, and reading and writing are like breathing to you, the easiest paths to sure As.  You haven’t particularly devoted yourself to them.  They just are what you do without much effort.  Your mother read to you a lot.  You acquired an ear for language so naturally it almost came out looking like talent.   Yet talent is something to be practiced and honed.  You just are.  You don’t know what you want.  You keep reading and writing not as effort but as existence.

Then one day a terrible thing happens.  You graduate.  You can’t put if off.  You have a double major by now in English and journalism because in those classes all you need to exchange for grades are words.  Yet the university offers a finite number of English and journalism classes.  You’ve run out of new offerings.

You contemplate starting over.  You could probably write a lot in history and philosophy classes as well.  But you’d just graduate again, and still you’d have no particular marketable skill.

You start taking graduate classes in literature because to do anything else would mean you’d have to look for a job, get a new apartment, start paying your own insurance.  You think about going to work at the post office, but it’s so much easier to read Derrida and Virginia Woolf and sling out words about them on demand.

Too soon you are told your thesis has passed.  You sit disconsolate on the steps of College Hall rambling about taking the Civil Service exam.  The man who should have given you a harder time about your thesis, made it last a little longer, sits beside you.  “There is a PhD program in poetry,” he says, “that you might be interested in.  I know someone who teaches there.”

You decide your feet get too sore too easily to go for the Air Force, so you pack up your Elizabeth Bishop and Seamus Heaney books, find a new apartment in a new state, and decide for the first time to make pretense at calling yourself a writer.

You are here because they did not have an application fee, and nothing would have been lost if they had not wanted you.  You are here because someone made a phone call on your behalf based on the slim evidence of one folder of poems and a thesis you wrote quickly, inattentively.  You know you are an impostor from the start.

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