What Are You Going To Do With That?

(This is part one of a series.)

If the interlocutor is following the standard script, where the initial inquiry (What are you going to school for?) and the subsequent reply (I’m pursuing a double major in Creative Writing and Philosophy.) beget a follow-up query, then some variation of this is generally the second question.

Usually the person on the other end of the initial question is courteous and polite. (That’s great! I hope you’re enjoying your studies.) Sometimes there’s an undercurrent of cynicism in their subdued response. (Yeah. Good luck finding a job when you’re finished.) Every once in a great while their eyes light up begrudgingly and they flash a true comrade smile. (Wow! I love writing! And philosophy?! That is so . . . cool!) Depending on the attitude with which the question is posed, the conversation either takes off into very comfortable territory (I love Andre Dubus! I wish I could write with that kind of passion. . .) or it gets stalled and makes a clunky turn toward topics mundane.

But the second question inevitably follows. And it’s the toughest to answer.

This is not the case with everyone of course. Ask an engineering student this question and the answer is simple. The same goes for accounting students. Zoology students. Education students. While each are no doubt pursuing specific areas of study and researching the various ways in which their work can be applied in the job market, they have a well-defined square into which their peg fits. Teachers teach. Engineers design and implement. Accountants count, whether they be widgets, beans, or off-shore bank accounts. There are entry-level jobs to be had for all such students.

But philosophy? Creative writing? What the hell do these people . . . do?

This conundrum isn’t new. University of Cambridge professor Simon Blackburn writes:

The word ‘philosophy’ carries unfortunate connotations: impractical, unworldly, weird. I suspect that all philosophers and philosophy students share that moment of silent embarrassment when someone innocently asks what we do. I would prefer to introduce myself as doing conceptual engineering. For just as the engineer studies the structure of material things, so the philosopher studies the structure of thought. Understanding the structure involves seeing how parts function and how they interconnect. It means knowing what would happen for better or worse if changes were made. This is what we aim at when we investigate the structures that shape our view of the world. Our concepts or ideas form the mental housing in which we live. We may end up proud of the structures we have built. Or we may believe that they need dismantling and starting afresh. But first, we have to know what they are.

There is a friendship that comes with wisdom. A way of looking at the world that lies beyond blindly clinging to the accepted explanations. That’s what intrigues me about philosophy. Hume and Kant, Nozick and Scruton, Neiman and Baggini, Kierkegaard, Tillich and Carse, Moore and Bruening. These folks make me think. They teach me to take my time and consider things anew. And these are good things.

Philosophy also informs my reading and writing. Nothing beats the thrill of digging into a deeply philosophical novel and coming away challenged after the last page is turned. From there I put pen to page and attempt to transform the nebulous nature of life into simple words, striving to be essential and poignant.

But still. The question!

I’ve considered copyediting. One of my former British Lit instructors is a former freelance editor and we’ve shared a few interesting conversations about the field. Freelance writing is also something that I’ve thought much about. Maggie of Okay, Fine, Dammit fame is a worthy source of information about going it solo in the field of magazine article writing. She’s on speed dial. Of course getting a short story published is a dream of mine. I’ve sent out submissions to numerous journals, though I’m not near as diligent as I should be at either writing or submitting. Dreamers are not doers most of the time. And I hate rejection.

Research. This is my next area of exploration. When I worked in radio, I loved working behind the scenes, helping produce quality and informative programming. Being a research assistant for some up-and-coming philosopher would be fascinating work. Research assistants are the feet that move the academic world. Perhaps a few more classes in professional writing are in my future . . .

. . . but maybe I’m too old for all of this. I’ll leave that for my next post . . .

Part Two – SOTA

Part Three – Being Kirk

[photo credit]

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10 thoughts on “What Are You Going To Do With That?

  1. I’m learning so much about faith these days. Not only in a spiritual, churchy kind of way, but in a self-directed, temple-of-me way. It’s as fragile as a porcelain tea cup in the hands of my three year-old son on a skateboard, but there it is.

    I know if he breaks the cup, the world will go on. There are more on the shelf. I can still drink my tea.

    Faith is one of those things that can be learned.

    M

  2. You know, Brian – you have to do what makes you happy. But yes, I’m very familiar with those questions. My son thinks I should study philosophy, but he passed up on that degree (though the department really, really wanted him) to go for mechanical engineering & math (double major). My daughter thought I should go to med school (and I would have been SO good at it, if I were younger). My husband thinks I’m a math whiz. And I want to be a writer!

    So I got my degree in Technical Communications, which is what I work in anyway, with almost enough credits in Psych for a minor in that. I have been accepted into an MFA/Creative Writing program, and there is still some little part of me that says, “All that money? For that? What if you never sell another book?”

    I don’t want to write magazine articles. I want to write short stories, poetry, and fiction. Maybe creative nonfiction, too. But like you, I fear rejection and so I don’t send much out. I need to get over that. Maybe we can be a support system for each other.

    Whatever you decide to do, keep going with you education. It will be so worth it!

    Peace – D

  3. See, that therein is the problem. Corporate America has it’s claws on the higher eduction system and I personally believe that the next generation will be less than because of it.

    Learning should not be about income producing ability.

    Now, I’ll admit when I was in college- I had a friend who was majoring in Russian philosophy and I thought; “what will she do with that?”

    I’m older now….and wish that I had taken a few more courses in russian philosophy- know what I mean?

    Go, Learn, and Be…..do what you love and provision will follow.

    too old? never; not until the last grain of dirt is thrown over your head.

  4. I love the story of the 80-something granny who got her degree, and basically said that 4 years is 4 years. If I didn’t do this, I’d still be four years older. So why the hell not?

    As for Philosophy (please note – with a capital “P” – oh, yeah, it’s that important), it is a field that I believe truly can encompass everything else, as it’s a tool for viewing the world in a whole way. I, for one, think your combo choice is truly the Karmic Happy Meal.

    Lucky, lucky you.

  5. you’re never too old…have you ever heard the song by Baz Luhrmann called “Everybody’s Free to Wear Sunscreen”. If you haven’t you need to google it and find a youtube video of it. It’s really a cool song with some great advice!

  6. Right I am going to put together a pompom squad and we are going to start on your case every day yers? Old phah, you’re only old when you’re dead and from the looks of it you are still kickin so get to it young sire!!!

    Man it must’ve been awesome studying those subjects, aah I wish I had studied!

  7. You’re not too old. Because if you are, then so am I. Besides, I think any kind of education is valuable, on its own, regardless of whether it results in financial reward. You are a sum of your experiences and your education and your relationships and the jobs you’ve had. All of that combined has weight and substance, and will help you find what you want to do with it all.

    I like what Flutter said. 🙂

  8. B.J., Your never old!!! Just more experienced. To start now means you have at least 40 years left to work at your chosen career. How many careers have I had? When did I start my last experience? And your oh so much smarter than me.

  9. here’s what i’ve been thinking of more and more and more, saying it out loud a lot: we need to toss the “american dream” thing aside–the “get the right degree, marry the right person, get the right job with benefits & security, make kids who will replicate the dream” and be willing to pursue our hearts, what we are passionate about, to listen to God’s stirring in our lives and be crazy enough to follow it. yes, there’s a cost. we are poor-er and less stable and people ask us stupid questions like “what in the $(!&!)*&! are you doing? but we know somewhere down deep that we must go, do, create, be, pursue something that is off the beaten path. i love that you are going for it, i think it’s so cool and brave and worth it in all kinds of ways. my mom went to college the entire time i was a grownup and got her degree in geography because she loved it, that was the only reason. then a few years ago she finished up a masters in humanities because she loved it. will never, ever do a thing with it but she enjoyed it and was passionate about it and wanted to get her master’s degree before she was 70 years old. happy studying.
    ps: i have great respect for philosophy majors, btw, that was my hardest class in undergrad. it was brutal but deep down i loved it

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