(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