Monday, March 09, 2009

The English Major and the Apocalypse

In Chicago a couple of weeks ago, I attended a talk by Art Spiegelman, the author/artist of the groundbreaking (oh, I'm so tired of that word but Spiegelman deserves it) MAUS. His talk was in the Roosevelt Theater of Roosevelt College, just off Michigan Ave. I sat in a private box, not because I am special or had paid any extra. Just no one else was sitting there. And from there in my little velvet cave I heard something stunning. Spiegelman was just getting warmed up for his presentation on the logic of the cartoon when he said, "I just attended my grand-daughter's graduation from Yale. She got her degree in English. I'm so glad she got a degree in something useful, not something useless like Finance."

I've been reading the posts on, the blog for young women who have been cashing in on Wall St. dating practices such as being given a Saks credit card by an FBF (financial guy boyfriend--the "g" is silent, they explain in the glossary). That is, up until the recession. There are two time period for the DABA (dating a banker anonymous)--BR, before recession and AR, after. Naturally, the blog has links to other blogs. I visit them. I see similar takes on the ending era--finance is over. It doesn't make sense. Lehman Brothers employees are having to work-out because their fat bonuses just won't be there to draw the babes.

So, I think of Art Spiegelman's statement.

I lied to my father when I was in college. I told him I was taking business classes for my freshman year. Of course, he caught on and warned me against my English degree, which I pursued, or more aptly merrily walked into merely by doing what I loved best--reading and writing.

Now, the world is changing. Boutique banks are taking counter deposits from anyone who walks in, and the people who have focused their lives on financial compensation--openly doing so, with no qualms for not really being concerned for social causes--are suffering, for real. And I can't see their loss as any less tragic than other kinds because I know that any loss forces us to dig incredibly deep in order to move through the change it inflicts. These people are experiencing an apocalypse.

But I'd be dishonest not to feel somewhat vindicated for having pursued a degree in English, as well as for my remarkable aversion to all things focused entirely on money. Maybe I'm gloating. I think of a professor of Education who, upon looking at my transcript, said of my Masters of Fine Arts in Creative Writing, "Wow, I'm sure that's useful." The piece of paper she was looking at is the most important piece of paper in my life. I just live in another world, have always lived in another world, from the one where education translated into immediate financial gain. And I think this world I've been inhabiting is going to be the "next world" more people step into. The mere number of blogs--beautifully written blogs, I might add--by ex-finance men and women--suggests that creativity is going to carry people through this, that it is an instinct, not a luxury. A necessity and not a waste of time. . .