Sunday, July 10, 2011

Oft' I Wonder

College degrees. Are they worth the hype? In 2007 I enrolled in college with a focus on obtaining a degree. My major remained unclaimed simply because college was new territory for me. Really, who begins college at age fifty-three? Me, that's who. Without a plan in place I attended "Registration Day" at the main campus with the objective of enrolling in classes based on whatever my adviser printed out based on a Liberal Arts degree (because that's where one begins when running screaming from math and science).

Registration experts sat at tables in a huge hall. One by one they helped students fill out a schedule. As one table cleared, a registrar would crook hers or his finger and wave in another student, similar to standing in line at TJMaxx minus the talking checkouts. My turn arrived and I was waved in by an older woman. She was pleasant and to my advantage, a former head of the English Department. She said to me, "What have you done lately?" I answered, "Before my eye-explosion I wrote three novels." In front of her was my pseudo-schedule, a list of recommended subjects based on my high school transcript. She gazed down at it and quickly scribbled a line through whatever English course listed on the printout. As she scribbled she said, "Oh, no, no. This isn't the subject for you. I'm putting you in the Honors English program."

Like I knew the difference. I shrugged and said, "Okay." She then asked how much of a course load I thought I could handle (keep in mind, I was fifty-three and over thirty years out of high school). I replied, "Maybe two or three a week?" And she added Art History to my schedule. "Let's start you off slow," she said. "Super!" said I.

Five years later and still without a degree, I have successfully completed nineteen credits, twelve of those in Honors English. I write, therefore I crammed as many writing courses as I could handle into my schedule, and have never seen my writing skills improve as greatly except for when I experienced a professional edit from this very awesome editor extraordinaire, Erica Orloff (a/k/a Author Extraordinaire).

While taking college credit courses, I also maintained writing in my work-in-progress, a project that's taking nearly five years to finish (note "eye explosion" and "enrolling in college" - those things were time sucks). All in all, I kept at the craft, one for college credits and the other for improving my skills on my own time (as difficult as it was during "eye explosion").

Another Fall semester is approaching and I enrolled in one final Honors English course, only to drop the course before starting. Thoughts of "And I need this why?" kept rolling around in my sub-conscious, sending subliminal messages for me to take one more look at "WHY?" again. Thus I set out on a path to wonder and ponder as to the necessity of a degree in Liberal Arts/English Literature. I have the utmost respect for degrees, especially in the Arts. And I strongly feel this about degrees: Once obtained no one can take them away. Plus, for the many it looks good on a resume. "They" say that these days one can't get a decent paying job without some form of degree.

I'm beyond hanging out with the workforce. I have no plans on seeking employment in the "real world." My career focus is finishing my work-in-progress with a later focus on seeing it to fruition, a/k/a publication. The question that begs asking and taps at my skull often is do I really need a degree in order to accomplish my writing goals?

Perhaps what I need to consider is the audience for whom I write. Am I trying to appeal to the Literary Fiction crowd? No, and if so I'd need the Bachelors and also the Masters in Fine Arts (most likely). And lately I've considered the "genre" in which I write. Still haven't determined precisely what it is, but I have narrowed it down, feeling my work can be considered "dramedy," a cross between a funny and serious storyline.

Do I need a degree to be funny and serious? Will said degree make an editor/agent view me in a more serious light? Do I care? Frankly, I've read many books by those with degrees in English, and many by authors with MFA's. Some were fabulous; some were "meh." Yet, my most favorite of books was written by an author with a degree in Comparative Religion. Go figure.

Earlier I mentioned the improvement in my writing skills resultant of taking Honors English and receiving an edit from Editor/Author Extraordinaire. The latter has been a mentor; with her I feel as if I was completing an internship in writing just by visiting her blog. My relationship with her has blossomed beyond the mentoring stage. (Knowing her is like having a personal guardian angel/philosopher/genius.) Through her I feel as if I'm obtaining CWE (Continuing Writing Education) credits necessary to maintain my writing edge, which works better than college for me. And she possesses a degree in English, is a literary editor and at one time in her life, a literary agent. So it goes, she backs up her profession with the necessary and appropriate credentials. (Plus, her books kick some major butt.)

All said, at this juncture in my life, I have already honed my "natural" talent (as some have called it) by completing the aforementioned Honors English and mentoring/interning via Editor/Author extraordinaire. I continued improving my skills, writing daily even if it isn't in my work-in-progress. I practice the craft regularly. I have no desire to be a critic, editor, agent or English teacher. I just want to write it, finish it, publish it. The THREE ITS. I feel it's unnecessary to return for a "degree" if my goal-focus is on seeing my work-in-progress or one of my other manuscripts to fruition. I'm FIFTY-FRIGGIN'-SEVEN! Seriously, time to carpe diem it up, right?

I honor and respect those who've pounded their way to a Bachelors and MFA. But personally I feel that a degree in the Arts isn't always a necessity for everyone. This writer-extraordinaire will succeed without the sheepskin, pretty as one might look on my wall. With the notion that writing is something I cannot quit, it proves to me that I'm on the correct and very focused path.

Degree or not to degree? What dost thou think?


Stephen Parrish said...

Great post. I went through a similar process when I ran out of money and couldn't afford to be a full time student anymore. I ultimately finished, not because I thought doing so was necessary to a writing career, rather merely because I wanted a degree. In fact I majored in math, because my "spare" time was already filled with literature.

Hemingway had a high school diploma. If you're writing fiction, all that matters is that you write a gud buk.

Erica Orloff said...

I have my degree in English, Journalism, and Sociology, with a minor in Creative Writing. (Classic overachiever, much? Did I need THREE majors?). I love LEARNING for learning's sake, so paper doesn't impress me as much as self-learning. I think your path has been a journey and you are so well-read, such a student of life and writing, such an evolved person.

Love you bunches.

Kath Calarco said...

Stevie, where were you when I wanted a tutor (in Statistics and any and all other math related classes of which I ran screaming from)?

Thanks for the uplifting remark. You run to my rescue even when I'm not feeling suicidal. :-)

BTW, I have a high school diploma, but lack an addiction (but I can develop one if need be). ;-)

Kath Calarco said...

Erica, often I wish I lived nearer (especially while reading your recommended reads). But mostly because at times I cherish an open-minded sound-board to run ideas by, as well as the occasional shoulder, etc. But there's always Skype, eh?

Thanks so much for all you've done for me. :-)

Natasha Fondren said...

I can't sit in a classroom anymore. School was hell for me... until I went to music school and most of my classes were spent "doing." I love learning, though, so I always thought I'd take college classes for fun, but then I sat through a one-hour class and it all came flooding back.

If my attention span did allow it and I were getting a degree, I'd take the strangest, funkiest courses I could find.

Kath Calarco said...

And Natasha, look at all you have accomplished in your writing world. Truly extraordinary! But I agree about sitting in a classroom. Unless one is "doing" it just sort of leaves me feeling queasy, you know?