If you majored in English, you spent about half your college career laughing (and crying) over And What Are You Going to Do with THAT? jokes.You gathered around the lunch table with other English majors, making up careers that you would be suited to (Official Metaphor Investigator, for instance, Infinitive De-Splitter, or Plot Arc Structural Integrity Safety Officer). At three a.m., you took a break from writing a ten page essay on the significance of the color blue in The Great Gatsby and cried to your roommate about how you useless you were.
The other half you spent fielding the polite versions of the question with as much grace and as little embarrassment as possible. If you were lucky, you could say you were going pre-law, or into the library sciences. Maybe you told them you were going to be a literary critic, or a literature professor. Maybe you told them that you were going to graduate school for your MALS or your MFA or your PhD, and hoped that they wouldn’t ask for plans after that, because you didn’t have any.
And then you met that one person who was rude enough to ask you flat out, “What are you going to do with that?”
You stared at him. Maybe you blinked a few times. Then you felt that same righteous indignation that bubbled into your chest when you heard someone call Shakespeare an intellectual elitist. Shakespeare was pop culture in his day, today’s Peter Jackson, J.K. Rowling, Jason Sudeikis, and Mark Sheppard all rolled into one. It was just wrong. And it needed to be corrected.
“I’m going to write,” you told him, in a tone that sounded like fingers snapping on the last clipped word. “Which is kind of like being a Secretary of Culture, politician, and global engineer. I’m going to create whole civilizations which just might shape our civilization for decades. If I’m really good, people will still be quoting me five hundred years from now. They’ll do it on purpose to sound smart, and they’ll do it without knowing because I wormed my way just that deep into the way people live their lives.
“I’m going to be a clothing designer, architect, artist and inventor. I will design ballgowns and uniforms, street clothes and thieves’ clothes. I’ll build impenetrable strongholds, and homes that feel like pulling on your favorite sweater. I’ll sculpt war memorials, and affluent statues of graceful women, and the salt-clay doll made for Momma that she treasures. I’ll construct the unbreakable safe, and the flying car, and the ice-skates that never need to be sharpened.
“I’ll be a policeman and investigator, chasing down society’s worst criminals and solving the most twisted mysteries. I’ll find lost things and bury things that should be lost.
“I’ll be the criminal mastermind and henchman, breaking the world open so you can see it.
“I’ll introduce you to your best friends, and your worst enemies. I’ll turn you into your best, and your worst, and show you the difference between the two. I’ll turn you into a criminal some days. At the very least, I’m going to turn you into a stalker.
“That’s right. I’m going to introduce you to people you will love so much, you’re going to follow them to the grocery store and the laundromat, to their therapist’s office and their mother’s house, to work and the football game, to their wedding and their funeral, to the middle of their worst fears and the height of their happiness. And you’re going to like it.
“I going to show you things you’ve never seen before, give you thoughts you’ve never thought before, that will stick with you for years. I’m going to change your life,” you finished, again with that snap at the end of the last word. You smiled at him.
He stared at you and scooted toward the door.
After about an hour, you replayed what you said and felt a little stupid. You blushed, hoped no one you cared about had been close enough to hear, and tried to figure out if there was any way to convince that man that you were not crazy. You ended up hoping that you just never saw him again.
But it didn’t make anything you said untrue.