From the time the bookmobile came up my rural dirt driveway, when I was ten years old, I knew I would study literature in college. I was accorded sufficient accolades in undergraduate school to gain admission to the doctoral program of a large state university.
Then I started to doubt. I lost confidence that I could earn a living with an English degree. There was also something unrewarding about the way college literature programs were structured. There was little joy or adventure. It seemed to have turned into a quest to remember enough facts to repeat them back on written tests.
One professor gave the same tests every year for each of his courses. My undergraduate school’s fraternities and sororities had an ongoing “project” to remember all the questions and pass them on to others. If you were “Greek” you had a good chance to ace every test whether you read the assignments or not. They also had a sizable library of essay papers that had scored well in the past.
So, I changed course, went to medical school, and practiced psychiatry for 40 years. But I always knew I would “come home.” Now retired from medicine, I am immersing myself in a loosely structured self-study program.
I find it very exciting to go where my interests take me. Authors who bored me fifty years ago are now thrilling. Like Henry James. What? Henry James thrilling? Maybe it’s those 40 years in psychiatry that makes fascinating how an author’s life experiences molded his writing.
After a few years of my self-selected curriculum, I just may give myself an honorary degree. How does “Major of English Literature” sound?
I read. I write. I learn. I’m in a writing group and I have four published books. I’m still pretty sure I’m not Steinbeck, but my heart and soul have found their way back to where they should be.