English 380 (Approaches to English Studies), English 250 B (Survey of English Literature), English 405 (Creative Writing- Short Story). Yes, there’s a lot of English going on in my life these days. On my way to Creative Writing and a Bachelor of Arts degree, I must pass through the English Department, and that’s where the story gets interesting. English 380 is a class called Approaches to English Studies. No, I won’t bore you with the details, but it is a spirited discussion about the History of English Studies and what comprises it. This discussion is critical because I just want to read and write, but it is more complicated and controversial than you think.
What do I want from English Studies? English studies as Humanities that make us feel better. English studies as “How does that help me get a job and a career?” English studies as “Wait, you want me to study a bunch of dead white men?” English Studies as “To appreciate American Literature, you must first understand English Literature.” (Yeah, I had a few words about that).
I will be frank. I have had a lifetime of careers that involved writing, whether journalism or technical writing or opinion writing, proposals, research papers, or essays. And I want to continue to write. Essays, short stories, plays, poems, short and long-form videos are just some of what I want to practice during the next three years in school. To practice my art, I am willing to take the time to learn and understand the underlying theories of the art forms to raise both the quality and quantity of my output. However, I am not prepared to sheepishly accept certain orthodoxies at my age. Theories can be essential foundations, but theories should be ready to adjust themselves as facts and realities change, or entirely new theories should flow out of them. I’m speaking specifically about being told there is a sure way to read, talk, and write.
I was born in the Bronx, New York, in this here United States of America. I lost my Spanish language but not its soul. I spoke Bronx English. American English. Not the Queen’s English. I am the product of the American culture that is a little bit of this and that. That American stew. Bouillabaisse. Gumbo. Sancocho. Mondongo. I was shaped by living in a neighborhood full of Latinos, African-Americans, Irish, Italian, Jewish. Print, radio, and television had a significant impact even when I didn’t hear or see people who looked like me or some of my neighbors.
Since I was young, teachers taught me that we live in America, and in America, we speak and write English. Proper English. Well, I don’t know about the nun who told my Spanish-speaking parents that pile of elitism. As a result, I lost my Spanish. (They just wanted us all to be good Americans.)
I love a good story. I don’t care whether it comes from England, France, Spain, Italy. And Africa, the Middle East, India, China, Japan, anywhere in this Hemisphere: from the North Pole to the South Pole through the Caribbean and Philly and East LA and the Rio Grande and Argentina. America has always had a mix of languages and cultures. There are the First People and the latest immigrants from the other side of the world. Those stories may not have all been published by the great Publishing Houses in New York, but they are here. Some find their roots back in Europe but indeed, not all of them. Other stories are born from other nations and sometimes on a plain in the Midwest or Arizona plateau. Others are told on a long march of tears through the southeast. Some stories are born in the minds of people of color who only own a history of colonization and oppression to those European nations whose literature someone tells us to revere while claiming that we are who we are because of them. (We can discuss that some other time.)
In the meantime, I will complete my Survey of English Literature 250B and learn from it. It will go through my mind filters, taking what I want and need and maybe storing some of it for another day and then the rest, well, it will go where all the knowledge you learned in school went when you couldn’t remember it anymore. Yes, that place.
I live in an America where language is adaptable and flexible depending on where you grew up and how and with whom you grew up. The practice of the American language has gotten even more complicated in the year 2021. How we communicate in the real practical world doesn’t always match what we learn and do in academia. From podcasts to video to text messages, the American language is constantly being re-defined and refined for better or worse. Go to Beverly Hills, then travel to East LA or the valley; you might be surprised at what you read and hear.
That’s what I want to do. Take those theories that we are so comfortable with, challenge them, and see what comes out the other end. I’d welcome those surprises.
I plan to graduate in June of 2024, so I have some time to make my way through English Studies, focusing on Creative Writing, fiction, and non-fiction. I even have an itch for Playwriting. Maybe. In the end, I would like to read and write as much as I can. At seventy-two, I know there’s more life behind me than in front of me. Even if I’m fortunate and live twenty or thirty more years, that will not be enough to fulfill all my dreams. My first week at California State University, Long Beach, was a great beginning.