That major that she majored in ...
Thursday, May 12, 2011
In ninth grade I had this English teacher. He was a pretty cool dude. He was young, hip, incredibly sarcastic. He had a tattoo on his bicep that he refused to show anyone. He semi-ironically wore cardigans and dark shades to class. We often suspected that the shades masked signs of a hangover. He tried to get non-AP tenth graders to read "The Wasteland." He also rarely graded anything, so I'm pretty sure none of them did.
About two years after arriving at Tesoro High School, he absconded to Rome, where he apparently taught English to rich Italian children. Last I heard of him through the rumor mill, he had wedded an Italian woman and was never coming back.
Needless to say, Mr. Sigafoos was an English major. And for some reason, I got the distinct sense that he, like most lofty-minded English majors, never wanted to become a high school English teacher.
I learned a lot from Mr. Sigafoos. He made literature seem exciting and - dare I say - kind of sexy. Once, he tasked my best friend and me with figuring out what "The the" was at the end of Wallace Stevens' "The Man on the Dump." We were stumped. Looking back, I'm pretty sure he was just messing with us. But to this day, I have a special place in my own English-major heart for Wallace Stevens.
The thing is, as much as I thought Mr. Sigafoos was cool, and though he may have played some small part in my eventual commitment to English major-dom, I did not want to become Mr. Sigafoos.
He didn't seem depressed, exactly, but from time to time you'd catch whiffs of the bitterness underpinning his life and work. He had the air of someone who thought he had been destined for greatness, if only some kind of tragic flaw weren't holding him back. Don't ask me what that flaw was. It just seemed like he thought he had one.
For a long time, I thought there was a chance that I was destined for greatness. Except I was determined to avoid whatever life pitfalls had led someone like Mr. Sigafoos to become a public high school English teacher in Orange County, where very few people give a flying rat's ass about what some fancy-schmancy poet meant by "The the."
And for a long time, the threat of mediocrity was like a ticking time bomb in the back of my mind. With every birthday, my chances to do something awesome in life - like winning a Pulitzer or curing cancer using only words - seemed to get slimmer.
Of course, those chances have always been and always will be, practically speaking, non-existent. I accepted that fact many moons ago, young grasshopper.
It did, however, take four years of college and several months of desperate job hunting to make me realize that living under the strain of those kinds of hopes and dreams is completely idiotic, however deeply you bury them in your subconscious.
This isn't to say that working hard to achieve your goals is stupid or that you, personally, are as mediocre as I am. I'm sure you are extraordinary, Random Person Accidentally Reading This.
What I'm trying to say is after all the life learnin' I've done in college, the reason I don't want to be like Mr. Sigafoos is not because I think I can do better than becoming an English teacher in Orange County. I don't want to be like Mr. Sigafoos because I want to be happy. I don't want to spend my time being bitter about things I haven't done.
Because what I have done, I've loved doing.
I didn't major in English because I really thought it would help me write the next great American novel. I majored in English because I love reading and I love pointlessly analyzing the shit out of the shit I read.
And I haven't been at the Daily Cal for almost four years because I really believed it would put me on the fast track to a New Yorker by-line or because I thought I could singlehandedly revitalize journalism (PSYCH. I can totally singlehandedly revitalize journalism. Hire me?)
I've stayed at the Daily Cal because I love working here, and I can't imagine having spent that time doing anything else. I love the people I've met here, and if I'm honest, they've made me happier than anything else.
For me, you guys are "The the." Whatever that means. Maybe it's different for everyone.
Contact Jill Cowan at [email protected]
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