I told him to just fill the paper with words, and the writing will find its own form. Don’t try to make it be a poem, or a story, or an essay on this or that modern or ancient war. Don’t go into your writing with these crippling limitations. Let whatever needs to be said about what’s going on inside you come out, I told him. And then he did it.
He showed up at my apartment with a notebook filled with paragraphs, stray sentences, thoughts piled on top of thoughts. It was unbelievable, he told me, over and over. He just grabbed any stray thought, any one, at random, and wrote it down. Then he wrote the thought that followed logically from that idea, and he had his starting point. He was writing a…he was writing.
At first it was just a group of sentences, but he kept at it. Then it was a paragraph. Eventually, it became the draft of a personal essay about the heartbreak of looking for work at 24, having just graduated from college, and being asked, almost daily, regarding his degree in history: “What are you gonna do with that?”
I winced when I read that phrase in his work. “What are you gonna do with that?” But I’ll let him speak for himself.
“I used to outline how knowing history creates awareness of the structures of human social behavior. That, in turn, it creates a self-reflective individual capable of solving large scale problems with executive precision. Furthermore, I’d add, studying history enriches us with a sense of purpose and identity. Immediately following graduation, I’d make speeches like this daily; but now, I don’t. I just remain silent. “History? What are you gonna do with that?” resounds in my psyche all too often. It’s been six months since I graduated, I still haven’t landed a full-time job, and the sound of that student loan clock ticking is not making things any better. In my defense, my efforts are valiant, dropping my résumé with the aggression and frequency of the German Blitz. But I am losing this multi-front war for employment, and, soon, I must pay the reparations. Until then, I just remain silent, because whatever I say in response to their inquiry–“History? What are you gonna do with that?”–bears no semblance to a justification. All I can offer is my empty hope for victory.” -Matt Vargas