A dumb major

Every once in a winter’s eve, a time comes when the void takes its hands from my shoulders and allows me to escape its cold, foul breath. The last instance was last week when I went to see John Mulaney at DPAC. Little did I know, the void was not finished with me that fateful Friday night.

As an English major, I sometimes take some flak for pursuing an impractical path. Last year, my East Campus dorm room quickly became my panic room—a place to escape the crushing feeling of indecision that weighs on many first-years (and upperclassmen as well, you know who you are). I had no idea what I was going to study, I only knew that I was interested in too many subjects to make a decision about what to do with the rest my life. I’m only a kid, how in God’s name am I allowed that much responsibility?

When the time came, the decision was easy. My passions aligned like the planets, and English made total sense for a freshly-groomed arts kid with little skill in anything concrete. I learned from English professors that the reason no one knows what career an English major pursues—beyond teaching, of course—is that English majors go on to do such an assortment of jobs that there isn’t a way to pinpoint what lies ahead for us. Needless to say, I felt pretty good about all of this. The void rested, and so did I.

Last Friday, I took in the brilliance of John Mulaney for a solid hour before his set became a little too real. Mulaney was an English major at Georgetown in a bygone era, and his commentary on that decision wasn’t at all what I wanted to hear. “I spent $120,000 to walk across a stage and receive a piece of paper for reading books that I didn’t read,” he said. The next five minutes are a little hazy in my memory because I was distracted by the cold sweat dripping into and burning my eyes, but I’m nearly sure that the gist was that Mulaney believed that choosing to be English major was a mistake, or at the very least a completely insignificant choice.

But John, I thought, you’re so successful, it worked out for you, it couldn’t have been a mistake, please John, talk to me, give me anything, sign my hat, tell me it’ll all be okay. But he didn’t do any of those things.

I convinced myself that Mulaney’s bit was subjected to artistic liberties for the sake of comedy—that he didn’t really believe in the uselessness of our major further than was necessary to make a great joke. But then it hit me: I was supposed to read all five acts of Shakespeare’s “Twelfth Night” that Friday. And I didn’t. Because I was busy seeing John Mulaney.

The void, this representation of uncertainty, flashed me a wry smile. It wanted me to see this. It was like the ghost of Christmas Future showing Scrooge the dark days to come, those without a certain one-crutched little boy. I was Tiny Tim and the void was—wait, no, I’m supposed to be Scrooge. Right? Oh, God…I’ve never read “A Christmas Carol.” I was supposed to, and I just didn’t. Oh no. I’m a fraud, aren’t I? John Mulaney was right about me, wasn’t he? I’m supposed to be reading “Troilus and Cressida” and watching “The Wild Bunch” right now, but I’m not because I’m writing this and now it’s getting harder because I’m sweating again and it’s in my eyes, and s**t that really stings, and I’m gonna take a break for a minute if that’s okay


The funny thing about choosing a major at a school like Duke is that it’s not really that important. The only wrong major is a major that is wrong for you, and no matter what your major is, you get to leave here with a degree from Duke University, and four worthy years of exploration. There’s no reason to panic. The void, the crushing blackness that hangs over us and awaits us after college, it’s all in our heads. We are strong, and we are smart, and we can take on the real world with the same level of voracity with which we took on Duke. Our success in this life, however you define it, will not hinge on this decision that seems so important now.

Trust me, I’m a sophomore.

And so, as my panic retreats to its dark hole in my subconscious, I thank the stars for the opportunity to pursue what I’m passionate about even if some would consider it impractical, and even if I don’t always read exactly what I’m supposed to. Despite the lingering void, I trust that fate will lead me down the paths I’m meant to tread, no matter if the English major has anything to do with them or not.

It didn’t for John Mulaney and—though I was sitting in the nosebleeds last Friday—on that stage, he seems to be exactly where he is meant to be. 

Jaxson Floberg is a Trinity sophomore. His column, "filling the void," runs on alternate Mondays.

Jaxson Floberg

Jaxson Floberg is a Trinity sophomore. His column runs on alternate Mondays.


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