FROM BATHROOMS TO BIZET
By Erika Dahl Price
Contrary to popular belief, the hub of BYU dormitory interaction and discourse is not the Cannon Center, the Morris Center, or even the snack machines; it is any one of the girls bathrooms. I can say this because I lived directly across the hall from the bathroom on the second floor of Chipman Hall for two semesters. Day or night, you could walk through a swinging door and enter into rousing conversations on anything from physics to physiques. Amid the sounds of toilets being flushed and teeth being brushed, the bathroom was an information highway with efficiency that Microsoft could only dream of. Theres a quiz today? Brush. Brush. But I thought they broke up. Swish. Swish. Dont forget our presidency meeting tonight. Rinse. Rinse. I can never remember the atomic symbol for silver. Primp. Primp. Who put the new chastity quotes in the stalls? Gargle. Gargle. Oh, I cant. Im donating plasma at 3:00. Flush.
Somewhere between one of these flushings and brushings, I stood at a sink next to Cindy.* Cindy, now what is your major again? Im studying humanities. A pause. I had a vague notion of what the humanities were: cumulus clouds, Twinkie filling, baby chicksfluff. I cocked my broadcast journalismbound head and smugly replied: Oh. And what do you plan on doing with your degree? I cant quote her answer verbatim, but I remember it having something to do with idealism and motherhood. She could have thrown out words like Harvard and doctorate and tenure and it would not have mattered. She was at BYU for a pastime, and I was at BYU for an education. Conversation over.
I have to believe that at that arrogant moment heaven was snickering, not out of malice or to taunt, but simply because fate is, among other things, extremely funny. I too would have laughed had I known I would take Humanities 101a GE requirementthe following semester. I would have giggled at my passionate discovery of Mozart and Modigliani. And I would have been rolling on the floor had I seen myself, in a fit of liberal-art inspiration, drop my communications classes and become . . . gasp . . . a humanities major.
For three years I basked in foreign film, philosophy, the Harlem Renaissance, Vermeer, la langue française, and the music of Edvard Grieg. On my way to and from art history classes in the Harris Fine Arts Center, I watched the journalism students dashing from the newsroom to the set with broadcast copy in their hands and hair spray on their headsa far cry from my relaxed jeans and throw-it-together ponytail. I felt the pang of They look so important. And I would have been important too, had I stuck with it. But then Id walk into class and within minutes of discussing Rembrandt or Picasso my regret would be replaced with the calm pleasure of spending every minute of my college education doing what I loved.
I stood in the Jesse Knight Humanities Building just weeks before graduating, casually glancing at fliers on the wall outside the Humanities Department office. I made the mistake of looking at the Humanities Job Opportunities Board. I should not have been shocked. The list was short. In fact, the list had only one entry: Cafeteria manager wanted. I laughed out loud. How does that joke go? How do Humanities majors introduce themselves? By saying, Do you want fries with that? Four years of time and tuition and hard work just to be able to work in a cafeteria. I thought, Mozart died a pauper. At least Ill be in good company.
Three years later I am still in the JKHB, now studying the humanities at the graduate level. And people are still asking the same question: A degree in the humanities? Hmmm. And what do you plan on doing with it? I could say that Im gunning for a position in the local school cafeteria or at least for a spot on the welfare rolls, but I refrain. Instead, I just cock my humanities head and say, What dont I plan on doing with it? My education has been a shift to seeing learning as both a product and a pastime. It has been a lesson in negotiating the virtues of idealism and pragmatism. And it continues to require the maturity to admit when Im wrong and make the change, even if it means serving myself a whopping slice of bitter humble pie and studying the humanities.
* Names have been changed to protect the innocent.