1970: A Quick Change in Direction

I didn’t just fall in love with journalism. I also fell out of love with literature. Well, the graduate level study of literature.

We’d moved to Eugene in September of 1970, just nine months married, for me to do a PhD track in Comparative Literature. I loved English Lit, but had lots of German Lit too after a year in Innsbruck, and then I’d fallen in love with Vange and learned Spanish. We were in Eugene because the University of Oregon had one of the better comparative literature programs on the west coast, second to Stanford (which hadn’t accepted me). They didn’t give me money, but they admitted me.

Two weeks into my supposed PhD lit courses, I found myself having to do a 10-page paper on Robert Herrick’s poem ‘The Altar’, notable for how its written form looked like an altar (long lines, short lines, long lines). In other words, boring, meaningless drilling down into the detail. 10 pages of it.

Meanwhile we’d just bought me a pair of shoes from a store clerk who brightened up, while helping me try on shoes, because he too had studied literature, and had the PhD. So I wanted out. But we’d moved to Eugene, moved into housing, paid tuition, taken a loan.

I spent an evening browsing the university catalog. The next morning I walked into the school of Journalism and waited until I could talk to the dean. As it turned out, he too had gone from PhD studies in Literature to Journalism. I switched that day. And Dean John Crawford found me scholarship money and helped me every way he could. And damn, what a difference! Journalism also cared about writing, but it was also living, changing the world, doing something that meant something. I found my home there and dove in. I did two years worth of class work in nine months, with straight As. I ended up getting the degree with honors, but that was four years later, after I’d finally done a thesis.

The switch was complete. I was very glad to identify as journalist, not poet, and much less lit professor.