I’m a General(ist). You May Still Salute.

The other day I was talking with an old friend about my time at Cornell. I was concerned/regretful/annoyed that I had wasted my time there. There was so much more I could have done if only I had been properly prepared and focused.

Digression: He was excited. “Hey! I had sex with an Ivy League coed!”

Cornell had what they called “distribution requirements,” meant to broaden a person’s education by forcing them to take classes outside their major and even outside their College.

Digression: They also made everyone learn to swim and/or pass a swimming test. I cheated. I can still barely swim.

Of course I was an English major in the College of Arts and Sciences. Here’s what I took in addition to poetry and Chaucer and Shakespeare and Creative Writing and all that stuff:

Astronomy (with Carl Sagan)

History of Science in Western Civilization (with L. Pearce Williams)




French (Literature. In French.)

Intermediate Archery (twice)



Wine-tasting (now there’s a surprise)

And a bunch of other stuff that has been lost that in the Swiss cheese that is my memory.

And what use is all that? Except for being on Jeopardy, which I never have been? Or laughing hysterically at The Simpsons when Ned asks that alternatives to Darwinian evolution be taught and Principal Skinner suggests, “Lamarckian evolution”? What possible career could all that prepare me for? I’m not an expert in anything.

Surprisingly, I realized, it prepared me for exactly the career I have: writer and editor.

I can’t write or edit for specialized or technical journals, but I can write and edit the hell out of general interest material and educational fodder for developing young minds.

I know just enough biology to explain how vaccines work.

I know just enough politics to tell the differences between socialism and fascism.

I know just enough art to differentiate Pointillists and Cubists and Impressionists.

I know just enough Greek and Latin roots to explain words like “apnea.”

I know just enough religion to tell you what “original sin” is. (Hint: It’s not sex.)

I know just enough history to tell about Catherine the Great. (Hint: She didn’t die having sex with a horse.”)

I know just enough psychology to tell you the differences between grief and clinical depression.

I am a generalist. My education may not have been deep, but it sure was broad. (Hint: Do not call me a “deep broad.” I know just enough martial arts to make you regret it.)


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