You look so proud and prestigious hanging on my office wall. Looking slightly less so, just below the degree, is the portrait that my mother insisted I had taken at the Sears studio–you know the ones, with the roses, the gowns and the forced smiles. My personal favorite was when the photographer gave me a cap, and told me to tip it cheekily. In it my eyes are scrunched up in this “You’ve got to be fucking kidding me” expression. Both hung proudly in my parents’ home while I was overseas, (not making use of my education), and now that I am back in the country, my mother gave them to us. I had zero intention of hanging the photo, but my husband insisted.
“You look pretty”.
“I look stupid”. (But I’m not too proud to admit I look…not half bad, pays to have someone else do your hair).
So there I hang, just below a piece of paper that cost the approximate down payment for a house.
As I write this, I am on hold with the National Student Loan Service Centre. It’s always a pleasure chatting with them, and arranging an appropriate monthly payment of my loan. Oh lord, how fun it was to get that huge stack of cash in your bank account, and how brutal to have it taken out. Student loans, like any kind of debt, seem to be a fact of life. But, it’s not like paying a mortgage, where you are living in what you are paying for. Those years are long gone, and while I made neat friends, and got straight A’s, scholarships and awards, that degree is not doing me much good, and those loans are a noose around my financial future.
“My job is to get you educated, not to get you a job”, my favorite professor, now drinking buddy, says to me when I lament my ‘useless’ B.A. She has always been a cheerleader for the furthering of my education, and recommends an M.F.A. And don’t get me wrong, I loved university, and there is nothing I’d like more than to pursue graduate studies. But who is going to pay for that? Even if I got another loan, the whole experience would be tempered by the fact that I’m living on borrowed money, borrowed time. And getting an MFA in creative non-fiction, would really invite the “so….what kind of job is that going to get you?”, in a way that those in Veterinarian school just don’t get. But its just another fantasy–like what would you do if you won the lottery:
“First I would go to Paris, and then I’d go to grad school!
And no one would bother me with pesky “What are you really going to be when you grow up? Cause I’d be like–“I’m millionaire bitch, I don’t have to grow up!” But until that day comes when I earn my PhD on a yacht, I have to think about the cost of things.
In Steve Martin‘s novella turned movie “Shopgirl“, the main character Mirabelle is an artist, but works in a Beverly Hills department store. They make more of an issue of it in the film, but she struggles to pay her bills, and can barely make a dent in her sizable student loans. She has a relationship with a wealthy, though emotionally bankrupt man named Ray Porter. While the relationship doesn’t work out, there is a scene near the end of the film where Mirabelle goes to the student loan office, and surprise! Ray Porter may have broken her heart, but he cleaned her financial slate as a consolation prize. Not too shabby Mirabelle! And ultimately, not to the fault of Martin’s writing skills, that was what I took away from the story. Damn, I’d love to be dumped like that!
I find myself thinking about ‘worth’ a lot. When my husband and I discuss the future, our finances, I always feel as though I am ‘letting the team down’. I’m educated, but not skilled. Like, if I were to enter a beauty pageant, I wouldn’t have a ‘talent’, and lord knows I would lose points for my capri-length 1920’s bathing suit complete with turtleneck. All my current job prospects are entry level, and searching job posts on websites, always feels a bit grim. (Listen, if I had the wherewithal, I have my pick of gas stations and fast food restaurants, but I just don’t do polyester and visors). Then I see great postings for jobs that look like careers, but then I see, ‘must have 1000 years experience in everything’, and then I don’t bother to reply. Which is a foolish habit I suppose, maybe there’s someone who would look over my work experience, notice that I list being “fabulous” as a transferable skill, and hire me as Vice-President as a major bank.
Stranger things have happened.
I suppose I have my years of post-university travel to blame. But would I trade anything for a glass office with my name on the door, and an income that would allow me to obliterate my debt?
No, because then I wouldn’t be me. I wouldn’t have met Ben, wouldn’t have lived in different countries, traveled to all those places. Ben always says, “No one is ever on their deathbed saying ‘I wish I had worked more, I wish I made more money'”. But my question to him would be…”Just how many deathbeds scenarios have you witnessed?” But its true, people generally remember the good times, the holidays, adventures, time with family. But from where I am standing, I just want a job that is challenging, creative and satisfying. Professionally speaking, I’d like to be David Sedaris–write at home for a paycheque, travel and read aloud from my own books. and then write some more. And pay off my student loans with a big suitcase full of cash, and then never think about it again.
Last night, I say to Ben, “Whenever immigration sorts itself out, maybe instead of grad school, maybe I should just do a course in like…human resources or something”. Ben says, “Why don’t you just be a writer”. Which for some reason, doesn’t occur to me…as if getting paid for writing is like hoping to be asked to prom by your dream boy–odds are, he’s already going with the hot senior with the tits and the legs, and he doesn’t even know you exist. Only people like Kanye West don’t have back up plans. But look how well that turned out for him! He does have the bling and the booty, and all was achieved with a blind, inextinguishable resolve that he would be successful; that there was no other option. But then again, maybe knocking up Kim Kardashian is God’s punishment for him always being such a ego-centric tool. Imagine those child support payments? He’d wish he had my student loan debt coming out of his chequing account, instead of owing Kim K for a life time.
So there are worse things that student loan debt.
I have to admit, I feel a bit better now. Thanks Kanye.
As for you, university degree, I don’t mean to be so hard on you. But don’t worry, I’m getting it even worse than you, if you can imagine. I wouldn’t trade you either, because I appreciate what I learned, like who I became, and you know…didn’t have to work a full time job for like eight years, and that was pretty cool too. And because of that, it makes the degree priceless…
The people at student loans didn’t buy this rationale either, they said “Nice speech kid, but you’ve still got to pay up”.
And I will…probably for the rest of my life.