I am a millennial. I am not drowning in my student loan debt.

In 2006, just months after graduating from high school, I stood in line for an hour at my university’s financial aid department, waiting to digitally sign a promissory note, stating… well, I don’t actually remember that part, because I was 18 and I didn’t read it. Legally, I wasn’t able to drink alcohol, own a gun, gamble in a casino, or run for public office, but I was allowed to take out tens of thousands of dollars in student loan debt… per semester… and they just trusted that I’d read the fine print.

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From 18-25, I went through the same annual process, spending approximately 45 minutes filling out paperwork, declaring that I understood what I was doing and the conditions thereof, in exchange for a direct deposit of thousands of dollars… wait for it… post-tuition. Despite the fact that “longitudinal neuroimaging studies demonstrate that the adolescent brain continues to mature well into the 20s,”* and the fact that it’s against federal law for a credit card company to give a card to anyone under 21, without steady income or a cosigner*, I was sixty thousand dollars in debt to the federal government, when I received my bachelor’s degree four years later. What was my desired career field, you might ask? Did I want to be a lawyer, a doctor, an engineer? Nope. I wanted to be a home-ec teacher.

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Plenty of research has already proven that the human brain hasn’t fully matured until age 25, when the prefrontal cortex has fully developed.* This is not new information, either. The very fact that you must be 25, 30, and 35 to run for the House of Representatives, U.S. Senate, and the Presidency, defends the point that the federal government has long been fully and accurately aware of the immaturity found in most 18-25-year-olds. Recent neuroscience simply backs up that decision. The government is offering a terrible deal to college students… and judging by the articles in my Google feed, it’s become pretty common knowledge.

Just this week, I’ve read about how Maine will offset the cost of student loans, through tax cuts, in an attempt to entice a younger population to relocate to the aging state. Several articles report that saving for retirement, buying a home, and having children are just a few of the major milestones being delayed by thirty-somethings “drowning” in student loan debt. To add insult to injury, Twitter is apparently full of Millennials, pissed at Hasbro for Millennial Monopoly’s blatant failure to capture their plight… which should surprise absolutely no one, when the company itself is run by a baby boomer, who brings in $7,000,000 annually. It’s everywhere, y’all… this news that student loan debt is ruining our lives!

Except, if we’re discussing federal student loans… they shouldn’t be, because our student loan system is a dreadful model, not just for borrowers, but for the federal government and by extension, the tax payers. When I finished my bachelor’s degree, only to find there were no teaching jobs available, I was able to immediately enter graduate school, extending my borrowing period by another three years… still three more shy of the 10 year cap. As was the case four years earlier, my major and intended field had no bearing on how much I was able to borrow. I chose librarianship, a field rarely more lucrative than teaching and much harder to break into, and the payout was another sixty thousand dollars in debt.

Why did I borrow so much? Well, not only was I going to school, during all those years, I was also going through some pretty weighty personal crises. Married at 19, I suffered a house fire less than a year later, an eviction and a total of ten moves in the next two years, a sociopathic partner who refused to work, a miscarriage, the death of my best friend’s infant daughter, and finally, a divorce… just as I entered grad school. After all that, a good portion of it was spent consolidating my debt; because, I did start thinking about the long term financial implications of borrowing so much, when my life settled down a bit, at 23.. I worked two jobs and took online classes, but graduate hours were so much more expensive than my undergrad hours, that each year I told myself it would be the last time I accepted the max… and it never was, until my last semester, at 25… the age when modern science says my brain had finally matured.

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Perhaps I’m fortunate to have been in school until the full development of my prefrontal cortex, because when I totaled my student loans and realized where I’d be after graduation, I started doing my research. For two years, I read up on debt consolidation and forgiveness programs like it was another course… which it should have been, because there was a lot of information out there. So, when I graduated at 25, I was prepared… fortunately, because the surprise semester that followed the failure of my graduate portfolio presentation ate up the six month grace period for repayment. I had approximately two months to send in all of my loan information for consolidation under an Income Based Repayment program, because they wouldn’t qualify if they were in default. Prior to consolidation, just two of my loans would’ve added up to $1,900 a month.

Once I was accepted for the IBR program, however, my monthly payments were $0. Working half time at the library and substitute teaching simply didn’t provide enough discretionary income to require a minimum payment. The following year, it only went up to $40. Only when I became a full time librarian was I expected to make a substantial payment, of about $300 a month… which went down when my family size increased with marriage and will go down again with each child we have. If I was drowning in anything, it was my private student loans, not my federal ones, which doesn’t seem to be the dominant complaint. Even so, my struggle with these was less about the monthly payment and more about the lack of impact, considering the interest rate. While my federal loans were also accumulating interest, I was able to sign up for Public Service Loan Forgiveness.

You see, because I’m working as a public librarian, a lower paying position than many in the private sector, providing much needed services to the community, the government has struck a deal with me. If I work in public service for 10 years and make 120 qualifying payments, I can apply to have the remainder of my debt forgiven, tax free. While there are plenty of fear mongers writing narratives about how this won’t actually happen, there’s no research to actually back that up. Even the current administration has only suggested closing the doors on the program, not pulling the rug out from everyone already enrolled. In fact, I’ve actually already been grandfathered into my repayment program, as it only considers my income and the current ones consider the income of the entire household.

While many of those who have applied for forgiveness report being denied, it’s simply because they didn’t do their research or were given the wrong information, having enrolled in the program early. There is a catch to PSLF, in addition to a lower paying job: annual paperwork. Every year, I recertify my income for the IBR and my employment for verification that it qualifies. In exchange, I get an update on the number of eligible payments I’ve made, all but canceling out any chance that I’ll make the aforementioned mistakes.

Now, plenty of Millenials, with outstanding student loan debt, work in positions that don’t qualify for PSLF. The ones with smaller totals are paying them off as quickly as they can, to avoid interest charges and that’s undoubtedly the best approach. The rest, however, have their own option under an IBR, which is to apply for forgiveness after 20/25 years of payments, depending on when they signed up and under which program. This, however, is not tax free. That’s the only catch, beyond paying on these loans for so long.

Is this good for the federal government, for tax payers? Fuck no. This is a wretched, absolutely unsustainable model. Canceling PSLF seems like an obvious choice to some, but the core reasons are still valid. If there’s no incentive to do so, few lawyers and doctors will work in low paying public service jobs. Rural and poor urban areas won’t have teachers or librarians, the latter of which requires a master’s degree. Few will even enter into careers as police officers and EMT’s. Should all of these positions require advanced degrees? Absolutely not. Higher education, in many ways, is a total scam… but it’s a scam we’re still supporting in this country. While I hope to see more emphasis placed on technical degrees and apprenticeships and on-the-job training, more companies demanding applicants show them what they can do, as opposed to who taught them, we’re not there yet. I had to have my degree to do my job, a job I not only love and am lucky to be well-compensated for in my field, but one that makes a huge difference in the community.

I didn’t break any rules taking out my loans to get my degree and I’m not breaking any rules with my plans to receive loan forgiveness for working in my position. That doesn’t mean we don’t need to change the rules and prevent people from getting into these situations in the first place. We shouldn’t be giving teenagers tens of thousands of dollars to major in journalism or literature or education. We shouldn’t be letting people borrow for 10 years, if they’re not going into fields that can repay the debt. We shouldn’t be giving out thousands in direct deposits, after paying the schools, because my personal crises shouldn’t have been covered by the federal government. Some would say the government shouldn’t even be involved and private banks should have to compete for borrowers and choose what fields they invest their funds. Whatever the solution, students, the government, and tax payers are all getting screwed under this system, unquestionably. The only entity coming out on top is the universities, because as many economists agree, the reason tuition costs have risen so much is that colleges know their students can secure the funds through the federal government. Hopefully, future generations will boycott these institutions.

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In the meantime, though, no one should be “drowning” in federal student loan debt. If it’s that bad, follow these links, get out of default, do the paperwork to consolidate and get into an Income Based Repayment plan. Don’t be more the victim of this terrible system than you already have to be as an American tax payer. Take advantage of the fact that our truly fucking awful student loan system does favor the borrower, in some ways… while it still does.

PSLF – https://studentaid.ed.gov/sa/repay-loans/forgiveness-cancellation/public-service

PSLF application – https://studentaid.ed.gov/sa/sites/default/files/public-service-application-for-forgiveness.pdf

Income Driven Plan information – https://studentloans.gov/myDirectLoan/ibrInstructions.action
Citations

https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pmc/articles/PMC2892678/

https://www.thebalance.com/credit-card-companies-love-college-students-960090

https://www.urmc.rochester.edu/encyclopedia/content.aspx?ContentTypeID=1&ContentID=3051

https://www.businessinsider.com/age-brain-matures-at-everything-2017-11

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THE GREATEST MOMENT OF MY LIFE HAS OCCURRED!

It’s true. I have peaked. This news shall not be surpassed by my wedding day, the births of my children, or the announcement that Hollywood has remade Titanic and Rose chooses Cal over Jack…*

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*probably not true

…  because this week, I finally got the call. I HAVE BEEN PROMOTED TO FULL TIME SUPERVISORY LIBRARIAN! 

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When I was 21 years old, a year and half out from graduating with my bachelor’s in family and consumer science education (home-ec), I announced to the world that I wasn’t going to teach. I was going to immediately enter the graduate program to receive my master’s degree in library and information studies. The general consensus was a resounding scoff.

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“A librarian? Do they even have librarians anymore? Isn’t that mostly a dying field?” – everyone ever

Before I met Jake, every date I ever had was with a man who either openly mocked my profession or downplayed it as a secretarial hobby job. After I finished my master’s degree, the exact same people who rant about entitled millennials expecting to start at the top, berated me for working only half time after spending so many years in school. As much as I love my daddy lunches, I began to dread the moment he’d ask if I had heard about any more job openings. Four months into my relationship with Jake, I hesitantly asked him…

Me: “Does it bother you that I’m only half time?”
Jake: “What? No. Not at all. If that’s all you were doing and you couldn’t pay your bills, I wouldn’t be here, but you work.”

Work I did. Some weeks, I worked 65 hours only to go home and do 20 cumulative hours of graduate school work. In the beginning, I was substitute teaching and working at the community center for minimum wage. Those 65 hours wouldn’t even pay my bills. Later, I saw a wage increase when I got my first library job, working circulation, but even that was only  $11.50 an hour. Finally, after graduation, I was promoted to half time librarian, where I am today. I was overjoyed that I could finally afford my bills without financial aid assistance, but only just. Between substitute teaching and working as a very well-paid (hourly) librarian, I was still only pulling in $30,000 a year, with no benefits save for the year and a half I qualified for my dad’s health insurance. I had to pay student loan debt and buy a new car, after discovering that that wasn’t condensation leaking from the engine. All the while, I hoped and prayed for my health, because even a single hospital stay could financially ruin me.

Over the last 10 years, my entire adult life, the closest I have ever come to a sense of financial security were the months I subbed every day I could, averaging out to that 65 hours per week. Not only was I too exhausted to enjoy it, but it still didn’t mean anything, because I had to save that money to get me through the summers without substitute teaching. Sure, I could’ve gotten another job, but not one that paid me any more and allowed me my nights and weekends at the library. If I worked full time, I wouldn’t be able to take off for interviews, if and when I got them. I couldn’t work a weekday that a coworker was out, go to staff development or state conference, or do any of the things that would make me a competitive candidate for a full time librarian position. Substitute teaching may have only averaged $10 per hour, but it allowed me to work the hours I chose. So, I worked every day I was able, lamenting any time off I took because there weren’t open sub jobs or school was closed for snow or a power outage. I looked forward to the days I only worked one job or the other, because I might have as many as ten waking hours free.

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Just five weeks ago, I was devastated to learn that I’d been passed up for a position, after an interview I felt went really well. I cried inconsolably into frozen pizza and even refused to answer the phone, when Jake called me. For two days, I could barely speak a sentence without bursting into tears. I had to, of course, because I worked both jobs to afford the aforementioned frozen pizza. I was exhausted and considering looking for office jobs or teaching positions just to have benefits and a comfortable wage. I convinced myself to wait it out, though. My system recently announced several internal openings. If I couldn’t get one of those, fine, my career with the system was over. I wasn’t being dramatic, either. If I was qualified, experienced, and interested, but still couldn’t wow anyone in regards to an internal postion, for which I had little competition, there wasn’t a lot of hope for any forward momentum.

I got the email three weeks ago, that I would sit down at my library for a short interview. After only two days of preparation, the meeting on which my career was riding took all of ten minutes. For a moment, I genuinely started to hyperventilate, which is not considered a desirable leadership trait. Ultimately, I thought it went alright, but how much can you really tell from ten minutes?

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This time, I told no one about the interview, in part because every one of my coworkers knew I’d go for the job and it took place at my own library. If I didn’t get it, they would all know, eventually, that I’d been turned down. I hoped I’d hear back before the holiday, so I could enjoy my Thanksgiving (or skip it and eat pie in tears), but had no such luck. For nearly two weeks, I literally waited by the phone. I vacillated between two extremes: either my career was over or just beginning. I went into deep bouts of depression and got very little sleep, all in silence, because I couldn’t bear to break the news to my family and friends that I’d failed. Then, on Monday, I couldn’t find a sub job. I knew I’d hear back that day and quite literally stared at my phone all morning. I tried to do things that would distract me like starting a Harry Potter marathon. During The Sorcerer’s Stone, I received the e-mail that a different position I’d applied for would no longer be filled. I was still looking at the phone, because if HR was sending e-mails, then I’d be getting something soon. The screen lit up…

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… and my adult life started. I finally feel like a grownup. I start my new supervisory librarian position the first week in January. I get excellent retirement benefits and health care. The wait is over. I did the college thing. I worked my way up. I have financial security. Come Christmas break, I’ll no longer substitute teach. I can buy Christmas presents and get my car repaired and start paying off some of my debt. I can get new glasses and see a dentist. I can move and finally get a cat! I can afford to turn on the heat!!!!!!

I’m not only going to be okay, I am going to be wonderful, doing the job I love, the job I’ve dreamed of for years and taking care of myself. It all worked out and it was worth every second of struggle. Five years ago, I was a broke, terrified, 23-year-old graduate student, just days from filing for divorce. Today, almost all of my dreams have come true.

 

I’m a Librarian, B^+<#@$!!!

Four years ago, I had just found out that I was pregnant and that my ex-husband was lying about having a job… again. I was morbidly obese, starting my senior year of college, about to do my student teaching, and paying the bills through… well, prayer. I was petrified.

Today…

I am a fucking Librarian!!!!!!!

Suck my dick statistics, because I left the bastard and…

I. Did. It.

I followed through on all of my dreams and got that Bachelor’s degree and then that Master’s degree and now the job! My divorce didn’t lower my station in life. It opened up a universe of possibilities and opportunity.

  • Women who divorced between 2010 and 2011 were more likely to receive public assistance than men who divorced during this time, with rates being 23% and 15%, respectively.
  • Of women who divorced between 2010 and 2011, 27% reported a household income of less than $25,000.
  • Children of divorced parents are twice as likely to drop out of high school and less likely to attend college.
  • While men are financially better off than women after a divorce, they are more likely to suffer more emotionally.

I’m sorry. What was that? I can’t hear you over the sound of my I’m a Librarian, BITCHES!!! dance coupled with my ROAR OF AWESOME!!!!

A little bit o’ this…

… and a little bit o’…

.. and some nce, nce, nce.
Finally, some…

Yeah. They don’t let me dance at stuff.

Today, I talked the ear off the lady at the gym who asked why Librarians need a Master’s degree. Yesterday, I bought myself these… because I am just that cool.

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Sometimes, divorce is not a failure. It is the righting of a path. I wasn’t meant to be the miserable wife of a sociopath. I was meant to be right here.

Gail: “The divorce was not the mistake. The marriage was the mistake. The divorce was just what was required to correct that mistake.”

I’m not advising you to leave your husband because he won’t try that new thing in bed or he won’t put his fucking shoes away. If there’s something to salvage, fight for it. If you’re fantasizing about a life where he dies, through no fault of your own, because you’ll finally be free… if the marriage is truly awful and he or she is a truly poisonous person… there is a better life out there. No matter how scary it feels to go in search of it, it is so very worth it.

“It’s a hard thing to leave any deeply routine life, even if you hate it.” – John Steinbeck

Yeah. I looked that up.
http://divorce.lovetoknow.com/Divorce_Statistics

No need to check my bag. I only brought my ninja skills.

I did it. I graduated with my Master of Library and Information Studies… and as with many should-be-boring events in my life, I made it an adventure with my finesse and ninja skills.

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Me. Just lying. I’d lose a nipple just taking this picture.

In 2010, I received my Bachelor’s degree from Central University, a smaller college known for being the best teaching school in the state. Because of its size and the fact that the ceremonies were divided by college, graduation was held in the gym. My Master’s degree, however, came from University of State, which offers the only degree in several states that is accredited by the American Library Association. Attending a large state university means I officially get to align myself with a football team like it’s my religion, along with several thousand other people in the Midwest .. who were all at my fucking graduation ceremony.

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I’ve never exaggerated anything in my life.

Having been told to be at the convention center by 9:15, I decided to leave at 8:45 for the 45 minute drive. Graduation wasn’t until 10:00. Why would I want to wait for 45 minutes when putting on a robe takes like three? Furthermore, it was only the College of Arts and Sciences, so just like my undergrad, it wouldn’t be that crowded. It’s funny how seven years of college left me how-does-she-not-drown-in-the-shower stupid.

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Not only was I running late to graduation, but my Gramma was as well, since she didn’t want to drive down alone. Now, just to be clear, my Gramma is the best person in my life. She’s also the most pessimistic. When her football team is ahead by three touchdowns and loses the ball, she will shout “Well, we’ve lost it now!” at the T.V. and try to kick me out before the game ends. I’m not kidding. I had to threaten to never watch another game with her if she wouldn’t let me finish the one on the screen. Therefore, the entire trip to the convention center went like this…

Gramma: “You’re not gonna make it, Belle.”
Me: “Thank you, Gramma. I appreciate the input.”
Gramma: “There’s no way you’re gonna make it in time.”
Me: “Thank you, Gramma. That’s not really helping.”
Gramma: “We should have left earlier.”
Me: “Why, yes, Gramma. I hadn’t considered that.”

The traffic was nearly as terrible as the road work and I hate to drive… probably because I suck at it. This is one time I desperately regreted my single status, because I (not all woman-kind, Gail) would have loved a penis behind the wheel. I wish there were some way to thank the man in the Dodge in front of me for not pulling out a gun, because in my stress I was pretty much on top of him. He kept kindly motioning for me to not follow so closely, an oddly civil reaction to road rage in the Midwest. I tried. I really did. But in my stress, I would just inch more closely all over again. It really didn’t matter how I drove, though, because even when I wasn’t following closely, I got the same response from my Gramma every single time I braked.

Gramma: “Belle!”
Me: “Gramma, I have never been in a wreck. I see that he’s stopped. I’m not going to hit him.”
Gramma: ::Gasp::
Me: “That’s it, Gramma! No more sounds from you! You are on mute, now!”

By the time I pulled up to the convention center, I was convinced I wouldn’t be allowed to walk, because I was so late… and because my Gramma kept telling me so. It was 9:53. I asked her to park the car and bolted toward the door… only to forget my hat and sigh with relief that she hadn’t taken off yet. I rushed back to the door and saw the sign saying I needed to be at the south entrance. I was at the north entrance and it was 9:55. I ran full-throttle to the south entrance… and forgot I was in knee-high leather heeled boots. Stepping off the sidewalk was either a godsend, for it didn’t destroy my legs, or a curse because it caused me to fall in the first place. Either way, I went down. Hard. No one even laughed, it was such an epic fall. When a man asked if I was okay, I shouted “I’m good!” and rolled and jumped up action-movie-style to take off. In my haste, however, I didn’t fully catch my balance and re-face-planted immediately. I took slightly more care getting up that time, shouted “I lied! But I’m good now!” and took off again. Ultimately, my big action scene was far more Will Farrell than Jason Statham.

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When I finally got to the south end of the convention center, I was somewhat rumpled and a professor helped me right the ridiculous collar for which I paid $64 last semester and I realized my tassel said 2012, because I’d intended to walk in December before failing my portfolio. My professors were glad to see me, though the time was a bit embarrassing, seeing as how the undergrads had already started walking. As an asthmastic, I couldn’t really handle the run and stress of the morning and once we were seated, kept coughing…

Woman beside me: “I wish I had a cough drop for you.”
Translation: God, I hope I don’t have to listen to that for two fucking hours.

I did my best to shut up while inventorying my injuries, at which point I realized my knuckles were bleeding and my knees were bruised. I texted Gail to tell her this and the conversation went as follows:

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My phone kept correcting my sarcastic “Bestie” to “Beastie”. Gail is now stuck with this nickname.

My dad texted to ask where I was. I told him I was the one in the hat. I made sarcastic comments to my little sister, Bea, about how she shouldn’t wear anything under her robe when she graduates high school in a week, because it’s so fucking hot. I believe there was a recommendation to wear baseball pasties (she’s a baseball manager) and fling the robe off into the crowd. Since her nippels wouldn’t be showing, it wouldn’t even be illegal. She declined my advice. Ungrateful little shit. The rest of the ceremony pretty much went the same way. I texted and completely ignored the generic speech so clearly directed toward traditional undergrads.

Speaker: “It seems only yesterday we were moving into our dorms…”
text to Bea: I’m pretty sure I know the official melting point of human flesh.

The names were called.
Bea: I must really love you.
Me: Hey. They’re giving you baby name ideas for when you get knocked up in your freshman year. Pay attention.

I worked to subtly take off the sweater I had under my robe… and failed.
Me: “It’s shockingly difficult to undress beneath a graduation robe.”
Woman annoyed by my coughing: silence

Since my mother is as insane as her mother is adorable, she spent the entire ceremony staring at me through a pair of binoculars… from about 50 yards away. I kept mouthing “find Gramma” at her and texting her to say that I’d had her park the car and would hate for her to sit alone, since I made her late. My mother did not budge, nor did she redirect the binoculars. I could see this clearly, because she was fifty fucking yards away. Finally, I found my grandmother (without a telescope, I might add) and texted Bea to tell her she was on the same row, not far from her, my dad, and step-mom. Minutes later, Bea sent me a text saying they’d found my Gramma and were all chatting outside. My dad made the extra effort to find his ex-mother-in-law and keep her company, while my mother…

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… was otherwise preoccupied.

The drive home was significantly less stressful and I laughed and chatted with my Gramma the whole way. When we got back to town, I realized how much my boots were hurting my feet… only to later see the bruise wrapping the left one. My poor knuckles are still raw and a good night’s sleep brought to my attention the pain coursing through my shoulder and left arm. Battle scars. Graduating is hard, y’all.

Gramma: “I can’t believe you made it. I just knew you wouldn’t. I kinda figured you’d miss it.”

That Time I Tried to Fake a Master’s Degree

I’m going to open with a secret. I’m a little high-strung when it comes to school.

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Jump back and gasp!

Growing up, my dear ol’ dad used to look at my report card and sternly say “Now, why do you have a 92 in math? You need to quit talking in class and get that up.” I was in the second grade. This resulted in two extremes. There’s my brother, Bo, who is constantly talking about the waste of time that is college, because he’s a successful electrician with no formal degree and… me.

Last summer, I had the assignment to create an online resource guide for my library over a subject of my choice. I chose sewing and hand-picked every title listed in the Wiki, including color photos matching the cover art of the specific copy housed in the library and an explanation of difficulty level. I screen capped shots of the online public access catalog, explaining how to use it and described, in detail, system requirements for a library card. This wasn’t part of the assignment. I’m just insane. All of my classmates told me they hoped I’d leave it up for their future use and how they loved the name: ”SewResourceful”. The professor commented to say she thought it was wonderful, creative, and appreciated the obvious extra effort. Then she gave me a 98.5%. A fucking 98.5%!!!! I read and reread that Wiki 15 times and added elements that went above and beyond the requirements and she gave me a 98.5%?!?!? Why doesn’t she just come over and personally shit on my computer?!?!?!

biting laptop
After this…

I’m going to tell you another secret. Being a little high-strung when it comes to school, occasionally makes me an exhausting friend. Gail and Jay were both recruited to talk me down from the absolutely devastating loss of that 1.5%. I couldn’t discuss it without my bottom lip trembling. I am not embellishing even a little, here. So… fast forward one semester to last fall.

If you’ll recall from A Chronicle of My First Failure Since the Driver’s Test, back in November, I “did not pass” my graduate school End of Program Assessment portfolio for the Master of Library and Information Studies program. I don’t think I’d be exaggerating to claim that it was the greatest tragedy in the history of time. Had Nostradamus foreseen this, he’d have just destroyed the earth preemptively, himself. As it was, there was a mushroom cloud over the campus, when I delivered a completely off the mark presentation. You know that scene in Legally Blonde where Elle Woods dresses as a Playboy Bunny to attend a Halloween party, only to discover that it wasn’t, in fact, a costume party? That’s pretty much exactly what happened.

elle woods
Wait. This is conference room B, right?!?!

What actually happened was that I had a program advisor who was on her way out. She retired without telling her students and had never given me any clear constructive criticism on my portfolio progress, instead giving me a semesterly thumbs up. This woman was tough to pin down, particularly for a student who worked two jobs and took every class (save for one hybrid course) online, never really trying to meet up with her advisor. When I got a new advisor, didn’t take the opportunity to make sure I understood the portfolio requirements. Dr. Black’s gentle criticisms went ignored, because I didn’t have the time to change things that weren’t important enough to strongly emphasize. The same attitude was employed when she suggested I practice my presentation beforehand. I’ve always done well in school, pretty much without trying. I thought I could wing it on the End of Program Assessment. So, it was ultimately all my fault when I showed up to the party in a corset and plush ears.

I’ve exaggerated a lot here, for the sake of hilarity, but I truly think that the presentation I delivered in November had to have been one of the worst the committee members had ever seen. I wasn’t even completely sure what I was supposed to do. I actually told my Gramma that I was sure they wouldn’t fail me, since I’d completed all of the coursework. I somehow just missed the dire importance of the entire assessment. Approximately one minute into my presentation, however, Dr. Snyder’s expression gave away that this was not at all what was expected. I didn’t have a change of clothes, though, so I had no choice but to continue with the party in my cotton bunny tailed panties. I plowed through, becoming more and more flustered and by the time I got to the Q&A portion, I was just grateful I hadn’t thrown up.

Dr. Black: “Well, what was the reason for removing the reference section?”
Me: “I don’t know.”
Dr. Black: “What is reference?”
Me: “… I don’t know.”

“Books is neat, y’all. Give me a master’s degree.” I’m embarrassed just thinking about it. As the committee deliberated and scratched their heads over how in the fuck someone made it this far without being able to define reference, I texted Gail about how my life was over. She told me she was sure it would be fine and I didn’t respond, because I was certain it was not fine. Reference, by the way, makes up the books filled with specific tidbits of information that can be difficult to find without the help of a librarian. Included in this are almanacs, dictionaries, and encyclopedias. I knew that then, but when I tried to explain it, I fumbled and used the word “obscure” instead of “specific.” Hellz yeah. Tell the reference librarians that their position is pointless, because the information they’re finding is “obscure”. Maybe just jump to “murky”, “unintelligible”, “vague”, “ambiguous”, “doubtful.” When I walked back into the conference room, the first words spoken were “We’re disappointed.” My first thought was “No shit. Can you pass me anyway?”

elle woods eating chocolate
No. The answer was no.

I was so excited to graduate last semester, that I purchased a class ring and a t-shirt and sweatshirt that read “Alumni.” I even sent out graduation announcements. There are not a lot of things that are more embarrassing than sending out graduation announcements only to respond to the congratulations with “JK!” I think the only thing more humiliating would have been that time I married a crazy person and got divorced at 23. So, having failed my graduate portfolio, I packed away the ring and the shirts and told myself I could have them back when I deserved them. Just like when I burst into tears in the third grade over my first B on a midterm, I didn’t even need my dad to shame me. Only difference is, this time he didn’t. Regardless, I was absolutely inconsolable at dinner with Gail, but as always, emotions are icky and I coped by making exaggerative and somewhat offensive jokes.

“They kicked me out of college and made me ride the short bus home!”

“My dad’s going to hate me. I’m the slow child now.”
He, in fact, thought I was being completely unreasonable and told me he could never be disappointed in me. Today, he regularly tells me it doesn’t matter what the grade is, so long as I graduate. How fucking ironic.

I would sometimes start with a joke, only to convince myself that I was speaking the truth and end up in tears.
Me: “I’m going to have to buy World of Warcraft! I can’t afford World of Warcraft! It takes a monthly subscription and I don’t even pay for my gym membership!”
Gail: “What?”
Me: “My life in the real world is over. I’m never going to be amazing or impressive here, so I’m going to have to establish an influential presence in the virtual world. It’s either that or I have to join the military!”
Gail: “Why the military?”
Me: “Because I could be impressive and have a real career in the military, even though I can never be a librarian! I don’t want to join the military! I hate being yelled at and I’m an indoor girl!” :Legitimate tears:
Gail: “What the fuck are you even talking about?!”

To fully grasp how irrational I was being, it’s important to remember that this is a master’s degree. I have a bachelor’s degree. I could easily teach and just have no desire to do so. That’s hardly World of Warcraft status, y’all. Thank God, himself, for Gail’s patience and insight.

Gail: “You have a semester to fix this. It’s not over. So get out your laptop and fix it.”

elle woods moping
Advice I did not immediately take.

After Gail dropped me off at my apartment, with my promises not to harm myself, I cried myself to sleep. I hid in fiction for a couple of weeks and then I put on my big girl panties and got to work. In the MLIS program, at my University, you get two tries at the End of Program Assessment, regardless of whether you choose comps or portfolio. You just have to be enrolled in two hours to present, so I took a one-on-one course with Dr. Black… and went full-on Emily Dickinson hermit for six months. I deleted my online dating profiles, only to recreate them out of procrastination and boredom, but completely gave up any actual dating. I didn’t shoot my guns. I continued working out, because getting fat again isn’t going to make me a librarian. I worked both jobs… and I studied. I reread several textbooks, along with every assignment I ever completed. I wrote my required essays for my professor, read books on leadership, and rewrote my portfolio from the ground up. I practiced with Dr. Black twice before my actual presentation. I did not sleep for six months. That’s not true, because I’m not from Krypton, but the only way I have been able to crawl out of my own head in the last six months has been by reading for pleasure and even that was often interrupted with “homework breaks”. Sleep just allows for nightmares. I have had to talk myself down from numerous panic attacks, usually taking place sucking my thumb while fully clothed in an empty bathtub. They all went something along the lines of:

I guess I could be a mechanic. I don’t know anything about cars. I’m good with my hands, but that’s really technical. I don’t like grease or getting dirty. This is a terrible idea. I want to be a librarian!!!! I don’t want to join the Air Force!!!!!

sitting in empty bathtub
It looked just like that.

Even Dr. Black told me I was overdoing it, when I presented her with my course by course evaluations. In these, I found the syllabus to every course in the program, copied the description and objectives, wrote a paragraph of where I was before the course, a paragraph of where I was after the course, and one to two paragraphs about what I learned from the specific assignment I chose to reference.

Dr. Black: “It’s really not necessary to do that for every course. You’re overthinking it.”

Gail: “What’d your professor say?”
Me: “She called me a rabid pit bull and told me to calm the fuck down.”

pit-bull-growling
My graduation photo…

Gail was the only one who knew that I was presenting my portfolio yesterday, just in case I failed, because as Donnie Darko taught all of us Mellenials: “Every living creature on Earth dies alone.” This time, however, I delivered my final graduate portfolio and the first word I heard after the committee deliberated was “Congratulations.” Dr. Snyder told me he enjoyed attending a presentation where he actually learned something. Dr. Black teared up and hugged me. The committee member from a public library gave me her card. I called my Gramma afterward.

Me: “Guess what.”
Gramma: “What?”
Me: “I just passed my graduate portfolio presentation!”
Gramma: “Really? So that’s why you’ve been so secretive! I thought it was closer to the end of the month.”
Secretive” to my Gramma means not talking to her three times a day, because that’s how close I am to her.
Me: “Yeah. I purposely led you to believe that, because I knew you’d stress out and then say shockingly unsupportive things to stress me out and I couldn’t deal with it.”
Gramma: “Well, you’re probably right. That was probably for the best.”

I wore her pearls to the presentation and I’ve been asking her to give them to me for graduation for months, but she’s said no every time. When I asked if she wanted them back, she just told me to keep them. See. My Gramma won’t even give me her prized pearls with any kind of ceremony, because emotions are inappropriate, y’all. That’s where I learned this shit.

old woman
This is her proud face.

Gail bought me a congratulatory dinner and a mall cookie. We both made fun of my initial presentation and the fact that I actually had a nightmare about the zombie apocalypse and failing my portfolio, only to wake up and hyperventilate over school. I did it and it was totally worth not sleeping for six months… which is awesome, because it has suddenly hit me how incredibly overwhelmed I’ve been and I am absolutely fucking exhausted from working two jobs and finishing graduate school while researching Air Force recruitment requirements. I keep reminding myself that substituting is almost over and in a month, I’ll be lounging by the pool, only working at the library in the evenings. I’m not even going to consider a PhD. I’m gonna go T. Swift on this and just say that college and I are never, ever, getting back together. This seven year adventure, complete with abusive marriage, miscarriage, divorce, Gail’s dead daughter, losing 90 pounds, dating, moving ten fucking times in four years, and accidentally creating a secret identity at work has just worn me the fuck out.

passed out studying
My other graduation photo. It’s all about the lighting.

Online Dating: Holy S#!+, I Don’t Have Time for This

late

There’s not a lot more to it than that title. I talked to this nice guy a bit. He wasn’t particularly attractive, but he was Catholic and an engineer. Then he asked if we could hang out sometime and I played the scenarios in my head.

1. He thinks things are going great and I don’t like him because he keeps using the phrase “needless to say”. There’s some legitimate reason to run that I’m not addressing. I realize it later when I tell Gail about his obnoxious quirk and she interrupts to say “Wait. He had blood and fur under his fingernails?!?!?!” I’ve wasted a night I could’ve been working on my graduate portfolio. This is the likeliest outcome.

2. I really like him and think it’s going somewhere, even though my heart is dead, and he doesn’t return the sentiment. His rejection… makes my heart deader? I’ve wasted a night I could’ve been working on my graduate portfolio. This is not super likely.

3. We really hit it off. I give the first guy ever a second date that I don’t cancel the day before because I’ve just realized he asked me to his place the night we met, called me fat, and said my degree was stupid. I shit you not, on that one. Anyway, we start to spend time together… a lot of time. I fret over how to do the whole “relationship thing” without fucking it up. This time and energy could be spent on my portfolio, but isn’t and then I fail my last chance at grad school and blame him. My life is over. This is the least likely scenario.

Online dating. Holy shit I don’t have time for this.

A couple of weeks ago, Catholic Engineer and I were sending each other really long and interesting messages and had mentioned meeting. I was taking longer between each message, thinking about whether or not I should bother, considering responding to him at all was tough to fit into my day. He sent me a message addressing that and included the thought that he didn’t mind waiting, because I was worth it. That could’ve been an “aww” moment or a “dude, clean the semen off my window and get out of that tree” moment. It’s the internet, y’all. I was a little creeped out, but knew I might be being unreasonable. Then I pictured a future without my MLIS and stopped logging into PoF without another word or explanation… because I’m an asshole. Since then, I’ve admitted that I was only using PoF as an entertaining distraction from homework, because Facebook gets old and some profiles are funny. I’ve been able to avoid the site since then, because if I sign in and see all of these unopened messages from Catholic Engineer, I’m going to feel like a dickhole… or be terrified. I have a hierarchical checklist now:

Portfolio

Graduation

Career

Boys

I had a chart I made in Paint, with the intention of demonstrating this, but it kind of implied that “Boys” was the ultimate goal, The Holy Grail of my twenties and I value myself more than that. It’s only hierarchical in the sense that I’m not moving forward until I accomplish each individual goal, not the sense that my life isn’t complete until I suck more dick. Maybe that’s not what hierarchical technically means, but I don’t have time to look it up, because I should be finishing that paper.

All that being said, I’m off dating right now. It’s stressful and time-consuming and I’ve got more important shit going on in my life. Going to the bars takes even more time and the results are even less satisfying. Dedicating myself to not dating has actually been super freeing, in a way. I don’t feel guilty for not going out or giving Internet dates a shot. I’ve just chosen not to do this right now, because I can’t. I’m twenty-fucking-five and despite the fact that the Midwest is perpetually warning of the sand quickly running through my uterus, I’ll have time for it later.

The blog post is coming from inside the bathtub.

So, Gail finally came back from North Carolina. We hadn’t hung out in a week, exactly, and I was getting the shakes. She quickly pointed out, however, that that might have been for another reason entirely.

Me: “I found the best blog while you were gone. You should have read this at your dead grandma’s funeral. It would have been a lot better.”
Gail: “Wow. I can tell you haven’t really been sleeping lately.”
Me: “Whatwhy?”
Gail: “Because the less you sleep, the faster you talk.”
Me: “Huh. Iguess I hadn’t reallythought aboutit. I didgoto bed ataround 3:00, 2:30 lastnight?”
Gail: “And got up at, what, 7:00?”
Me: “Um. Yeahactually.”

I’ve since realized that I must just be really stressed over the whole graduate portfolio thing… so much so that I needed Gail to tell me so. That might also be why I haven’t been eating. Is that not the coolest fucking stress reaction ever? I get a Masters degree or my life is over and I get skinnier?!?!? So it begins… my stress-induced insanity. I’m not exaggerating when I say that the summer of 2011 required I be medicated from a concussion to get any sleep during finals. The spring semester of 2012 ended with me propped up on a bunch of pillows, trying to drown out all distractions as I worked on my final project… from behind the closed shower curtain in my empty bathtub… sucking my thumb and crying. Seriously. If you’re thinking about getting a master’s degree: stop it. The thing is… that was in May. It’s fucking February, y’all. I deliver my portfolio in mid-April and I have already taken up my post in the empty bathtub, where my blog can apparently still distract me. Psh. Whatev. I only care about the ends. Fuck the means. Apparently, Gail and I have funnier conversations when I’m high on exhaustion and we haven’t hung out for a week. We had a late lunch (a side salad for me) and visited the art supply store today.

Gail: referring to demands on her time “They all get a piece of Gail.”
Me: “We’ve known that for years now.”

Me: “I’ll give you $5 to bark mid-orgasm the next time you have sex with Terry.”
Gail: laughing “It’s not like I can control whether or not I bark mid-orgasm…”
Me: laughing hysterically “Can I quote you on that?!?! ‘It’s not like I can control whether or not I bark mid-orgasm.’ Abigail Frederickson.”
Gail: “That’s not what I meant!”
Me: “It’s not like I can control whether or not I bark mid-orgasm. Really, though, Gail… can any of us?!? That’s going on your dad’s quote of the day calendar.”
I’ve been threatening to make this calendar for ages.

huge mirror

Me: “Why would you want this one? Is it for when you get really fat and tall?”
Gail: “I like the really sizable ones. Okay, get ready to say ‘We’ve known that for years now.’ I like them sizable.”

pretty bathroom

Gail: “Why would you hang a picture in your bathroom of a prettier bathroom?”
Me: “Maybe you could get a couple of the mega mirrors and make it look like you are in that bathroom.”

not plush egg

Me: “Oh, my gosh, these look like they should be plush and I just felt a moment of complete rage when I realized they weren’t.”
Gail: “You’re insa… oh, my gosh, they do look plush.”

glitter testicle

Me: “Ohmygosh. I have the strongest urge to just go all out and decorate for Easter in glitter testicles.”

Me: “That beef jerky had better be made out of fucking unicorn meat for $10. I doubt you could eat unicorn meat, though. It seems like it would be like polar bear meat and just be toxic to your system, because it’s mythical and you’d die.”
Gail: “Wait. What? You can’t eat polar bear meat? Says who?”
Me: “Everyone. That’s like a thing everyone just knows.”
Gail: “No it isn’t.”
Me: “Yes it is. Just because you don’t know it, doesn’t mean everyone else doesn’t know it.”
I google it, because smartphones are bomb.
Me: making a placating guesture with my hand “Polar bear liver. I’m sorry.”
Gail: incorrectly imitates hand motion “What, is that some kind of ‘nuh-huh!’ gesture?”
Me: “No. That’s ‘calm yourself’. But see. I was right and you’re just stupid. You die if you eat polar bear…” :drop voice to a whisper: “livers.”
.
still scrolling through phone
.
“Polar bears aren’t able to force geese into extinction and science is really upset about it! Or they’re taking note of it. I guess it doesn’t elaborate on their feelings. They should be upset about it. Wait. If polar bears are some kind of natural predators to geese, we need to get us some fucking polar bears up in here!”
Gail: “Oh, my God. Are you listening to yourself? You are insane when you haven’t been sleeping. ‘We need to get some fucking polar bears up in here!'”

I have an intense Once-Cried-at-the-Zoo-at-Age-23 fear of birds, particularly geese. We have too many fucking geese here.

Fuck. I am being super unproductive. Even in the bathtub.

studying in bathtub
Where might one come by some cocaine?