Wasting Time & Money In America

I didn’t have enough money for books my first semester of college and my school loans were thirty days from my bank account so I got my first credit card. Five years and some odd months later I have a few more credit cards, a few loans and a lot of bills going into delinquency, an occurrence that is actually very new to me.

My university was overpriced and didn’t provide the type of job placement it claimed it would. Wouldn’t it be so easy to blame this all on them? Wouldn’t it be what everyone expected me to do?

I was born poor, raised poor and stayed poor until I became the minimum wage earning college graduate before you but, do not be fooled. I am no idiot, I am not lazy and I do think I will get away someday but these credit cards, loans, utility and phone bills will not make it any easier.

I am not a very materialistic person, at least not compared to most of the people around me. I don’t have a flat-screen television or a decent cell phone (still rocking the penny phone from I-Wireless and going two months delinquent on that bill as we speak). I don’t buy new clothes, ever. I mostly shop at Goodwill and I get food stamps and hardly spend any other money on food. I don’t buy or wear makeup (still have some from high school) and I hate shoe shopping. I switched to bar soap so I don’t even buy expensive body wash anymore! I do have my indulgences, who doesn’t? I know I should probably be sacrificing more because I can’t afford things but I already got rid of cable (have to keep the internet and home phone for job prospects) and I share a car with two other people and live with three other people. We are all struggling to survive but you can’t spend your whole life in that state of panic so occasionally everyone needs to spend a little time and/or money on themselves.

I once wrote this in a school assignment, I think it was in my final paper for Graphic Design: “I don’t blame apathy for the lack of creativity in kids today. I blame business school. Programs pump out useless “professionals” that work through an overpriced education just to end up working in food service? I’m sorry but what kind of bologna is that?”

Every time someone asks what I went to school for I swear I hear them snicker even before I respond. I’m not ashamed of being a writer, just a bit shy, especially with people trying to make small talk in a sandwich line. Yes, I majored in ENGLISH and minored in CREATIVE WRITING.

What kind of great career did that get me? A job dealing in large part with bologna and other processed meat products. I place them neatly on frozen bread I thaw and bake along with vegetables I slice and ungodly amounts of mayonnaise, usually in nine hour shifts. I don’t mind making subs for people, some people are pretty nice or at least interesting but most of the time I feel I am not living up to my potential.

I come home every night and write or draw or organize my thousands of pictures and then I pick something to post on this blog. I may be terrified I will never find a job in my field and I will go into complete and irreversible debt but, as long as I am passionately contributing to my portfolio, trying to get published, or at least making things I can enjoy myself or share with friends, I will know that I didn’t give up. I know that I’m better off than those people in college who didn’t try, who were only there to party, or dropped out entirely but, it is of little consolation.

I think a lot of people gave up on me. My family and friends haven’t but my school did, my city did, my country did, this world did. I guess those things qualify more as places or ideas. Maybe I failed myself by investing so much time and money into a broken education system.

I was “into” Romantic poets, education was not only unnecessary, it was indulgent, something strange people just did and most other people didn’t understand. Dr. Swan once said getting a good education was more possible when students were allowed to “lie around on the grass”. He didn’t mean they just took naps wherever they pleased but that they provided time for their minds to wonder and, occasionally, wander. I remember taking my notebook or journal out into a field or under some trees and drawing or writing observations. As I grew braver I started jotting rough poems in the margins. I even edited during lunch.

Maybe I didn’t fail as long as I don’t submit to being a thoughtless, working class drone. I am and will always be a dreamer. I dreamed of going to college when I was a little girl. I dreamed of becoming a writer or artist when I was in middle school. I dreamed of going to New York City and writing for SNL and going to Conan’s show as often as humanly possible. When I graduated I wanted to settle down, get a job and save for a more practical state-school education. When I had a job I wanted a better job at the school I settled for. When I was going to school I thought I got a lot out of it. A lot of stress, a lot of debt but I also got a lot of memories, pictures, wise advice and practical knowledge. I put a lot into my education and ended up not getting less than a B.

I am now confronted with a new dilemma. I have to stop paying my credit card and possibly loan payments. I have been able to stay afloat for a year after graduation but since my boyfriend lost his job in October and the bills keep climbing higher I have to make some difficult choices. I am the kind of person who hates owing money to anyone. I am extremely disappointed that I racked up around 50,000 in debt from: going to school, paying bills, fixing cars, buying two computers and having to move every year. I never missed my payments even if I could only afford the minimums and it is really easy for people to tell you to just “never get in debt in the first place”. Didn’t those people consider how people get into debt? I didn’t stand up and say “Throw money at me and charge me a lot more for it later so I can have the same opportunity as someone whose parents could afford to help send them to college.” I didn’t send myself offer after offer for instant credit in the mail. I didn’t sit across from myself in financial aid meetings and offices and tell myself to take out more to pay for a computer (which I did need) or for rent (because even living near campus is ridiculously expensive). I find it interesting that no one considers these things strange, they just want to blame poor people for “living beyond their means”.

The irony is, of course, that America itself lives beyond its means and that is bound to catch up with every last one of us, eventually.

*If you liked this post or have a debt/college/job story of your own please comment! I am planning a series of posts like this in the “WASTING TIME & MONEY IN AMERICA” category, especially as I start getting those dreaded collection letters/calls. Thanks for your time and support (if anyone has any extra money they want to throw around I would be happy to accept but I’m not asking! ;P)

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