Tag Archives: education

I went to grad school and all I got were these awesome food stamps.

I'm so glad that they use a card now.

This week, most of my former classmates got their master’s diplomas in the mail. I got food stamps.

I have yet to receive my actual diploma, and I don’t know when or if I ever will. My last three terms, I had to take out short-term emergency loans because my regular loans just weren’t enough. They were expecting me to live on about $300 a month, so once my unemployment ran out, I started taking out emergency loans that upped my monthly “income” to $1100 or $1300. My situation was at its most dire my last term because that was when my car got repossessed and my electricity cut off. The problem with short-term loans is that you have to pay them back the following term. As the name implies, they are short-term loans. But if you run out of money and have to take out a short-term loan, chances are you are going to spend the short-term loan and then not have any more money once you pay back the loan after the quarter is over. So then you take out another short-term loan to pay off the last short-term loan. The cycle continues until graduation. You aren’t allowed to take out a short-term loan the quarter you graduate. I was desperate, so I lied. I took out my short-term loan as early as possible and I applied for graduation as late as possible. I finally got a job during my last term, but it just wasn’t enough.

Unfortunately, because of my bad loan habit and my medical bills (and maybe because of an incomplete I got in a class unrelated to my degree), they have a hold on my diploma, so I won’t be getting it until I pay them tons and tons of money. It’s okay. If anyone wants to call the university, they can confirm that I really did graduate. Though there is no foreseeable reason for anyone to call.

I am more excited about food stamps than I am about the degree. Because they took so long to approve my application, I got $108 to spend before October 31. It was quite a task, but I managed.

I have genetic insulin resistance. What that means is that for reasons unknown my body does not respond to normal amounts of insulin, so my pancreas overcompensates by secreting abnormally high levels of insulin nearly all the time. I have checked my blood sugar many times, and I have never once had a high reading. In fact, I am somewhat hypoglycemic (possibly because of the high insulin). My mother was the same, and she ended up with diabetes that ruined her life and killed her. My maternal grandmother was also the same. She, too, ended up with diabetes that ruined her life and killed her. The first time I got my insulin tested at age 24, my fasting level was 51 uU/ml. It should have been around 5. Insulin resistance is associated with type 2 diabetes, metabolic syndrome, and polycystic ovarian syndrome. My mother had type 1 diabetes, and I’m not sure how that relates to IR.

My doctor strongly advised me to go on a low-carbohydrate diet. I was doing well with that for a while, but when you live on food bank food, it’s difficult to stick to it. Carbs are cheap. My local food bank has four kinds of food: meaty, starchy, beany, and sweet. Meaty makes me vomit, starchy is kind of bad for me, sugary is really bad for me, and beany is just inadequate. I end up eating lots and lots of salted spaghetti. I haven’t been taking my medication, and I’ve been eating food that spikes my already-spiked insulin, so I’m gaining weight despite being hungry all the time and not having much to eat. I’m sure my insulin is through the roof again.

Nom nom nom.When I got food stamps before, I actually lost 20 lbs in about four months even though my caloric intake increased significantly. I was still eating too many starchy things, but I was eating a lot of vegetables, eggs, nuts, and tofu. I felt well and was getting plenty of exercise, which I haven’t been doing lately. I hope that my new food stamps will be a catalyst for me to get back on track and to a point where I care about myself again and can take steps towards regaining my health. I might even cook. It’s a bit sad that when I was working I did not have enough money for healthy food, but I do on food stamps. I get more with food stamps than I ever spent on food when I worked. I don’t buy cheap junk either. Sorry, Republicans. I guess this makes me a socialist bum. Go ahead and heckle. At my last job, I made less money than I was required to spend on rent and bills. I technically had no money for food unless I stopped paying for something else. That’s how I ended up with no phone and no electricity.

I became very sad at Trader Joe’s because every item I put in my cart made me wonder “Will I pack this when I move?”I still don’t know when I have to go. Or where to go.



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Filed under Depression, Food, health, Home Life, Materialism, Obstacles

A heart that was full and unbroken

I’ve been going about it all wrong.

In high school, I was strange and artsy. I played music (viola, piano, saxophone, and guitar), I painted, and I wrote stories. I was better at writing stories than I was at painting or playing music. Although I was interested in biology (genetics in particular), I figured I would be doing something artistic when I grew up.  At some point my teenage rebellion waned and I began listening to people.

Once I started listening to “reason,” I never stopped. I became convinced that I would be unable to live on less than $60,000 a year. To settle for less would have been unfathomable. I also got the idea that if it was fun and I enjoyed it, that I’d never make any money doing it. I never pursued anything I really wanted.

Thus my fallback career choice became my primary career choice. Biology seemed to be more lucrative because I lacked the confidence to get by on my artistic merits. It’s not so much that I felt I was particularly talented as a scientist, but I didn’t trust myself in a career that required me to determine its structure. I felt like I needed a job that I would show up to, get paid for, and then leave to go home. It seemed (and still seems) far too nerve-wracking to worry about getting published or selling artwork or a booking performances or anything like that. I don’t want to pour my heart and my life into something just to find out that it’s worthless. I value stability.

My senior year of college I took a class about rhetoric. I’d taken many writing courses in college, so I’m not entirely sure why this one meant so much more to me. For class we were assigned to read Style: Lessons in Clarity and Grace by Joseph M. Williams. I have always had a fondness for grammar texts, but I had not thought much about sentence structure as its own entity until I read this book. I was very excited about the class, and I did very well with little effort. For once in my life, my abilities did not go unnoticed, and my professor recommended me for a tutoring position in our campus writing center. I worked there for three full years, staying on part-time after I graduated until I got kicked out due to statewide budget cuts.

I became quite excited about academic writing. Academic writing has little use outside of an academic setting, but it came so naturally to me that I wanted to do something with it. I wrote a grammar column in our weekly newsletter. I wrote and performed workshops on sentence structure. I was happy to go to work every single day. The pay was low and I only worked part-time. I was poor, but I loved my job. During this time I began writing a book about the various levels of structure in college-level papers. I abandoned the book rather quickly because I did not see that I had nothing new to offer on the subject. Go to any bookstore and there is sure to be a shelf (or several rows of shelves) dedicated to books about writing. Aside from a few minor contradictions that can be attributed to either the author’s personal preference or the evolution of language, most of those books say essentially the same thing. Some do it dryly, some use humor. Some are very strict, and others more lenient. The truth is (or so I thought) that if you bought three or four particular books about writing, you would have access to every last iota of information you could ever possibly need about writing. Language changes, but it doesn’t change quickly enough to warrant the vast selection of books about writing that are available at any given time. If I were to create a version of what I felt should be in one volume, then it would probably alienate one group of writers or another. I thought about this a lot, and abandoned the project. And along came Mignon Fogarty.

I admit that I am bitter. If you don’t know who Mignon Fogarty (aka Grammar Girl) is, she’s a woman who has made a lucrative  career out of stating the obvious. Now, I am 100% in favor of improving bad grammar skills, but this woman is ubiquitous and she hasn’t brought anything new to the table. How does this happen? How do people do it? Why don’t I do it? She has roots in Seattle and one day I heard her doing a radio commercial spot for a local grocery store, explaining the difference between affect and effect for the back-to-school season. She gets paid to reiterate what one can find in a dictionary. Or even what one could have seen during her appearance on Oprah. She’s everywhere, mocking me, and I can’t escape. And dammit, I would do so much of a better job. But I didn’t write a book–she did.

Good for her, though. I feel about Mignon Fogarty the same way I feel about my friend who packed up and move to New York City on a whim, then very quickly got a managerial job. She’s several years younger than I am with less experience and less education. While I am glad when good things happen to other people, it’s difficult for me to take myself out of the equation. I feel childish even admitting that. Every time I take a risk it comes back to hurt me. As a result of conditioning, I always play it safe. But playing it safe never gets me anywhere either. I have no more risks to take.

From Postsecret. I once sent a secret in and it made it onto the site that week. This isn't my secret, but I saved it because it spoke to me.

There’s also Frank Warren of PostSecret. PostSecret is a fantastic site based on a brilliant idea, and I know that Mr. Warren puts in many hours reading secrets, selecting secrets, making appearances, and speaking with publishers. But he doesn’t create anything aside from one secret per book (or so I’ve heard). He’s a well-known middleman.

I don’t mean to be dismissive. I know he puts a lot of work into it, and he really did contribute something new and great to the world. He also provides fantastic support for HopeLine and gives many depressed and troubled individuals an outlet to express themselves anonymously. I just become bothered when I see that it’s actually possible to be down-to-earth and live an unconventional life. If only I had figured that out earlier.

So I have come to the conclusion that I have been going about it all wrong. Perhaps I’m not cut out for a “real job” in the “real world.” I’m not inferior –just different. I know where I’m not wanted, and I’m not wanted in the cubicle down the hall from you. I’m not wanted in the corner office either. I don’t need to be rich and I don’t need to be famous but I need to be able to take care of myself.

The problem is that I never follow through on anything except my own self-doubt. Self-help gurus often advise people not to tell themselves that they “should have done this” or “should have done that.” I have ideas and I should stick to them, when all this time I’ve been sticking to my regrets.


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Filed under Depression, fml, jerks, Obstacles, Work

The Kids Aren’t Alright

Damn Straight.

Damn Straight.

I have been reading a lot about President Obama’s speech scheduled for tomorrow. There is a lot of controversy surrounding this speech, and I really don’t understand why. I live in a very liberal part of the country, but even some local schools have chosen to block the speech to prevent his message from reaching the children. There was so much hullabaloo over this issue that the White House decided to release the president’s prepared remarks in advance (you can read them here.) I have now read the contents of the speech, and even though I am not the intended audience, I thought it was a nice speech and some parts of it even motivated me a little. If you’ve been reading this blog, you know that one thing I currently lack is motivation, so it says a lot that reading this speech on my computer screen woke me up, even if just a bit.

Obama points out that children often get left out in the discussions about education. Children are talked at, and about, but not to. I was lucky to have had a good education for most of my youth. I played musical instruments, I studied art, etymology, I played sports (reluctantly), I read a lot, and I had some brilliant teachers. I also spent most of my youth in expensive college preparatory schools.

From a social standpoint, my experience at those schools was a nightmare. Twelve-year-old girls are the meanest people in the world. They’re even meaner when they’re rich and pretty. That aside, my education was excellent and I carry it with me to this day. When I was an instructor at a technical college, my students (who were mostly older than I was) often asked me where I learned medical terminology or how I remembered algebra so well or why I knew so many obscure facts. The truth is, I learned most of what I taught while I was in junior high. I’m not sure what magic my teachers were conjuring, but everything I learned in those classes is still with me, especially the etymology. If I could make a living by tracing and learning about word or idiom origins, I would. Anu Garg is my hero. (Mr. Garg, if you read this –would you like an intern?)

My social difficulties at the prep school became too much to bear in addition to my home drama, and I transferred to a local public school for 11th grade. More accurately, I deliberately got expelled from the prep school because that was my only way out. I failed 10th grade so that I could leave there and go to public school like a normal kid.

I had no idea how sheltered I was. On my first day at a public high school, I met a female classmate who was showing off pictures of a toddler. I said “Oh, she’s cute. Is that your sister?” “No,” she said. “She’s my daughter.” Well, knock me over with a feather. The prep school girls just got abortions and kept quiet. You can’t go to cotillion with a baby on your hip, and it’s damn near impossible to find a maternity ball gown in the juniors’ department.

The teachers at the public school were mostly inattentive. My AP biology teacher used to type up notes and put them on the overhead projector for us to copy. We would then get a 100 just for copying the notes. Most of the curriculum covered things I had already done in 9th grade biology at the prep school. My 11th grade history teacher did nothing but yell at us and tell us to shut up, shut the hell up, and shut our damn mouths. He gave us xeroxed copies of worksheets and we just sat and filled them in during class. If he heard a single whisper, then the yelling would start. I didn’t learn a damn thing.

There were two teachers at the public school that I remember fondly, and one of them wasn’t even my teacher. I used to spend my free period in the library reading books, and there was a teacher who struck up a conversation with me one day because I was reading something-or-other by Carl Sagan. We would talk a lot about science and literature, and he would lend me books. He lent me A Brief History of Time when I was 17. I frequently wore a Sub Pop “Loser” t-shirt to school, and he would jokingly admonish me for wearing such an awful, self-deprecating shirt. Nowadays, people would think it was creepy for a male teacher to interact somewhat socially with a female student, but there was nothing sketchy about it. I suppose he just saw some potential in a wayward teen. I had pink-streaked hair and wore black nail polish, but I was clearly a geek.

Despite failing 10th grade, I was actually able to graduate high school a semester early. Don’t get impressed. The truth of the matter is that my prep school had been a year ahead of the public school, so even though I had failed the whole year, I was right on track. I went to summer school anyway, and I tested out of a couple of classes, and I set to graduate a year in advance. My mother would not let me graduate a full year in advance because she felt I was too young. I eventually was able to convince her to set me free a semester early, three months after my 17th birthday. I went to a community college for a semester before I began working on my bachelor’s.

I was an inconsistent student. I wobbled back and forth between straight-A’s and many C’s. I graduated with a 3.1, I believe, and that was with me failing classes. After my prep school experience, I had no interest in Ivy League education (unlike my brother, who fits the Ivy League stereotype in nearly every way). I wish that I had tried harder, but I also wish that my public school had the same opportunities as the prep school, just with with fewer kids being jerks. The school lacked funding, and no one on the administration appeared to take pride in the property, the supplies, or the classes. The students didn’t take pride in those things either. Worse, I think that many teachers had given up on the students (including me), causing the students to act out. This is somewhat of a trivial example, but I took art classes at both schools and my experience at the prep school was far superior. Not only was the equipment better, but the supplies were better because the students took care of them. At the public school, the students wouldn’t even clean their paintbrushes (rendering them mostly unusable once dry), and they frequently stole or destroyed other students’ art assignments. Yet another public-school wake-up call.

So, in this “controversial” post-Labor Day speech, President Obama has the following to offer:

Whatever you resolve to do, I want you to commit to it. I want you to really work at it.
I know that sometimes, you get the sense from TV that you can be rich and successful without any hard work — that your ticket to success is through rapping or basketball or being a reality TV star, when chances are, you’re not going to be any of those things.

But the truth is, being successful is hard. You won’t love every subject you study. You won’t click with every teacher. Not every homework assignment will seem completely relevant to your life right this minute. And you won’t necessarily succeed at everything the first time you try.

That’s OK. Some of the most successful people in the world are the ones who’ve had the most failures. JK Rowling’s first Harry Potter book was rejected twelve times before it was finally published. Michael Jordan was cut from his high school basketball team, and he lost hundreds of games and missed thousands of shots during his career. But he once said, “I have failed over and over and over again in my life. And that is why I succeed.”

These people succeeded because they understand that you can’t let your failures define you – you have to let them teach you. You have to let them show you what to do differently next time. If you get in trouble, that doesn’t mean you’re a troublemaker, it means you need to try harder to behave. If you get a bad grade, that doesn’t mean you’re stupid, it just means you need to spend more time studying.

No one’s born being good at things, you become good at things through hard work. You’re not a varsity athlete the first time you play a new sport. You don’t hit every note the first time you sing a song. You’ve got to practice. It’s the same with your schoolwork. You might have to do a math problem a few times before you get it right, or read something a few times before you understand it, or do a few drafts of a paper before it’s good enough to hand in.

Don’t be afraid to ask questions. Don’t be afraid to ask for help when you need it. I do that every day. Asking for help isn’t a sign of weakness, it’s a sign of strength. It shows you have the courage to admit when you don’t know something, and to learn something new. So find an adult you trust – a parent, grandparent or teacher; a coach or counselor – and ask them to help you stay on track to meet your goals.

And even when you’re struggling, even when you’re discouraged, and you feel like other people have given up on you – don’t ever give up on yourself.

It all seems like common sense or general feel-goodery –but why didn’t anyone tell me anything like that when I was a child? Why don’t children hear that from their teachers? From parents? And what’s wrong with hearing it from the president? These are words I need to carry with myself now, and I wish they were ingrained as deeply as my generally unnecessary knowledge of Latin and Greek roots. Again, if you read this blog, you know that I never ask for help, even when I need it.

There is too great of a divide between the education and attention that the wealthy children get and what the poorer or even middle-class children get, and it doesn’t end once high school is over. One of the more heartbreaking accounts of these discrepancies is in Savage Inequalities by Jonathan Kozol. I read this book in 1998 or so, but the image of East St. Louis children walking through sewage on the way to class will stay with me forever. Children who go to school in that environment aren’t going to pull themselves up by the bootstraps and get into college. Even if they want to, the odds are against them. Part of why I am in favor of Obama’s speech is because he is not just talking to children who are likely to succeed, but all children. Of course there are problems with funding, and I hope we will make strides towards solving at least part of that problem, but there are so many other factors, and even those who are better off need to be involved.



Filed under Obstacles, Politics, Soapbox