Thanksgiving and Student Loans

I am thankful for SOOOO much. So much. I have the best family and friends.I have the best cats ever. I have an awesome job I love, doing what I love. I get to WRITE to make money, though it isn’t enough to live on. So I teach too, which, luckily, is something I believe I was born to do. I LOVE IT.

But. Let’s talk about student loans.

First, let me say: it is very true that many of my student loan decisions were bad. For real. I have made some terrible choices that I am continually paying for. Quite literally. But, these decisions were in the service of bettering my life. Instead, my student loan burden has made it so, so much worse.

While I was an editor trying to start the Flux imprint, nigh so many years ago, I got very frustrated with working so hard and not having a lot to show for it. Though I am forever grateful for the chance the pub company took on me and the imprint, it was three years of constant work and little movement to make it happen. I looked into working in a different area–psychology. So I started taking online classes through Capella University and took out loans to do it. I had no idea at the time that Capella was a for-profit college. I didn’t know what those were.

After a year or so, I decided to quit my editor job and go get my master’s in forensic psychology at Argosy University in DC–another for-profit college. After a year there, it was clear to me that this school wasn’t for me and I finally began to understand what a “for-profit” college really was. So I quit and for years I floundered, trying to settle into what I wanted to do.

During this time, I couldn’t start repaying my loans because I had no job that paid me enough to help me pay for the cost of living in DC and to pay my loans. And there began my journey with our friend, “interest.”

After a couple of years. I finally found what I was meant to do–teaching kidlit. This was my true love! I’d been an agent for a bit; I did freelance editing and proofreading; I worked some other editing jobs; and I realized that my one, true love was kidlit and working with story.  I found an awesome program through Hamline University to get my MFA and, wonder of wonders, GOT IN! I took loans out for this, and  frankly, I would take out loans for this over and over and over. It was definitely worth it.

But you see, during that time, interest on my loans still happened. And after I graduated and began to adjunct, I couldn’t pay my now considerably higher student loan payments. I had about four jobs during this time, and still I couldn’t pay it. You’ve heard of the plight of adjuncts, right? That was me. I was below the poverty line, uninsured, working long, long hours every day.

Finally, I got a break: I started editing again full time while teaching adjunct, and had a steady, good salary. But by now, my loans had ballooned up to the point where they are as much as a house. No joke–the first house I bought (now sold) was LESS than my student loans now. And half of what I owe? Back interest.

Right now I have a great job that pays well. I have book projects that give me a little extra money. And my income-based repayment plan was just recalculated and I am in complete despair: I can’t afford it. I live in a place with fairly high standard of living and rent is no joke. I can’t afford to pay rent and my student loan payment, even through the income-based repayment plan. Even with working constantly, having a good job, and even with making extra money, I am living paycheck to paycheck and praying for the payments to go down.

Again, these were decisions I made. But I believe, too, that this process is rigged against people who are trying to make their lives better. How is this the American dream? How am I supposed to ever climb out from under this? The chances of me garnering an advance that could cover this are as low as winning the lottery. I feel trapped. What can we do to ease this burden?

How about you? Are you overburdened by loans? Especially if you’re in the arts in some way?

Now, let me end with: I am crazy privileged. If this is my plight–a middle-class white person with an advanced degree–I can’t imagine the despair others in a less privileged position feel. I see you and I will look for ways to fight for you in whatever way I can. Please don’t construe this long-winded complaint as me believing for a second my situation is as dire as others.

In the meantime, student loans or not, I AM grateful for so many things. For friends, family, cats, writing, teaching, health. I can’t wait to eat too much today, understanding that eating at all on any day is a privilege. I’m so grateful for my life, always, student loans or not.

So, Happy Thanksgiving! I’d love to hear your stories about loans and the like if you feel like sharing. Feel free to comment.

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