Cities and suburbs, real and imaginary.

Friday, February 22, 2013

Indentured servitude or feudalism or whatever hyperbolic buzzword we're using today...

I think I've paid off student loans, almost. I was very, very close to clearing it all out and a gracious family member put me over the top, and I thank them privately, not here.

Alas, I made the annoying mistake of paying the loan off the day interest would tick up for the month. Between the time I paid the loan and the time it got paid, the interest turned over and there's $0.88 left to pay off. Web bill paying only allows you to pay a dollar or more, so I can't pay that last little bit. It also won't let me just give them a dollar, because I can only pay exactly what is due.

So, do I really have to mail a check into the student loan people for $0.88? Is that really what I have to do now?

My thoughts on student loan debt are pretty obvious and common, if you read around the blog-o-sphere and consider the liberal/libertarian ideals I hold in most, but not all, cases. It is a feudalistic system of indentured servitude, or something else hyperbolic and buzzword-y. Feudalism is a term I hear bandied about a lot, recently, to describe the way American employment works - how employers demand more than what they are contractually agreeing to, how employers hold your health and safety in their hands with insurance, how they expect you to fawn on them for their power, or something. I don't know, I was hanging out with some writer-types, and these terms get talked about and people complain about their jobs in very high language. Complain all you like, but complain quietly, because we still have to live and work and complaining won't help anyone find the right way to handle the situations we're in.

Recently, and I can't remember precisely who it was for certain, I heard a writer complain about how companies don't like you to be writers on the side, because you're committed to something that's not the company. A factual story was told about an accountant who lost her job only because her fantasy novels were too successful and considered inappropriate at her place of business. Everyone in the room nodded because we've had it happen to us, or to someone we know. The buzzword words came again - and if it is who I think it was that said it, though it's fuzzy because I was very tired, doesn't have to work a day job - and the storyteller said it was just feudalistic mindsets that are awful and people should complain, or rise up, or something. I don't remember exactly the words, but no solution was offered in the explanation, just that we shouldn't put up with it.

But, most folks don't get that luxury.

Complain all you like, but there is still this way of thinking in the world that having book deals means you aren't really employable in an office setting, sometimes. There's plenty of stories out there of writers who lost their job or got hit during the layoffs hard, presumably because everyone assumed they were writing so they'd be rich and fine, or they were writing so they weren't really all-in to the company if they had anything left to write in the wee hours of the days and weekends.

Call it feudalism and decry the injustice. Bills that come in due must still needs be paid. The demagoguery of declaring the injustice and telling people not to put up with it, does not help anyone deal with the reality that we must navigate. Not everyone has the support system they need to be a rebel without great physical and emotional pain.

Student loans look like the worst kinds of feudalism, where there's huge commitment to the top, but nothing but derision going down, nasty phone calls and letters, plus the public shaming of credit ratings following people who are guilty of nothing criminal but still must pay the price as if they were. The little injustices of the system that pile on to make a difficult, necessary situation a thing to endure for modern employment for most people. Complaining about the injustice doesn't solve what exists. Most jobs these days make as a prerequisite a college degree. We can bemoan the injustice until the blog-o-sphere burns, but I still have to figure out how to pay that $0.88 before it adds up to more interest, or dings a late payment. I still had to get the college papers in hand, and join the work force, and work, and work hard for people that expected me to go home exhausted with nothing left to give.

It is easy to be wise about a system of power when dinner is on the table every night, no matter what you say or feel or think. In the mean time, stay quiet, and keep your head down. Don't make waves until you can afford to ride them out to sea. Keep your real self hidden from the people around you, so no one will even know what it is you do.

I'm going to call the student loan people today, and see if I can't figure this one out before any more spare change piles on to my $0.88 remaining in student loan debt.

Somewhere a banker is laughing at me.

Oddly enough, and an important note to those considering college: I use my creative writing degree professionally every day. I often overhear and witness people warning others about "useless degrees" and taking on debt, and I think that most people don't realize how very useless any degree can be, when the person holding it is someone who approaches their education as a quest to make the most money as quickly as possible. In fact, the most successful people I know approached their college education with genuine curiosity first, and a career second. So, take that advice you hear everywhere with a grain of salt.

What is still useful advice in this vein, however, is check your expected average earnings with your degree, divide that number in half, assume it is the most you will ever make per year for the rest of your life and make sure you can cover the loan payments with room to live on with that amount. Checking the numbers first is an important step. Curiosity first, yes, but still be realistic about your professional expectations.

The positions I've held in offices were acquired, in no small part, because of my background and experience with the degrees I have. Some of those positions were fairly high paying ones, if a bit more unstable than I'd ever like to do again. I expected less than that when I went to college, and made decisions accordingly, and I was fortunate to have help at the time, and to work my way through most of my MFA.

I was careful to keep the costs down. I went to public schools for my Bachelor's and my Masters, and only took on debts to cover parts of the degrees. I actually left one graduate school, ten years ago, in no small part because I did not see how I was going to pay off the loans required with the job market I was seeing.

Also, if you're going to be indenturing your future for your education, do make sure it's a good one. My first graduate school was not a good one, and why indenture myself for an education that wasn't worth it?

I use my degree at work every day, and I have since I entered the job market. It still took ten years and some gracious amount of generosity to get it down to just $0.88. And, I'm lucky to have done it that soon!

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