I have spent a lot of time . . . more than twenty years . . . trying to get a college degree. A lot of what has kept me from that goal is that, when I get close, I get scared. If I have a degree is education or social work, then I have to work as a teacher or a social worker, right?
And I don’t want to be a teacher or a social worker.
No. That’s not what I mean. I wouldn’t mind being a teacher or a social worker. I was a social worker, in fact, until June. And I’ve worked as a substitute teacher. Both are honorable and necessary professions. Work that means something is really important to me.
But for me, they were fall-back careers. Things to study so that if I’m not a successful writer, I will still be able to work.
A lot of that stems from a) my childhood experiences and b) my single mom experiences. I want to be able to support my children. (Who doesn’t?) But I’m almost 39-years-old. I’ve worked as a newspaper reporter and photographer, a teacher, a social worker . . . all without degrees. I’ve proven to myself that I can get work that matters and that will pay the bills (frugally, but still, pay them.)
I don’t need a safety net.
I’m a little freaked about the money. It’s a lot of money. Not now, of course. Not out-of-pocket. But I’ll be $20,000 in student-loan debt when I graduate.
Could I put together my own program to teach myself how to write? Find mentors and colleagues, join clubs, read books . . . home school myself to a BFA for the price of a library card?
There aren’t many writing courses at my local community college, but I could definitely put together a degree in literature or just plain English. For free, with grants.
Do I need an idyllic Vermont farm campus and Poet Laureate advisers? Do I need a piece of paper that says BFA on it? What does $20,000 in debt really mean? How long will it take for me to pay it off? Will having this degree make it more likely that someday I’ll write a book that someone will pay me $20,000 for?
Is the experience worth it?
I don’t know. It’s such an experience. Progressive, intense, soul-opening.
I’ve written a novel since April. I’ve read and processed almost 50 resources, about half of those books. I’ve pushed myself more than I’ve ever done in an academic setting. I’ve been a student almost constantly since I was five. That’s 33 years. And this semester, I dug deeper and learned harder than any other time.
When I was three, I wanted to know how to read. My mother bought me a set of little yellow, paper books filled with pictures of a lion and a mouse and simple words like “I am Sam, Sam I am.” I spent hours that I could have been playing dolls with my sister reading and re-reading those little books. When I went through them all, I read One Fish, Two Fish, Red Fish, Blue Fish. I was only three, but I remember that feeling, like I’d done something monumental.
This semester was that intense.
Is it worth $20,000? I hope so.