Learning Deep

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.

Except one.

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.

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1 Comment

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One response to “Learning Deep

  1. Hmmm….I want to reflect on your post but for me, I was very fortunate to finish my undergrad without debt before my son came along. I think that is part of what saved me when my marriage ended. I’m also very stubborn and have never had the experience of finding a job that wasn’t related to my education. I don’t know how to push myself up through the ranks like you have. I have never been promoted in any job, in order to move up, I’ve had to change jobs. I’m 41 and have never worked anywhere for more than 5 years.

    Will education be worth it? For me, I’ve needed the structure to keep myself on track (I hate to admit it, I tend to resist structure). I guess I also don’t feel confident in my abilities so that’s why I need the diploma to validate me….but perhaps that’s why I don’t value education…because I think if I can do it, anyone can! Hmm….stuff to think on.

    I’m glad you’re back but if you disappear again, I understand!

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