Month: May 2014

If I Could Kill an Intangible Thing it Would be Financial Aid

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During my time as an undergraduate student I was lucky enough to have my college paid for. Through scholarships and family help, I left with a bachelor’s degree and zero debt. I am very aware of how lucky I was in college, even during that time. I didn’t have to deal with loans at all. I was first introduced to the crippling world of financial aid when I started my $100,000 graduate program last year. Since then, we have had a hate-hate relationship. I always say road rage has nothing on financial aid rage. I would rather cut off my baby toe than deal with financial aid, but school is expensive, so here I am with ten toes. I believe there are some fundamental issues with our financial aid system in America. Our government has a system in place that is supposed to promote higher education for people who cannot afford to pay the money upfront, but I believe it has flaws that can cripple students along the way.

1. Applying requires a high IQ in itself

Okay first there is the FAFSA… Okay I can handle that. It’s annoying, but at least it walks you through it step by step. Of course, if you get one little detail wrong it can impact whether or not you get any financial help for college… so no pressure. So you turn it in and you feel all good about yourself. Then your school(s) contacts you. They want information as well. Then an outside loan website wants you to fill out paperwork for specific loans. Each of these things has to happen before any money is released. The fact that you have to turn things in to three different places for one loan is a little crazy. If you accidentally overestimated the amount of credits you plan to take on your application (that you did 5 months before classes started) then you don’t get your money. If you forget to do online loan counseling, you don’t get your money. There are a million different things you can do wrong which will screw you over. HERE IS THE BEST PART: They will not tell you that you messed up along the way. If you think no news is good news you are WRONG. No news could mean you are getting nothing because you messed up. You will not know you screwed something up until your tuition is due and the financial aid didn’t disperse. During the beginning of a semester, the financial aid offices are bombarded with frantic students. Get ready to wait in the office for at least a few hours or wait on the phone for even longer. I wonder how many low-income smart students didn’t go to college because they stumbled over these hurdles.

2. You have to go to school full-time

Okay, I am sure there is some brilliant reason for this but I can’t think of one. I don’t know why students can’t get loans while going to school part-time so they can work in order to make payments on their loans at the same time. It makes me feel like they want students to be full-time so they can’t work enough to pay their bills. “Why would they want that?” you ask. Because it means they have to get loans for their living expenses as well. More loans is more $$$$ for the government. I might just by cynical but I don’t see any other reason to force students to go full-time. Maybe they don’t trust us and think we are using the money to go to Cancun, but who says you can’t get a good education and a good tan at the same time?

3. Late charges come before loan money comes

THIS ONE IS MY FAVORITE. The most baffling of all the baffles. Let me set up a little scenario for you: You are going to school in the fall and classes start on September 1st. You did a great job applying for your student loans and you agreed to go to school full time. You got all your school supplies. You are ready to go. Your student account alerts you in that your tuition for fall is due to be paid on August 15th. Wait, this can’t be right! Your loans don’t disperse until the first day of classes in September. WELL TOO BAD, GOOD LITTLE STUDENT. You will freak out and make calls and they will tell you, “Don’t worry, good little student, it’s okay.” You still worry. Especially when you get an email giving you your first notice that the tuition cost will go to collections. Collections! So you get late charges. LATE CHARGES even though you haven’t gotten your GOVERNMENT GIVEN FINANCIAL AID YET. Even though this is the system THEY MADE. Of course, when you finally get your money, most schools’ financial aid offices will reverse the late charges if you call them and ask. They don’t advertise that, so most students pay the late charges unknowingly. So the government/schools make money off of your naïveté. Want to cut off your toes yet?

4. Interest grows while you are in school

This makes me giggle like a psychiatric patient. The predominant reason the government allocates money to students is because they want to “invest in the future.” There are good intensions at the heart, but the infrastructure does not reflect that. For example, I don’t have to make payments on my loans until I graduate (or for some, 6 months after that) which is a great system. However, some of them accrue interest along the way. That’s right folks, you don’t have to make payments, but the lump sum will get bigger and bigger if you don’t. That interest is pure profit for the government. This school year I accrued about $1,000 in interest. It’s so nice of them to “invest in my future” that way.

5. It puts more stress on school

You have to think whom this system benefits and whom it hurts. The graduation rate of students is directly related to income level. It is 2014 and money is still power. The lower your income, the less connected to resources, and the less options you have, the more likely you are to drop out of college or never try at all. Those who do try are overwhelmed with stress. Failure in classes isn’t an option because of the financial cost to low-income students and their families. When they hit rough patches in classes (which everyone does) they have a significantly higher dropout rate. Students without loans and financial stress can focus on their classes and may not have to work at all. Don’t get me started on the fact that unpaid internships are now considered “necessary” on the resume of students which is nearly impossible for low-income students who have to work and make money while in school. College is hard enough without crippling financial stress.

6. Made for profit

As I said before, I don’t think the whole financial aid system is evil. I know there are great things about it. I wouldn’t be getting my master’s degree without it. I am just pointing out that the system is for-profit. Something created for the betterment of society should not be focused on making money. I know I speak for everyone when I say I would be able to make a better impact on society when I graduate if I wasn’t so burdened by debt. At least I have all my toes.

Why #YESALLWOMEN is Important

Yesterday the hashtag #YESALLWOMEN took over my Twitter feed. To my delight, it was initiating an open and honest dialog about some of the struggles women deal with on a daily basis. This is something that is really important for everyone. If you are a woman, if you have a sister, if you have a mother, if you know a woman, this is important. Here are a few of the powerful tweets I came across yesterday:

 

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I was so inspired to see women being so transparent about topics that we are often silent about. But I was beyond discouraged to see other people trying to silence them again. I saw a large amount of men (and unfortunately women) who were trying to belittle and dismiss it. This illustrates the EXACT reason why this hashtag is needed. I have had an experience exactly like this recently when I wrote a post called Hello, My Name is Blamed Victim. It wasn’t even on my blog for 24 hours when a man decided to belittle my experience and try to shut me up through his comments on the post. And you know what? My first instinct was to delete my original post. He made me feel embarrassed that I had shared my personal, honest, and real experience as a woman. He tried to put me back in a box of fear and doubt simply for sharing my own experience and beliefs. But I refuse to let a man make me feel small, embarrassed, or question my own experience. I encourage you to read his comments to see why #YESALLWOMEN is more important than ever.

Note: there are thousands more tweets available on Twitter. I encourage you to read through them to hear about the honest experiences women have had in our culture.

Recent Awkward Experiences

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The fact that I am reeeeally good at getting my picture taken. She’s beauty and she’s grace, she’s Miss United States.

Walking to get dinner with the husband and somehow the slightest dip in the concrete causes me to lose balance. I feel the weight of my body coming down onto my weak little ankle, so I sacrifice my body instead. One scuffed knee later, my ankle is intact but my dignity is not.

Watching a hair tumbleweed roll by in the bathroom. A western whistling sound plays somewhere in the distance. We have only lived here two weeks, how could I have possible lost that much hair??

Gathering up all my things as I get ready to walk across campus to my car. I have the coat, the coffee cup, my check, my books, my purse…. Alright ready to go. Only to realize the advil in my purse is making a distinct pill-clanking sound. It’s too late to change it now, too many things in my hands. Hi everyone, I’m the campus drug dealer.

Eating curry cauliflower with my invisalign trays in. They are now less invisible and more mustard-colored. Lesson learned.

Clapping along with Pharrell even though you have never felt like a room without a roof.

Walking into Trader Joes and feeling the eyes of an overly eager employee on me. I mean, this guy is not breaking eye contact. I avoid his stare. Right after I pass him I realize I forgot to grab a basket. Dang it. Walk back awkwardly…grab basket awkwardly…and look up to make more awkward eye contact. Yes, I am finding everything okay today.

Naked pregnancy pictures. Wearing a bikini while 9 months pregnant. Chris Hemsworth’s wife at the Oscars. Make it stop.

Coming home and curling up in a chair after a particularly long day at work. Then proceeding to fall asleep, sitting up, fully dressed. Only to wake myself up with my own snore. My husband thinks I’m hot.

Knocking on the neighbor’s door to offer her a table we were going to throw out. Only to realize we just woke her up as she opens the door in her underwear. It was 1:30pm. I start making really intense eye contact willing myself not to look at her crotch. She didn’t want the table.

I’m in Gap waiting for Brock to try on clothes and someone asks me if “we sell swimsuits here.” Erm… I don’t work here. 

Single-handedly commandeering the men’s restroom at the Tim McGraw concert. Guys have it easy, they never have to wait. Until now. A random Texan woman grabbed my arm and pulled me in there to claim the stalls we believed we rightfully ours. Unfortunately there was only one stall open and she took it, so I had to stand there, in the men’s room, by myself. It only got more awkward when a confused man got behind me in line. So, how about that concert, huh?

Moving to a new place where we are on the ground floor instead of the top floor. So now people outside my windows are at eye level. Must. Remember. To. Wear. Pants.

I parallel park at least 3 days a week. You have to snag those spots quickly in California because people think their horns will stop working if they don’t use them 15 times a day. At least. Yet, the one time I have a car full of people all my parking practice goes out the window. Where is the curb? Am I close? Oh I’m still 5 feet away? Okay. RRRRRRGGGGHHHH. Ah, there’s the curb.

Having my husband tell me there is chocolate all over my face a solid hour after I have had any. Did I mention he thinks I’m hot?

Talking on the phone to people with heavy accents. I can only say, “I’m sorry, could you say once more?” so many times.

Walking out to my car after work, only to interrupt a couple practicing their ballroom dancing. They stop because they are embarrassed and wait for me to pass by. Then I have to awkwardly point, actually that’s my car you are blocking and I have to get in it and leave. They both seem mortified, and I somehow ended up being the third wheel in a parking garage. I had planned to send a couple emails out in my car but instead I high-tailed it outta there.

People saying, Happy Mothers Day to you when you have no kids. Thanks?

Having a motion-sensor light in our bathroom. It’s actually really cool because it turns on automatically when I stumble into the bathroom half asleep at 3am. However, it’s not cool when I am taking a bath and it turns itself off. Hello? Brock? …Anyone?

No Response

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I opened the mailbox and saw it. An unmarked manila envelope with scratchy handwriting on it. I had been anticipating the arrival of this little package for a while, but I wasn’t quite sure what to expect. Part of me hoped there would be some money in it, or maybe even those pictures I had requested, but most of me knew I was in for something else.

It all started a couple weeks prior. I emailed my dad (our only means of communication) to give him a little update on my life. He didn’t ask for it, but I do it for myself. It makes me feel slightly closer to him. I talked about my internship ending, starting my second year of graduate school and my impending debt. I asked him about his health and if he had talked to my brother recently (who is equally as hard to communicate with). 
A few days went by with no response. This wasn’t exactly shocking. Over the years there have been countless unanswered emails, especially the ones that only include personal details about my life. I know how uncomfortable that makes him. Yet I still do it. Like I said, it’s for me. 
A day later I get a response. It says: 

“Hey Livs;
Are you guys still at the Warner Avenue addy? Long enough for me to send a letter there? No biggie, just want to send you some info via snail mail. It would arrive in a few days.” 

The vagueness of his words were not exactly unusual for him, but it still caught me a little off guard. Especially because I sent him a pretty long email and that was all he had to say back. Clearly he had read my email because I mentioned I might be moving soon and he was asking about my current “addy.” 

I respond: “Yup, I will still be at this address in a few days.” 

He doesn’t respond. It stings a bit that he doesn’t seem to care about everything else I had written to him about, but I stopped letting that get to me years ago. I go about my business the next few days imagining all the things he could be sending me.

I should note a few things about my father: he has always been a strange guy. He grew up playing the guitar and hoping to be in a famous band one day, but settled for working at the post office after my mom got pregnant. He doesn’t like social gatherings or having to interact with anyone other than immediate family (and even then it’s hit or miss). The first time he met my in-laws was at my wedding, despite my repeated attempts to get him to meet them prior. He even has an alias he goes by in his day to day life. One thing that has become extra important to him in recent years is doomsday prepping (preparing for the end of the world). It started out with him buying 20 pound bags of rice and evolved into a full-fledged storage room of food that could last at least a year. He had everything from soap to military meals. He even talked about buying land somewhere remote and building a real bunker. I mostly stayed quiet about it because I didn’t quite know what to say. He says he does it because the bees are dying and that will stop crops from being pollinated, so then the cost of food will skyrocket. That I understand. It doesn’t even sound that crazy. He loses me when he starts talking about Marshall law and a society of chaos. None of it really bothered me until he started buying guns and other weapons. One time I visited him and he said, “I had the opportunity to buy grenades the other day but when I got there they were all gone.” I have learned not to ask the whys or hows, so I just said “Oh.” 

So here I am, staring at this envelope wondering what he possibly could have sent me. It feels a bit heavy and I can hear something little clinking around inside. I wait until I get inside to open it just in case. If some bullet shells and a butterfly knife fall out I don’t want the neighbors to get the wrong idea.

I tear it open and out fall two sets of keys. There is a thick letter, at least 5 pages, with the word “confidential” written across it. There are a few loose pictures that were poorly printed on paper and a safe combination. 
Based on those things, I should have seen the contents of the note coming. I knew it wasn’t going to be a birthday card, but I still wasn’t fully prepared. The letter talks about the value of money going down and America going back to a bartering system. He references “our self-appointed emperor Obama” reading all our texts and emails and listening in on our phone calls. He talks about exchanging his money for gold and silver, and where he has hidden his “booty.” He even included pictures of his hiding place with detailed instructions on how to locate it. When Marshall law occurs, he says, my brother and I are to grab his gold and silver and take off into the wilderness. I momentarily imagine myself running around the woods with a bow and arrow looking for something to kill for my lunch. Gold and silver clinking on my pocket as I navigate the trees. I could trade a gold coin for a blanket and a coon-skin hat later on in the day, but I must ration my currency. 

Back to reality. 

I stare at the letter dumbfounded. It’s true, I have never been close with my dad. He didn’t necessarily want children, but still I know he worked hard to make sure I had food in my mouth. He even paid for my college education with the inheritance he got from my grandma passing, which was more than generous. He wanted me to get my degree. He always wanted my life to be better than his was. Even in my thankfulness it was hard not to want my father to be more loving. He barely talks to me, and when he does it is brief and to the point. This letter was just another reminder that my father and I couldn’t be more different. I didn’t grow up living with him and I rarely saw him. Even when I did, we never connected. He doesn’t know me. If he did, he wouldn’t have sent this to me. He would have known that I wouldn’t want it. He would have known that money doesn’t matter to me. He would have known that the best thing he could do it respond to my email with normal pleasantries. I want him to say he is interested in what class I am taking and where I work. I want him to ask where I am moving to and express worry for my safety. I want him to respond saying anything that indicates he gives a damn about me as a person. 

So here I am with this letter, unsure what to do with it. So I say nothing. 
Three days later I receive an email: 

“Could you confirm delivery of notes to you? No need to discuss, just ‘yeah, I got it’.
Thanx”

I say, “Yup, I got it.”

No response.

U-hauls and the Sappy Posts They Cause

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I moved this weekend.

Moving is a funny thing. It comes with a lot of stress because you upheave your whole life, pack it into a rickety truck, barrel down the freeway hoping nothing breaks, then plunk it down in a new, unfamiliar place where you have to decide where the cheese grater and nail polish go (not in the same drawer).

Among the chaos of moving this week, I also got a new job. I now work in the President’s Office at USC where I handle administrative tasks and support the Executive Office. It’s really an amazing opportunity and I feel so lucky to be a part of the team. However, there is a lot of stress that comes with starting a new job. You do all sorts of fun things to yourself, like not sleeping at all the night before and leaving 4 hours early even though it takes you 25 minutes to drive there. Oh and spilling coffee. Always spilling coffee.

So anyway, with all this happening, we were in desperate need for help moving.

Luckily for the husband and I, my in-laws flew in from Oregon to help us with this fun task. It was also Mother’s Day and my father-in-law’s birthday, so I can’t think of a better way to celebrate than carry someone else’s couches through a small doorframe.

Yet, they did it anyway. Thank goodness. We wouldn’t have been able to do it without all their help. Somehow we managed to pack up all our things, get them in the truck, unload them at the new place, unpack the boxes in the new place, then clean the old place, all in 48 hours. We even managed to sneak in a little fun along the way. We explored our new city of Long Beach by walking downtown, eating at new restaurants, and taking a very brief ride on the Metro (where a lady was cradling her scary looking doll….Happy Mother’s Day?). We also took a trip to USC so I could give everyone a tour of the campus and show them the building I work in.

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That’s the one!

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Without getting too sappy, I am so thankful for my in-laws. First of all, they are so good looking. Just look at them.

Dusty is one of the most hardworking people I have ever met. Every single time Brock and I have moved (there have been many) he has dropped everything to help us. It doesn’t matter what city or state we are living in at the time, he will be there. He lives his life with such integrity and work ethic and I hope to be like that one day.

Jodi is one of the most incredible women I have ever met. Saying she has a big heart doesn’t do it justice because that saying is used too freely. She is a gentle and loving spirit who is willing to do anything for the people she loves. She has been a friend for me to lean on. She has been a shoulder for me to cry on. She has been the person I laughed with until I cried. She has been a mother to me when I didn’t have one.

Both of these people have taken me into their family without hesitation. Not only that, but they have given Brock and I a wonderful example of marriage. They are real, honest, and hard-working in their relationship. They have taught us so much about how real love requires sacrifice and selflessness. We are so thankful for that gift.

So much for not being sappy. Wait, I thought this post was about moving?

Taking Stock

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Making: plans for a getaway soon.
Cooking: nothing at all. The kitchen is packed away for our move this week. Using the Keurig is the closest thing to cooking this week.
Drinking: coffee. As always.
Reading: blogs. You all are so creative and talented, I get inspired everyday.
Wanting: to be in the new home already.
Looking: forward to working tomorrow. Did I just say that?
Playing: candy crush. Yes, I am the only one who still plays that.
Wasting: time because I don’t want to work on my final paper this semester.
Sewing: nothing. I have no business trying to do that.
Wishing: apartments magically cleaned themselves.
Enjoying: new opportunities in my life.
Waiting: for the next girl’s night.
Liking: that my husband comes home during his lunch hour.
Wondering: what my summer will look like.
Loving: the new apartment. It’s so pretty. 
Hoping: to be productive today.
Marveling: at this life I get to live.
Needing: a good tan.
Smelling: a lit tabacco bark candle. Yum.
Wearing: pajamas. What time is it again?
Following: my dreams.
Noticing: dark circles under my eyes that linger. Graduate school takes it’s toll.
Knowing: hard work pays off in the long run.
Thinking: about ways to get out of my comfort zone.
Bookmarking: all the handbags I want but can’t afford.
Opening: cupboards hoping there is nothing in them to pack.
Giggling: nonstop last night showing the husband things on the internet that he found significantly less funny than I did.
Feeling: incredible.

I found this taking stock post over at Pip’s blog in case you want to play along.