Saturday, June 16, 2012

May the odds be ever in your favor

I'm wearing my good luck earrings today. I'm not sure how they became my lucky earrings but it always seems like I have good days when I wear them. I don't wear them too often because I don't want to use up the good luck. It's like praying to St. Jude for every little thing: he'll get tired of answering all those little prayers, and when you really need him, he'll be ignoring you.

I got these earrings from a bad boyfriend. He was one of those boyfriends who doesn't treat you right but you stay with him to prove that he is actually a good boyfriend to everyone who's telling you that you should break up with him. He worked nights and was always tired and was still in love with his last girlfriend. He acted like seeing me was doing me a favor, and, looking back, I'm not sure why I was with him as long as I was, because I can't even say I was really in love with him. I probably was vain enough to think that I would eventually break the spell his last girlfriend had over him and then he'd be wonderful. No spell was ever broken and I finally had enough.

They're probably my favorite earrings of all time, and it's not just the luck thing. They're what are called "threader" earrings, which you can find pretty easily now, but when he gave them to me, I had never seen earrings like that before. They're gold and delicate and easy-to-lose. I remember being so surprised when he gave me these, as he was not good at the gift-giving. He was the kind of guy who'd forget your birthday or buy you something that should be useful to you ("You said you needed new spark plugs!") Maybe it's one of the reasons I love these earrings: they remind me that unexpected things can happen.

I don't think of him when I wear these earrings. When I put on those earrings, I am hoping for something, and they remind me that life is full of possibilities. Maybe it's not the earrings that are good luck; maybe I am bringing luck to the day.

Thursday, June 7, 2012

The house on the hill

Let's pretend: you need a place to live. You're not sure exactly where to live or the type of place you want, so you talk to a few realtors. These realtors show you these lovely, huge house, full of rooms you may never use. You never thought you'd ever live like this! It's all so beautiful! Of course, it's way more than you need, but, hey, you only live once!

As you've never gotten a place before, you're not even sure how much you can afford. But every single realtor sits down with you, "crunches the numbers," and assures you can can afford these amazing places. On one hand, it doesn't seem right: they're quoting numbers like $10,000 a month and you only earn $35,000 a year, but they pull out spreadsheets, tell you about grants, low-interest repayment plans, all sorts of ways to get money for this house. They explain to you that living in a place like this will make *you* more valuable, and this amazing house will pay for itself. Now, imagine you're 18 and being told all this. Would you believe it?

Isn't this how college is sold to kids these days? College is not cheap. We all know this. But an 18-year-old looking for a place to spend those next four years might not see all the money:
A breakdown of costs
They see your their place on their own, professors that seem to know everything, parties, big-time sports. It's all very exciting. They don't see the potential debt they may be graduating with:
Lots of stats on college debt
(I won't even talk about how much it might cost if they go to graduate school, but additional education seems to be required more and more these days.)

I would never suggest that kids shouldn't go to college. I am a firm believer in education taking you to that next level. I've got my degrees, and I needed to get them to be where I am today. But I think it needs to be done smarter. Should you be sending your 18-year-old who scraped by in high school and isn't sure of his major in to a private college using loans that he'll have to pay back after he graduates? Maybe that's not the best place for him to try to grow up. There are a lot of kids who might benefit from taking a year or so off and work for a while. See what a dollar buys these days, see how limited their opportunities might be. Colleges should embrace the kids that come back, although I'm not sure if this is the case.

Another part of this mess is the decision of major. I get the argument that college is not a placement service, but there is something to be said about giving someone all the facts before making a decision. There's nothing wrong with warning a kid who's paying $40K a year for college that, given the average salary of a person in her chosen profession, it'll take her roughly 20 years to pay back her college loans. I would also say that a decision about how this 18-year-old will pay back any college debt isn't stomping on someone's dream, but, rather, a practical decision.

There are a lot of ways to get an education. I am saying that the model of sending every 18-year-old who gets in to an expensive college without direction is probably not the best choice. While four years away in college may be a wonderful experience, paying off that debt for so many years to come may offset some of that.