Monday, December 5, 2011

Some Thoughts on my Long-Term Debts

Last night after a lovely dinner and dessert with friend Eryk and a phone conversation with my dearest Nicole Shirley, I decided I should log-in to my Sallie Mae online account. For days I'd been meaning to check it to make sure I was set with my forbearance through February and that my first full payment would be due March 14, as planned. I had to click on about 15 different links to get to the one I wanted (since the Sallie Mae website for some reason confuses me more than any other) and was finally given an outline of my current payment plan until my final month of payment in 2041. 

That's right, friends. As of right now, I will not have my student loans paid off until I am 59 years old. In addition for 14 of the 20 years I'm paying the required monthly amount, my payments will be incrementally less than I pay to rent my current apartment. 

Earlier this year I went to my nephew Matt's wedding in Colorado, and since my niece Madison is nearing college age, my family and I got into a conversation about student loan debt. It ended in me screaming at everyone and then weeping in the bathroom in the dark. 

Fifty-Nine years old. Because I wanted a Masters Degree in Voice. 

My senior year of college at the University of Redlands was one of the most terrifying years of my life. I loved that school. I loved the people there. I knew pretty much everyone in the music department and had developed some really fulfilling friendships in the philosophy department with a teacher of mine and one of her long time favorite students (I'm talking to you, Ellie Jones). The idea that I would have to leave that place was heartbreaking. My parents never forced me to move out of their house but that's what it felt like: Redlands was forcing me out into the world and I had no idea what to do. I had a Bachelor's Degree in Voice. I wanted to be an opera singer, but I suffered from debilitating stage fright and audition anxiety. I started having panic attacks at night. So I decided to go to grad school. I didn't really know how to be an opera singer, but I knew how to be a student. I wanted to live in Boston. So I auditioned for the Boston Conservatory. Because I didn't know there were other programs in Boston. Stupid, now that I think about it, but we all know thinking isn't my forte. I got into BoCo. I got my "financial aid" package, which was loans. So I took them out. And then I debated going back my second year. My brother and parents warned me about the cost, but I was too afraid to do anything else. So I took out a second year's worth of loans. I passed my orals. I had a recital. I graduated. I walked. And by this time I was so sick of singing even singing along to the radio was a chore. Maybe this isn't true. I was just so sick of listening to and critiquing my own singing voice, of trying to sound like an opera singer, of trying to teach my body good technique. I didn't want to be a singer. I just wanted to sing. Sadly it took me 6 years and $100,000 to realize this.

And here we are.

This morning, as I thought about writing this blog, I wondered why I feel compelled to share such personal things in such a public forum. I think it is because I want my life to make sense. I want to be able to write a piece and at the end have some kind of conclusion that brings me a modicum of comfort, and the writing and editing helps me to do that. But I already know where this particular blog will end. It will end with the knowledge that there isn't anything I can do but pay off the debt. Nothing. There is no one to help me pay this debt. It is just me. I borrowed that money without knowing what it would mean for my life, and now I have to pay it back. I've been graduated from the Boston Conservatory for a little over 5 years now, and I am paying for that reprieve from adulthood with my adulthood right now. Because I wanted to live in the Back Bay, because I wanted to eat at the Cheesecake Factory, and drink till I was drunk at various dive bars, I now have to budget to buy new shoes. I have to eat before I go to restaurants. I have to cancel plans with people. I have stress about birthday celebrations. This makes it sound like I have no money at all, but I do. It's just that I have to be so careful with it. And I am not good at being careful. I don't want anyone to feel sorry for me, truly I don't. This is something I did to myself with my own youthful thoughtlessness.

So, to quote Evita, "Where do we go from here?"

Well, when I feel sad, when I feel regret, I will just feel those things (for example the crying I am doing right now). I will allow myself to feel afraid that my past mistakes will disable me from buying a car or a house, or going back to school, or saving for retirement.

And then I will crunch numbers and I will, as I always do, make it work. I will cancel plans if I have to, I will be honest with the people I love about my struggles, and I will try over and over and over again to forgive myself.

There are things we can't take back. Things I've done and said that can never be reversed. I am a human being. I make mistakes. And I am learning to care for myself while still carrying the baggage of my past, because this is, sadly and joyfully, what every human being has to do.

So I will look at those numbers, at the physical manifestation of my melancholy, fearful, and compulsive nature, and I will make another payment. And another. And another. 

Until I'm 59. Because there isn't anything else to do.


  1. Indeed, where do we go from here Evita? Don't forget that the Boston Conservatory brought us together, my $100,000 friend. And worth every. single. cent.

  2. You're a brave woman to put this all out on the table. And student loans suck. I'm really, really lucky to not have any. But my husband does. And he feels so guilty that now we both have to deal with them for however many years we have left to pay. I haven't looked on purpose. But you're absolutely right - we're paying now for what we just didn't understand before. And all we can do is move on, and try to make sure our children any any children we mentor along the way can learn from our mistakes.

  3. I'm totally making my kids read this before they apply to college, and then again before they apply to graduate school :-) I love your honesty, Deb. I am working through some of those same decisions and resultant debt. Being careful with your money is not easy, but it's great to have supportive friends and family. I support you! (Even if I don't see you that often :-).

  4. Thank you so much for this Deb. Some won't agree with me, but I believe music ed.needs a complete overhaul. Young talent like you should be sponsored like an athlete might. So many young people are being punished for following their dreams when they're young. I too am a singer, worked as a singer for a while, and I was miserable. Although money can be made, there's no singer's union, no security. Many singers are working full-time for the bare minimum, for am extremely g, ruelling job. You have to please your agent, the conductor, the director who possibly knows nothing of classical music, the theater director, get along with your colleagues, stay alone in some hotel away from loved ones for 6 weeks, and then open your soul and give everything to your audience, who may or may not choose to like you. I'm a singer, and the education and work were valuable in many ways, but music ed needs refinement.
    On a jollier note, the money you borrowed will likely be much less in the future than it is now, so a good investment ;)

  5. Deb, Thanks for sharing. I have student loans too, but am grateful everyday that I proceeded with my Masters. I am glad to hear you will forgive yourself. I think there were several reasons that you have a Master's in Voice, and you may not know those reasons until later in life - so although you may feel regret now, be hopeful that God had a plan and created the desire within you to get another degree for a reason. What positive things have come from this? Be patient and see what arises. Xoxo!

  6. I just want you to know that I appreciate that you put yourself out there like this. The peace you've made with yourself and your situation is truly admirable. So while I may read this from afar, please know that I am here for you across the miles.


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  8. If it's any consolation, when the economy finally fails (soon), inflation will be epic. This will make $100,000 decrease in value considerably. You will get it done before you're 59.
    Kudos on taking ownership, however. Lots of scummies out there that wouldn't. You're a stand up broad.