Degrees of Dificulty

Why is it that people who have a degree think it’s so easy for people to get a degree?  Let me tell you, it’s not!  I know!  First, because I watched Sister do it and second, because I know what I’ve gone through in the attempt.

I left therapy yesterday a little irritated with Deb, because she doesn’t believe that getting a degree just isn’t an option for me, and suggested that I’m limiting myself.  I don’t argue that she’s 100% wrong but she’s not 100% right either!

I grew up in a poor family…  Well, poor by everyday man’s estimation, apparently not so much according to Uncle Sam.  Uncle Sam said that my mother, who never made more than $18,000.00 and raised three children on her own on that pay, should have been able to set aside $10,000.00 a year, toward my education.  What fresh bullshit is this?!?  As a result I received $2526.00 in Student Loans which I’d have to repay, and $600.00 in Pell Grant, for the entire year.  I attended a University that cost $9000.00 a year.  It’s a simple reality that most children of parents without degrees do not get degrees. 

I spent my entire senior year applying for additional scholarships.  I took advantage of every possible angle I could find.  Scholarship for students of Native American Herritage?  Got it!  My mother’s, mother’s, mother’s, mother’s, mother’s, mother was 1/8th Cherokee.  That counts…  right?  Not so much.  Scholarship for students who wanted to study Journalism?  Sure.  Don’t really want to but if it’s a free ride…  The fact that I didn’t have any foundation in high school classes, well…  Apparently that actually does matter.  Go figure.  You name it, I tried for it.  I spent hours pouring over lists of potential scholarships, wrote dozens of letters and essays and desperate pleas.  I had an ulcer by the time it was all said and done from all the anxiety I was experiencing over this issue.  What I needed was a scholarship for poor, average white guys who have no particular aspirations, no emotional support from his parents, no encouragement, no self confidence and just needs someone to make it happen for him.  Strangely enough, I couldn’t actually find that scholarship.

I’ve always had a hard time with things that require a lot of determination and effort from me but will be met with nothing but resistance.  Very few things in life match that description better than institutes of higher learning!  You have to go through amazing hoops to gather any information or to make sense out of the information you do get.  Oh and it really helps if you know what it is you want in the first place.

You see, as I was growing up I had a few ideas along the way of what I wanted to do with my life.  Today only one of those ideas still appeals to me and I don’t have the guts or the constitution to pursue it.  From a very young age I’ve wanted to be an actor.  Most kids do.  Most kids outgrow it.  I didn’t.  I never really wanted to be President.  I never wanted to be a fire man, or a police man, or a race car driver.  I wanted to be an actor.  I wanted to be a superstar and be rich and famous and not be able to walk down the street or do my own grocery shopping without being recognized and mobbed and begged for signatures.  I wanted to be lusted after!  I wanted to have my pick of men women to service me.  I think it really came down to wanting to be anyone other than who I was and actors got to do that, everyday.  My mother discouraged the idea.  You see, all actors are heathens and disgraceful and going to hell.  Funny how it was ok to watch them in TV and movies though.  She didn’t believe I could be an actor and still be a Christian and it was a certainty that me being an actor meant an eternity in Hell.  She didn’t know about the desire to be lusted after and all that but still she was sure that I couldn’t maintain my soul in that profession.  To this day, I want to be an actor.  I want to be a sex symbol and be the star of every big budget block buster ever made.  I want to have a body like Jean Claude and the salary of George, Brad, Matt or any of the rest of that “Ocean’s” Crew.  I want to spend hours a day and months out of the year, pretending to be just about anyone other than who I really am.

The reality is I’m fat and pale and have no physical strength or stamina, no hair and very average looks with a five head and a big chin and no one wants to watch me in an action sequence or a love scene.  This means that even if I could make a career out of acting it wouldn’t be a big one.  I wouldn’t be rich and famous.  I wouldn’t command 20+ million dollar salaries.  And if I tried to pursue a career in acting I’d spend a lot of years in the poor house.  I just don’t think I can tolerate that.  So even though it’s the one thing that I think of when people ask me what I’d do if I could do anything, I’ll never pursue it.

When I was growing up, I thought I’d like to pursue a career in Journalism.  I enjoy writing.  I would like to think I’ve got a talent in that regard and that people enjoy reading what I write.  My Mother, of course tells me that I’m a good writer.  Perhaps she’s right but then I read the writings of people like this guy: and I think my skills are pretty  mediocre by comparison.  This guy is fucking hysterical and I’d love to be able to write the kind of stuff he does.  Journalism seemed a far more reliable writing career than noveling (noveling?) and short story writing.  Guess what happened?

Mother said, “Journalists are biased, unreliable, hatemongers who print inaccurate information just for the sake of a buck.  They interfere in and ruin people’s lives all for a little publicity and a few dollars.  They’re entirely too liberal and are responsible for undermining the moral fiber of this country.”  Um.  Ok?  Tell me what you really think?

The truth is, News writing is not for me anyway.  I hate doing a bunch of research, I don’t like the style of writing and there’s no heart in it.  Plus, to get the really big stories you have to be willing to barge into situations where you’re not welcome, you have to push people around and be willing to step on the next guy to get the story, and in truth some times they do hurt people with their writings.  I don’t want to be any of those things.  What I would love to be is a feature writer.  Let me write about events and sites and entertainment in my environment.  I live near San Francisco.  I once lived in San Francisco and would like to again.  Let me write about the bazillions of interesting sites and sounds and events of the city.  Oh sure, I could do that now, right here in this blog, but I’m a homebody.  Maybe if there was a paycheck and a more specific purpose attached to it I’d go out more?  Someone already does this type of writing here.  And how does one get a job doing such a thing anyway?  One more way in which I don’t know how to achieve what I think I might want. 

I was told often when I was younger that I was a good listener and I would make a good Psychologist.  I now know that’s not true, but I believed it then.  Oh but wait.  “Psychology is a bunch of crap.  People aren’t emotionally disturbed.  They’re demon possessed.”  (seriously) “Psychology is based in a bunch of demonic malarkey.”  And then get this one, “I’d feel better about you doing something like that if you were better grounded in Christianity.”  So apparently I’m not a good enough Christian to help people… 

I know now that my mother’s objection to all things psychological results from her own depression, and her own experiences with her mother who was always depressed and a little bit crazy.  Grandmother spent Mother’s entire childhood in some form of psychotherapy without ever getting better…  Maybe because she didn’t want to get better?  Whatever.  I’m a male.  I wasn’t such a good listener.  I wasn’t perfectly suited to be a therapist.  I always wanted to fix the problems people talked to me about.  I didn’t want to listen to a bunch martyrdom and self-serving sniveling.  I wanted to tell the person how to fix their woes and send them packing.  Anyone reading this who has been in therapy will know…  THAT’S.  NOT.  HOW.  IT.  WORKS!!!

In the midst of all these other hardships I struggled in high school.  Considering it a possibility back then was out of the question but I’m now aware that I likely suffer from some form of learning disability.  Maybe more than one.  I’m mildly lisdexic, I believe.  Throughout most of my “primary” education, I had the damnedest time trying to differentiate between a b and a d.  I couldn’t write them without thinking it out.  It got easier after I learned cursive because only a cursive d looks the same.  But I couldn’t read them either.  If I didn’t know the word and had to sound it out I didn’t know which letter it was until I looked for another word I did know and compared the letters.  I’m 33 years old now and I still struggle with this problem on occasion though obviously not with anything like the same frequency. 

I was bad at taking tests.  I usually did fine on my homework.  Got a lot of Bs but then when it came test time I’d get Cs or even Ds.  Fortunately, I rarely actually failed a test and therefore managed to pass all my classes.  Given those results I always felt pretty good when I brought home Bs, B+s and A-s on my report cards… 

“You can do better.  You’re just not applying yourself.”  Yeah, that’s what it is.  I like being told that I’m not good enough so I’m just coasting by with my Bs.  Mother was just too self absorbed in her own deficiencies to offer any support about mine.

And then there’s math!  Oh my God!  Fortunately, I can add and subtract.  That coupled with the calculator function on my iPhone which enables me to multiply and divide is all the skill I need to get by in the real world.  I took “Pre-Algebra” in the 9th grade.  The way my brain works with math, pre-algebra actually wasn’t too hard.  I don’t do addition and subtraction in a linear way anyway.  I move values around to make numbers that are easier to work with.  22+23=?  is the same as 20+25=?.  All I did was move the 2 from the 22 to the 23 making it 25.  Sister the CPA says, “It scares me the way you do math.”  Since Algebra is about moving values around and deciphering what x equals, it wasn’t so hard for me to do pre-algebra where the equations are simple and I could usually see what the answer was without going through the steps they want us to do.  x+2=5, solve for x…  Hmmm…  let me think.  By the end of pre-algebra we were getting into harder equations that didn’t make sense and when it was all said and done I passed with a C.

Then came Geometry.  Forget it!  I never could figure it out.  I’d sit in the class and think I understood what Psycho Geometry Teacher was saying and then I’d get home to do my homework…  I’d stare at the pages for hours with no clue what I was doing and reading the book didn’t help.  It was all written in gibberish.  And sadly, CPA Sister was no where to be found.  Somehow, miraculously, I passed that class with a 60%.  I have always believed that Psycho Geometry Teacher gave me the extra points to reach 60% just to get me out of his hair because I argued with him everyday.

That was the end of my math career…  Or so I thought.  More on that later. 

I graduated from high school with an astounding 2.67 GPA.  (I told you I’m an average white guy)  Nothing to be embarrassed about but also not enough to warrant much attention from financial aid/scholarship awarders.  I actually decided not to go to college right away because I had no idea what I wanted to do and it was going to be very expensive.  I decided at the last minute that I was going to go because I did have enough money from my student loan, grant, and a very small sum of money from my Grandparents to cover the cost of the first semester and we’d figure it out from there.  Dead Beat Dad made promises I knew better than to expect for him to keep to ensure that I’d be able to stay in school.

On the second to last day of finals week my first semester, I was driving Sister’s Geo Metro, or as Dead Beat Dad called it “roller skate”, down a side road to a gas station behind a white Ford F-150.  It’s been 15 years and I’m still certain this guy had his right blinker turned on.  I was young, and in a hurry and over-confident and went to swerve around behind him as he turned.  At the last second when there was no way to prevent what would happen, the F-150 turned left instead.  I ran the roller skate straight into the back-left corner of the F-150, folding the hood in half, shoving the radiator into the engine and breaking three of the engine mounts.  The car was paid for and Cheapskate Dead Beat Dad only paid for liability insurance.  F-150 was undamaged and the driver went on his merry little way.  I didn’t take my last two finals and then we went home for Christmas break.  Sister knew a guy who was capable of repairing the roller skate and by the time she went back after Christmas break it was drivable, but yours truly was responsible for paying the credit card bills that were comprised of replacement parts and tools for the repair job.  No more University for me.

I went on with my life, working in a grocery store first and then in the mall as a retail manager.  I got engaged, I moved away temporarily, I got dumped, I came back and eventually, I moved to California.  Six years ago, I made a deal with the devil and began working for my current employer, the self purported creator of the HMO and the largest Health Care Provider in California.  It seems to be a bit like the Hotel California.  You can check out (as I have long since done – mentaly at least) but you can never leave.  I had suffered a significant blow to my ego – employement wise, as well as my wallet prior to starting here and decided it was time to try again with the degree. 

There was a hellofalot of paperwork to be done to make this happen.  I had to fill out applications and registration forms and financial aide papers and transcript transfer requests, etc.  When all was said and done I ended up with 10 out of 12 credits from my first attempt at University.  That transcript was sent to City College of San Francisco, (CCSF) and the credits accepted.  CCSF only costs about $20.00 a credit hour for California Residents and I could easily have paid the tuition on my own but I got a letter one day telling me that I qualified for a “Governor’s Waiver” and that I didn’t have to pay tuition.  I only had to buy my books.  Nice!

The worst part of the process to me was that, as a returning student I had to take placement tests to figure out where I stood with my knowledge and what classes I “had” to take.  The tests covered a couple different areas.  English and I believe science among them.  I did just fine on those areas and nothing was ever said about them again.  But of course there was also MATH on these damn tests.  I placed so poorly in the math area that I was required to take Intermediate Algebra, Algebra and Calculus before I could take Statistics, which was the one and only class that I would need (mathematically speaking) to transfer from CCSF to San Francisco State University when I was ready.

I started in the summer semester with one class.  I decided to get my feet wet with something fun so I took Introduction to Psychology.  It wasn’t a struggle, and I made good grades and I thought, “Hey all I needed was a little maturity under my belt.  Now I’m older and wiser and I can handle this school thing.”  When it was time to select classes for the fall semester I decided I wanted to get the general and required stuff out of the way first, and the dreaded Algebra was high on the list of “get it done and move on” tasks. 

It hadn’t even been a year but I was already regretting my deal with the devil and wanted to get out.  I also had always thought that college part time was going to take forever and I didn’t want to go that route.  When I was growing up we had a family friend who was a perpetual student.  All the time that I knew this woman she was a full time student, didn’t work, and had enough financial aide coming in to rent a home and raise her daughter on her own.  I figured if she could do it surely I could as a single person.  I went to the financial aide office to inquire about it, but they told me I needed to talk to a guidance counsellor, so I made an appointment to meet with a guidance counsellor and he only wanted to talk about which classes I should take and whether or not my class load was too heavy.  I asked about going full time and he said that he couldn’t answer any questions about money but if I’m going to be going full time, this was a good class schedule.  Where the hell do you go from there?  I didn’t know.  I gave up the idea of going full time, but I went ahead and registered for the fall semester and I elected to take Intermediate Algebra and Conversational Spanish.  I’d taken Spanish I more than once and I thought maybe I’d find Conversational Spanish easier.  The class went fine and I passed it with a B.

The problem was in my Algebra class.  I felt like I was the oldest person in the room, perhaps not.  I started out strong but by late September I was lost.  I struggled everyday and was sure I wasn’t going to pass.  And even if I had passed, I was sure I had no hope of passing the next Algebra class.  I convinced myself that I didn’t stand a chance of getting this covetted degree because I couldn’t do Algebra, that the system was set up to make me fail and I was going to be a failure forever.  I talked to the teacher once and he told me that I was making a mistake taking more than one class at a time.  That was a big help.  (Idiot!)  Once again I passed by the skin of my teeth.  But far more importantly, I fell into the deepest depression of my life.  I couldn’t bare the idea of going through that again right away and I opted for Conversational Spanish 2 and English Lit.  I never considered the fact that if I didn’t finish all the math right way, I wouldn’t be able to continue because I wouldn’t remember the few things I had just learned.  Ultimately, the depression made it impossible for me to finish anyway.

It was about this time that then California Governor, Gray Davis decided to cut funding to higher education.  This, presumably, the same governor who waived my tuition?  My Conversational Spanish class was double the size of the previous one and most of the people in the room were far more advanced than I.  Eventually, I gave up and stopped attending.  But not before two additional set-backs.

1)  My English Lit teacher was a crack job!  The class was about 35 students in a room that could only comfortably seat about 20 and this woman was a card carrying feminist who swore on a regular that she owed her college education to Sputnik.  She treated all the men in the classroom like reprobates and the one and only time I spoke in the class she told me I was stupid…  really!  I decided that this was not the right time or the right teacher for me to take this class and I withdrew from the class during the safe period when it wouldn’t hurt me.

2) Shortly after the spring semester began I received a letter from the school telling me that I was on academic probation because I’d only earned credit for nine of the 21 hours I’d attempted.  Their records showed no credit for the transcript that had been transferred from my previous University.  I called to dispute the information and could make no sense of the response I got.  One more example of how the system is stacked against me. 

After over five years, I have decided to stop taking my Anti-Depressants.  I feel a lot better now, and a lot more in control of myself.  I think that ceasing the drugs at this time is the right decision and I’m quite confident that I’m going to be fine even after the drugs are comlpetely out of my system.  But let’s face it.  I’m afraid of what would happen if I went back to school now.  I do not want to take meds anymore, and honestly, no, a college degree isn’t worth the risk.

The reality is, I hate school.  I don’t ever want to go again.  Yeah.  I like learning new things and it’s fun when there’s no pressure attached but when there is pressure it sucks and I fail.  I learn a lot in my daily life.  And one of the things I learned a long time ago is that a lot of people don’t end up working in the field they get a degree in anyway. 

M&M has a degree in Speech Pathology…  She works for Verizon.  Clearly it’s not necessarily a requirement to have a degree in the particular field that you’re working in.  It’s just not right that a person who has a bachelors degree in art history (as an example) can be a high ranking muckety muck in xyz Oil Company, but a person who has no degree but years of work experience, tons of talents and lots of customer’s respect can’t get a Project Manager job like he wants just because he doesn’t have a BA.  I’m just as capable if not more capable in some cases as the art history major.  And the degree or lack thereof doesn’t speak to a persons ability or dedication, it speaks to a persons economic status and that’s not a fair or even legal grounds for employee selection.

And that, my dear, is a loosing argument!

But all of this long winded, random rant, jibber jabber is to say that it’s not so easy for everyone to get a degree.  For some of us it just really is not an option and those who say it is should be taken out to pasture and shot for their ignorance and condescension.