Living In the Land of Opportunity(?)

This evening I went to an informational seminar about the Oxford Scholars Study Abroad program my university does every fall and spring semester as well as every summer. I’ve always known, despite wanting to, that I probably would not ever be able to study abroad due to financial reasons. I knew this going in. With that being said, maybe it was a mistake for me to go.

I was one of the “chosen few” invited to this seminar, because I have a high GPA and I am an English major. I felt honored to be there, in a way, because so few people are invited and I’m sure that one of the professors I had last semester, who is the program’s liaison, noticed my hard (and good) work and had something to do with me being there.

The program sounds amazing. It’s anywhere from 6-9 weeks, depending on when you go, and I already know England is beautiful, but Oxford sounded lovely. You can walk along the bank Lewis Carroll first told Alice in Wonderland on, visit all the libraries, walk through gardens, visit the Lemon Palace, and so on. You also get strictly one-on-one sessions with your designated tutor once a week. The rest of the week you have to study and write and, if you have the time, explore.

It costs about $7800 for the summer trip. It costs about $17,000 for the fall and spring trips. Both numbers are daunting, but seeing as I only have one more year left until I graduate, a fall or spring semester seems more likely. But I can’t afford that, and I wouldn’t be able to muster up nearly $8000 by this May. Yes, financial aid, loans, and scholarships come into play, but my loans don’t even cover my tuition in full, so I have none leftover to spend on studying abroad.

Once I started college back in 2012 I realized how financially disadvantaged I am. Even though, back then, my father was employed and made a decent annual salary (more than “decent”, I’d say), I was on my own when it came to education. Community college was not so difficult. I managed to get my tuition, because it was so little, covered by federal loans. A couple years I was unable to get all the books I needed because I ran out of loan money, but I made due. But I’ve always been, for the most part, on my own since I hit 18.

Starting at a four-year university has been even more difficult. My federal loans don’t cover all of my costs so some has to be paid out of pocket, and my hundreds of dollars in books have to be paid out of pocket as well. I have a 30 mile commute to campus, which drains my car of gas and my checking account of money quite quickly. I have very little room to spend on things I want, seeing as how I have a hard enough time paying for things I truly need.

My professor said his philosophy is, “The two best things to spend money on are education and travel.” I agree with his philosophy, and I wish those were easier things to obtain.

They say to travel when you’re young. I have a fantastic opportunity to travel to a beautiful country, be totally immersed in my own interests, explore, learn, and grow, and yet this opportunity will slip through my hands like sand, because I simply don’t have the means to do it.

Maybe we are living in a “Land of Opportunity.” But unless you have money, those opportunities will simply pass you by.

–Zara

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First Day of the Spring Semester ’16, Play-by-Play

8:17am: Hit the road. I’m leaving 17 minutes later than I did in the fall since my first class doesn’t start until 9:30. I wonder if this will be enough time, enough time for me, that is.

8:48am: Arrive on campus. I sailed across the expressway free of rush-hour traffic and made good time without speeding excessively. My cigarette is already half smoked though, as I wasn’t sure if I’d have enough time to smoke one after parking my car, so now I get to stare dumbly at my phone. I don’t want to be here.

9:05am: I begin the walk from my car to Holmes Hall, which is a decent distance. I go in the ground-floor library entrance then go upstairs and all the way over the overpass. It’s cold. Down three small flights of stairs, then across a cement courtyard of sorts and around the corner and there it is. This is my only class not in the Liberal Arts Building, and I’m paranoid that, despite checking this very morning, I will enter the building and my class won’t be there.

I forget if my classroom is on the first or second floor or in the “basement.” Turns out, it’s in the basement. I’m excessively early and eventually more students arrive, all of us waiting. Finally the professor, who looks an awful lot like Tina Fey, lets us in. The room is too small for how many cheap swivel-chair-desk-combos there are. They’re nearly on top of one another, and I struggle to make my way to the back. The back of the seat is shoved against the wall so I have to move the desk in front of it to make room for my actual body to shove itself into the seat. I know I’m a larger person, but this is ridiculous.

9:30am: The professor starts going over the incredibly long syllabus. It’s basic sense, really. The thing I’m most worried about is the research paper and the project. I don’t like projects. I start to feel anxious about the workload.

Three people in the class have major lisps. This bothers me to the point of homicidal fantasies.

A black girl comes in late, I specify “black” because when she sat down in front of me, turning the desk sideways and crashing into me, I noticed a plastic grocery bag full of weaves sticking out of her bag. She kept rubbing her nose with a dirty napkin, which further angered me.

The professor, after finally finishing up the syllabus, went around the room to each student and had us tell the class one thing about ourselves. I hate this, but I actually had something ready to say. I was the only one the professor forgot to call on.

10:45am: I begin walking back to my second class, immediately getting turned around and walking out the wrong door. I correct this mistake and head back the way I came, going underneath the overpass and then up flights of wet stairs. The overpass has an incline and I walk very fast, and find myself struggling for breath in my out of shape state.

10:52am: I take a piss, all the while trying to settle my heart rate.

11:00am: British Novel II. One of the girls with a lisp is sitting across from me, and she seems nice enough, it’s just that lisp. The professor, an unmarried, poorly-dressed plain-faced woman, first has us write our names on a large piece of paper so the rest of the class can determine who we are. Then she gives us a question: “If you could revisit any point in your life as you are now, which moment would you pick and why?” In my notebook I write, “There isn’t a point in my life I’d like to revisit, the reason being that revisiting and having an ‘outsider’ perspective would change what I think of that experience. I don’t want this changed, since my experiences helped mold me into the person I currently am, and I don’t want my current perspective altered.”

We have to partner up and share what we wrote. The girl next to me, Kate, I think, tells me she’d like to revisit the time when she was five years old and got chased up a tree by a goose. Our conversation ends quickly.

My professor says “um” so many times that I wish I had started counting at the beginning of class. It enrages me, because I become enraged over nothing. I watch her say it. I look at her grey plaid tights underneath the black polka-dot dress as she says it over and over until I think I’m going to lose my mind.

12:04pm: The “Um” Professor lets us out early, bless her lonely heart. I immediately dash to the courtyard outside the Liberal Arts Building, the one with all the benches around the abstract and unpleasant-looking fountain, which is off for the winter. It’s extremely windy. I crouch down to light my cigarette and sit on the damp wooden bench. The wind whips my hair all around me and slaps the ash off the cigarette before it’s ready. I finish half of it before I give up on trying to feel calm.

12:15pm: I walk back into the same classroom as before, since my children’s literature class is taking place in there as well. The girl with the lisp says, “You’re in a lot of my classes.” The people who were waiting outside the door flock in, including this short, chubby kid named Dakota who was in my intro to literary analysis class last semester. He sits next to me and talks about how it’s his birthday and he overslept, and he missed the same young adult literature class I was in that morning, but it’s his birthday so whatever, and he’s gonna out later tonight. He’s the first person to talk to me all day, really, so I engage in the conversation and wish him a happy birthday and recommend a bar downtown for him to go to.

12:30pm: The same Tina Fey-like professor teaches the children’s literature course. It’s another big class, and she wants us to arrange our desks into rows. She goes over the syllabus and whatnot almost verbatim as she did earlier in the day. This time when she goes around the room asking us to say one thing about ourselves, she calls on me first, and I say, “You forgot me in your other class,” to which she expresses surprise. I tell her that it’s okay, I don’t like talking about myself. She urges me to say something else, but I say, No, that’s my thing. I don’t like talking about myself.

We have to do one project on one of the books of our choosing during the semester. I have a really cool idea for Alice’s Adventures in Wonderland, but of course we’re reading that first, and the project would have to be done by February 9th. Not happening.

My phone goes off during class and the girl next to me sort of compliments my Lord of the Rings ringtone.

1:48pm: I stop in the bathroom on the first floor and see Cady in front of the mirror, sloppily applying lipstick. We hug briefly. I tell her I’m surprised to see her and I wasn’t sure if she’d make the spring semester. There’s lipstick all over the outside edges of her mouth. We chat for a minute more, then she says she’s gonna go, but since I have poetry next, I should say hi to her friend Joel. I don’t know if I want to even meet this person. I pee, then trek up the stairs to my last class.

When I walk in I’m glad to see Richard, Tristan, and Mitchell all sitting in the back. I sit down next to Richard and Tristan says, “Is this where all the cool kids sit?” to which I reply with an enthusiastic “Yes.” Even Jessie and Kayla, two girls who were also in our fiction class from last semester, poke their heads around and greet us.

The professor is the loudest, gayest man I’ve ever come across. He immediately makes everyone move up in the seats, and I’m forced to separate from my pals. He goes around and hands everyone an index card with a different word on it. Mine says “scuba diver.” We separate into assigned groups, assigned with the task to create a 5-minute skit using all of our words. Compiled, my groups’ words are “scuba diver,” “police officer,” “advent calendar,” “petunia,” “ballerina,” and “lifeguard.” After 15 minutes of brainstorming, we have our skit.

The first group’s skit is funny. Pretty funny. Then my group has to go. The professor said not to laugh during it, but I crack at one point. It’s actually sort of fun, and the girl playing the police officer goes off into a dramatic monologue about her desire to be a ballerina. Our skit is fairly well-received.

The professor tells us we need to buy the book he edited, an anthology of independent poetry. That’s $22 scraped out of my checking account. He says not to be in this class if you don’t want criticism, and lists off things he doesn’t want to see in our poetry. He’s certainly a character, and I’m sort of terrified, but I built my entire schedule around this class so it better be worth it.

Joel, who was sitting next to me, and seems strange, introduces himself to me as I try to scuttle out of the room. I wait for Richard and down the stairs we go, bumping into Cady again. We go outside and light cigarettes, but Joel arrives quickly and steals Cady away. Richard and I discuss the absurdity of the poetry professor before we say goodbye, and I walk to my car.

3:42pm: I’m finally getting on the expressway. My feet and ankles are sore, I have a cramp in my calf, and it feels like there’s a knot in my neck. I just want to get home. It feels like I’m driving through a wind tunnel. My commute sucks, and that’s the end of it.

When I do get home a couple minutes after four, I immediately shovel carbs into my mouth and I fall asleep on the couch. My makeup feels caked and greasy on my face, and I sort of want to die.

–Zara

Megan’s Birthday

My good friend Megan’s birthday is actually the 30th, but she, Susanna, Bennett and I planned to celebrate as a group Friday night. I spent close to an hour making Megan’s card, drawing Caterpie, Metapod, and Butterfree (her favorite Pokemon) in colored pencil and writing a heartfelt note. As Bennett prepared her classic meal of chicken Parmesan, Megan opened her gifts, expressing adoration for the card. I also got her a cherry-flavored penis-shaped lollipop, raspberry-flavored lube, and a rare and very adorable Butterfree-shaped coin purse. The lollipop actually tasted like the coating of a candy apple and the lube tasted like synthetic raspberry. Susanna got her Freddie Mercury’s “Mr. Bad Guy” on vinyl, and Bennett got her some thrifted books and a fuzzy cat pin.

The meal was good, as Bennett’s chicken Parmesan is always delightful. Immediately after, Megan and I did some shots of vodka. I planned on getting shitfaced. Eventually Susanna and Bennett went into the basement to play pool, so Megan and I stayed in the kitchen sipping mixed drinks.┬áThe alcohol was seeping into my system now, with me slurring my words and coherent sentences becoming more difficult to form. Megan asked if I wanted to go into the hot tub, to which I replied ecstatically. We quickly put on swim suits and grabbed towels and I made two more mixed drinks for us.

“We always talked about going into the hot tub during winter and we never did it, but we’re finally doing it,” I said to Megan as we stepped into the porch, my heels hanging over the backs of her moccasins.

Despite the frigid temperature of the air and the fresh snow melting under my feet, I felt warm. We used what upper-body strength we both possessed to hoist the cover off of the tub and I situated the little step in front of it, climbing up and over into the luxuriously-warm water. I lit a cigarette and situated myself in one of the corners, submerged up to my neck.

It began snowing as Susanna and Bennett came out and stood by the door smoking. Megan caught a snowflake on her tongue and I tried to do the same, as Susanna told me I looked like an idiot with my tongue hanging out, but I caught one nonetheless. Susanna and Bennett went inside. Megan brought up the idea of rolling around the snow and then getting back in the hot tub, to which I, again, expressed excitement over and declaring that finally I would be one with my Finnish roots.

I still didn’t feel cold when I got out of the tub, but when the snow hit the soles of my bare feet I hesitated. Nonetheless, I leaped in a circle and despite my body telling me not to, my drunken mind overcame every rationale and I face-planted into the white powder, then immediately picked myself up and climbed back into the hot tub.

“It was worth it,” I told Megan.

It began to snow even harder and faster and in my drunken state, it made me dizzy. I didn’t want to leave the warmth of the tub, which I described as “a womb,” but I couldn’t look at the snowflakes raining down any longer.

After changing back into my clothes, I continued to peer-pressure Susanna into drinking. She told me if I did a shot of the UV Chocolate Cake vodka and chased it with a spoonful of the canned strawberry-flavored frosting Bennett bought to frost Megan’s brownie cake, she’d get drunk. So, being who I am, I did the shot, and had to force back profuse gagging. I made Susanna a mixed drink and the four of us proceeded into the dining room to play Pictionary.

Normally I am a straight-up bitch when it comes to playing board games, especially Pictionary. But in my drunken state, my level of competitiveness was subdued and even though Susanna and I lost by a landslide, I didn’t really care at all.

What happened between losing the game and the rest of the night is a blur. I don’t know when Bennett went to bed, but she went to bed long before the three of us did. We put on some music and danced in the living room. I know I’m good and drunk when I’m willing to dance. Megan and Susanna copied my moves, which they described as “dad moves.” If you’ve seen the video for “Hotline Bling”, then you know exactly how I dance.

The three of us eventually ventured upstairs, where the blankets and pillows from our last sleepover still remained. Susanna got between Megan and me, since she needs as much warmth as possible. She may be totally cold on the outside, but when she’s drunk and lying next to you, she enjoys being cuddled, so I wrapped one of my legs around her. I fell asleep quickly and easily, and didn’t wake up until around 9:40 the next morning, dry-mouthed and nauseas.

After lying around for an hour, Megan, Susanna and I (Bennett had to work an early shift and was long gone) got dressed and then got into my car and drove to the Atlantic, a diner we used to frequent more than what is healthy.

I ordered water and the sausage gravy and biscuit. After gulping down half of my ice water, another wave of serious nausea came over me, so I slid out of the booth. Trapped behind a heavy woman and her tiny daughter, I made my way to the restroom. Someone was inside one of the two stalls, and the heavy woman told me to “go ahead” into the second stall. I hesitated, wanting to be polite, then muttered, “Okay” and went inside, then realizing she had planned to use the diaper changing station all along. I faced the toilet and pulled my hair back with my left hand, but the nausea had subsided. So I sat down and peed.

I had to inch my way out of the stall so I didn’t bump into the woman and the little girl. It smelled like literal shit, and as foamy soap sat idle in my hands, I held my breath, trying to get the water to come out of the automatic faucet. I took another breath, inhaling the stench of child-feces, and moved to the other sink, quickly rinsing and then drying my hands. Back at the booth, I ranted about my dislike of children.

After eating, I still felt like shit, but I managed to smoke a cigarette. We went to Target per Megan’s request, as she wanted a pregnancy test. I bought a 12 dollar black tunic and an 8 dollar black dress, since I needed more work clothes. Then we walked down to Dick’s, also per Megan’s request, since she needed yoga pants. After that we stopped in the small Barnes and Noble, where I glanced at a magazine with David Bowie on the cover and then was coerced by a barista into buying a more expensive iced coffee.

All in all, it was a good celebration.

 

30 Day Writing Challenge – Day Thirty

Your highs and lows for the month.

Highs:

  • Forcing myself to go out (twice!!) to bars.
  • Subsequently realizing, once again, that when I go out of my comfort zone, I generally have a great time.
  • Having, for the first time, an enjoyable and very fun New Year’s Eve.
  • Reading for pleasure.
  • Writing on my blog nearly, if not every, day.
  • David Bowie’s new album.

Lows:

  • Financial crises.
  • David Bowie’s death.
  • Hating work.
  • Feeling more anxious and depressed than usual.
  • Feeling suicidal.
  • No longer having health insurance.

Thank you to everyone who has stuck by me with this “challenge.” It was a great way to force me to write on here daily. A big thank you to the Irishman who prompted this challenge and at least glanced at most of my subpar posts.

–Zara

30 Day Writing Challenge – Day Twenty-Nine

What are your goals for the next 30 days?

  • Return to school with a fresh attitude
  • Maintain my 3.8 GPA
  • Prioritize my time as best as possible
  • Try to keep a pleasant attitude about work
  • Keep up with my bills and try not to drown in financial-related anxiety
  • Go for more walks
  • Do more weight lifting
  • Eat regular meals
  • Like, real meals
  • Drink more water
  • Clean my room. It’s not that bad, but still.
  • Stop beating myself up over petty nonsense
  • Write more. A lot more.

Feeling Helpless.

My eye is twitching. That’s always a good sign.

My father lost his job in September. Since then, things have changed, sure, and despite my financial hardships I know it’s way harder on him than anyone else.

We’re losing our health insurance as of February 1st and switching to Medicaid. You know, the thing for poor people. My psychiatrist isn’t covered by Medicaid.

My number one concern is being able to get my prescriptions. I can’t tell you how much I hate that “drug free” attitude some people possess. I’m glad you feel capable of “conquering” your mental illness without prescription medications. I am not like you. I need pills to be a functioning member of this capitalist society.

My second concern is the idea of starting over with a new doctor. I’ve been seeing my current psychiatrist for nearly four years. He knows me and knows my issues very well. He can handle me crying and can handle my rigid silence. I like his dog. I like his advice. I’ve been through so many doctors over the years and the fact that I have to start over with another saddens and frustrates me.

I don’t feel like I’m doing that well right now. Maybe it’s all these financial worries, my piece of shit car, school starting in a week, or work. It’s all of it, I’m sure. Am I being proactive? Not really. Even alcohol can’t help me now.

–Zara