It’s always an experience – not necessarily a pleasant one – to find one’s self with the direct opportunity and reason to express the most positive end result of everything they like to think they are in a series of moment-by-moment decisions. The direct application of ideological beliefs to real-world situations of profound immediate risk to one’s self and others. As it’s been quite a while since I’ve done an update about myself, I’m going to catch everyone up on how life is going with JH by way of setting the context for a story about something that happened to and around me this evening, which leads to some thoughts on all of the various things I write about. Let’s walk…
Part 1: Life Right Now
I’m a 44 year old 9th-semester undergrad at Western Michigan University. As many who read this will already know from my various posts on my Facebook page, I’m moving from Kalamazoo, Michigan to Salt Lake City, Utah, the day after Christmas. I have not finished my degree, and I’m not “dropping out,” just putting it on hold. My existence has been student loans, very minor merchandise sales and ad revenue, and the generous assistance of around a hundred people over a period of five years. While it’s been enough to keep me alive, it’s been at raw subsistence level – a dorm room in the “adult” building, Spindler Hall, on the campus of Western Michigan University, for the last two years. I’ve got a dorm fridge, no freezer. The kitchen is shared with about a dozen other guys in their late twenties through mid-fifties. I’ve got no vehicle. I’ve got no kind of steady income. I don’t own a vehicle. I don’t own professional *clothes*, really. Couple of decent shirts, one pair of dress pants, a few ties, and dress shoes that I never wear.
Worse, I’ve been going *backwards.* For the last six semesters, I’ve had this conversation with Western about half-way through: “Yes, I’m aware I owe you money, my loans and grants are already approved, you’ll get paid when they come in. When you lock my account out so I can’t register for next semester, then it becomes this big mess of anxiety about putting money together so I can ensure the money that was supposed to pay for me to eat can still feed me but the rent’s paid. I have to spend more time creating content on demand – filling space to make money – rather than creating the content I actually want to create. That takes away time from classwork. I get bad grades because I’m not getting that done because I’m trying to write and create in response to my financial need rather than in response to my desire and available energy to create the content I want to, not the content I have to. Then I have to re-take classes, which in some cases costs more money. So please stop with the locking the account and the nasty threatening letters, you know this is covered and hassling me about it jeopardizes the entire process.”
There’s a bunch of other stuff going on here as well, including some penalties for classes I never attended and withdrew from on time, and a couple of classes sold to me as something entirely different than what they were, but that’s neither here nor there.
Side EffectsThis makes me hypercritical and over-analytical of my own work. I question myself constantly about whether I’m working “for money,” or because I actually have something to say. In the line of what I’m doing, I have long been a loud advocate for getting the influence of money out of news and information media. Writing “for money” feels cheap and wrong to me. *Creating* for money feels that way. You end up churning out crap to turn an easy buck – which is how a lot of the sites operate that I have criticized harshly in the past end up becoming ridiculous, useless, and even destructive to their own ideological ends. I’m not going to fall into that trap. My readers and viewers and the people who have counted on me enough to help keep me alive and doing what I do, trust me not to do that, and if I violate that trust then I will lose it.
I end up producing a lot less content because I’m too busy questioning my own motivations, anxious, depressed, and life generally sucking at the moment. So it’s a vicious cycle.
The solution; moving forward
A friend of mine and his wife, I’ve known him for almost 18 years, are 100% certain they have a place for me as long as I need it (within reason, obviously), and about 80-90% certain they can help me find work that pays reasonably well somewhere close to my actual fields of expertise. They live in Salt Lake City.
There’s a super-thriving arts scene out there right now. The Sundance Festival is in Park City, which is a suburb of SLC; there’s tons of bands and on and on, I’ll be writing more about those details in the future. Bottom line is I’ve got to get my feet under me and take this degree on at a slower pace and from a more stable financial position than I’m in. I’ve got 90 credit hours or so, that’s absolutely worth something.
Once I meet the residency requirements and pay WMU off so they’ll release my transcripts, I’ll take classes at the University of Utah’s excellent media studies department. I’m reasonably certain that I can finish a substantial part of what I have left via community colleges – it’s almost entirely GenEd stuff like Spanish and Statistics now. Maybe 3 more PoliSci credits for my minor; maybe 3 more to meet my major requirement (which may change, and there may be questions about how credits transfer). So what’s involved with that?
The FutureFirst I have to a) establish residency and b) pay Western off while c) eventually paying off my student loans while simultaneously d) continuing to take classes part time. I think I can get six months’ grace period on the loans before they start expecting a payment, and it might pause again when I start taking classes again. I need to make phone calls to figure all that out, and I can do that after I get settled in out west.
How things will work out from there depends on how long I’m in Utah. Here’s the math on that: I figure I have to be entirely self-sufficient or able to be immediately in order to live in Kalamazoo. That means walking in with a few thousand dollars minimum. I have bills that I must pay off before I can do that, and they’re substantial when added to the general cost of living, and trying to get a reliable vehicle as soon as possible and then a place of my own. In order for me to return in *less than* two years, I’d have to either be self-sufficiently self-employed or I’d have to have a very solid and major offer back here within *one* year. If that happened and I could simply finish my degree at Western, I will do that. But I have to wait a year after each move to start with in-state tuition in either place; so if I did return in less than two years, I’d be setting my education back by however much more than one year it was, at least.
But the chances of my realistically being able to do that are just about nil. So the smarter thing to do is plan on finishing out there while working for decent money and getting various projects off the ground. Once I have wheels, I can start doing things like location shoots to sell stock photography; I’ll have a more picturesque outdoor world in general for content. I’ll have easier and broader access to various resources that will help me create more comprehensive and high-quality work.
At just under a million people, the SLC area is about three times the size of the Kalamazoo area. The economy is apparently doing well, plenty of people are hiring, etc.
I need to get my feet under me solid somehow, and this appears to be the most likely path to produce the most immediate and effective results long and short-term.
So that’s where I am and where I’m going. Up next: Where I was tonight, what happened there, and what it means to me.