Wednesday, August 19, 2009

FICO High, Confidence Low

I am in the midst of  pre-pre-production. Or at least, that is what I'm calling it. I am referring to the kind of preliminary research, scouting and budget assessing more closely associated with feature films; but this time, for graduate school. My pre-pre-production has involved all sorts of things. Auditing law classes at NYU (and the answer is no, you cannot bounce a dime without the probability of it ricochetting off a yarmulke), attending an informational session at Columbia's J-school (and subsequent interrogations of a recent grad and a former applicant), late night trolling of university Web sites for programs that would "make sense," and overeating at the slightest contemplation of debt higher than the one grand I am currently carrying on my Mastercard. 

Let it be known: I loathe debt. Fortunately for me, in my short thirty-two years, I have never experienced debt. I blame my mother really (if it's not one thing, it's your mother); for she instilled in me at a really young age the value of a dollar; the art of saving; the importance of working for everything you earn; paying your balance in full whenever possible and, if you cannot pay for something outright, then you "don't really need it now, do you." 

My mother also taught me the concept of budget envelopes. A method of saving money I eventually carried into college and one that had many of my friends balking. Did I want those jeans? Sure. But I had to sock away ten dollars a week from my paycheck in an envelope until I could afford them. A would-be good practice for the millenials today to implement, but one that had me aging as fast as the current trend was before I could own them. And while I owe my mother dearly for my respectful and healthy relationship to money, it has done nothing for me during my pre-pre-production phase but make me cautious and nervous.

Several years back I wanted an MFA in creative writing. I wanted to hibernate at a University and do nothing but write in peace. I wanted solitude. And the ability to hone my writing skills without the interference of the fifteen plus jobs I had at the time. Now? Years later? An MFA seems superfluous. Sure it is a terminal degree and one that would allow me to teach, but can I really justify that much money right now? I don't know.

But here in lies the problem: I have now secured three different programs to apply for. The first is my backup plan. A course of study that would ensure a masters in twelve months and a job upon graduation. My enthusiasm? Contained. The second program leads to a masters in ten months and "most likely a job" (maybe not in that field right away and maybe in Spokane, but a job nonetheless). My enthusiasm? Think July 4th. Hooray! And then there is the last program. A course of study that would be considered superfluous, but one that would further me in the eleven years I have spent in the entertainment industry (not as an actor mind you). Though a two-year degree in a field that would be as tough as securing a job in acting was, upon graduation. But, one that interests me so much I could cry. Cry! Hence, an enormous amount of guilt; a bit of happy sighing when thinking about the courses I would take; and then some bizarre overeating when considering the amount of money I would never be able to justify. If I cannot bear a thousand dollars dangling over my head each month, how the hell am I going to handle something nearing a hundred thousand?

But my mother happened to impart a different perspective. Something I would have never expected to have come from a woman whose relationship to money is now akin to the relationship of Goldie Hawn and Kurt Russell (they enjoy each other's company, but are not married to each other), but also akin to a single parent memory of yore (no, that is not in the budget and not a priority).

"Think of it this way, you have a clean slate and excellent credit. No debt to begin with," my mother said.

A clean slate? I mention the "superfluous" program.

"Sounds good."

I reiterate the time commitment and cost difference. Then, feel compelled to quell what I believe to be her bubbling nerves (but apparently are mine), and state that it is considered to be the Harvard of this type of program and that the chances of me getting in are very slim. There. See? Highly unlikely I assure her. (But again, this seems to be more for my benefit.)

She reiterates the clean slate and encourages me to apply.

"You're in a really good position."

I am? I am in a good position?

"You are. Clean slate!"

Well now, I never thought of it that way.

So I start to shift my perspective, ever so slightly, and feel compelled to throw out that imaginary budget envelope. The imminent one that has yet to have grad school scrawled on it in a black Sharpie.

And besides, there just isn't an envelope large enough for that kind of cost.

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