It’s August

This will be the first August in eight years that won’t end with a new fall semester. I still haven’t gotten used to the fact that school is over for me. I still have the same anxious feeling that I’ve always had trying to get my summer to-do list done in the last couple weeks before school starts. I still get excited to see all the school supplies out and longingly run my fingers over the pages of the office supply adverts.

I think even if I had found a job shortly after graduation, I would still feel these sharp pangs of sadness. I miss my campus, my professors, my classmates and most of all I miss my feeling of possibility. When I was still in school all my dreams were still possibilities. Now they just seem so silly. As if I was ever going to be able to move to Boston, or get accepted to The New School of Social Research. 

I can already feel my brain starting to lose everything I learned. I pull out my math books and flip through the problems thinking I’ll try to keep my skills sharp, but then I just get sad and long to redo my whole college experience. There’s a million and one things I would have done differently. 

My mom is really pushing me to go into teaching. She wants to give me the money for the down payment on this alternative certification programme. It’s an intense two week class on how to be a teacher, followed by being thrown in a classroom as a full time teacher. The whole idea of it scares the living hell out of me. It’s like someone teaching you to swim by throwing you in the middle of the ocean.

At one point I really wanted to be a teacher. Part of me still does, but I’m terrified of it at the same time. I don’t think I have enough confidence in my math skills to be an effective educator. I barely muddled through my last two years in college with C’s in my upper level math courses. I’ve never even taken a geometry class!

I have a tendency to blank out on exams. That’s the biggest reason I’m dragging my feet when it comes to taking the GRE.  It’s the same with the teaching thing. I know I could pass the first certification exam, but I’m scared of the content exam. I didn’t take abstract algebra or modern geometry, both of which were required to get a teaching certification. 

My fear has always been the one thing holding me back. Part of me screaming to just go for it and the other part of me is just screaming. I feel stuck, like I’m spinning my wheels and getting nowhere. 

August is here, but it’s not the same August that I’ve known for the past eight years. This August is demanding final decisions. No more daydreams and fantasies, this August wants a plan of action and most of all a commitment. 

I am giving myself a deadline. My birthday is in 12 days. I will be 32 years old. By my birthday I will make a decision and draft a course of action. 

By my birthday I will be ready to make a solid commitment to a plan. 


Adventures in Welfare

Dear Texas.

Go fuck yourself.

Yea I had to get that out of my system.

When I was studying working poverty in school a lot of the material came from case studies. It was a common theme in these case studies that the application process for government assistance was a complicated labyrinth of paperwork leading to a lengthy wait for approval. Many people could go from barely getting by to homeless in the time it took for a food stamp application to be approved.

When I was in the hospital for the first surgery I applied for emergency medicaid. I was denied because my income was too high. At the time I was an unemployed student and my only income was my daughter’s child support and social security.  Apparently the state of Texas thought a monthly income of less than $800 was sufficient to finance a $30,000 hospital bill.

So imagine my shock when I was approved for TANF and medicaid.

[cut to back story]

When I applied for the food stamps I checked the TANF box just as a “they’re going to deny me anyways, but what the hell” sort of thing. Later in the process of applying for food stamps (technically it’s called SNAP, but I’m about sick of acronyms) I learned that if a person received cash benefits (TANF) then the state will recoup those funds from the absent parent.  In other words, if I accepted TANF then I was agreeing to forfeit the child support. Given that I’m getting $360 a month in child support, it made no sense to give that up in order to get less than that in TANF.

At this point I asked if I could just cancel the TANF application and keep my child support. Surely the state would be well up for not paying out cash benefits right? I was informed at the workforce orientation that withdrawing the application for TANF would also withdraw the application for food stamps and I’d have to start all over again. So I agreed to just go through the motions figuring they would deny me anyways. A week later I got a call from the welfare office and voiced my concern about the child support issue. The man contradicted what the workforce office said (these are two entities that really need better communication skills) and told me that TANF had nothing to do with food stamps. He said that I could withdraw my TANF application and keep the food stamps and my child support. He would mail me a form, I’d mail it back and bob’s your uncle. Problem solved.


Somewhere in the span of three days my application for TANF was approved! Now I have talked with a lot of women in worse situations than mine who couldn’t get approved for TANF because their non existent income was too high. It’s common knowledge that it’s virtually impossible to get cash benefits in the state of Texas. It completely defies precedent that I was not only approved, but approved so quickly.

Time for some number crunching. Currently I get $360 a month in child support and $268 a month in Social Security. The state had already approved me for $300 a month in food stamps. With the TANF approval the state was giving me $110 a month in cash assistance and $200 a month in food stamps. I was losing $360 just to get $110!!

I called the welfare office and tried to get them to cancel the application (the form hadn’t had time to arrive in the post)  and take back the benefits but alas there was no hope. The best they could do was deny the benefits for September, but August was a done deal. Immediately that knot was in my stomach as I freaked out about how we’d survive August if we lost that much money.

I ended up filing a formal complaint. Apparently this formal complaint was against the man that worked up my case. I thought it was just going to be against the office in general. So he called me pretty pissed off that I was filing a complaint and trying to talk me out of it.

Surprisingly I got a child support check for the beginning of August. My guess is that the payment was processed before the child support office was made aware of my TANF approval. So I was fortunate to be able to pay everything that needed to be paid and have a few dollars left to put gas in the car.

The moral of the story is that the myth of the welfare queen is bullshit. There are no women sitting back raking in piles of taxpayer cash. No one is doing so well on welfare that they can choose it over working. Welfare is temporary. There are time limits on how long people can receive benefits, so the myth that women are spending their whole lives on welfare is bollocks! There are caps on how many children will be considered when approving the benefit amount, so the myth that women are just having more kids to get more money is also bullshit. The fact is that sometimes bad shit happens and people (mostly women) need a little help to get through it.  I didn’t apply for this because I was a lazy cow that doesn’t want to work. I applied for this because I had gotten to the point where my daughter was only getting one meal and a snack during the day and there was no where else in the budget left to cut.

This is only temporary. When I start getting really depressed about this situation I have to remind myself that this is only temporary. That a year from now this will just be one more experience that I look back on wondering how I ever made it.  Just like the broken relationships, the surgeries, the insanely hard semesters at school, this is just another hurdle that I will eventually get over.

Gradually then Suddenly

I remember this quote from Prozac Nation:

“There is a classic moment in
‘The Sun Also Rises’ when someone
asks Mike Campbell how he went bankrupt,
and all he can say in response is,
‘Gradually and then suddenly.’ When
someone asks how I lost my mind, that
is all I can say too.”
— Elizabeth Wurtzel

When I was sitting at the food pantry a few weeks ago and asking myself how my life had fallen apart, this was all I could tell myself. Gradually and then suddenly.  From a private university to welfare in the span of two months. That has to be a record.

I remember being a kid and my mom was on food stamps. Back when they were actual coupons that looked like fake money that you pulled out of a booklet. As a kid I would pick that time to find something else somewhere else to do. It was a humiliating experience that burned into my memory. When my daughter was born I found myself in the same situation. My experience being on welfare was traumatic enough that I chose the cold austerity of a shoestring budget over jumping through the government’s hoops of shame.  By the time my daughter was in school, I was enrolling in college which provided the scholarships and loans that allowed us to get by and make ends meet. Things were hard, but they worked.

Now it seems as if after graduation I’m right back where I started. I honestly feel as if I’m no better off than I was with a GED and dead end job.

Applying for food stamps required a workforce orientation where someone shows us how to apply for jobs. Apparently being financially strapped equates to being an idiot.

So as I was sitting in this lobby waiting to find out if I would have to take the same basic literacy and mathematics tests as the people without college degrees (it turns out that everyone has to take that stupid test and my blood is still boiling) I had an epiphany. I would use this time to be academically productive!

I remembered reading Nickled and Dimed and being incredibly annoyed.  In this book Barbara Ehrenreich attempts to experiment with poverty and write about it as if her experience was authentic. I remembered thinking that one cannot simply try on poverty. There’s a certain fear and desperation that is inherent with being broke. Something that Ehrenreich never was able to experience in her experiment.

So instead of lamenting my downturn in fortunes, I’ll make the most of the experience. I’ll see if the welfare system really can work and I’ll document my experience along the way.  With any luck this will be a very quick experiment and I’ll either be employed or be in grad school by January.

Gradually then suddenly everything fell apart. Maybe gradually and suddenly they’ll come back together.


I miss

…conversation that’s effortless and silence that isn’t awkward

…hands that feel familiar and kisses that feel brand new

…middle of the night philosophy turning into sunrise jokes

…playlists, inside jokes and daydreams

…fingers running through my hair & fingernails running down my back

…being completely spent

…feeling connected.

It’s been years. I should have been able to find this again. It still feels like I’ve lost part of myself. The part that was able to be happy. I keep thinking I’ll be able to start over.  Shouldn’t I be able to find these things again in someone new? Yet every time I try to start over conversations are hollow, hands feel foreign and kisses are stale. It’s been years and nothing has ever meshed the way it did with him. Nights like these I wonder if it ever will.

And Life Marches On

I graduated.

That sentence still brings tears to my eyes. It’s been almost a month since I walked across that stage and received degrees in Mathematics and Economics.  Those degrees are currently sitting on the file cabinet by my desk. I haven’t framed them yet because sometimes I still need to open the covers and run my fingers over the parchment to make sure they’re real.

The whole graduation memory is a blur. For four years it felt like a moment that would never come. Now it feels like a moment that was gone too soon.

My painting professor said that graduation would be a moment of incredible happiness followed by an incredible sadness. He was quite correct. I find that I’m already missing my university life. Everything from the excitement of planning classes and buying school supplies to the stress of midterms and papers.

What I really miss the feeling of belonging…the feeling of purpose.  I’ve been a professional student for almost a third of my life. Now that chapter is over. It feels like I’ve lost my identity. Now I’m just sorta here, trying to figure out what to do.

My fixed income has been slashed nearly in half which has piled on the stress. I’ve been applying for jobs every day.  I made it part of my morning routine to check the job postings every day and apply to at least three that I may be qualified for.  One of my greatest fears right now is that I’ll be a 31 year old single mother with five college degrees working at a fast food place to make ends meet.

It wasn’t supposed to be like this.

I thought when I got a car that everything would be okay. I’d be able to get a job and things would work out. Having a car did help out immensely but it also came with so much added expense to worry about.

Then I thought that once I graduated everything would be okay. I’d be able to get a job and things would work out. So far that hasn’t panned out either. Despite good degrees from a great school, I’m still falling victim to a sluggish economy that’s filled with more qualified competition.  None of this is really a surprise. My term paper for my labor economics class predicted this scenario.  I can hear it saying “I told you so” from the stack of discarded term papers on my desk.

In all this I’m trying hard to stay positive. I’m trying to remember what I learned in therapy. Very little of this is within my control, and it does me no good to dwell on things I can do nothing about.  Most of all I’m trying to avoid downtime and all the things that trigger my free falls into depression and self destructive behaviours.

For now I’m focused on staying healthy, paying bills and applying for jobs.

Everything else is just noise.

Twenty six years in the making

When I was a little girl my mom gave me a letter. It was dated January 1981 and written on the stationary from The Mansion at Turtle Creek. It was a letter written when I was five months old. It was a letter telling me my father died on New Years, that I had four brothers, and how sorry she was I wouldn’t have a dad. She promised to love me and look out for me and hoped that one day I’d be able to understand. I remember everything about that letter.

I first talked to my brothers when I sixteen. I was elated to have finally connected with them, but we lost touch rather quickly. Over the years there was a pattern of me finding them and then losing touch.  Eventually myspace and facebook came around and I was finally able to put faces with names. All my life I had dreamed of long conversations getting to know each other. I thought we’d have some sort of bond and I’d finally have these siblings I had been wishing for.  But it never happened that way and after awhile I just quit trying. After awhile it was enough to just watch them from a distance via facebook posts.

Over the weekend one of the random posts caught my attention. The youngest of my brothers, the one I had never talked to, was going to be in my city for two weeks. And after a lot of schedule conflicts I was finally walking up a sidewalk to a restaurant where my brother was waiting for me. My heart was racing and I was terrified. It took me a minute to actually open the door knowing that my brother was going to be on the other side.

We hugged and walked back to the table where I met his wife and a bunch of her family members.  Dinner was full of awkward pauses. I don’t think either of us really knew what to say.  It was interesting to learn about the things we have in common. We both hate having anything on our feet. We have the same eyes and dimples.  We’re also incredibly different. He draws and plays golf while I do equations and read economic journals.  After dinner we exchanged hugs, took some pictures and promised to see each other again soon.

We’ve had a lot of false starts over the years but I really hope this reunion sticks.  It may be the silly daydreams of a lonely little girl, but I still hope to one day have those sibling connections that will help me feel complete.

Grandmother’s House

I wake up on a Saturday morning and make my way to the kitchen to start breakfast for the kiddo. I mix a batch of biscuits while sausage is cooking and then put together a sausage gravy while the biscuits are baking.  My daughter wants a new dress for her doll so we pull out some scrap fabric, needle and thread and I make her doll a dress. We plant small vegetables and flowers in the front garden and get excited to make a salad with our garden fresh tomatoes and bell peppers.  

Normally when I reflect on my childhood, it’s some painful memory of the bad things that happened. My grandmother wasn’t the nicest or most loving guardian.  She was often times quite cruel to me and created a lot of issues that I’m still dealing with as an adult.  But I will still say that I feel rather sorry for kids that didn’t get to grow up with their grandparents.  Despite the bad times there were valuable lessons that I learned growing up on that ranch with grandparents.  

My granny was an exceptional homemaker.  She was downright professional in her ability to maintain a home.  Things were cleaned on a regular basis, meals were always cooked from scratch, and many of our outfits were handmade.  During the summers we picked peaches and grapes and made our own jams.  We picked and canned vegetables from my great grandfathers garden.  We licked the nectar from the honey sickle flowers that my great grandmother grew on trellises lining the front porch. My granny taught me hospital corners, count back change and how to make earrings from puzzle pieces.  When we asked how to spell a word we were told to look it up in the dictionary much to our annoyance.  She taught me that newspaper cleans glass and mayonnaise cleans ivy leaves and removes the residue left by stickers.   

I don’t think kids get these little life lessons anymore.  I try to pass them down to my daughter as much as I can remember.  I find myself wanting to relearn a lot of these things. My granny, for all her prior faults, is still like my domestic encyclopedia. “Granny what can I use instead of vegetable oil in brownies?” Applesauce.  “Granny there’s some strange white stuff on my crape myrtle trees what do I do?” Mix up some dish soap and water and spray it off. “Granny how do I get rid of this sore throat?” Gargle with some salt water. 

Grandparents grew up in a time when self sufficiency was still a skill to be instilled into children.  I see so many kids down that don’t know how to do anything on their own.  Sadly we’re losing these last generations of grandparents that still have these valuable lessons to pass down. What I have to offer my daughter is only a faint memory of what I was taught. I love seeing how amazed she is watching me do something like make a doll’s dress or cooking something from scratch.  When I can get ink out of a shirt or crayon off a wall, she thinks it’s magic. 

I guess in a world of electronic this and instant that… these “old ways” really are a kind of magic.