Food Stamps, the Feeling of Failure, Student Loans, and Life as a Library

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Last week, Haley and I applied for food stamps. Our family, which has been going on strong for 11 years and now includes 2 awesome kids, Haley’s mom, our dog Sonic, 3 chickens, and 2 rabbits, have hit a period in our journey where we couldn’t do it without help anymore.

I know that there’s a reason I pay taxes. They are there to help….my family and I, others in need, and more. This is one of those situations where we needed help. I understand this very well. I am all for taxes that help out others in my community. We are all in this together and together we can do amazing things. At the same time there’s a stigma that comes from applying for and using food stamps: that somehow you’ve failed, you’re lazy, or you’re just downright an average human being. I try to have a healthy mind and outlook on everything, but I’ve gotta admit that I’ve fallen into this pit recently. I’m a 36 year old human being, I’ve got a wonderful job which I’m pretty good at, an amazing and happy family, and I’ve done some other things that I’m also really proud of. But here I am at this point where I feel like a failure just because I need some help. It shouldn’t be this way.

We’ve used the support of food stamps before. When Haley and I first got married, we were finishing up college. We both had part time jobs in addition to our full time school workload. The food stamps helped out a lot. Back then, the feeling of being a complete failure because you’re on food stamps wasn’t as big as it is now. Having a family and needing food stamps feels like you’ve hit the bottom. I think about this feeling that I’m having and then I think about all of the others out there who are on food stamps, especially those with families just like mine. What happens when you have all of those people out there in the same situation? You have millions of people out there feeling that they’ve lost all hope, that they’re somehow pathetic, and that they’ve failed. You have millions of people who feel like shit just for wanting to make sure their family doesn’t go hungry. When you have that many people feeling bad in the country, those bad vibes add up. It can’t be proved, but I really think the general malaise surrounding things in our country is somehow related to feelings like this.

On our end, I know that student loan debt is crippling. We’re both on programs that give us flexibility with our payments (income based repayment). While these do help, it’s still tough to have around $100K of debt total hanging over your head just because you went to college, got an education, and pursued a career in something you felt could make a difference in the world. I also understand the argument “well, you went into college knowing full well what would happen.” I’ve heard this many times before. I can see it from two sides: of course I knew (something) about how I’d be in debt once I left college. When I went, they told us about it. Did they tell us the specifics? Sort of kind of maybe not. I started college in 1998 and at that time it was just “oh yeah, you’ll have some debt but it’ll be OK because you’ll be a college graduate.” Most of us became the first great generation of student loan debt holders. And we’re still here! * Can America Afford This Approach to Solving Student Loan Debt? (it’s behind a paywall, but it is a great read) by Haley Sweetland Edwards is a great read that sums up the collective “wow, so much student loan debt”weight of a generation.

The amount of money we spend on student loan debt per month could help us in a lot of ways (FYI: it is around $337/month). First up: it could help with the grocery bills, thus giving us enough money to not go down the food stamp route. Second: it could help with the startup of Fidelia Hall. Have you ever tried starting up a business or a non-profit? Maybe I’m really stupid, but it’s really difficult and confusing…and it costs a lot. Just this week, our Fictitious Name Registration cost us $70 to file an application, $41 to advertise the application in our local newspaper, and $75 to advertise the application in a legal journey. That’s $186, and we’d still have $151 to spend this month on something else (groceries! Fidelia Hall repairs and infrastructure!) What am I trying to get towards? The debt we’re saddling people with for school, health care, and more are crippling us. They’re crippling us mentally. They make us not want to get out of bed. They make us want to sit around and do nothing when what we really want to do is something, because I believe that all human beings (no matter which political side they are on) just want to get things done for their communities. They’re also crippling our ability to move forward and do better things for our communities. You can’t start up a business/non-profit when you don’t have time or money.**

I better wrap this up. We just hit 1,000 words.

I’m not asking for a raise. I’m not asking for donations. I’m not even asking for an “oh man I feel you.” I just wanted to get this out there so that if you’re in a situation similar to this that YOU ARE NOT ALONE. We’re here. We’re successful. We’re pretty happy. We’re in debt and we’re also on food stamps.

*On a side note, I remember credit card companies and banks lining up at the dining halls doing everything they can (“here! have a free beach ball for taking our credit card!”) to get students signed up for their first horrible credit card. They succeeded with me and so many other of my friends.

**Go ahead and leave a comment telling me to suck it up and “pull myself up by the bootstraps just like an American would. I’ve been trying to do this for years. This is just what my Dad said and continues to say. But there’s more to it than “sucking it up” or “taking it like a man” or “pulling up your bootstraps”. There has to be some give and take.

 

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14 thoughts on “Food Stamps, the Feeling of Failure, Student Loans, and Life as a Library

  1. You’ll hear no negative judgement from me. I understand. My parents were recipients of welfare and food stamps for many, many years during my childhood. I’m lucky enough to be in a stable financial situation now, but I wasn’t always. Asking for, and getting, help when you need it is what successful people do.

  2. The only shame is that a library degree does not result in a job that will allow you to pay off your student loan debt – even if you’re a director! Hang in there, my friend.

  3. I agree with you that a feeling of hopelessness due to not feeling good about ourselves pervades the world and that it becomes almost like a vortex that gains power and sucks you in. I’m 36 also, don’t have a family, and my life has been more of a spiritual/consciousness journey thus far, so from the point of view of worldly achievement I’ve done less than nothing. I’ve never had extra money or more than an hourly wage. On my own, I feel great, I’m in touch with myself, I’m healthier than I’ve ever been, and I’m more conscious than I’ve ever been, but when I start to compare myself to the world and look at my age, that’s where the depressing thoughts come in and the vortex starts to beckon.

    I do believe it’s necessary sometimes to go into those dark, depressing thoughts, because ignoring them won’t make them go away, and also because the ultimate goal is to disidentify from the thought, and sometimes you have to suffer a little to decide that you don’t want suffering anymore, and once you make that decision, on your own, through your own willpower, it’s almost like you bring yourself back to life, and you’re stronger because you’ve worked through something. Ultimately, I truly believe that if your home feels like a home to you, if your life brings you joy, and if you can go from situation to situation in your life and you like it and don’t feel the need to fantasize about being somewhere else or leading a different life, then what value do your thoughts have? They’re just thoughts and you exist beyond them. You’re in it, and that’s all that matters. I’ve been in really difficult situations where you start to project into the future and it seems like you’re going to fall into the void, but you never do. And a lot of times, the right solution pops up suddenly and unexpectedly, and if you stay true to yourself, everything works itself out.

    I personally have found it really hard to believe in this kind of thinking, b/c the world is cynical and either pays lip service to it or mocks it. When I moved to Portland I removed myself from the world in a lot of ways and I finally saw that there is truth to all this stuff if you’re open to it and if you live it instead of just think it. Now I’m back to being a little more interactive in the world, but more resilient against its hopelessness.

    Sorry to reply to your blog with a blog, I just felt motivated to write. I’ve been living with my parents for a year, at 36, and that’s going to end in a month or so. They align more with a hopeless worldview, and it honestly was shocking to me, and there were definitely moments when I succumbed to it in ways that I haven’t for a long time. But over the last month or so, I’ve just been letting it go and feeling that freedom and joy of Being again. I decided I’m not going to succumb to it anymore and believe in my own life journey. I’m writing this because I think the world in general seems to be on the brink of hopelessness, and I think this is going to lead at some point to the world deciding it doesn’t want to suffer under the weight of its own negative thoughts anymore, and maybe things will start to dissipate a little. But the truth, I believe, is that the hopelessness is an illusion that we can choose to live or move beyond. From what I see on Facebook, you have a happy and fulfilling existence and most people actually don’t have that. You’ve found the prize. It’s not what the world says it is. There’s nothing communication and working together can’t solve, always. Every circumstance is just a challenge to be overcome.

  4. One of the most difficult things for people to do is ask for help. While I know receiving government assistance can lead to the feelings of discouragement, hopelessness and even sometimes shame know that you are doing the smart and practical thing for you and your family. Throughout my entire childhood (age 3-18) I was definitely considered a “welfare kid,” and unfortunately my single mother let those negative feelings and shame dictate her future. While those negative thoughts do cross your mind remember that you and your wife are strong enough to know when you need help and are even stronger to ask for it.

    Believe me coming from someone who has truly beat the odds I am so thankful for that government assistance throughout my childhood because without it I wouldn’t have the philanthropic mission to give back to the world in a small way.

    Remember, with or without foodstamps you’re still fabulous, kind, and humble people which in my opinion makes all the difference in this chaotic world!

  5. Hey, just asking – do you have Direct Stafford loans and are pursuing the 10 year Public Service Loan Forgiveness program? I lost a few years of eligibility because I had FFELP Stafford loans.

    I worked in the college financial aid world for 7 years and have a MLIS I can’t get a job with and live with a partner on SSDI and SNAP, so I feel your pain (or a variation thereof). The messed up thing is the that the whole student loan thing is/was a failed social experiment that the gov’t should be held responsible for. Just because statistically college educated people earn more doesn’t help the huge statistical number who don’t. And how messed up is the whole idea in the first place? I mean, if you’re born into a rich family you graduate college debt free and if you have to take out loans you’re disadvantaged out of the gate. It strengthens class divides and looks even more like a real caste system.

    And don’t be embarrassed about SNAP – it’s an awesome glimpse into what a guaranteed, basic income might look like.

    Anyway, thank you for sharing and FIGHT!
    @muskox

  6. Hey! Thanks for reading!

    “Hey, just asking – do you have Direct Stafford loans and are pursuing the 10 year Public Service Loan Forgiveness program?”
    -I am but it is all very confusing. Last year they said only one of my jobs qualified as time towards this program. This year, they are saying all of my jobs do except for one. I am really confused and I feel beat down by the whole thing.

    I too feel as if it is a failed social experiment: it is clear that the generation that went through all of this student loan stuff is struggling horribly. There needs to be something bigger done to fix this. The word “experiment” really stands out to me too….I do feel as if this was some kind of game and I was a participant that really didn’t understand all of the rules.

  7. Hi Justin! Long-time reader who has never commented.

    I just followed your subset of our generation (2008 undergrad, 2010 MLS), and I feel like you are the part of our generation that took the biggest hit. I think my section was just starting to become aware of how “real” student debt truly is. However, those who followed us are much, much more aware than we all were. I went to a completely sub-par/terrible MLS program because it was the cheapest one. Yes, it saved me a ton of money. However, I had to work very hard to overcome the stigma of that program (it even lost ALA accreditation!)…and I still earn below recommended salary guidelines for my state. While the entire system of higher education and student debt is screwed up, I think the ALA could encourage and assist new librarians by restructuring the entire idea of an MLS. It would be so much more cost-efficient to make it an undergraduate program, similar to education degrees. I would have saved so much money if I could have been a library science (or etc.) major who specialized in (fill in the blank discipline…history, literature, etc.). Then, the graduate degrees can be for directors, managers, or people who want to further pursue their education in the field. After my grad school v. real life librarian experiences, I cannot be convinced that a non-director librarian needs a masters degree!

    1. Thank you for reading and thank you for your comments!

      This rings very true with me: “I think my section was just starting to become aware of how “real” student debt truly is. However, those who followed us are much, much more aware than we all were.”

      There was not much support and education back in the day. It certainly has gotten better. I know Bush Part II and Obama did do a few things to improve this part of student loans.

      After my grad school v. real life librarian experiences, I cannot be convinced that a non-director librarian needs a masters degree!
      I think this is something that needs to be looked into. I find that there is a certain type of person that is more likely to succeed in a library regardless of degree. It is important to get those people into libraries. Degrees are just paper certificates, debt, and 1-2 of classroom experience that really doesn’t translate into lasting impressions.

      1. Has the idea of restructuring the entire educational process around librarianship EVER been discussed by the ALA? The few times I’ve brought this topic up in professional settings, I’m quickly shunned/quieted/dismissed. It’s as if librarians think the MLS “legitimizes” the career?? I think the MLS serves as an access barrier for the exact reasons you describe. It puts off people who would be excellent librarians, and it creates massive blockades to library staff workers who reach a professional and financial barrier during their career trajectory. This would be a real way to reinvigorate the profession, far more than like…putting a 3D printer in every library!

      2. I LOVE THIS: “The few times I’ve brought this topic up in professional settings, I’m quickly shunned/quieted/dismissed. It’s as if librarians think the MLS “legitimizes” the career?? I think the MLS serves as an access barrier for the exact reasons you describe. It puts off people who would be excellent librarians, and it creates massive blockades to library staff workers who reach a professional and financial barrier during their career trajectory. ”

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