Tuesday, September 20, 2011

Despondent Mother: "We are about to face a two-generation indentured educated class"

Sensationally smart. Wicked sense of humor. Loving. Deeply religious and caring. These are a few words that come to mind when describing my friend who is a devoted mother and an indentured educated citizen. We have exchanged emails for years, and I have now been invited to her home. She lives far north, where the weather still seems normal. When Texas was on its god-knows-what-day of endless 107+ degree temperatures this past summer, this kind woman told me I was more than welcome to escape and come stay with her. She sends me deeply moving and profound notes all the time, and one recently hit me quite hard. Someone who uses words that can make you cry one moment and then laugh the next . . . that person's words must be shared - I'd be selfish to keep these powerful comments to myself.

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Who is she exactly? She is you. She is me. She is all of us.

She is fearful. She is indebted. She is well-educated. She is worried about her children's futures. She is angry. She is sad. She is like me, and she is like you.

Her pay at her job has been cut. So has her husband's. They have also lost benefits that they were told they would not lose. Recently, she wrote to me and said, "We are about to face a two-generation indentured educated class. . . this is starting to look familiar-- from like 1690-- the Virginia Company . . ."

She included this link: Leaving England: The Social Background of Indentured Servants in the Seventeenth Century."

She went on to say:
The best and the brightest are about to spend their lives paying off debt that cannot be discharged or forgiven--but can be (and has been legislated to pass down to former and future generations). I have paid my pound of flesh in cash and public service, as has my husband. We are now just paying the interest and fees charged. We deserve relief--as does my son, who will soon be entering the same track [my emphasis].
Her anguish is difficult for me to digest, because I can't imagine what it is like to worry about children (and I wish for the day, i.e. to bring a child into this world, but doubt that will ever become a reality) . . . and yet . . . I do worry about this woman and others who are struggling like her, so I identify with her. I am reminded of  my own unsettled, fearful thoughts when I read these notes from her and from all of you. Please keep sending them to me. They remind me of why this matters, and why we have come together to fight against this injustice, this economic slavery.

She is you. She is me. She is all of us.

Like her, I worry in similar ways. I worry about my future. I worry about my nieces. I worry about caring for my older family members. That is to say, I worry I will be unable to care for them. I am scared and exhausted and tired. What if I were to get cancer, and I had to deal with those medical bills and all this debt? Many of you are already there, and your stories always make me tear up. I will never be hardened. If I were to ever become that way, I would be a useless human being, a waste, a loss.

Instead, over half of my money goes towards debt, debt, debt. And I am sick, sick, sick of it.

In saying those things,  that does not mean that I don't wish to pay it back, or that I somehow expect a so-called "free ride." Those who assume we are like that sound stupid and moronic, because they haven't a clue. Those of you who assume such things about us have also forgotten that the banks and Wall Street, the very institutions who brought this country and the global economy to the brink, were bailed out. Just like that, they went running to the Government and begged for money. That was after they gambled with ours. They sent in pencil-written requests for billions of dollars under the Bush regime, and huge checks were cut for them. Just like that! Snap! Money sent. No problem! I know. I know. I know. The money has all been paid back! And look at how much better we all are now! There are fewer banks who control our assets, and those big banks are now firing thousands of thousand of workers. But continue to turn your rage against the wrong people, you intellectually deficient mongrels. Blame us for being "deadbeats," and "lazy" and "irresponsible." Turn a blind eye on the class warfare that has been launched against you and me and millions of other Americans. You're playing right into the very hands that have robbed this country. Bravo!

Luckily, my family isn't all so cruel and understand the bigger story. Thank God for them.

But let's talk some more about buying shit. When I do happen to buy things I need, such as clothing, I immediately feel guilt. I become sick to my stomach. Indeed, as soon as I leave the store, I am mortified by the "huge expense," and I become despondent. Meanwhile, we are told at every turn that we should be buying shit ALL the time. (And for the idiots who have the audacity to mock me for being poor, I tell you this: you are stupid for thinking we are losers and we don't deserve to buy stuff. Besides, it doesn't matter how you  judge us. As Robert Reich and other experts point out, 70% of the U.S. economy is driven by consumer spending. So you can laugh and mock all you want, but you and your family are being brought down too. If that hasn't happened yet, and it continues to worsen, you'll be there with us. We'll see how hardened you still are when you can't buy a thing for your family or for yourself).

I mean, what if I were to lose my job? What then? How will I survive? There are rumblings in my household that a layoff might occur. This terrifies me. I am terrified on a regular basis, because of all the stories I read. There are thousands of you who have written to me, pouring out your heart, telling me your most intimate thoughts. It reminds me of the emotions that Steinbeck described in his phenomenal essay, "Primer on the '30s.'"

He wrote, "And feelings in the Thirties ran high. People were not afraid to express them as they have become recently. If you believed a thing, you shouted it. We lived or at least talked excitement."

Those are comforting words in these uncertain, dark times. I have always identified with the Great Depression. I grew up hearing stories about it.

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My father grew up very poor. His first home was a garage with a wooden-like bunk bed built above the concrete. His mother was a woman of the Depression-era from Kansas. Her name was Ruth, and she was tough as nails. When I was quite young, I recall her speaking about the crops being destroyed by insects, the insufferable dust, the heat . . . Once she said, "the chickens only ate grasshoppers, and they tasted like grasshoppers." While I am not eating chickens that taste like grasshoppers, the endless heat of this summer in this state, and my own poverty, made me think of her a lot. I think I have become tough as nails, too, and that makes me damned proud.

A few days ago, I wrote to my father, and I was feeling more than just glum. I said, "I am mourning the loss of our country. It's amazing how it is imploding. I never thought I'd see the day when the US would collapse. It's truly astonishing."

He replied:
I agree with what you say while trying to remain calm using Lincoln's reasoning- humbly I am quick to add with my new pork pie hat in my hand- that this all a part of God's plan that we can not be expected to understand . . . I do not know of a darker time in my adult life...but though maybe not the darkest (well hell yes, it's 11:30 PM) of my entire life . . . 
At least he made me chuckle. We must cling to our jokes in these dark times. My father has surely done that. But the fear is spreading.

The mother had this to say about fear:
The politicians need to know how scared we are. My grandfather was a doctor. My father a scientist. I, I am a librarian. My daughters have the makings of genius (ok, we are biased here, but really they're 1uite gifted--10 & 12 reading and learning at college levels), and my son, well you know about him. But my girls, if they can afford college will be encouraged by my husband and I to leave the country. They have been learning Spanish since they were 4, latin since fourth grade, and I am teaching them the basics of Japanese, French, and German. They can't stay here. This place is going to hell. If my son gets a job out of the country, he will go. My husband and I are toying with the idea--if it weren't for his elderly parents and our children, we would go. I know we would go. The brain drain has begun. There is evidence in every college and university. My husband (a college prof) talks about it every day.
Despite how bleak things seem, and how awfully down I am today, I have dear friends who write me things like this: "Remember you have friends and family who love you and are pulling for things to improve in your life. You are NOT in this alone."

I needed to hear that.


GreinenRain said...

I don't get to buy shit either.....I cried last Christmas when my husband and I agreed not to get eachother anything for Christmas and he ended up getting me something anyway and I had nothing for him...I still cry because we never were able to afford to buy wedding rings when we got married 2 years ago and are now talking about "paying up" so that hopefully soon we will have our wedding rings and not feel as though we are half married anymore. I DO worry about my son sometimes...but I feel safe in my new country to some extent. A lot of this sounds so familiar......thanks for this.

Anonymous said...

Guess what? Congress will not pass student loan bailouts or reforms. And Obama is not even mentioning this as an issue, much less actually pushing for new laws.

But please keep telling the sob stories as there is considerable humor in such overwrought melodrama. Sniffle, sniffle. I especially enjoy when the debt-ridden yammer on about leaving the country...as if they'll somehow be missed. Please feel free to leave.

Those who didn't want the burden of debt should not have borrowed the money and spent it on themselves. So pay up. Or don't and watch that loan balance skyrocket!

Mr. Smartypants said...

And another upstanding, beautiful child of God chimes in. Such bitterness and misery in the world... Oh, I'm referring to Anonymous, by the way.

Nando said...

To the piece of garbage who posted at 6:55 pm,

Quit posting your repetitious "Nothing will be done to solve the problem" meme, bitch. Now, go spread your self-hatred and misery somewhere else, loser. If you cannot stand these blogs, then quit visiting them, Idiot. (What a novel concept, huh?!?! In fact, THAT is much easier than leaving the country, you pile of steaming waste.)

By the way, YOU can feel free to leave this world, by stepping off a subway platform, cockroach. Nobody would miss you, either.

Cryn Johannsen said...

@Mr. Smartypants and the Anonymous A-hole - indeed! God bless those vicious, pathetic misanthropes!!! Just think of how they try to keep people down, how they try to make those of us with bigger visions give up. Aren't they divine! I like those who say, "Obama isn't going to do anything." Really?!? Oh, I see. So, I should just give up? You know what? FUCK OFF. GO FUCK OFF. Trolls.

Anonymous said...

Now, now Fernando. I've not said that I can't stand these blogs. On the contrary, I find them very entertaining.

And thank you Fernando for your advice on being too "repetitious". That's one sin we can be sure that you would never commit as each post of yours is so markedly different from all that came before.

Lastly, I've not said that anyone should give up on trying to achieve the results they desire. Your side wants student loan reform and mine does not. Each side will do its best to prevent the other from prevailing. It's very simple and only time will reveal the result. [Perhaps the ongoing "occupation" of Wall Street will give your side just the impetus it needs to succeed!]

Anonymous said...

at 6:55:

This is the same asshole who keeps posting on the other blogs. The message and writing style are the same. Tell you what, pal. Why don't you reveal yourself so we can have a candid discussion face to face?

Most of us do want to pay back what we owed, we just want what is fair. I bet you have never been laid before. You probably sit at home eating baby shit.

Accipiter said...

Just ignore the anonymous poster. He or she was raised getting everything from mommy and daddy, no bills to pay, no concept of the real world and what it's like to struggle to make ends meet. Anonymous has no idea what it's like to make the difficult choice between student loan debt, with the gamble of getting a job after, or abandoning your dream and just working a mindless retail job.

Anonymous' opinion means nothing, because it has no basis in the real world. Enjoy your silver spoon and inheritance, and just hope you never know what it's like to be without and working until your fingers bleed for pennies.

Cryn Johannsen said...

"you probably sit at home eating baby shit" - Bahahaha. And don't forget. He's doing it with a little, silver spoon. Man, I was in a sour mood until I read that. Thanks!

Trolls like him will no longer be posted here. He can FUCK OFF.

Anonymous said...

The student loan debt is surely problematic for a lot of people. I don't know what kind of solution that escaping to a foreign country is. Economic opportunities in most western economies are just as bad if not worse than the USA. Most of europe and japan have structural unemployment problems even larger than the USA. There is still quite a lot of challenges in a new country such as finding suitable employment, cultural adaptation, poor labor markets and wage growth, etc. Perhaps, you can escape debt repayment by escaping abroad. Most people work their way up the economic ladder. It seems a theme of these blogs is that people expect to have most everything in their life done economically by the young age of 30 or 35. It was always hard to establish an adult life or family in every generation. If money and material things are your main goal in life, then you need to make a roadmap to achieve those things by joining a lucrative profession. Unfortunately, most things in life cost a lot more than they used to, so low paying occupations like teachers and the like aren't going to afford people the opportunity to live a middle class or upper middle class life anymore.

Cryn Johannsen said...

@Anonymous 8:10 PM - thanks for your comments. I am going to have to disagree with you and strongly.

Last year, I lived in Korea and was a teacher. It was NOT a low-paying job. I made an superb living, and was able to survive - actually, not only did I survive, but I was actively paying down my debts.

So, that's not true. It was far, far easier for me in Korea.

I decided, however, to return because I am dedicated to my work and this non-profit.

But, rest assured, people can leave and work elsewhere and be better off.

That's a shame, and we need to change that.

Anonymous said...

Student Loan debt spanning two or even three generations by now, is just the way it is going to be.

Obviously the absence of consumer bankruptcy protections are wreaking an enormous human cost, and will continue to do so, until the pot boils over.

And very beautifully written Cryn, from the heart.

Cryn Johannsen said...

@JDPainterGuy - thanks for the kind remarks. I appreciate it!

GreinenRain said...

I left the country, but I STILL pay my student loans because the exchange rate makes it possible that I don't have to sacrifice such a huge chunk of my monthly earnings. I still can't buy shit but I can buy more shit than I could if I was still in the states...and also get to keep more of my income as income taxes are lower where I live. Leaving the country doesn't always mean we are trying to escape debt....did ya ever think maybe we are trying to find a way to actually PAY IT!? I get to rent a HOUSE for less than it would cost us to rent a studio apartment in certain parts of the states, and thanks to free maternity care I got to start a family AND they give me money every month that every child gets here: "Child Benefit". My son will never go without what he needs, even if I am not doing so well. Yeah, so this country definitely has it's economic issues but it's treated me just fine all things considered.

Anonymous said...

Power only knows fear. Power will act only to escape fear. It will do nothing without fear. That is the lesson your generation and Americans in general, fail to grasp. American power does not fear its populus or your generation.

One Who Survived said...

Slightly digressing, there's a great book on the social conditions and native folkways of colonial America's English settlers, titled "Albion's Seed".

As for gifts, and the ability to give them, many American Indian nations measured a man's worth by how much he was willing to give away. Similarly, the semi-mythical Irish poet Ossian said of the semi-mythical Irish hero Fionne MacChumail: "Were the leaves made of silver, Fionne would have given them all away."

(According to legend - again semi-plausible, based on oral traditions, exaggerated and embellished but with historical germs of truth like the Biblical stories of Abraham and Moses who were probably composites of several historical figures - the poet Ossian met St Patrick when Ossian was around 100 years old, and when Ossian finished telling St Patrick all the stories he knew about his nation, he laid his head upon Patrick's breast, and Patrick promised him, "By me to thee, Heaven is promised to you and all of your (pagan) ancestors, because you Irish tell such good stories, and God loves a good story." ;-)

Anonymous said...

I'm confused. If she lives in the U.S., how can she afford to travel to Korea if she can't afford clothes.

Cryn Johannsen said...

@Anonymous 11:15 AM - why are you confused? I made it clear that I USED to live in Korea, and I no longer live there. I taught there last year, and made a superb living. I came back to the U.S. to run this non-profit full-time. When I lived in Korea, I was able to buy gifts for my husband and so forth. I was HIRED to work there. That means my Korean employer FLEW me to and FROM Korea. That's how it works.

Angry As Hell said...

Thank you for your posts Cryn. I am at my wits end. I have been searching for a job for over a year and a half with absolutely no luck, with the exception of a temp job here and there. When I read your blog, it helps remind me that even though I feel alone, and everyone tells me that I am doing something wrong, that other people are in the same position as me.

My boyfriend and I have talked about getting married, but we won't until I get a job because he will get stuck paying my student loans while I search desperately for employment. Unfortunately it doesn't seem like that will ever happen. Even though I worked my butt off in college, worked part-time, did volunteer work, worked two internships, never got arrested, and never did drugs, I get passed over again and again for employment. I worked hard and all I got was crushing debt. I pour my heart and the last of my financial resources into my job search and I get nothing! Yet the banks and the auto makers get billions in welfare and I don't qualify for any government assistance, not even food stamps because I share my residence. Wealthy people and corporations sitting on $2+ trillion get tax breaks and incentives, and the rest of us get nothing! I want to leave the country, I believe it's the only way to find work. The only thing keeping me here is that my boyfriend is terrified he won't find a job in another country, because unlike me, he has no degree.

I too never thought I would live to see the US collapse. I remember reading about rampant joblessness, poverty, people dying from curable diseases, starvation, war, children without education...I always thought, that happens in other places, or other times, but it doesn't happen the US. Greed has destroyed this country, I only hope the people who caused this mess someday pay, even though I know they never will. They will suck the US dry then move on to more prosperous countries. That is, if they don't take down the entire world economy with them.