Reflections on Paying My Last School Loan

Last week I wrote my last check to my school loan company. It was an emotional moment. It took me 14 years to pay off my school loans, and throughout my post college experience my loans seemed like leaden balloons tethered to my ankle, following me wherever I went, weighing me down, and keeping me pegged. For those of you out there still paying off your undergraduate or graduate loans, you know exactly what I mean. Debt is debt is debt. It’s psychologically exhausting, but for better or worse, I did it.

I had parents that never went to college and either couldn’t afford to save up for me or didn’t think to. My dad tried to discourage me from even applying to school. I remember sitting in Pizza-a-Go-Go on University Avenue in Palo Alto, with him making ink marks on a napkin saying over and over again, “You shouldn’t even CONSIDER college. It’s too expensive. There is NO WAY you can go.” I watched him mull it over, saying these words to me, circling the imaginary numbers on the napkin and for whatever reason he just seemed so OUTLANDISH to me. Not go to college? What sort of WEIRD ASS world was he inhabiting? I mean, who didn’t go to college who wanted to? I believed somehow it would work. Luckily, I had my mom who has always been a BIG SCHEMER. While struggling with more basic mothering skills, she loved the idea of me going to college, and set her beams on making sure it happened. She was the one who said, we’ll figure it out! I’ll always be grateful to her for that.

We did figure it out. My mom was able to help out the first year, but the following 3 years was a patchwork of funds coming from loans, my own money, and the occasional help from my grandparents. I can remember standing in line every single semester during registration with knots in my stomach not knowing how much I would have to pay and would I even be able to afford it? My last semester, due to my total denial and fear around my school loans, I botched up the paperwork and was faced with a bill for school that I had not anticipated. Fortunately, I had lived temporarily at my boyfriend’s grandparents’ empty house rent free for 6 months and had some money socked away. I literally gave them every penny I had except for $3. I would have wept over the loss of all that I had saved, but I was so dazzled by the fact that I actually HAD the money they wanted that I just started laughing.

I have mixed feelings about my college experience. I went to a hippie/alternative education college that while it gave me a place to live with other people and books, it didn’t help me build much for a life OUTSIDE of school. I didn’t care until much later when I watched other people take something other than a love of books and art and grrrl rockers and make (ahem) CAREERS. People asked me what I was going to do after a graduated from college and I said, “Waitressing.”

With the same clueless attitude, I was completely in denial about paying back the loans. I remember the first summer after college, when I was visiting my mom, my brother said to me, “Sallie Mae called.” I said, “Sallie Mae? I don’t know anybody named Sallie Mae. I wonder who it is!” Boy, did I find out! I freaked out. How in the world would I ever be able to pay this? I was nannying and making $10 an hour (a fortune to me), but barely enough to cover everything including the payments. Thus began my relationship to my school loan companies–a dynamic that would last at least another 10 years. I would pay and pay and then go into denial and then pay and pay and then go into denial. Every place I ever moved, I’d panic about getting a job because I had to PAY MY LOANS and sometimes I would and sometimes I wouldn’t. Oh I got to know ol‘ Sallie Mae alright. Yep, Sallie Mae got to be quite a pal of mine.

About 4 years ago, I started to think about money differently and I tried an experiment. Instead of feeling like a victim to my loan payments, I started to think about what I was actually paying for. I thought about the school I went to and what I still was living from that experience. I thought about the friendships I still had from then. I thought about the writers and artists I had discovered through taking classes that had propelled me artistically. I thought about this every time I wrote a check and it helped. I was grateful for that experience and instead of seeing THE DEBT I started understanding really what I was paying for.

I mailed in my last check and then I called the loan company to tell them the check was on its way. I said to the man, “I just wanted to thank you for helping me get an education.” And while it may sound cheesy and weird, I meant it. The freedom I felt was powerful. It was not unlike the proud moment of graduating. I felt I had worked hard and created something for myself and now I was entering a new world of my own making. Only this time, I didn’t owe anyone a thing. I was free.

Tough Love

Yesterday I sat with a friend who is a gifted writer, but isn’t writing and has been sharing with me for months and months all his PLANS and IDEAS and THOUGHTS about his writing, other people’s writing, and writing in general.  I won’t say all the things–the BIG LIFE things–he has gone through in order to save him from his writing.  Finally, after spending another lunch listening to his MACHINE OF THOUGHT, I stopped him and said more or less: BUT WHAT ABOUT SITTING DOWN AND ACTUALLY WRITING?


For those of us who have been seriously blocked at times–and man, I have been there and can still be there–sometimes the hardest thing to do is to just DO the work ANYWAY (see the first two years of this blog).  I can tell you that when I was blocked I was NOT short on ideas, inspiration, or plans, what I was short on was patience, humility, and action.  I loved the IDEA of creating in a concrete way, but for the longest time I was not willing to be bad or a beginner again.  I was in love with my own history as an artist–the times I was flowing with work or living what I perceived looking back as an idyllic time.  I combed over my songs, my poems, my art that I had completed like precious, frozen love affairs that I could not leave behind.  The truth was I just needed to sit down and DO.  What this required was willing to feel like a complete loser, to be boring, to be really BAD, and to live with the shame and pain of leaving behind my perfect, frozen past, and admit to where I really was–as imperfect and unromantic as it was.
I am living one of those flowing periods, but I know–like any long term relationship–there is the potential for it to stall again, to be feel a sense of emptiness and without magic.  I have learned that a certain kind of amnesia can come over me at the oddest times, and I will forget the easiest solutions over and over again.  My brain is so CRAFTY this way, and then I will remember and think *EUREKA!* only to forget all over again.
I kept thinking that if I mastered something, it wouldn’t happen again, but that’s just part of the reuse.  I know of some people–famous people–who have created what some might consider THE GREATEST art and are now struggling to get back on the horse.  I mean, where do you go when you’ve reached the HIGHEST PEAK?  You have to sit down and be a beginner, be bad, be bored, have humility and work in the dark pit of doubt–like every other slob.  Nobody escapes being the poor slob.
  Ways in which blocks can manifest themselves:  I need to do more research, I need more inspiration, a new place to create, more coffee, chocolate, a new place to live, more time, a new job, etc.  Well, maybe you do, but when does that end?
Here’s another way to tell if you are blocked:  You have to TALK about your creation A LOT.  I learned that when I am actually DOING I shut the hell up (hence the decrease in blog entries).  I’ve been surprised by how HARD it is to talk about my projects when I am actually doing them.  I used to listen to authors or artist say witty awesome things about their work and fantasize HUGELY about doing the same thing, but when people ask me about things right now I just feel LAME and STIFF and unable to speak adequately to what I am making.  Maybe that’s for the better.  I’d be wasting my valuable resources of energy talking about it.
I believe life is magical, but sometimes the most magical things are the most ordinary and boring like cold, hard, action.  I told my friend yesterday that in order to get to the romantic magical part of it again, he needed to be willing to go through the dry, MEANINGLESS parts too.  A commitment is not a single moment, it goes on and on and on.  It may seem impossible, I know, but this is the toughest kind of love–to show up when it gets hard and say this means enough to me to try and have that be enough.

Freak Flee Regress


Last week I stumbled along a FANTASTIC article by the writer Elizabeth Gilbert called Thoughts on Writing. I encourage everyone who is a writer or who wants to be writing or publishing to read it. It’s just simple, loving, sweet, and right on. That being said, I’ve never read anything by Gilbert. I’ve been avoiding Eat Pray Love because it is just EVERYWHERE and well, there was this part of me that felt a little HUFFY and JEALOUS over the premise of someone having a breakdown and healing from it by spending a year traveling and experiencing exotic places. After this article I just felt compelled to read it.

What’s funny about reading this book so far is that I had a similar–or at least my own VERSION–of what Gilbert went through about the same time. I also had my entire life collapse in on itself at around 30—only I didn’t go to Indonesia, Italy, and India. I drove across the country in a car I bought at the last minute for $150 and moved in with my parents. My version of Eat Pray Love might be called Freak Flee Regress.

Reading Eat Pray Love has got me thinking a lot about the paths of life and why we choose what we choose. I could say that part of my life was the WORST EVER, but I also consider it probably the most IMPORTANT period of my life so far. I believe it was a—DARE I SAY IT?–a spiritual journey and so much of what I have now, I owe to that time and the rebuilding it forced me to do. Living with my folks certainly wasn’t Italy, but man, I ate well for the year I lived there. My guru was not in an ashram in remote India, but at a shabby natural food company, in the guise of a potty mouth blonde who gave me one of the greatest mantras I could learn at the time: “Fuck ‘em.” My medicine man in Indonesia were actually the friendships I both created and rekindled when I moved back home. I learned how to relate in a REAL, more IMMEDIATE way in my own world. I discovered through these relationships just what was possible when you aren’t afraid of WHAT IT MEANS or HOW IT LOOKS all the time.

I see how clearly I created what I believed at the time, just as I create what I believe now. My sense of life has changed dramatically and so has the SIZE. This is partly due to the deep work I did to heal and partly a natural outcropping of getting older. Life DOES get bigger. The stakes DO get higher. The time DOES get shorter. I take less for granted (well, sometimes). And when I get so caught up in my own existential angst worrying and worrying worrying about where I fit in this grand world, who will love me, what am I doing, I remember what my guru taught me. “Fuck ‘em.” I’m telling you, for me, more perfect words were never uttered.

The Artist In the Office Interview: Felicia Sullivan

So many times we create a fantastical ideal around what it would be like to write a book–how you need SPACE and TIME and the PERFECT setting to write our great masterpieces. In fact, most writers, especially nowadays, create that space and time among the same everyday lives we ourselves lead: the busy, frantic, working kind. Felicia Sullivan has accomplished what so many of us dream of doing–she just published her first (of many to come) books. Her riveting and beautiful memoir The Sky Isn’t Visible from Here, was released in February by Algonquin Books. I sat down with Felicia (in the e-mail sense) and asked her about the very REAL process of writing her book:

Can you tell our reading audience just what your life looked like when you began writing The Sky Isn’t Visible From Here? Were you working full-time and doing anything else in your life at the time?

For years I was an evangelist of the maxim: If there is a spare moment in the day, fill it with a project worth doing – a project that inspires, challenges and makes you feel that the world is a great place, worthy of your work. When I embarked on this journey four years ago–committing my memories, my painful childhood lived with my mother–I was the curator of a reading series, a publisher and editor of a literary journal, a writer of short stories, a project manager for a multi-media company, a baker of a mean blueberry crumble, and host to a succession of parties whose sole goal was to bring smart, creative women together.

Suffice it to say, I had a lot on my proverbial plate. I was stockpiling activities. I owned and updated multiple day planners. Making time in frenetic schedule for my most significant project yet was paramount, so I took a step back, examined my life and did some retooling.

How did you find time to write?

I was the queen of on-the-clock writing. I had it down to a science. Luckily I don’t mind waking at the crack of dawn and heading into the quiet office. The hum of the air conditioner, a hot cup of coffee and those few precious hours of solitude resembled something like church – I was able to write for two hours in unmitigated peace. On the weekends, I mapped out my projects for the week, kept a very detailed to-do list and tried to compartmentalize as many tasks as I could, and complete tasks in off-hours. In essence, don’t marry yourself to the 9-to-5 work schedule. Adjust, plan ahead, try to find the pockets of time that work best for you, and if you’re in a position – delegate.

Writing on the clock, how did you manage job work vs. creative work? Are there any pitfalls to writing while on the job? Any perks?

I’m not going to lie and say that working on the clock will work for everyone, but if you’re committed to your project and you’re able to effectively organize your day to allow for those precious moments of artistic creation – do it. If you took the same energy to lose those five pounds or forgo the pricey designer latte, then making time for your work is a cinch.

The workplace offers a slew of terrific office supplies including the crucial laser printer, and most importantly, it guarantees consistent income and health benefits. You can’t beat that with a bat!

Pitfalls – the nosy colleagues which can be struck down by closing your door or mouthing “I’m on an important call” (equip yourself with a headset and mime importance), the constant barrage of emails (realize that not everything demands your immediate attention) and the work!

At your reading in New York, you admitted, with your former boss in the audience, that you wrote a good deal of your book at work. What was his reaction?

He took it all in stride! But it was critical that I still excelled at work. That is the key – once your performance starts slipping, people start noticing the extracurricular projects and the reams of paper that mysteriously disappeared. Be smart. Do your job, do it well, but use the workplace to your advantage. While I was writing my memoir on the job, I received two promotions and many accolades from senior management.

I know you work in an office now. Sometimes the office life can be uninspiring. Are there things you have or do that make your office life more personally engaging or inspired or even comfortable?

I’ve banned fluorescent lights from my office in favor of mood-setting lamps. I collect odd stuffed animals. I play Radiohead. Naturally, the president of my company is my office neighbor and we routinely commend one another on our choice playlist.

The Sky Isn’t Visible From Here is a deeply personal work, that no doubt wasn’t an easy book to write—emotionally or artistically. Were there moments you just didn’t feel like working on this book and if so, what were some of the things that got you in the mode to be able to get it done?

Absolutely. However, I had to consistently think of the big picture: Why was I writing this book? What did I want to achieve? Why did I want people to read it? What would be the result of releasing my heart – a great piece of me into the world? Realizing that telling my story would give me a profound sense of closure by having a conversation with my mother, one I might never have, telling her about the woman I’ve become as the result of her parenting, and also letting people know that they are not alone. That it is not abnormal to have a painful relationship with a parent and then decide to make the difficult decision to let them go. That they can rise triumphant from their adversity (no matter how significant).

Once I repeated all of these mantras to myself could I keep going.

Before writing this book, did you have any ideas of what writing a book would be like, and if so, what were they? How have they changed since you have finished this book?

No, not really. I knew it would be hard work and it was. But perhaps I underestimated the degree of difficulty.

What advice would you give people who want to write a book, but are not sure where to begin?

Find your subject and bury your head in it. Don’t listen to the industry; don’t write what the world tells you to write. Write what you love and don’t compromise your integrity.


The Early Years: High School

meets mr right

Back in 1987-88 I believed I was going to be comic book artist of the highest order. I was obsessed with Tintin, vintage Archie comics, and Love and Rockets. I really REALLY wanted to be Jaime Hernandez, but my attempts at “graphic novels” were short lived because I thought the process of creating a comic book page was TEDIOUSLY SLOW. Then I discover Maxine by Marian Henley and EVERYTHING CHANGED. It was simple and funny and to the point. I loved that she called her book “A Cartoon Novel.” I wanted to create a cartoon novel, and what better muse than the love life (or something like it) of my best friend, Meg. And so was born Meg Meets Mr. Right: a cartoon novel.

Back in those days we spent many a day analyzing the plot lines of Days of Our Lives and discussing various boy dynamics. She had a crush on a boy who literally had NO IDEA that she existed. I don’t mean that they were in different social classes. I mean, he didn’t KNOW her at ALL. I think that was the appeal. That, and he looked like he had walked out of one of her own drawings. He had black hair that he slicked back. Crushes in high school can range from the attainable to the far distant idea of attainable. “JB” had no idea the life that surrounded him, the discussions at length as to what he did or didn’t do as he was spotted crossing the parking lot at lunch time. I used it all for my exciting and lengthy cartoon novel, which was definitely a CARTOON of the whole thing. It was based LOOSELY on fact. As they tell young writers, I wrote what I KNEW, which was teenage girl angst mixed with the ridiculous.

With the success of Meg Meets Mr. Right (five star rave reviews from the only two readers, Meg and myself), there just HAD to be a follow up.
triangle - characters
Meg and The Triangle of Love was NOT ONLY not on binder paper, but it was longer and EXPANDED in scope. It featured more of our REAL LIFE FRIENDS AND FAMILY! This time when Meg had a crush on not one, but TWO boys, who might possibly like her back (oh the possibilities!).
triangle - p12
It was also based on a real situation, but completely EXAGGERATED. In the book I had Meg go to Pajaro Dunes (a beach town on the central coast of California) to GET AWAY FROM IT ALL, when in fact she had gone there as part of her Catholic Confirmation retreat. I mean, that is CREATIVE FICTION, people! What GENIUS!

The fact that I didn’t get my ass kicked by ANY of the people involved remains a miracle. I am BLOWN AWAY by the blind smugness I held in creating such a document. I would NEVER dare to be SO CAVALIER with the love lives of my friends now, but it was a different world I lived in then. It was a world where the most fascinating things to me were boys, clothes, comic books and my best friend. And in it’s own way, it was a big love letter to her. Just as the book says:
many friends

And I was one of them (pictured on the far right).

Sunday Scribblings: Instructions

How to Be a Product of Hippies: The first 21 years.

1. If you aren’t born at home, be brought home to a shack, preferably one remodeled from a chicken coop or a barn. If possible, neither parents should be gainfully employed. They should be “living on love” otherwise known as “living by their wits” or more accurately, through odd jobs and state assistance. Make sure your father either has hair the same length as your mother, and/or give her a run for her money, with overflowing facial hair. Have him listen to Elton John’s “Tiny Dancer” on the way home from the hospital. It will make him think of you.

2. Be named after the following: seasons, weather, Biblical characters, Greek mythology, misheard names from movies, moods, or deities.

3. Spend early parts of your childhood either completely naked, or slightly adorned by beads, a pair of sandals or moccasins.

4. If your parents don’t stay together, plan to spend weekends at your dad’s makeshift home, surrounded by metal sculptures, Southwestern rugs, and tie-dye t-shirts, listening to the Doobie Brothers, and watching dad roll his “cigarettes” and drinking beer. Mom will start sporting tinted sunglasses, and wear scarves in her hair, while finding out the price of a goat, you will keep in the back yard, along with the Chinese ducks and apricot trees.

5. Be warned: when someone offers you carob, it is not the same thing as chocolate. Not even close. Be baffled at adults’ insistance that it is better for you. Also, when you are served spaghetti, it will be thick, green, flat noodles, tough as rope. This will be better for you, as it is made from spinach. Get used to the vitamin scent of healthfood stores and goat’s milk instead of regular old milk. Learn that tofu, that incredibly thick and bland thing that shows up in your spaghetti comes from a bathtub, in someone’s house.

6. Learn that President Reagan is the anti-christ. Curse his wrinkled, rosy cheeked face, like your stepdad, when he comes on the TV. Write letters against nuclear war to him. Be upset that nothing happens. Be outraged when the Republicans continue to win. Feel that the government is not to be trusted. You are twelve.

7. Be totally embarrassed that your parents love to party. Lay in bed, listening to them howl and cackle with their friends in the living room. Listen to a story being told by your stepmom’s friend, about when she wasn’t with your dad, and how they threw hash in some omelettes one morning, only to have her parents show up unannounced. Laugh to yourself when you imagine your stepmom’s stuffy mother declaring that the coffee was making her “dizzy.”

8. Go to high school and get ridiculed for your name. Think it makes you deep. Believe in things strongly. Continue the thought that all Republicans and people with money are morally corrupt. Everywhere you look, people are MORALLY CORRUPT. Believe that you will find yourself once you go to college, which won’t be just any college, but a small liberal arts school that no one has heard of. Think it makes you deep.

9. When you are away at college, discover feminism, discover outrage. Believe that the commune you lived on as a half naked babe was a toxic environment and that your parents were selfish to bring you there. Date another biblically named hippie child. Love his sensitive, but politically minded soul. Together, you discover all the meanings behind what it was to be brought up this way, this way being a hippie child.

10. Over Christmas break get in fights with your parents over your “upbringing.” Tell them how wrong they were. They in turn will tell you how corrupt your “generation” is. How your generation doesn’t “get” what it really means to be radical and on the front lines and filled with wisdom.

11. Vote in your first election. Feel excited. Call your parents. They voted for him too. Celebrate. For he first time ever, you feel that the “good guys have won.”

12. Graduate from college with a BA in the arts. Your thesis will be a documentary of your soul, or 25 views of the Male Psyche, or an entire semester of self-portraits. Believe your work is important even revolutionary. Then get a job as a waitress.


neighborsMemory is odd. Can you draw a memory? I can put it somehow into words, but to put it down in a visual picture is harder. I’m not sure what happens when it is sifted through my mind and down into my hand, but it’s a different language.

The artist I speak of in this flyer has paintings all over her home based on domestic scenes she tried to create from memory. Some of them are impressive, considering the number of objects. She seemed to intimate that your memory isn’t that good, that in truth, when you go to paint it, put it down in a visual sense, it’s pretty flawed. I wouldn’t say that it is flawed, but that it is selective. I can draw from photographs, and often do, but drawing from memory is like making pencil rubbings. My subject emerges through a dark sive. The drawing I’ve done of Recee here isn’t her photograph, but an emotional imprint. It isn’t exactly as I remember her, but it’s an idea of what I remember.

This process of images is facinating to me. I never know what my mind will come up with next. Just when I thought I knew all my stories and all my old tricks about the world, I try to draw a picture of a girl I knew when I was 8, and I’m taken by surprise. The world is new again.

I will post again on Tuesday. Have a great weekend everyone.