College Costs & Ideas

I was lucky and made some good decisions about college. The lucky part is I failed out of Clarkson. Three semesters there cost just over $21,000, a paltry figure today but overwhelming then. I had a grant or two and my parents absorbed the majority of the bill. God bless 'em. On the way home from failing out with all my stuff in the back of the station wagon, I sat nervously waiting for Dad to go off on me. Instead, he said, "the next school is on you."

So it was. I went to Onondaga Community College for two semesters, total cost $1,340. I paid out of pocket. Then I paid for SUNY Oswego without incurring much more debt, maybe a couple thousand dollars. I got into a graduate school that, for one out-of-state student (me!), waived tuition and gave me a teaching fellowship that allowed me to make money while attending full time. Within five years of graduation I had paid it all off.

My kids shouldn't have to depend on luck and penny-pinching. It's in everyone's best interests that children be educated and come out of school as something more than indentured servants.

Elizabeth Warren is talking about debt forgiveness. She'll be labeled whacko for that (Americans can't allow women to voice ideas without first belittling the women and the ideas) but the idea makes sense. College and university have become ludicrously expensive and not because professors and adjuncts make so much money. The system is broken and needs a radical fix.

I'm suspicious of free college tuition. I was more engaged when my money was involved and tuition is only a fraction of total costs. I don't have the solutions, so I'll vote for someone who is thinking well about them. Elizabeth Warren is talking the talk so far. I'm listening.

Let Go

There are things beyond my control. One is that of the four kids in my alternative school class, none were able to keep their heads off the desks and eyes open. All four passed out. This sort of thing can drive me crazy.

After all, I'm the teacher and supposed to get them learning, doing something. I tried, but they were just unwilling and one even began to get angry. None of us need that. I backed off. I let go.

It's the first day after break and none of them made it wholly back to school. So it goes. I had plans for today and was actually excited about them. That we didn't do them is disappointing and would have been infuriating if I hung onto the story I had in mind as to how class would proceed.

Instead, I let it go and I'm content.

For years I tried to let go of the frustration at this job. I did pretty well and got through years which could have been unbearable. For that relief I'm grateful and today, for one hour, it was better to let go than go into frustration.

What else can I let go so that I focus on what matters and where I can make a difference?


I didn't seem to do much this week off from school. Usually we travel to family in Florida. Usually by the night before school I'm run-down and dreading going back. Usually there has not been much rest. Some things are different this time. I still don't want to go back to school, but that's an entirely different matter and I'm not really dreading it. We traveled but to colleges instead of warm locales. And the night before school I'm run-down but it's from a persistent cold instead of from running around.

Basically we did less and it really did feel like more.

I'm typing this from our living room couch. This is where I have spent most of this week off. I've read books, magazines, and some online stuff. I've avoided most of the news, haven't turned on the television or logged into Netflix. Other than traveling to the colleges, I haven't spent a thing.

I've also spent most of every day in the company of my family. Nothing beats that.

My mother took care of our dog while we were away and baked us cookies. My brother had a birthday and helped my daughter find props for a photo shoot. My wife took care of me. My daughters made me smile. The dog was her always lovely self. The cats took turns lying on me to make me feel better.

Less really is more. This is what I'm trying to remember. This is what I'm trying again, over and over, to learn.

The culture keeps selling more. The soul needs less.

Good Day, Eh?

My latest newsletter about being sick, I received notes wishing me well and prescribing remedies, which I appreciate. This cold threw me off a cliff but I'm on a slow mend. Today was a day in which my head still felt full — music sounds muffled which is a damn shame because Art Blakey & The Jazz Messengers deserve perfect clarity — and I was weighed by fatigue, but mildly enough that I was able to walk and talk with my wife, build something with my daughter, and make dinner to celebrate my brother's birthday. School's out too. You've got a happy boy here.

To walk and talk my wife and I brought the dog. She needs to exercise and poop (don't we all?). Our best talks happen on the move as though we are Aaron Sorkin characters (don't we wish?). The talk was heavy and layered. She has things on her mind, both good and troubling. I work things out by writing. She holds them in a swirling mix, then talks through it all. It's one of my favorite things about her.

The fresh air did me as much good as the talk did for her. She's often labeled quiet by those who don't let her get started. Once she's going, she's an engine of ideas and clear-headed. She knows both sides of most arguments. I relearn that when I fight what I misinterpret as an attack that is really a statement of the way things are and a question as to how we should proceed. This morning I mostly listened and my brain could keep up. The cold really is clearing.

Later, my daughter suggested we build a scratching post for our cats in the way my father taught me. He never had a cat, but had spare lumber in the basement and garage, tools at the workbench. He had screws, glue, nails, and ideas on hand. We made the scratching post without a trip to the lumber yard, hardware store, or craft shop.

There are few things I enjoy more than building things out of wood. The sounds of table saw and chop saw, the feel of a drill, the smell of sawdust, the mark of a pencil held against a square, all of it is just good, good, and good and is better with my girl who says oh-no when I ask her to drill a hole and who leaves the room when I cut wood because the saw is too loud, too loud. We built a great scratching post.

The cats still haven't thanked us, the ungrateful wretches.

Then I made fried rice for the family which tonight included my brother and mother. It's my brother's fifty-third birthday. My wife made carrot cake from scratch (Carl Sagan's: If you wish to make an apple pie from scratch, you must first invent the universe.) I chopped vegetables, threw them in the wok, scrambled eggs, made a sauce from honey, soy sauce, and white wine, and mixed the whole shebang. It was delicious.

Everyone at the table thanked me for the rice and my wife for the cake. Take that, you damn cats.

I did what I wanted to today. I felt up to it and now I'm tired. This is what I'm after. That's all I want. I was happy all day, which is a luxury since I was only shooting for content. It's so nice when things work out that way.

Bring on tomorrow.