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I am an uninsured American.  Obviously this is not all I am, and it’s certainly not how I introduce myself at parties, but it’s a fact, and I deal with it as best I can.  I got an email from Jewish Friend the other day, subject line Talk to a reporter from the Wall Street Journal? Naturally, I was a bit intrigued.

Jewish Friend is rather well-connected with the group Young Invincibles, despite the fact that she has health insurance through her job, and as I understand it, once she told this reporter about her uninsured friend (me) with the heart condition and running injuries, the reporter was falling all over herself to get my story.  So I gave her a call.

In the past, whenever I’ve been interviewed by anyone, I come off sounding like a total moron.  Despite my five years in television, I have not mastered the art of the soundbite.  When I was in high school I was interviewed by a reporter from the Winnipeg Free Press while at a Rolling Stones concert–because I was one of about ten people in attendance who was younger than 45.  The reporter asked me why I liked the Stones, and why I thought they had remained so popular all these years. I did not have an answer for her, instead stammering out something about consistency and showmanship.  Honestly, at that point, I didn’t even really know if I liked the Stones or not, I was a girl living in rural North Dakota for whom going to concerts was the only real thing I had to look forward to.  I went to the concert to see if I did like them.  Had she interviewed me at the end of the show, I would have had a lot more to say.  Had I been savvier, I would have just made something up.

Similarly, the Wall Street Journal reporter really expected me, the overeducated, underinsured gal that I am to have a lot to say on the topic, and turns out, I really don’t.  I’d like insurance, I think that would be handy to have, but I can’t afford it, nor do I have an employer who will provide it for me.  Rather than sit at home agonizing about what would happen if I got hit by a car, I prefer not to think about it.  I’m keeping myself healthy, mentally and physically, by not dwelling, and that doesn’t make much of a story.

She inquired about my heart condition, and I told her that though I’ve been diagnosed, it’s never caused me any discomfort or worry–dead end.  She asked about my running injury, and I told her that I diagnosed myself on the internet and followed those prescribed treatments, then I happened to meet a physical therapist while on minibreak in the Virgin Island.

“You happened to meet a physical therapist while on minibreak?” she asked me skeptically.

Naturally, it was only after I got off the phone with her that I thought I should possibly explain how I can afford to go to the Virgin Islands when I kept insisting I can’t afford insurance, but it was too late.

I told her about my recent dental saga mentioning the total cost, and then told her that I had had to cash in a life insurance policy to pay for it all.  Never once did it occur to me to explain why I have more than one life insurance policy and no health insurance.

Basically, the problem is that I downplay things and am optimistic almost to the point of retardation.  Instead of outrage at my job situation, I’m just glad I have a job in my field.  Instead of outrage at my insurance situation, I’m glad I can pay rent and do not have a debilitating condition that requires regular medical treatment.  Instead of poring over every article about health care reform and shaking my fist at Republican foot-draggers, I’m just waiting for it to work itself out, because it has to.

It’s not much of a story.

I’m a sucker for a good deal, I mean, isn’t everybody?  It’s logical that if you can get something for cheaper than you’re supposed to, it makes you feel both very happy, and also smart.  I remember my mother, when I was growing up, coming home with something like ten tins of SPAM because it was “such a good deal!”  Then she would struggle to find recipes using SPAM that didn’t sound totally disgusting, eventually churning out a cold noodle salad or something, and bringing it to church/homemakers club/insert other activity that requires you bring food.

I’ve always been the type of person who buys in bulk, for several reasons:

  1. I grew up in a very small town where if you wanted a variety of products you had to drive an hour and a half, so you don’t want to run out.
  2. Most of the stuff you can buy when it’s on sale doesn’t really go bad, so why not just buy a bunch on sale?  I’m talking things like body wash, face wash, shampoo etc.  Yes, you look a bit crazy when you leave Target with 12 bottles of shampoo, but if it’s your favorite brand that never goes on sale and now it’s $1 each–why not?
  3. I hate shopping, more specifically, I hate shopping for necessities.  What is less fun than buying toilet paper?  Maybe going to the doctor, but I don’t really do that either. Why not buy toilet paper once  every six months, and save the dread of knowing that this week, you have to buy toilet paper–again.
  4. I always have, or make a lot of storage space.  Every apartment I’ve had, I’ve been very lucky in this regard.  My current apartment has the smallest bathroom I’ve ever had, but I’ve created storage space because of the reasons listed above.

This summer, my summer of underemployment, I decided to use this deluge of free time to become a savvier shopper, and start using coupons.  To that end, I also discovered a whole host of frugality blogs that give people like me the low-down on upcoming deals, printable coupons, etc.  What I also found, was that a lot of what the women who write these blogs (and it is ALL women) spend what little money they do spend, on basically garbage that I don’t really want.  Yes, it’s impressive when they take pictures of a whole kitchen table full of food and tell you that the original total was $176, but after double or triple coupons and other deals, they paid only $23 (and earned the wrath of store employees and managers), but I still don’t see anything on that table that I would actually eat.  Is it really a deal if you save 90% on Go-Gurt, but never really wanted it?

One of the bloggers actually addressed this issue by saying that often she re-sells things she buys but doesn’t want, or she barters them for other goods and services, or she gives them away.  This all sounds suspiciously like my mother spending hours looking for a SPAM recipe, and you have to wonder, at what point are you not really saving anything?  What is your time worth?

This summer, when I had a lot of time, it seemed worth spending it on saving–simple cost/benefit analysis.  Except, I spent a lot more money and time this summer finding deals, clipping coupons, and going to the grocery store three times a week.  Looking at my budget for the summer, I may have acquired more food, etc, but I also spent a damn lot of money, ate a lot, and made my friends listen to me talk about couponing and saving.  I have to say– not worth it.

I still look through the Sunday circular and clip coupons for things I actually want, but I’m passing on that 10/$10 PastaRoni deal because I already have a cupboard full of it, and eating it gives me a tummyache–not worth it.

My last semester of library school, I opted to do a Professional Field Experience, which is just a ridiculous way to make an internship sound better and less juvenile than it actually is.  The professor who was supervising these PFEs, told us that our grade would be determined by the journal that we kept throughout the course of the semester, and by a poster session at the very end.

This was the first time, in my life, that I heard the term poster session.  I was baffled by why we, grad students, would have to do something so sophomoric and lame.  Plus, how was I supposed to portray reference services and collection development on a damn poster?  Librarianship is not a profession that lends itself to poster sessions, I decided, and then half-assed my way through it.

I asked friends if they had ever had to do a poster session, and my questions were typically met with blank stares and shrugs. One friend told me that she had done dozens of poster sessions because she had a professor who insisted that they would need to know how to do this once they got to grad school.  I still maintain that as a grad student, I should not ever be required to do something that makes me purchase card stock and glue sticks, but whatever, it’s all in the past.

I recently got an email asking for help judging student History Day projects at a fancy parochial school in Providence.  History Day is actually a really rad thing that I would have been terribly lazy about had they done this at my school.  Basically, students pick a topic in history that fits into the overall theme of the year–this year it’s Innovation, and then they do research, present what they’ve learned, and get judged and ranked.  It’s kind of like the science fair, but with history.

Since I’ve had dozens of students come into my library looking terrified and asking for primary sources (note: I also had never heard of primary sources until I was in library school, now they’re all I hear about.  I’m really sick of primary sources), I wanted to see what was made of all of my helpful research guidance. I wrangled a history-loving friend into being my judging buddy, and we set off to assess kids who are getting a much better education than I ever have.

One of the things I really like about History Day besides it forcing kids to do research, is that it gives them options as to how they want to present it.  They can do a documentary film, a live-action play, a paper, website, or exhibit.  Naturally, I was excited to see what they came up with, and what I ended up judging over the course of my two hours, was about eight poster sessions.

What absolutely killed me about the whole experience, was how well these kids did.  Not only were their posters much better designed than my own had been–and I mean designed, very few tri-fold boards here, rather elaborate configurations that spun, and spoke volumes in a single placard–but the presenters were as poised as motivational speakers and beauty pageant contestants.  Even the group who had not typed a bibliography, and clearly had slacked as much as a group can, still sold me on why their project was obviously the best using a vocabulary and slick confidence that made me feel like I would be a fool to not give them top marks.

It was a heady experience having all of these achievers kissing my ass for two hours on a Thursday morning, but I couldn’t help but feel a hint of the dread that so many librarians seemed to feel when meeting me, the eager library student full of new ideas and technical wizardry–this kid wants my job.  Frankly, I think I’m ok with letting these kids be my leaders because they seem scarily competent, and the ones that are just faking it, will probably burn out before age 25.  They’ve mastered poster sessions, that’s for sure, they have the keys to the kingdom.

I am the type of person who requires structure in order to accomplish things.  I can be spontaneous, but as a person who only works 19 hours per week, and wants to use the rest of that time not just lolling around like a moron, I need to make a plan.  Basically, what I need to do is make my house more like school.  I need to set goals and meet them.  I need to try to actually focus while meeting these goals, and I need to not feel like I’m wasting my days.

To that end, I painted my office.  It is now a lovely shade of blue (see picture), and completely cleaned and organized since I needed to move things around to gain access to the walls.  I’ve decided that I’m going to start writing fiction again (since I haven’t really written any fiction since finishing my MFA, and I fear that if I don’t make a conscious effort, I will never do it again), work on getting better at Spanish (which is also on my list of life goals–not fluent, just better at), keep up with my out-of-work responsibilities, and generally just be more organized and focused.

Some good things that have come out of these changes. One is that I’m moving around more.  I’m leaving my laptop on my desk, where I’m not buried under cat and blanket and I can therefore get up more frequently and easily.  When I’m reading in my chair, I’m more focused, since my computer is not right next to me.  It used to be that I would be reading, then get distracted by facebook etc, and eventually place the book on my lap with the computer over it, and get no reading done at all.

The bad things that have come out of this new scheme are some that I hadn’t anticipated:

  • Watson (kitty) is seriously mad at me since he cannot sit on my lap while I’m sitting at my desk.  Typical day’s routine usually consisted of me sitting in my chair with laptop and books nearby, and Wee Watson sleeping adorably on my legs.  Now, in his rage at being denied this, he nips at my ankles and squawks loudly and plaintively.  It does not create an environment conducive to concentration.
  • My back is killing me.  I sit in a desk chair at work, but never for very long at one go.  I bought this desk chair that I have at IKEA and have never found it to be uncomfortable before, but apparently I’ve gotten soft.  My back is in agony from keeping myself seated, and my core muscles (apparently you use different ones for sitting as opposed to running or pilates??) are exhausted.  I did not anticipate that sitting would be so difficult for me.

Aside from these rather ridiculous setbacks, things are going pretty well.  I woke up early yesterday, got all my tax information together and sent that off to my accountant (hilarious that I have an accountant since I have no money, but it is what it is).  I ran seven miles, had a lovely lunch, discovered that the online Spanish learning program that I’m using has a section for slang and swear words and spent some time with that, then read two books and started a third.

It’s a solid start.

I’ve been poor for quite a while.  I mean, technically, I’ve been a poor student (undergrad and graduate) for about ten years now–so I should be used to it.  Now, there’s a difference.  I’m not student poor–scraping by until my next loan is disbursed.  I’m real-world poor, and they’re actually expecting me to pay those loans back, except I barely make enough money to pay for rent, food, and gas.  It’s a bit depressing, but I’m trying to be optimistic.

This all hit me the other day when I realized that it was Thursday and I had only worked eight hours that week.  This fall, when I got my job, I also got re-hired at an old job that had laid me off over the summer (I am queen of the layoffs).  So, from September through the present, I’ve been working what amounts to a full-time job. Now I’m back down to one 19-hour a week gig, and am really wondering how I can keep myself sane for not much money.  I’m good at taking care of myself, but I’m not good at socializing on the cheap.

The thing that I hadn’t anticipated is the way that some of my friendships seems to have taken a bit of a hit.  My friends aren’t rich, but can afford to go out to dinner every now and then–I really cannot.  When I do go out to dinner, I get caught up, spend too much, drink too much, and then spent the next day almost regretting the good time I had.  This makes me dread going out to eat, even though I know if I just exercised a little more self-control, it might be less of an issue.  I’m also trying to eat healthier, cook more at home more, and I work two night shifts a week.

I certainly can’t blame anyone else. If someone keeps turning down invitations, you eventually stop extending them, and I’m almost grateful to not be included because I hate turning things down, but then I feel a bit sad nonetheless.  It’s a hard thing to reconcile because I feel as if I’m turning into a lame grown-up.  I’ve always kept an eye on my money, budgeted, and tried to save, but now that I’m just breaking even, it’s really hard to get excited about any endeavor that costs–no matter how fun.

I wonder if the situation would be any different if I had a full-time job.  I’d probably be sending any extra money straight to direct loans instead of going out and blowing it on wine and cheese.  I’d probably still be training for races and needing to eat a less-rich diet; and I’d probably still be interested in becoming a better cook.  It’s easy to assign all these changes to my poverty, but this may just be how my life as a grown-up is.

I genuinely enjoy hanging out at home making hummus in the kitchen while listening to NPR, I’m excited to have more time for writing, and I like that I can roll out of bed at 7:30 and spend an hour and half running without having to dart off to work immediately after.

I never really thought of how I would live post-grad school, because I assumed that I’d keep going to grad school forever… so this is real life, eh?