Image: Images Money
We talk a lot about the money factor of the MFA—the type of funding schools offer, if one is able to truly live off that amount of funding, etc.—but I wanted to speak to what may be the opposite side of that. What happens when you get that money when you’re not used to it?
I like to say that I grew up lower middle class, and maybe I technically did, but I don’t ever really remember my family having money. We had a place to stay, there was food, and as Tupac said, Mama made miracles every Thanksgiving. But I remember seeing my parents stress out on bills and wondering how they were just going to make it day to day, much less until the next check. There were times the lights got turned off or the water got turned off. There were times the car got repossessed. I stopped wanting anything for my birthday or Christmas while I was still a child because I didn’t want my parents to worry about getting something for me. I remember nights where the only thing we ate were grits because grits are dirt cheap in South Carolina. (And let’s be real grits are delicious I miss them so much up here y’all.) I remember there were times they couldn’t pay the rent. They took out more loans than they could ever reasonably pay back.
I had a relatively good childhood (give or take a few things). I love my parents. But my parents are bad at money.
Which means I’m bad at money. I’m horrible at money.
For a good amount of my adult life I lived not pay check to pay check, but small amounts of money I’d get for doing a random job for someone to small amounts of money I’d get for doing a random job for someone. I knew that wasn’t how one was supposed to live, but I couldn’t get myself out of that cycle. And what money I usually bought frivolous items with it. It was natural for me to live like that. I had examples of that type of life and knew I could make it work. My parents had jobs, but when their paychecks are gone within two days to bills you tend to live on the $100 that is left over. That $100 has to buy food and gas and somehow manage $25 for my field trip and another $50 for my brother’s athletic equipment. It’s rough as hell, but because I had that example my entire life I knew what to do with that final $100 and make it last. So this ability to have extra money is…weird. And offsetting. And weird.
Part of my MFA journey has been how to manage my funding. It’s not something I’m entirely proud of, but it’s true.
I get a thrill out of paying my bills in full, knowing that I can do something like that now. It’s a bit like finally finishing that first draft of a story that’s been finicky and frustrating you for a while. There’s an elation and a sense of accomplishment afterward. But for me, this is also combined with an ever-wandering fear that I’ll be back in those same circumstances as before. It really doesn’t take much. Hell, all I’d have to do is leave my program, and I won’t have this small piece of security. So when I’m able to pay my rent, utilities, phone, credit card, etc. bills, a relief and a happiness passes over me.
I know I’m speaking from a place of privilege here. I get that. But I can’t help but be happy that I can finally do the bare minimum for once in my life. I know it won’t last long, I know that I’ll soon be back to that previous place. But for now, I’m going to pay my rent and be happy in it. And maybe buy some Muji pens, I’m such a sucker for them.