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Amassing More Degrees

Halfway through writing my post on the pitfalls of modernization, I received an email from the director of CISAB (the Center for the Integrative Study of Animal Behavior, an organization within the department of biology) offering me a position as a "part-time office assistant, web consultant, and graphic designer." That is now my new job title. Or, if you prefer the official title on the job posting through Human Resources, "Graphic Designer/Office Assistant/Web Site Design." It'll make a very interesting line on my resume, either way. :p

It's only an hourly position, but it will bring in enough to pay the bills while I sit on my bum and spin yarns for the other half of my days. And since the university stopped covering health insurance for support staff, not getting "benefits" doesn't mean much. Employees now take $200 per month out of their paychecks for the subsidized plans, which is what Sweetie and I currently pay to Anthem anyway.

Besides, I expect it to be a pretty low-stress job doing things I'm good at in an environment I'm familiar with. I'll be a general assistant to the CISAB administrator, maintain and possibly redesign the department website, write quarterly newsletters, and help with organization and marketing for lectures, conferences, etc. By "organization" I mean setting out folding chairs and muffins, and by "marketing" I mean stapling pretty fliers to cork boards. I'll also help set up the lab they use to teach students basic skills (DNA/RNA harvesting and purification, gel electrophoresis, PCR, hormone extraction...all that stuff I thought I'd never do again after I escaped to library school), and maybe do a bit of gardening. Yes, gardening. My new supervisor mentioned something about maintaining the inside and outside of the building. If they let me take a chainsaw to that giant bush obscuring the sign from the street, which made me walk up and down that construction-torn pavement in heels and ninety-five degree heat to find it for my interview, I will be a happy camper.

Now that I'll have a little bit of money, I'm seriously considering spending a chunk of it on a new degree: a copyediting certificate from UCSD.

I've been considering the idea for a couple of months now, but I decided not to act unless I still wanted to do it come August. I compared a lot of different programs—the University of Chicago has an editing certificate, and universities like NYU, George Washington, and Oxford have MAs in Publishing with editing components—but the only one that's really useful and doable is the distance program at UCSD. Or UCB, which has a basically identical program, but they're a lot more snooty about it.

The certificate has four required courses, all online, and each cost $395. With registration fees and textbooks I estimate it will cost around $2,000 total, spread out over the next year. I would take Grammar Lab in fall (late September through December), Copyediting I in winter (January through late March), Copyediting II in spring (April through June), and Copyediting III next summer (June through September). It's a program designed for working adults to finish in the evenings, so I'd have plenty of time to do my job and keep hacking away at mediocre novels.

"But T. K. Marnell," you say, "don't you always advocate studying for yourself instead of wasting money on advanced degrees? Can't you just memorize the Chicago Manual of Style on your own time?" Yes I do and yes I could, and I realize I look like a hypocrite. But here's the thing about studying on your own: you can't easily prove that you've done it. You have no credentials beyond your word for it, which doesn't go far with strangers. If I want to do freelance editing, set myself up as an independent publisher, or add the skill to my resume for future jobs, I should have the piece of paper to back it up.

And I think a $2k certificate that focuses on the fundamentals of writing is a bit different from a $30k MFA that focuses on, as far as I can tell, reveling in how smart and awesome you are. And contemplating suicide as you grade mountains of essays for freshman comp. The MFA will not automatically get you published or qualify you for an editing position; its only uses are to (a) look pretty on the wall and (b) possibly get you a job teaching English 101 at an out-of-the-way community college. Not that there's anything wrong with teaching at community colleges, if that's what you really want to do, but most people who sign up for MFAs really want Pulitzers, not a life clinging desperately to every $20 credit hour they can get. My uncle taught at community colleges and, from what I hear, a career of fun and frolic it is not.

But the benefits of an editing certificate, as a writer and self-publisher, are obvious. I think of it this way: I could pay a freelance editor $1,000 to critique and proofread one of my manuscripts, or I can pay UCSD $2,000 to become a freelance editor and proofread all of my own stories with confidence. It would have immediate returns at my new job, since I'll be solely responsible for the newsletters and promotional materials that go out of the department. I could also hire myself out to other writers and small publishers if the half-time salary and royalties aren't enough, or find work at a journal or university press later down the line. I've even seen job ads from academic and public libraries looking for people to write/edit grant proposals, press releases, website content etc. Actually, it seems they're looking for everyone but librarians, trying to replace them with paraprofessionals and outsourced corporations...but that's a rant for another day.

The debate between myself and me now is whether I can assume the financial risk. Money will still be tight, and we've been spending a lot of it lately. Yesterday morning, after I went in to settle the paperwork (i.e. spend a half hour writing out the same information on ten separate forms, handing out my SSN to who knows how many people), I came home with an empty belly to a sink full of dirty dishes. So I decided we should go out and splurge $15 on lunch. Naturally, we came back with a $300 mattress.

The sequence went like this: Emerge from Steak 'n Shake -> See giant discount furniture sale on lawn next door -> Salesman pounces -> "We're just browsing" -> Simmons BeautySleep Plush Euro Top Mattress.

New Mattress

According to the online stores these models can retail for $1000+, but this place must have been trying to move out stock. It seems like an impulse purchase, but I've been complaining that we need a new mattress forever. The one we had was a heavy, lumpy nightmare at least ten years old when it came into the apartment five years ago. We'd be sitting on it, playing video games or summat, and springs would just snap right under us. No one could move an inch without filling the bedroom with creaks and squeaks and bouncing the other up and down like we were in an inflatable castle at a rich kid's birthday party. Luna liked it well enough, but then Luna could sleep on concrete.

Luna on the Old Mattress
Yes, that is a giant gash by her ear. No, we have no idea where it came from, or how long it's been there.
Ditto for the mysterious stains on the other side.

And then when we had the fancy replacement all set up, we discovered that most of the creaks and squeaks were due to the even older box spring under it, which doesn't have any "spring" about it. It's simply a cage of wooden beams with sunken plywood and ripped netting nailed over the top. I mean, you can see it warped to high heaven in the first photo. So we went back and got a $129 foundation, too. They haven't delivered that half yet, but after my first night on the mattress I braced myself, sat up, and...nothing happened. The box spring still cracked, but my spine didn't. Sweet.

But as much as these things were needed, it still hurts my heart every time I swipe that credit card. We hate it so much that even if we carve out a budget and set out with the specific aim to spend money, we will usually run home scared the second we see the expected price tag. After acquiring the mattress, I dragged Sweetie out to get new shoes for the school year, to replace the ones which have had holes in the soles since 2010. We bought his current pair in 2007, shortly after we moved in together. Three years later we came back from Japan and noticed the leather peeling off, but he hated all of the options in every shoe store in town. Ever since, he's just been stuffing generic equivalents of Dr. Scholl's pads into them and periodically forcing the stray bits back where they belong. Yesterday he finally found a pair that he was "okay with" at Shoe Carnival, but he flat-out refused to spend the $70 on them...even if he's going to be wearing them for the next five years. So we went next door to PetSmart and bought Luna a new collar custom-engraved with our phone number instead. Priorities, people.

Luna's New Collar
It has moons. LOL.

So I can't help thinking about what else that $2000 could be used for. New shoes. New clothes without claw-holes and stains. An alarm clock that rings when it's set to ring and doesn't when it's not, rather than the other way around. Maybe a dryer made within the past forty years. And I'm not exaggerating for effect here; according to this guide to serial codes, our dryer was manufactured in October 1970. The model was introduced in 1964. I imagine that when they launched the beat-up machine in our utility room, my preadolescent father was bee-bopping to the Beach Boys crooning, "Round round get around, I GET AROUND" from the family gramophone.

tl;dr: I could get a lot of neat stuff, or I could get a neat new degree. To be honest, all of this is just to acknowledge that maybe it wouldn't be the best idea to spend more money right now, but I'll probably be reckless and go for it anyway. If I don't, I'll sulk and grumble for the next few years that maybe I should have while I still had the time and studying mindset.


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