It all started in a wal-mart a few weeks back, this feeling of wanting to vomit. At first I thought it might be the possibility that everything in the store was made by blind, limbless kids in developing countries and that I might find a small toe inside a VCR.
But then it became clear. This morning I went to my mailbox. I unrolled a flyer and read the letters across the top of the page. BACK TO SCHOOL!!
All those shiny pencil cases, backpacks and binders that never survive an entire year. The refillable pens and electronic schedulers that never existed when I was in school. The protractor, whose function still remains a mystery.
I cupped my hand over my mouth. I have been out of school for a long time. Doing the math (with a calculator), I realized I’ve spent 17 of my 33 years in school.
At 18, I walked off a plane from Regina and dragged my luggage to York University. Clearly, I was an adult. I had lived through high school, and this was the next step in my education and my future. No pressure. I lived on a campus almost completely made of stone – including a number of the professors and definitely the cafeteria food.
I moved into a very small room with a woman from a country I never got the name of. I could not pronounce her name. She could not pronounce my name. We would wake up with our faces two feet apart and say, "Good morning, ...you there. Wanna use my hair dryer, …you?"
Classrooms were massive hangars holding 500 people at a time, with a tiny dot moving at the front that I assumed was the professor. Everyone was Jewish. Me, this kid from Regina, who always felt so special about my little religion/race/whatever, and now I was attending what I later learned was called "Jew U." I was shocked. Well, it did explain the lack of football games on Saturdays.
The homework would pile up, and sleep deprivation would overwhelm. It was only October. That’s when I realized my student loan was gone. Gone. Tuition, books, food and a couple of nights of drinking Durango Coolers with people who were only at university to meet someone and get married.
By the end of November I was borrowing money from my roommate, still without knowing how to spell her name on the IOU. December brought not the holiday season but the season of the ramen. Ramen noodles are the cheapest way to live through an essay. But if you have more than one essay, you must be creative with the ramen. I cooked them as a soup, a meal, dropped an egg in to make it more authentic, melted some cheese on top for extra protein, or improvised a crunchy snack out of the bag with the magic MSG dust sprinkled on top. It was time.
Hello, my name is Shoshana, and I beg for money from my parents.
The first call went out to my father in Regina. I breathed. I waited. As usual, the cheque didn’t come. I was in no hurry to repeat that conversation, so I did the next logical thing – a collect call to my mom in Vancouver. She made the usual comments about "your @#$%%ing father." I waited again.
Ramen noodles with HP Sauce. Yum.
Second semester. I took a sociology class. There were no men in the class. I was the only woman who didn’t shave. I was questioned daily about it. The second call went out to Regina. I received uncomfortable warnings of "no fickie fickie" and the promise of a monthly allowance. I sighed.
The professor from Argentina compared society’s hatred of women with the Holocaust. A girl with a picture of Mickey Mouse sewn onto her jeans stormed out of class. I dropped sociology. My women’s studies TA got me high... regularly.
A second call to Vancouver. I told my mother I wanted to eat something green. A cheque arrived.
Exams. I failed theatre history with flying colours. I passed everything else but wasn’t really sure why I was at school. I looked forward to three more years of depression, fatigue, starvation. I still hadn’t seen Toronto yet. Except Grossman’s Tavern, and that didn’t count. I switched to Concordia and then to U of T, all of which worked out to five years of education and student loans that I only finished paying off last year.
I’m finished school now, but will I ever get over this feeling that the year starts in September and ends in June? Probably not. I still beg for money from my parents, and see no end to this semi-poverty living.
I can’t say I didn’t learn a lot in university. I did. But it’s probably not what you’d think. I can still make $1,000 go a long way, and being a starving artist is only glamorous if you aren’t one, and life is education and sometimes you have to go to school to get it.
Shoshana Sperling is a writer and performer. Her new children’s CD is entitled Posses And Convoys.