A Collection of Thoughts On a Musical Life
I am a millennial, and one who hasn’t strayed far from the financial norms of my generation. My student debt was part of that $3 trillion that is cited so often. But not anymore! I have unburdened myself of this debt, and I am still processing what it means.
I was very lucky to have received enough grants and parental help with undergrad that I graduated with only about $17k in loans. Unfortunately, between the job market at the time giving me no options but minimum wage, and my signing a lease on an adorable apartment before realizing that, I still only had about a hundred dollars a month after loans and rent, if that. I only took one year off before grad school, and found much cheaper living situations, so that my grad school life actually had a little more financial flexibility.
Then I finished my masters, signed up for a “pay what you can and all will be forgiven in twenty-five years” plan, got a slightly better paying job, and ignored the fact that I wasn’t even paying all the interest each month. My loans ballooned to almost $90k. A huge part of me didn’t want to think about the future, and an even huger part of me assumed there wasn’t anyone else in my future that I needed to plan for.
Then I met my significant other. Things got serious. I was honest about my loan situation, and he rightly convinced me that paying my loans down was a better strategy than assuming my income would always be too low to have to pay them. Around that time, the option to refinance student loans became available. Refinancing cut my interest rate by about 2%.
By this time I had a well-paying church job, and I started working up to better-paying day jobs. I kept my standard of living the same, and threw any increased income at the loans. It became almost an obsession. I even grew my hair out because longer hair is cheaper to maintain than a pixie.
And this month, I paid them off. It’s an amazing feeling, and I’m proud of myself.
But I also wonder what I could have done with that money if I had been from Europe, where people don’t take out tens of thousands of dollars in loans. Maybe I’d own property or have a retirement account with the recommended amount in it. As it is, I can’t really rest and enjoy some, what do they call it, ah disposable income. My efforts need to go to retirement and maybe property. I still need to play catch up. I’m still a millennial, even if my student loans are gone.
I write all this as encouragement to those paying off their loans (you can do it!), as a critique of the system (student debt is a crisis for a whole generation), and to throw my story out there among all the rest that tell of millennials who graduated into a terrible economy with piles of debt.
And I’m excited. Regardless of the outside circumstances that led me here, this is the life I have, and I am proud of what I have done with it. It’s just money, after all. Nothing really changes from here, though don’t be surprised if you see me with shorter hair in the near future.
Having someone look up to you is an amazing, scary thing. I put so much pressure on myself to be perfect, that having extra eyes can make me feel that pressure even more intensely. This weekend I learned that sometimes it is our imperfections that can help our protégés.
The daughter of a choir member in my church sings with the youth choir, so I get to see her a lot. She thinks I am the bees knees! Or whatever it is 21st century kids say. She loves to sing and is very comfortable in front of the congregation or, I’m sure, any audience. She is also eleven years old going on thirty, so it is sometimes easy to forget she is a child.
Part of the youth choir duties is to lead the mass parts. For the non-Catholics, these are short pieces sung at every mass. My young friend often leads these, as she did this past Sunday; but this week something happened that wasn’t to her satisfaction. I can’t even tell you what it was, because nothing went obviously wrong. What matters is that she felt upset by her performance, and there were tears.
I knew that words from me would mean a lot to her, so I made sure to talk to her after mass. Here is where I got to admit that I, too, make mistakes. I got to say it out loud for all to hear, and the very fact was a good thing. My little friend actually tried to argue! Friends, I have gotten up to the microphone at church and loudly sung about angels’ prostates falling, when the angels were supposed to be falling prostrate. I have missed entrances. I have learned the wrong Psalm. I have lost my place during a hymn and dropped half a verse. Not to mention wonky pitches and rhythms!
The thing about church work is that there are so many variables. When performing in the opera or choral world, each note, word, and staging is rehearsed many times. When singing for masses, we often have hymn tunes set to new words, a new psalm every week, not to mention priests who sometimes switch things up with no warning. The relative simplicity of most of the music means that even after a lifetime of singing it, we’re still on book. All this means I’ve seen it all.
There’s also a certain freedom in singing for church, which I explained to my friend: You’re in God’s house, so whatever comes out is what God wanted.
I think my friend needed to learn what it was like to not like how she did up in front of people, and I needed to learn that my imperfections can be useful to others.