Or, The Forgotten Penny
There’s this old Christopher Reeve film called Somewhere in Time. Overly-romantic thing about a playwright who travels back in time and falls in love with Jane Seymour. I watched it on cable a couple of times in the early 80s, because duh, it had Superman in it, and hey, time travel!
There’s no magic machine that gets him back to turn-of-the-century Mackinac Island, just positive thinking. He dresses himself in an old-timey suit, removes all traces of modern day from his hotel room, and wills himself back to the same hotel room in the year 1912. It’s a bit flimsy, in terms of science fiction, but really, how many time travel films are there that feel “realistic?”
So he falls in love with the beautiful lady, and despite a few dramatic obstacles, things are going pretty well for him. Towards the end, Jane Seymour playfully teases him for his “old-fashioned” suit (he didn’t get the fashion quite right, you see), and he’s bragging about how awesome it is, with all these cool pockets, and then BAM: he pulls out a 1979 penny, stares at it in horror and disbelief, and he’s immediately shocked back to the present. And as hard as he tries, he’s never able to will himself back to 1912. Game over.
Why am I talking about this decades-old time travel film, when I actually spent Friday watching a far superior (but no less romantic) time travel film?
Well, no matter how hard I try and ignore it, I have to acknowledge my own forgotten penny.
When I started putting this whole journey together, I knew it would be very expensive, and would require certain financial arrangements to be put into place, otherwise I would be drowning in student loan debt for the next ten years. So I took a gamble, hoping that I would get my mortgage refinanced, my car paid off, and I would have a decent raise waiting for me once I completed the new degree.
Even when I arrived here in July, I was already worried that I wouldn’t be able to pull this off. No one wanted to refi my mortgage, since it was so underwater. I had to rent my place out for significantly less than what I pay per month, and therefore had to sell my car in order to have enough money to make up for the difference. I thought about pulling the plug, but people urged me to stay, saying the usual business of “Live your dream!” “It’s ONLY money!” ‘You’ll regret it forever if you don’t do it!!!”
So I put that metaphorical penny in a side pocket, and I forgot about it, and I got on with my life over here. And I’m glad I did. The past five months have been an amazing, unforgettable experience, and I am glad that I went ahead and stayed.
But. The penny is still there, folks. And after crunching the numbers, and looking at what’s coming down the road, I am simply not going to have enough money to afford living over here for another semester. The “back home” account is vanishing fast, and the cost of paying for the whole degree is going to destroy me, financially. The first two segments in the repayment plan, the refi and the no-car-payment, are gone, and its looking like I’m going to have a significantly reduced raise. (I can’t really get into that, because it involves contract negotiations with my school board and my union, and this is not the place to discuss that.)
I don’t like talking about the specifics of the whole money thing, but whenever I talk about this with people, they go back to those default statements of “It’s only money, Brian, live the dream!!!” And I really don’t appreciate hearing that. I don’t think people quite realize the cost of this project, so let me put it to you like this: because I had to sell my car last summer, once I come home I’ll have to buy a new car. Obviously. So I’ll have a new monthly car payment for the next five years.
Now: to pay for this student loan, I’ll have to pay, per month, the equivalent of three more cars. For the next ten years. Let that sink in a bit. Three more car payments, for the next ten years, on a single teacher’s salary that isn’t going to be going up much over the next few years.
Now do you understand the seriousness of this a bit more?
The next reaction may be, “But Brian, what about the degree? Won’t this all be for nothing if you don’t get the degree?”
And this is where it gets interesting. Because the answer is No.
I already have a Master’s Degree. In terms of salary schedules and raises, that’s the main hurdle you need. After that, it’s just about credit hours. And regarding getting certified for teaching theatre, after this semester I’ll have enough credit hours to get my theatre endorsement. I don’t need any more classes after this.
Actually, what I need are additional certification classes that I need to take back home. At this point, spending the other two thirds of the student loan is just gravy. And here’s another thing: I took four courses this fall, and all that’s left are two more classes (Rehearsal Techniques, which I think I’ve got down, and another theory class that I can live without), and the big thesis (which I have absolutely no desire to write, to be perfectly honest.) And there’s no guarantee that the state of Illinois, or my school district is even going to accept all of these credit hours. They get funny when it comes to foreign credits.
This is starting to get complicated, and I’m sure some of you are skimming through some of this. So let me summarize by saying this: there are no real downsides to finishing after this semester, except for one that’s probably pretty obvious: I would be coming home early, and leaving the life I’ve been living over here behind. And I would have to say a very difficult good-bye to a wonderful group of friends.
But in the end, that was going to happen anyway. Whether it’s in July or May or the end of December, it’s gonna happen. I’m not going to spend the rest of my life living here. I suppose I had some vague and naive notions of carving out something more permanent here, but the simple facts are these: there aren’t any jobs over here, and I don’t think I really want to do that anyway.
I’m a Midwesterner, and I think I want to remain a Midwesterner. My family and my friends and my life are there. And my job is there. And it’s a job worth returning to, despite all of the stress and chaos that has enveloped it lately. I’m a teacher, and I’m anxious to get back to doing what I do best. And if I want to make a move to a different teaching position, I have to get moving on those other classes that I have to take back home.
So there it is. This is something that I’ve been pondering for a long time, so please don’t think this is a rash decision I’m making. I have looked at all sorts of different scenarios, but they all end up with the same conclusion: this adventure ends next month.
And I’m okay with it. It’s been an amazing and life-altering experience, living in Dublin these past months. I walked away from everything that I knew and I started over in a foreign land, taking the time to learn new ideas about theatre, and of course, I spent a lot of time with some amazing people. That’s easily been the best part about being here. And it makes me more than a bit sad to be leaving it all earlier than I expected.
But while it makes me sad, it doesn’t make me depressed, and that’s an important difference. Sure, I was pretty down in the dumps yesterday, as I came to this final decision after mentioning it my friends the other night, but today I woke up with a clear idea of what’s to come. I’ve been quietly putting some plans into place, and I’ll be fine. It’ll be a bit rough at times, since I won’t have a full-time job or a house to go back to for a bit, but I have a plan. And it’s time to get to work on the next great journey my life will be taking, and I am optimistic and excited about where it will take me.
To be continued…