Profiles in Post-Collegiate Courage: Sondra Morris

Calling courageous post-collegiates! Our interview series is back with a vengeance as a semi-regular blog feature!  Want to nominate a courageous post-collegiate to be featured (including yourself)?  Email postcollegiateblog [at] gmail [dotcom].

I’ve lived with some pretty interesting characters over the years (oh, heeeey Tawnya!) and today’s profilee is no exception.  Sondra and I were classmates at R-MWC and then she had the (mis)-fortune to live with me for several months.  Sondra is one of the smartest, funniest, sassiest, well-informed, and interesting women I’ve ever met.  After graduating, she stuck it out in our college town, working away at the college, until this year, when she packed up her worldly possessions and, like so many young Americans before her, headed West.

Looking professional at her first post-collegiate big girl job

Sondra, share a little about yourself with the blog readers:
I grew up in a military family, so my family moved around quite a bit as I was growing up. Between kindergarten and my senior year of high school, I attended nine schools in two different countries and four different states. When it was time to choose a college I said, “Fuck it; I’m going to stay at one educational institution for four years no matter what.” So, I took a giant leap of crazy and attended the only woman’s college I applied to, Randolph-Macon Woman’s College. It was fabulous and I loved my experience there, so much so that I accepted a job on campus after graduation. Unsurprisingly, my travel-happy upbringing kicked in after six months on the job and I was ready to skedaddle. I stayed on another year and a half to save up cash and deal with some personal baggage, then I quit my job and road-tripped out to Los Angeles.

For as long as I’ve known you, you’ve always given off a very put-together, organized, ready-to-take-on-the-world vibe.  What was your initial life plan when you were getting ready to graduate in 2009?
Well…I didn’t have one. My senior year at R-MWC was spent coming to terms with the whole “I like girls” thing, so I wasn’t thinking too far into the future. My biggest concern back then was coming out to my parents and gauging if I’d have somewhere to crash if they weren’t okay with it.

One of the things that we have in common is we both choose to stay in Lynchburg following graduation, albeit for different reasons.  Are you glad that you took a job with your alma mater?
In retrospect, I can see that staying in my college town was the best thing that could have happened to me for personal and financial reasons. It was cheap, I knew enough people to have a fabulous support network, and I was only a few hours drive from most of my friends. Of course, working on campus was a whole different story. No one really talked to me about the transition from student to staff, so I wasn’t at all aware of how to navigate my relationships with friends who were still students. Then there were staff members I’d really offended as a student and suddenly working with them was kind of challenging. I spent my first year working getting strange looks and questions like, “Why didn’t you graduate on time?”

I really admire you for handling that transition from student to staff so well – I had enough difficulty adjusting to post-college life without working there!  But moving across country – that’s a REALLY big step.  Tell me more about that.
Now that I’m actually here in LA, my biggest fear is never finding a job and having to the leave the sunny, bright, salty, hot, smoggy oasis that is SoCal. I moved out here because I was just treading water after college and I needed to do something that would help me break out of the cycle of just working to pay bills to live in a city that didn’t provide me with what I need to thrive creatively and spiritually. A few of my R-MWC sisters had already made this move and when they urged me to try it too, I realized I didn’t have much to lose if things don’t work out. I’m hoping to get two things out of this move: (1) Fun. Like, the kind of fun that will become stories that will become anecdotes for my acceptance speech when I get the alumnae achievement award in ten years. (2) Some life experience to become a better writer.

Enjoying the LA life with Sam and Lianna (click photo for Lianna's interview!)

Speaking of writing, what challenges have you faced pursuing your dream?  Do you have any advice for other aspiring writers?
My biggest challenge as a writer is specific to the fact that I’m a woman. Male mentors like to discount my subject matter or say I write with a ‘weird’ or ‘common’ voice if I say even the slightest thing about my life. It’s only with female mentors that I’ve really felt supported in writing from my experiences. I guess this goes back to the personal always being political for women, but it sucks. My advice for other writers–male and female–is to get into some sort of writing group with people you feel you can learn from and be supported by. It’s great to get feedback from your friends, but it’s usually more helpful to hear from other people who understand technique and think with that weird writer’s brain. I’m a junkie for writer’s groups…especially if they serve wine.

You have a real enthusiasm and love for blogging and social media.  What have you gained from these experiences?
The web is amazing. Writing for it and networking across it has taught me that it pays to be vulnerable when you write–your audience connects to your words, you get a hell of a lot more out of it in self discovery, and your writing comes from such a deeper place. I hate sharing myself though, so it’s kind of ridiculous for me to be a writer because I write all this stuff and then I never want to show it to anyone.  My big writing goals for 2012 are (1) Write more and (2) Stop being a pansy and get super vulnerable.

When I spoke with fellow writer Sara last year, she gave me some book recommendations for postcollegiate readers.  Any thoughts?

Enjoying a pre-DC United match tailgate together for my 27th birthday

For Writers: Read something by Pam Houston. I saw her on a panel at the AWP conference in 2011 and she’s simply amazing. Also, try some of Francesca Lia Block‘s short stories. And if you like poetry, check out Andrea Gibson.

For PCs: At the risk of sounding like a hipster, The Catcher in the Rye by J.D. Salinger. Any of the Roadtrip Nation books. Also, Young, Broke, & Beautiful by Broke Ass Stuart.

Finally, if you could go back to that rainy morning of your college graduation, what advice would you give yourself?
“Get over yourself and revel in graduation day: take pictures, kiss friends, and go out for brunch with everyone you know after the ceremony. Starting tomorrow, you don’t have anything planned in your life, so make a list of everything you want to do and just start doing it. Be epic.”

Many, many thanks to Sondra for agreeing to the be the first (but not last) profile of 2012.  As she says, she’s all up in the Interwebs – check out www.SondraRoseMarie.com for links to Twitter, Tumblr, etc.  As always, you can leave questions for Sondra in the comments section as well!

Music Monday: Sia

Another Monday, another week to face.  After a relatively low-key weekend of organizing and cleaning and soul-searching, I’m ready to face a new week and (finally) the start of a new month.  January is always a bit of a low point for me each year – despite the promises of a fresh start, the bleak, gray skies of winter tend to fill me with nostalgic for bright, blissful spring days.  I’m ready to put January behind me and focus on moving 2012 forward.

For Music Monday, I tend to focus on indie-pop faves or guilty pleasure dance tunes, but for this week, I’m going a slightly more mellow route with one of my favorite Sia tunes, Breathe Me.  This month has brought a lot of change in my life, both personally and professionally, and I tend to struggle with change.  Despite my deep desire to embody vita abundantior, I find comfort in routine and well-managed expectations.  When life knocks me off my axis, which happens more often than not, Sia’s haunting voice and the song’s melodic crescendo is always reassuring and cathartic.

Sia – Breathe Me

Friday Frivolity: You Can Do Anything

Ah, happy Friday, friends!  It has been such a great week of blogging – thanks so much for all the post likes, reblogs, tweets, emails, etc. and especially to my new followers!  Hopefully I can make this a decision you won’t immediately regret…

I’m a little behind on sharing this but as some of you probably saw, SNL did a great sketch parodying the inflated egos and sense of self-entitlement that Generation Y seems to be known for.  I vaguely remember catching the clip on television in an all-too-typical boozy Saturday night channel surfing session but it wasn’t until I re-watched the clip this week (sent to me by my father, via iPad, natch) that it’s brilliance really shone through.

You Can Do Anything!

Between the juggler who can’t juggle and the Chinese calligraphy-enthusiast slash Irish step-dancer who proclaims “the world needs more singer-songwriters and less doctors and engineers”, we all know that there is a lot of truth being mined for comedy here.  Because honestly, some days I really do feel that I’m full of unearned confidence because nobody ever told me I was mediocre – and if you don’t feel that way too, you’re a liar and you can’t do anything.

If You Drive A Car, I’ll Tax The Street

It may be foolish to even consider writing a post about taxes in an election year (and amidst the 1,875th Republican primary debate…) but if there are only two things that you can count on in life, it’s death and…you know.

Ah, tax season.  That time of  year where you realize that the rich really do get richer and the poor help pay for it.  Or for some, that time of year where you can finally pay down some debt or upgrade your television or just feel flush for a couple days.  I’ve done taxes in good years (2011 wasn’t so bad, really) and in bad years (2010, you horrid little bugger) and a few in  between, so I thought I would share a few tips for the un/under-employed to help you make the most of your money.

  • Keep track of everything:  Ideally, you’ve been holding on to all your receipts (yeah, right…) but if not, go back through your monthly bank statements and highlight expenses that might be deductible, specifically expenses related to job-seeking, education, donations, medical expenses, and even a move, if it’s for a job.  I set up a GMail label for any expense I think I might deduct, so it’s easy to go back at tax time.
  • Government aid is almost always taxed:  If you received unemployment benefits or compensation, you will need to report that and pay taxes on it, unless you read my post on unemployment and had the taxes taken out in advance (a lifesaver!)  However, programs like WIC or TANF or other food assistance generally are not taxed.  Be sure to ask a professional or check online before filing to make sure you’re paying no more than you have to!
  • No need to report wages from Bank of Mom/Dad/Grandparents/Sugar Daddy: Unless you are receiving Romney-levels of assistance, you don’t have to report gifts!  Even if the gifts are at a taxable level, it is the responsibility of the giver to pay any required federal taxes.  Unless you were given a gift that produces interest (stocks, bonds, funds, trusts, etc.), you have no obligation to the government.  You’d be surprised, but I have friends who have included monthly parental money under wages – don’t be that guy!
  • File your taxes every year:  Times is rough, y’all.  I get it.  But for most people out there, you’re either missing out of money you could have in your pocket OR you’re setting yourself up for even greater debt down the road by not filing.  If you do owe the government, ’tis better to file and set up a monthly payment plan than it is to ignore it.  Trust me, it will not go away.
  • Doing your taxes shouldn’t cost you an arm and leg:  E-filing is so easy and inexpensive (often free on the federal level based on your income.)  Unless you have a very complicated return or unusual financial situation, you can file yourself – or get a friend to help you!  Take advantage of reputable sites such as TurboTax, H&R Block, etc. that will process your return quickly and get you your refund.  Save time by setting up direct deposit and don’t be tricked into money-sucking options like refund debit cards (watch for hidden fees!), filing fees taken from your refund ($29.95 additional cost if you don’t pay upfront), or opening additional accounts you don’t need.
  • Refunds are not bonus money:  I know that tax refunds often feel like a year-end bonus – but they’re not.  It’s just your money that the government has been holding on to.  If you notice over the course of a year or two that you are getting significant refunds (without any major credits or unusual circumstances), you may consider having less tax withheld from your paycheck each period.  Instead of a $2,500 “bonus” in April, you could be getting an extra $200 a month!  It’s much easier to maintain a budget, pay down debt, boost your savings, and generally try to be a responsible adult if you’re maximizing your take home pay.

Anything that I’ve forgotten?  Anyone have a crazy tax story?  Or do we all just have Taxman stuck in our head now?

Is Dating Cost-Effective?

Self-portrait of the author on a date

On the occasion, I get a reader email or tweet asking why I don’t share a little more about my personal life, particularly my romantic entanglements (or lack thereof.)  There are many, many good reasons as to why I don’t blog about dating or love or sex, including but not limited to the following:

  • There are already so many great dating blogs (in particular, the Date Report and Shmitten Kitten), I have nothing new to add
  • The actual concept of dating tends to give me hives if I think about it too hard
  • You’ve seen Liz Lemon on 30 Rock, so you already have a pretty good idea
  • If there was anything actually interesting going on, I would shout it from the highest rooftops and mountains, organize a massive parade, complete with a me-as-Bueller rendition of a classic Beatles song, and would probably start a blog called “HOLY SHIT GUYS I ACTUALLY GOT LAID”

With that said, a very perceptive reader sent me a link to a Forbes blog post from a few weeks ago that examines the fact that, for most post-collegiates, dating is quite the economic endeavor.  The author brings up several good points, including the need for a neutral meeting ground early in the relationship (bars, restaurants, movies), the money expectations placed, and the increased costs of long distance love.  It’s no wonder that, according to OK Cupid, both men and women inflate their incomes by 20% on profiles to draw more messages.

Having had a relatively stable source of income for the last year (a legitimate life first…sad but true), I was able to budget a decent amount of fun money for frivolous activities, most of which revolved around booze and food (hey, a girl’s gotta eat…and she needs to drink.)  The difference between bro-ing out with friends and dating is that the financial expectations are so different.  My friends won’t blink if I suggest a bar with 2-for-1 drink specials or drop a Scoutmob coupon on brunch or suggest splitting a Groupon that we can use during dollar draft day.  I’m all about a bargain so that I can stretch my money like a slutty yoga teacher.

But when you’re dating?  Cheap isn’t always hot.  That bar we love for the rock bottom price on PBR pounders is not the ideal place to take a lady on a first date.  And as I tend to hold to the belief that (s)he who does the asking has the obligation to pay (even amongst friends, this is a nice rule), dating can mean doubling your expenses on any given night.  This doesn’t even begin to consider ancillary dating costs – new clothes, more frequent/sophisticated hair cuts, manicures, pedicures, waxes, car detailing, Metro expenses (whither the relationship with someone on another line from you…), and whatever else you need to show off the best version of you.

For all the hard-earned money you’re putting out, what exactly are you getting in return?  If the date turns out to be a dud, it’s not only your time and energy you’ve wasted but also dough that could have been spent on 1.5 liter bottles of wine and sushi for a classy dinner home alone.  Maybe the date is alright and you’re in bliss for a few months – until you’re left with a broken heart and a maxed-out credit card from that “romantic, spur-of-the-moment romantic trip to Vegas” that ended with him dumping you at the airport on the way home.

It seems that if you’re in your 20s and already struggling paycheck-to-paycheck (or even sticking to your finely-tuned budget and savings plan), dating is definitely an exercise in post-post-modern social studies.  No one is truly capable of shouldering the financial burden (let alone the maturity necessary for actual commitment), so most people remain in that blissful/awful state of non-dating dating, leading to the hook-up culture that many a trend piece has been written about.

What do you think, friends?  Am I being smart or surly?  Do the costs outweight the benefits?  Is this just the price of companionship?  Should love be untainted by the unsavory influence of money?  Will I end this blog post with a series of ridiculous questions?  Who can tell?

 

My Personal State of the Union

My fellow postcollegiates,

 

This has been a trying time for all of us.  Between rising unemployment and decreasing wages, we have faced challenges heretofore unknown to mankind (except, you know, for almost every other generation).   We have been forced back into our parent’s basements or, even worst, enrolled in the second or third round of graduate school, all in the name of pursuing the [21st Century] American Dream (our own reality show or prestigious blog, or God willing, both.)   Just when we thought things couldn’t get work, the Oscar Nominations were announced and we realized that even Hollywood just doesn’t get us any more, man (no Bridesmaids or Young Adult?  Come on!)

But it has not been all bad.  We have taken it to the tweets (see what I did there?  Take that, Obama speechwriters!), Occupying both minds and hearts and the occasional public space.  We have been celebrated in multiple 30 under 30 and 20 under 20 and Teenagers are the New Adults lists, proving that for some of us, the ages between 22-35 aren’t a horrible series of disappointments, disillusions, and depleted funds.

Friends and fellow (young-ish) Americans, it hasn’t been an easy road for us.  But I truly do believe there is a light at the end of the tunnel.  For if I, she who has had more jobs than boyfriends in the last three years (and definitely not in the good way) and who may or may not have floated an actual paper check to pay for tampons once in the last 12 months, can enroll in her very first retirement program this week, then truly, anything is possibleYES WE CAN!

Thank you and God Bless America.

I promise a real post soon…it has been a bizarre couple weeks and I am still in new job adjustment mode, but I have plenty of thoughts to share soon.