I have a long commute to work — nearly an hour-and-a-half each way — and it is a mixed blessing.
I’ve written short stories on the train and completed chapters in the novel that’s coming out this October. I’ve caught up on sleep (especially after late nights elaborating or finessing those train-written novel chapters). I’ve had interesting conversations and overheard some intriguing — and highly quotable — dialogue. All of these you can put under the column heading of good.
The bad ... well, beyond the occasional weirdos, the routine personal space infringements and the infuriatingly frequent train delays (what is it with Septa’s R5 train anyway?) the worst part about my long commute is that it gives me lots and lots of time to fret. Worry. Stew. Sometimes it’s about personal concerns, sometimes about work, sometimes about the news (which is my work, after all).
That’s what I did this morning. Fret about the news. This is what I was thinking about:
-- May 8 the U.S. Senate failed to advance a bill that would have kept subsidized college loan rates at 3.4. Lawmakers have until July 1 to come up with something or the rates will double to 6.8. In the Senate, as in the House, bipartisanship is dead, mouldering and headed for truly stomach-turning putrefaction in view of the upcoming presidential elections. So even if the doubled rate isn’t yet official, it is a fait accompli.
-- A day later in Pennsylvania, in a rare sighting of bipartisanship, a budget proposal cleared the senate. In it, the entire funding cut from state colleges and universities in Gov. Tom Corbett’s proposed budget was restored. By today, however, the discussion was back in the putrefyingly partisan realm, with Corbett saying he would stand his ground, budgetwise, and members of the GOP-led house spewing soundbites about how restoring funding for higher education won’t help ordinary Pennsylvanians.
Here’s where the news worries turn personal.
I’ve got a 17-year-old daughter, a scant year from graduating from high school and into the rest of her life. She’s extremely bright — she’s taking AP American history and Honors chemistry and English this year; next year she’s signed up for AP government, physics and English and Honors math; and she’s got an impressive GPA — and yet her college future is uncertain.
The market crash of 2008 hugely impacted the savings set aside for college, and because of the recession in intervening years those savings have remained stunted. State-supported colleges were at one point, my daughter’s best option for a college education. But — if tuitions have to increase to offset cuts in state funding — maybe not.
I participated in a recent Al Día roundtable with Secretary of Labor Hilda Solís. She devoted a great deal of time to speaking to need to encourage young Latinos to dream of college. To encourage them to take science, math and technology courses. To help them realize that they have what it takes to get ahead educationally, and thereby, in life. I agree wholeheartedly. And brokenheartedly. Because looking at what’s happening in the commonwealth and in the U.S. Congress I know that my encouragement isn’t going to be enough. And like me, other Latino parents — a community gravely impacted by the economic downswing — are facing the fact that no matter how promising, hard-working or diligent their children are, their futures are in the hands of publicly elected dunces, all in a confederacy against them.
At one point, my daughter’s dream was to become a teacher. To impart the love of history, or maybe the sciences, to others like her: high school students of diverse backgrounds and means who are fiercely striving to improve themselves. But, like many of her peers, my daughter is scaling down her dreams to fit the reality of legislators who can’t see the future beyond the November elections.
So this is what I worried this morning as Septa had a 20-minute switching delay and the guy in the train seat beside me gently snored.
All told, I think I’d rather be writing fiction.