Life since my first student loan payment



There has been a lot of talk lately about the cancellation of student debt. Maybe $ 10,000 of it. Maybe up to $ 50,000.

Who knows?

But there is certainly a lot of discussion. And speak. And speak. And speak.

During this time, I have been repaying my student loan regularly since I graduated. I was three days late once and my interest rate went up by one point, but the rest of the time I managed to pay on time.

Not that there weren’t a few distractions along the way.

You know, like 9/11.

And the United States goes to war with Iraq and Afghanistan.

And my husband died of liver cancer.

A devastating tsunami in the Indian Ocean.

Losing my job and my apartment to Hurricane Katrina.

Travel across the country to start over with just one suitcase. (Full disclosure – I got a six month stay on payments during that time).

Then there was the job search at a payday loan center.

And having to move again when my building was demolished.

There was the thrill of a new job at a credit union.

I was three days late once and my interest rate went up by one point, but the rest of the time I managed to pay on time

Until my branch closes.

Several temporary jobs later, I managed to find a stable job. (It was during this stressful time that I was three days late for a payment.)

I remarried.

I wrote 50 books.

I took part in a feature-length documentary on the fire in the Upstairs Lounge.

A damaged nuclear reactor in Japan sent radiation around the world.

A meteor exploded over Siberia.

The people of Flint, Michigan, have been poisoned.

My grandmother is dead. And my father.

And since I got older, a few friends have died too. Like Jim, and Nicla, and William, and Tim, and Alan, and Richard.

And Burt, who was murdered.

There were also good times, of course. Like the entire 12-year period of The Big Bang Theory. All Harry Potter Movies.

Two terms of the first African-American president.

The Me too movement.

Greta Thunberg.

And there were still other distractions.

You know, like the Beirut explosion. And forest fires destroying entire cities in the United States and Canada. And a global pandemic.

The Black Lives Matter movement.

And an insurrection.

Every day there is something. People fleeing a Greek island by ferry, surrounded by flames. Desperate Afghans cling to the wheels of a taking off plane. A condo collapses in Florida. An earthquake in Haiti. Floods in Belgium and Germany. In Tennessee.

Anti-maskers threatening to kill people.

You know… life.

Years go by, millions of people die, millions more are born, the Earth is rushing more and more towards a greenhouse gas tipping point from which it will not even recover during the lifetime of those who will not be born until the day I make my last student loan payment.

Because despite all this, I still have years to pay.

It doesn’t have to be that way. We have made the choice to crush the indebted students. Other countries have made better choices.

We are also free to change our mind and make a better choice.

We are faced with hundreds of distractions every day, year after year. But let’s stay focused on the essentials.

We must fight for college and vocational training without tuition fees. An educated, trained and undebted people can only lead to success both individually and as a nation.

We must fight for universal health care. A healthy population not crushed by debt also leads to success.


And a massive, total effort to move away from fossil fuels and adapt to climate change is the only way any of us even have the luxury of worrying about student loans. Or education at all.

But I am distracted again.

In five days, my next student loan payment is due. Thank goodness I got my salary the day before.

Johnny Townsend



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