My grandmother is ninety-three years old.

This is my mother’s mother, not my father’s. This woman is, as far as I can tell, afraid of one thing: falling.

I, by contrast, am afraid of many things. Fear is a major motivating factor in my life. I could try and count my fears, but I would quickly run out of fingers, toes, appendages, distinctive features, and quite possibly even freckles.

I am afraid of being unable to see things. This is a general category that encompasses things like the dark, pool drains, lakes, basements, closets, the space under my bed, empty houses, the woods, caves, there being empty space behind me, the other side of the shower curtain. If I can’t see it, I can’t well know if there are monsters there or not! And if you don’t know, there probably are monsters.

I am afraid of my feet not touching the bottom of pools or lakes or oceans because if your feet can’t touch the bottom, there might be a monster under you. But, swimming in places so shallow your feet touch the ground is boring, so I brave the pool. Incidentally, I’m also afraid of fish or other sea creatures swimming into me (because I am passionately afraid of parasites), so that makes the ocean and lakes especially bad.

I’m afraid of pain, which is a very silly thing to be afraid of. I should reiterate: I am afraid of unexpected pain. Pain that it might theoretically come, well, that’s the worst. I like pain I expect: inoculations, pulling a band aid off, piercings.

I’m also afraid of falling, but that’s a whole other mess.

Some time ago, I decided that, in spite of my multiple times over fear of the ocean, I liked swimming in it. When we decided to see my aforementioned 93 year old grandmother for our winter vacation, I laid out my plans for the trip

1) See family
2) Hang out with the dog (my parents have a dog)
3) Go swimming every day, in the ocean as much as possible.

We loaded up into the car and drove to the beach. (The beach is about five miles away from the house, but it’s not a five miles I would like to bike. I mean, I would like to bike it, but the horror of southern Floridian roads is quite overwhelming. See: unexpected, but anticipated, pain.)

The “Ocean Forecast” sign announced that there were jellyfish and man o’ war.

Wikipedia's disambiguation page for "man o' war"

Wikipedia sums up man o' war pretty effectively. (CC-BY-SA)

My dad reassured me that I would not get stung.

Gingerly, I creeped into the ocean. Step by step, foot by foot. Then, I was deep enough that I could tilt my body, lift my feet off the bottom (that was still easily reachable by righting myself) and swim.

The ocean at Delrey's municipal beach

The water looked so welcoming.

I swum down the shoreline (because if I went too far out, I would not be able to easily reach the bottom). On my way back, my left hip started to hurt. Then I felt something brush past my shoulder and it started to sting. Then my right hand began to hurt more intensely than the other two.

Needless to say, I hightailed it out of that water.

The next day heralded the arrival of AA, my elder female cousin. She and I agreed to go to the beach.

The boardwalk to the beach at Del Ray.


The Florida beach was, as always, beautiful. It was also crowded, which surprised me as it was Christmas Day, but no one seemed to care. AA, with whome I often play the “well, that’s okay, but I don’t really care, so if you have a preference…” game, and I ended up, somehow, deciding on a spot. After some talking, setting things up, and her changing into a wet suit (she’s a mad scuba diver), we both trekked down to the water.

And there, on the wet sand, was a jellyfish.
A large jellyfish on the sand
A large jellyfish.

Nonetheless, the pushed forward into the water. AA raced ahead and I gingerly creeped in. Not seeing anything, I began to relax. The deadly trap on the shore could be an anomaly. I told myself that, with one there, it was statistically unlikely I would run into another. Lots of people were in the water happily paddling around. People were letting their kids frolic in the surf. Kids!

Just as I began to relax, I looked to my left and saw another jellyfish floating towards me.

As quick as I could make it, I was back on the shore.

When AA had a similar run in, we agreed that we should walk down the beach to look for shells.

Then, we saw a jellyfish. We drew a box around it, as we had seen around the first one on the shore. It seemed polite.
Another jellyfish
As we walked down the shore, we did not find the shells we were looking for.
Jellyfish in the waterAnother jellyfishAnother jellyfishAnother jellyfishAnother jellyfishAnother jellyfishAn upside down jellyfish!

Another jellyfish

There are five in this photo.

After maybe two hundred feet, I gave up trying to look for them, and just made sure none were in my direct path. At some point, I channeled a ten year old boy, squatted down, and dared myself to poke one. It felt like agar-agar. I don’t know if I can ever eat that stuff again.

Some man o’ war washed up on the beach as well. Having never seen one before, I was fascinated by their gas filled little bodies.
A portugese man o' war washed up on shore. A portugese man o' war with its "tail" stretched out.

After finding a few shells, I dipped my feet in the water again, body tense and heart pounding. I forgot to breathe as I eased myself into the ocean as far as I could without being overwhelmed by fear of floating, stinging death.


DH and I wandered into the temple on purpose. We weren’t really sure what to do, other than wander around Suwon. When we saw it, we agreed to duck in. I didn’t spend nearly enough time wandering around the city–constantly it surprised me as I ended down the large roads and sidewalkless streets.

Suwon’s main attraction is Hwaseong, a fortress built in the 18th-century. Once, just once, I walked from end to end. Around Hwaseong where oases of tradition. One such place was the temple we landed on.

It was gated and built up and down with stairs taking you from candle lit alter to candle lit alter. Golden Buddhas and reliefs, red painted wood, and wide floor boards defined the grounds.

When we decided it was time to leave, we meandered back to the gate.

It was closed.

At this point I did what seemed natural to me–I freaked out. I tried to swallow hard and seem cool. We just got locked into a temple, no big deal. NH and I had a history of trespassing together, so it wasn’t even worth thinking about, right?

However, in spite of my small adventures in trespassing, every time I did it, visions of being caught haunted me. Suddenly, we were trespassing.

I think it was NH who said we should just climb over the fence.

My shape is slightly round, soft-and-squishy. My muscles were pathetic. Climbing a fence seemed impossible. However, NH, ever the southern gentleman, helped me over it. As I stood on top, I wasn’t sure how far away the ground was. Rather than images of being arrested and deported, my fears turned into broken legs, uncomfortable trips to Korean emergency rooms, and being unable to express things like “my leg is broken.”

And then being fired from my tenuous job because I’d be unable to get to work or something.

Instead, as luck would have it, I landed safely, but with a lack of grace and a new found sense of pride having broken out of a Buddhist temple.


A brief commentary about the use of the term “holidays” in the media.

I don’t mind the phrase “Merry Christmas.” I don’t mind the phrase “Happy Holidays” either. “Happy Hanukkah” and “Joyous Kwanzaa” are good too. I get various forms of “Blessed Solstice.” Festivus. Wikipedia has a nice list.

What I find interesting is the use of the generic “holidays” with obvious Christmas imagery.

I would like to point to two Glade candle commercials.

The first is from 2008, the second from 2011.



The first one has gingerbread men, which is a fairly Christmasy tradition. The second uses the phrase “make your holidays come alive.” They never specifically say Christmas, but their visuals include things from gingerbread men, a Christmas tree, Frosty the Snowman, and even Santa Claus.

I will now point you towards Maria Bamford’s Target Christmas Sale ads.

These creep me out. There are many, many things awful about them. However, she just right out and says it.

While it’s easy to argue that “holidays” is more inclusive, it feels disingenuous to assume that using the phrase makes it okay to then have Santa Claus. I don’t think it’s wrong to have Santa, I just think it’s ridiculous to use the phrase “holidays” and Santa in the same image.


A moment from Caturday Hacking, as proof that not everyone works on FLOSS things.

Damian is reading

Ella is e-mailing.

Chris was responding to a friend request from his cat on facebook. Now he is publishing a copy from flickr to facebook application.

Christine is trying to get authentication to work with node.js.

David was trying to make elisp help him explore packages into R. Instead, he read papers on his iPad.

Mad worked on making sushi, and is now working on her paper. She is editing the paper for new data concerning three genomes for the same person that were finally recreated according to a more recent standard.

Chris is reading a photography book.

Noah was blogging and watching people play Magic online. Now he is playing Magic online and watching people play Magic online.

Brett is working on dtrx. It extracts different kinds of archive files, but makes sure they go to the right directories in the right names with the right permissions.

Asheesh is working on a simultaneous video watching tool.

Okay, so a lot of those were FLOSS kinds of things. I think. I’m not sure what node.js is. But, at one point, May was making necklaces.


One of the reasons I chose to go to Pitt was because it was cheaper than my other options. It was also in a better climate (for my tastes), had more options for me to explore, and it felt like the place I needed to be.

Of course, I took out student loans.

I have a total of seven loans with Sallie Mae. Data ranges from 10/26/2009 – 11/29/2011

Loan Original Current Amount Owed Total Payments Interest rate







































Upon doing this tedious work, I have realized that since November 1st, my interest rates have risen! Where there used to be 6.75%, 9.75%, and 10% there is now 6.875%, 9.875%, and 10.125%!

I consider myself lucky because I have a job.

I had a lot of trouble finding a job and making payments since I graduated. (I’ll save my sob story for later.) I ended up on interest only repayments.

Interest only thing confuses me. Regularly I find myself faced with screens like this:

A screen shot of a page from my Sallie Mae account displaying the difference between that is labeled as "accrued interest" and the minimum payment due for an "interest only" loan.


If my interest is more than the payment, isn’t it not an interest only payment? Isn’t it like a “less than interest” payment? To be safe, I pay above the accrued amount rather than the ‘pay this amount’ amount. But, when I do this, I have to allocate the extra to someplace specific. This is cool, because I can work on paying off my scary loan the most quickly. The downside to this is not knowing if all the interest is really being paid off each loan! I’m hoping to embark on a complex, tedious mathematical tracking of my individual loans to see what happens. I say hoping because I will likely forget. Unless I add it to my finance spreadsheet. I do love fidgeting with my finance spreadsheet. In general, I find the Sallie Mae website to be especially unhelpful because it doesn’t show me these things. I have to figure them out myself, which is rather pedantic and probably not the best use of my time.

Due to the angst my loans have caused me over the years, I found myself really inspired by Lawrence Weschler’s article in The Stranger calling for people to stop paying their loans. InsideHigherEd also had a brief piece mentioning it in their ‘Quick Takes’ section. The franchisation of the Occupy Movement (which I don’t judge the way I do TEDx) has led to Occupy Student Debt, which doesn’t make such a dramatic call for action as Weschler does. Rather they point to a Change.Org Petition calling for Sallie Mae to cease requiring Forbearance Fees if one is unable to pay their loans.

As someone who used the forbearance option quite heavily in my less employed days, I can tell you that when you can’t afford a 200/month loan payment, you certainly can’t afford the forbearance fees.

I found the idea of just stopping loan payments quite enticing. I recognize that I borrowed money and I should pay it back. This isn’t about whether or not higher education should be affordable (it should), it’s about the fact I made a promise to pay back money I borrowed (borrowed is the key word). The interest, even the higher rates, are somewhat reasonable. Interest accruing at quite a rate (even before graduation!), with high forbearance fees, and little to no wiggle room is ridiculous. When I was looking at money saving options, I did not qualify for anything Income Based. They told me, at the time, that my options were “income based,” “interest only,” or forbearance. They said they would figure out how much I would owe with IB, and if it was below IO, I’d have to pay IO. I’ve heard varying experiences from various people I know. Finding a job, any job, within the short period of time they give you post-graduation is nearly impossible–much less one that affords you the ability to pay your loans.

The Onion brings attention to one of the most fundamental problems of looking for a job: they don’t exist where you need them to. Post-graduation, as many people do, I considered the worth of moving in with my parents. It would be cheaper than living on my own. I wouldn’t have to pay rent. I also wouldn’t have a job. Clarkdale, Arizona is a lovely place, but it’s not exactly the employment rich land I needed. (Getting a job with an HPS degree that isn’t ‘graduate student’ is actually quite difficult, with more employers searching for people with specific degree types for entry level positions.)

In short, loan payments are hard to make, due largely to the inability for people to find employment that affords them luxury of paying rent and loans–not to mention the misc expenses of things like utilities, food, medical care, and beer. (I had this interesting situation where I could have had a job if I had better clothes, but I couldn’t afford better clothes because I didn’t have a job. In the end someone I know lent me ten bucks to get an outfit that I wore every day for two weeks until I got paid the first time. P.S. ‘Beer’ is a joke there.) This sort of living also causes stress, depression, and ulcers.

Yay, ulcers.

So, while I would enjoy not having to pay the $700/month I ought to be paying on my loans, I don’t expect that to be the case. I expect to pay back everything I borrowed (and then quite a bit more). But I also expect people to not be dicks about it. Taking a stand against a broken system is an important thing to do. Words stop being enough, and action comes into play. Financial action has been a successful tool of protests all over. Not paying loans seems like a great idea to take a stand. It’s a dangerous stand, but if others would do it, I would not only be willing (and scared), but I would be happy (and scared out of my wits) to participate. The system of lending and borrowing is not broken, the companies that run this system are.

Then my reasonable side asked me “What happens when you don’t pay your loans?” I made some calls and did some digging. Here’s what I found out.

After not paying on my loans for 45 days, the guarantor will take over. A guarantor has the right to garnish from your wages. Therefore, even if I stopped paying, I would be forced to pay and kick my credit score in the head. This option is really only useful if you don’t have any wages to garnish. Basically, us employed people can’t stand in functional solidarity with our less-employed brethren.

The guarantor for my loans, I learned, is HEMAR Insurance Corp. of America. They don’t have a website, but they do have an office in Sioux Falls, ND. According to this 1994 article, HICA is a subsidiary of Sallie Mae. I didn’t spent the energy to confirm this. It seemed hard to do.

So, if I stopped paying on my loans, Sallie Mae would transfer them to another part of Sallie Mae and then garnish my wages. Fun.

However, there is still hope for people who do not have loans with Sallie Mae–or guarantors that are not the corporation who also owns the loans. If enough of you, i.e. millions (not one million, but plural of millions), all stopped paying AT THE SAME TIME it would be hard to manage that much buying of debt and theoretical money being passed around.

But, really, are millions of us ready to do that?