Everything sucks. Plus I'm a legal secretary!

People say I should go to college, but that's impossible.


Cary Tennis
November 3, 2006 5:30PM (UTC)

Dear Cary,

I don't know what to do with my life.

No, I don't mean in that midlife-crisis kind of way. Long story short, I am 21 and I live with my boyfriend (27). While this traditionally is not considered wise, I have little choice, being one step away from poverty every day. I am currently a legal secretary. I believe there is a special circle in hell for all attorneys where they become legal secretaries/paralegals for all eternity. That or perhaps I was very terrible in a past life. I haven't managed to find a firm that has trained me enough to turn it into a viable career path and beyond that, it's pretty degrading. I've had things thrown at me, I've been threatened, I've been sexually harassed, I'm typically, often insulted, which has equaled an erratic résumé and equally an aversion to the idea of this as a career.

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College? Ah yes, the golden answer to all of life's problems. I was told since I was in third grade that college was where I belonged and was where I would flourish. This is assuming you come from a non-abusive household and your parents are paying for it.

I hate to break it to people, but that "magic money" that is supposed to be out there to save any poor child from the ghetto, with a tear in his eye and hope in his heart to escape his plight is not there. There is no magic money. Period. And I also have heard the stories many times of people far worse off than me, unwed mothers with children who manage to work many jobs and go to school. Strike one, I suffer from depression, which makes it hard enough to get by with my work week, let alone add something else to the pot; strike two, no health insurance to treat said depression.

Look, I don't feel sorry for myself and I try not to indulge, but all the self-help books in the world aren't going to fix this problem right now.

I just can't continue like this.

I'm depressed and then my job makes me depressed. Or I'm without a job, which makes me depressed, only to get a job that makes me depressed. And no health insurance to fix it. Don't even go down the list of governmental programs; at my nonexistent wages I make too much to qualify, plus those programs, not unlike college for free, do not exist. Trust me.

I need a light at the end of the tunnel, a goal to work toward. I live in Los Angeles and I know unfortunately my songwriting and love of guitar isn't enough to feed me but I am going batty without a path. There has to be a job out there that I could be trained on-the-job for, that doesn't require being picked on by attorneys all day. I need something that I can also make a living wage at.

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Until then I think I need to either sleep with a professor or buy some magic beans for a beanstalk that leads to a free college. ?

Losing It in L.A.

Dear Losing It in L.A.,

I, too, think you should go to college.

If you are not making enough to pay for tuition in your current legal secretary job, perhaps you should apply for this one, for the California Department of Justice, which starts at $3,450 a month if you live in L.A. Since this is a state job, I must assume that you are making at least something near that. So let's do some numbers.

If you are splitting rent with your boyfriend, your rent is probably less than $1,000. That would leave you $2,450 (minus taxes, let's say maybe $1,800 cash) per month. Out of that, let's see if we could squeeze some college tuition.

Say you took nine units a semester at a Los Angeles-area community college. As L.A. Community College District Chancellor Darroch Young recently announced, "Tuition fees will decrease to $20 per unit for courses after January 1, 2007."

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So let's say you took nine units a semester. That comes to $180. Say a semester is about 16 weeks, or almost four months, that's about $45 a month. $45 a month out of living expenses of $1,800 (and I estimated high on the rent) does not sound out of the question to me.

There may be situations and expenses I don't know about. But I urge you to consider enrolling in a community college, perhaps in a pre-law program that has some kind of legal certificate as a possible termination -- that is, you don't have to go to law school, but you could take classes that point in that direction, which will make you a more valuable legal worker. For an overview of your options in this regard, you might take a look at this Los Angeles Times article.

So if you gather some facts and look at the numbers, you may find that although you do feel that you have been screwed by the system and that there is not much hope of getting out of your situation, you can indeed attend college.

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I really hope you do. Because I think this country needs more people like you walking around with college educations. We need more angry, articulate, disenfranchised, wounded and victimized people who've been screwed over and messed with, getting their degrees and taking their rightful places at the table.

I just think that is a healthy thing for democracy. In my darker moments, I think it will save the American experiment from fascism. But in my lighter moods, it just makes me happy. It feels like justice.

But anyway, I fear what is standing in your way is your habit of thought.

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So don't think! Just enroll!

And I hope you will seek some cognitive therapy for your depression. It sounds like you are having the kind of thoughts that cognitive therapy is good for.

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