When I was young

C’est moi!

When I was young, I was told by more than one person that I’d never amount to much, and I honestly did not really expect to. The Cold War and looming threat of Thermonuclear War were a perpetual dark cloud hanging over our heads in the 70’s and 80’s. I didn’t think the world would last very much longer; so naturally I figured I did not need an education or plans for the future. No, I was determined to use what (little) time I (thought I) had in this world to live, love, and laugh as much and as well as possible… for as long as possible.

I began writing as soon as I learned how to form the letters on paper, and actually won my first writing award at the age of six; for a cute little booklet about a leprechaun, which I created as part of the Princeton School District’s “Young Authors” contest. I won again (twice) in high school, for poetry, but by the time I was a teenager most of my writing was in the form of songs. At first, they were sappy, immature, and boring – I did not yet consider myself a writer. I was just a wanderer in search of that vague “something” that had yet to be defined.

Both of my parents passed away by the time I turned 20, and I have no siblings, so I was on my own. My granny and my aunt attempted to offer some guidance, but I was in a tailspin and not really capable of hearing them. Their well-meaning words followed me, and although they failed to completely sink in at the time, they did not fall on entirely deaf ears either.

Eventually, I headed to Florida, where I settled down and raised a family with my husband, a hard-working blue-collar employee who turned out to be an excellent father and provider. This gave me license to be somewhat of a slacker – I did not need to work for a living, and most of the time I did not have a job. In fact, I gave up jobs on more than one occasion when employee hours were being cut and I knew there were others who needed to pay their bills. For me it was only “spending money” to save for luxuries: a trip I wanted to go on, or some new outfits I wanted to buy, things I could easily live without. Then, after over 30 years at the same job, my husband’s plant closed and our whole family had to look for work, wherever we could find it. Times had changed: life had given me the incentive to roll up my sleeves and get serious about earning a living!

Over the years my husband and I have had a greater number of people live/stay with us than the total number of years we have been together. We were able to help some of them to improve their lives, others were more problematic… and some of them even stole things from us. But I would not change a thing if I had it to do over again. It’s all part of the experience that has made us who we are.

Our first child was born in 1986, and we had several more after that. Our family life has had the average ups and downs that most marriages do… a few broken arms and stitches over the years with our rambunctious boys, but we were thankful that overall; our children were healthy and stayed out of trouble. We knew there were countless others who were not as fortunate, and I have always wished I could do more to help those people.

Then 9/11 happened. Over and over we watched the footage with horror; and could not help but think about the numerous children who had just lost one or both parents, the widows and widowers, and the parents/grandparents who lost their children/grandchildren. I felt so unbelievably powerless, so helpless. I could pray, I could weep until the tears would no longer come, but there was not really much more I could do for those people; furthermore, there was little or nothing I could do to ensure such a tragedy was never repeated.

I grew more and more restless; with a desire to break out of the rut I was in and get into a groove that I could really enjoy, doing something fulfilling that involved helping others. I had no clue yet what that would be, but I began to think about it… which is the first step. We can not obtain what we desire until we describe it clearly. A fuzzy dream is just that: a fuzzy dream. Clarity is required to achieve success.

I had begun to consider myself a songwriter by this time, but like most artists, I was not very good at self-promotion. Preferring to play outdoors as a busker, rather than indoors on a stage, I performed for tips and free drinks, but had not yet really played any professional gigs. We had purchased our first computer at the end of 1999 and I took to it like a duck to water, really enjoying my time spent online. My desire was to use the Internet for the promotion of my music; but my websites were all on “free webpage” sites and cluttered with ads which had nothing to do with me, my music, or my message.

In 2002, my (then) sixteen-year-old son began to study for a Computer Network Engineer’s degree. I discovered during his enrollment, that the school had a Dreamweaver class. Dreamweaver was a program I had been interested in learning, and the title of “Webmaster” began calling to me; it sounded good – had a nice ring to it. Of course, I had no idea how tough taking a two-year course in my mid 30’s was going to be, or that in the end Dreamweaver would be the least of what I use when I build websites; but that is what convinced me to sign on the dotted line and make a commitment.

When I enrolled in Florida Career College, I considered it to be a lark; a pipe dream. I honestly did not think that I would be able to secure the funding, so I wasn’t really serious about it. I made jokes to my friends and family about attending the same college my son was going to, but assumed it would never happen.

Well, the joke was on me, when I found out that I DID qualify for various grants and loans to pay for it, and had to start showing up for classes! And boy was that ever hard, for someone like me, who was not used to living by a schedule at all. Of course, I eventually switched to night classes… but by that time I had applied for (and gotten) a job as a work-study employee, so in addition to the 20 hours per week I attended classes, I was working 20 hours per week at the college, too.

Getting up every day and making it to class was not easy… but thanks to the fact that on my first day I had the good fortune to sit next to a rather driven girl (who became one of my best friends while I was there – Jessica Perez, where are you now?), I soon became obsessed with maintaining a 4.0 GPA and perfect attendance. I had no such aspirations, but she did… and I decided I would do it too. I lost out on a $100 perfect attendance award gift certificate because I stayed home for ONE day (I was very sick and did not wish to spread germs!) however, I’m pleased to report that I did manage to graduate with the 4.0 GPA I worked so hard for!

That brings me to the dreaded “D” word: DISCIPLINE. Discipline is something which had always been sorely lacking in my life prior to my time at FCC. Something I had needed desperately. And something which I cultivated while struggling to 1.keep my nose to the grindstone, 2. NOT give up, and 3. FINISH WHAT I STARTED. I still struggle with discipline on a daily basis, and probably always will.

I must also add that working for the school during the second year helped me to develop much-needed confidence. I was able to apply many of the skills that I had acquired during the course of my studies, and most of all, really found myself enjoying the time I got to spend posting jobs on the school’s website; something which I hope proved of great benefit to the students. I also served as a tutor for part of my time working there, among other things. These activities made me feel like I was really doing something worthwhile, and it was a bit painful to leave that sensation behind when I graduated and could no longer remain employed on a work-study basis. But it was time for me to move on.

It has been through all of this that I have come to understand that we all start out as “diamonds in the rough,” and every piece of our education (formal or informal) adds a new facet to the finished product. Each completed facet adds more value to the gem we are becoming, so that as we continue onward in our growth and development there is ever more unique individual beauty revealed. Finally, like diamonds, each of us has our own distinctive characteristics that only we can bring to the world.

It was largely due to the help of many wonderful FCC staff members, my fellow students, and a few fantastic online friends, that I became a better person. The people who helped me survive college enriched my life in so many ways; I could not begin to list them all here. I owe them a debt of gratitude beyond measure. You see, I have told you all of this without revealing the fact that I am not what people consider “normal” or Neurotypical.I was diagnosed  after college, in my early 40’s, with Asperger’s Syndrome, a condition on the Autism Spectrum.

All that time in college when I was on the verge of meltdowns, every time the staff, fellow students and online friends coaxed and encouraged me, they had no idea I had any sort of disability. Not only that, but in addition to the Autism diagnosis, I was also diagnosed with another separate (and previously unsuspected) learning disorder. To me, it is really extraordinary that, even with the assistance of others, I was able to overcome the natural limitations imposed by two undiagnosed disorders in order to graduate with honors. And I don’t know if I would have pushed as hard or whether I would have been anywhere near as successful if I had been diagnosed prior to attending college.

I know my success would not have been possible without the aid of these kind people who sometimes went out of their way to ensure that I was able to function. It is incredible to me, in retrospect, that these people had such patience with my “fits” and apparent childishness. I am ever so grateful that they were placed in my path, and will never forget the jump-start they helped give my life.

I do use my education, building websites and performing office work for people including document and database creation or developing spreadsheets. Yes, I did finally create a website to promote my music, but I have also earned a bit of money making web pages and sites for other people, and I have even been able to bless a few people who could not afford to pay someone, by creating sites for them free of charge. My future may take me more into the writing; but websites, rideshare driving, and pet-sitting will most likely also remain prominent in my life.

Why do I have so many diverse plans? I listen to inspirational people like Dani Johnson; who tells us to live by design instead of by default, and to have a clear picture of what our life will look like at the point where we can consider ourselves to have succeeded. The success she speaks of, however, is not the world’s definition of success, but our own.

My personal definition of success is that I am confident, healthy, lack nothing, and I’m in a position to help others. I have no worries such as insurance, health or health care costs, I have time to do what I desire instead of my time being monopolized by minutiae which can be delegated to others. I know that everything is done and nothing has been neglected. I can not say these things yet, but I am planning my work, and working my plan.

Furthermore, I have plans to make investments; develop nonprofit programs in conjunction with existing nonprofit groups, as well as to create one or more nonprofit entities explicitly for their own charitable purposes. The real estate ideas I have include at least one campground and at least one other property intended to be developed as retreats for autistic and other special-needs children and adults; where they can experience nature and learn to fish, garden, tend livestock, or just lie in the grass and figure out what animals the cloud shapes remind them of. Another nonprofit venture is the creation of a fund specifically dedicated to providing assistive technology to those who cannot speak verbally. Communication devices will greatly benefit people who are autistic, as well as those with Traumatic Brain Injury or any disability that renders someone incapable of verbal speech. This is important to me because I feel that we all have a right to communicate and everyone deserves to be heard.

I am certain that I can achieve these goals, regardless of the economy, because I have faith. I am a believer… and I know that without faith it is difficult if not impossible to make anything work. I am moving ahead boldly, and look forward to seeing just how far I can go, how quickly.

I have managed to realize at this point that my heart’s deepest desire is to be an absolutely phenomenal writer. With that in mind, I do my best to set aside the best hours of my day (early morning, as soon as I am awake) for writing. During that time I usually do not open a web browser except for research that relates to the piece I am writing.

To be successful as a writer I must continuously seek out publications in search of material that I am capable of delivering. This means that I often submit my writing for many months before I see results, but in some years I have been paid more for writing than for anything else I’ve done. When more of the pieces I submit are accepted and published with bylines, the steady flow of income should continue to increase proportionately with my effort in seeking work. I am also currently toying with the idea of completing my back-burnered novel.

All this from the girl whom very few people ever expected would amount to much. To those who have stood behind me and believed in me even at times when I could not see the light at the end of the tunnel: thank you, may God richly bless and keep you, and please let me know when we can meet for a cup of coffee and chat. I’d really love to let you know in person just how much you have contributed to my success in life.