Saturday, March 26, 2011


This is not a post about building things, except it sort of is, a little bit.
My father is a contractor/construction worker, and has been for most of his life. Growing up, he told me hilarious stories about the time he worked as a pizza delivery man, and the tricks he and his friends used to play on the university students. "University students," he would tell me, "are some of the stupidest people you have ever met in your life. They have no common sense. Everything they know comes from books. They don't exist in the real world." Gratitude, Common Sense and The Real World were the million-dollar concepts to my father. Whenever we were lectured for anything, leaving a mark on the wall, not doing our homework, fighting at the dinner table, my father's lecture was the same:
"You kids are so Ungrateful. You don't have any Common Sense. You need to wake up and realize that in The Real World, you can't act this way." Theoretically, I could have come home carrying a human head, and the lecture would have likely gone something like this:

"You are so Ungrateful! Do you think your mother and I ever chopped someone’s head off? Common Sense says you cannot just chop someone’s head off. You should know better! In The Real World, people don't do that! Smarten up!"

This explains the somewhat tumultuous relationship my father and I have, and have had since I developed what we refer to as Independent Thought. My poor mother had to play referee, but every once in a while, my Dad would say something so off the wall that even my mom had to go, "Huh?" So one day, somewhere in my angry adolescence, my father was lecturing me on the dangers of my not having a backup plan. This lecture was another oldie, and at some point, my father made the mistake of asking me if I knew how many people tried to write books, every year. Because I was ticked off at this point, and because I was a bit of a snarky kid, I responded with, "Yes, as a matter of fact, I do. Do you?" His next words were, "Well, I could write a book too, you know." At which point, my mother stared incredulously at my father and said, "You know you're full of it, right?"

My dad, realizing his misstep, floundered for about half a second, and then amended himself. "I'm not saying it would get published..." So of course, the snark in me responded with, "Yeah, and I could build a house, but I'm not saying it wouldn't fall down."

It's strange, the things we value in this world, and why. I value people like construction workers, because I know they're necessary, but I don't understand why a person would rather do that than do this. In fact, most of the time, I assume they only do what they're doing because they don't have any other options. Like maybe they're just not good at anything else, or maybe the money's better and they need it. It sounds harsh, but then, sometimes feel the same about this venture, and in fact, most ventures of mine. In writing classes, they warn you that if you can do anything else, you should do it, because this is a long and painful road to nothing for most of us. For me, it was this, or struggle on disability for the rest of my life (which I may do anyway). I know that I have a decent job right now, and it's a job I like, but it's not what I would choose for myself, so I don't understand people who would. It was easy to be the one to say, "I'm going to be one of that 3%, because I don't have other options." Now I have another job, I have other options, I'm not miserable, and I know this is still an integral part of my sense of self, and my goals. It's a comfort of sort, to know that, but it makes other people's decisions and choices all the more confusing to me.
I've always been a DIY of a different sort than my father. My father needs to know that he is where people expect him to be. Everything that I've ever wanted, I've wanted for myself and by myself, and those have been some pretty concrete goals. I chose my profession at four, and decided I would stay single for most of, if not all of my life, at sixteen. And because of that, and because of the disability, I'm not afraid to move slowly. I get impatient, sometimes. But I take comfort in the fact that I am not like other people. I want to do things, not just at my own pace, but in my own way, and that takes time.

I think when you're a parent, with a child with a disability, you harbour a deep-seated fear that failure is inevitable. I was lucky, because I have two parents who cope with that fear in very different ways: My father, by denying the possibility of failure, and pushing me well beyond my capacity, pushing me towards goals he feels I can actually accomplish, and my mother, by denying the rest of the world's importance and embracing the failure. On their own, neither of those are particularly good ways to parent a child with a disability, and there are a lot of ways and a lot of times the whole thing worked out really badly for everyone. Put them together, though, and I grew up in an environment that if I wanted something, it was up to me to tell my mother I would have it, and if I couldn't do something, it was up to me to tell my father to back off. Sometimes this led to disaster and shouting, but it also led to me knowing exactly what I wanted, and exactly why, and understanding that if I was going to have something, I would have to get it myself. Because the people who believed I could have it also believed I didn't need help, and the people who didn't weren't going to waste resources trying to help me do the impossible.

So here we are. Me, attempting to self publish. Earning my online degree. Being at least functionally single for the foreseeable future, but daring to dream and plan for children. In part because it's the path life has led me to, but for the most part, purely because that's how I work. On my own. I suppose people are right then, to accuse me of being a bit self-interested. I am interested in myself, not at the expense of others, but because others don’t really factor into my life much. Possibly not the most lucrative way to live, and most times I seem antisocial and hard-headed. (I'm not. Well, antisocial.) But I think certain things are hardwired into you.

Recently, I had the flu. And I remember thinking, “So this is why people have partners. It’s so they can have someone to walk the dogs, and cook food and do the dishes while they can’t stand up.” It was the first time it occurred to me that being single might be in some ways harder than being coupled. Another day, I was talking to a friend about my severe lack of a social life, where I talked about having very few friends, and she offered many solutions, how I could go out and meet new people, and what do to once I had. And after making excuse after excuse as to why I couldn’t, I realized that it wasn’t that I lacked friends. It was that I had lived too full a life, I had friends on three continents, scattered all over the country, and that didn’t even include the myriad of amazing people I had met through other people, online. I wanted more time and more space in common with those people. I am not lonely for friendship or for romance. It’s just that the world is made for people who come in pairs and sets.

Good things and bad things to everything, I suppose. There are times I take on too much, sometimes, because like my father, I forget what I'm up against. I get stagnant and sometimes I'm easily overwhelmed, because I think, like my mother, that I should just revel in the fact that I have any ambition left, and sometimes that's enough to be grateful for. But one day I'm going to have all the things I want to have, a family, a career, and a life that I earned, and the job I always dreamed of having. And when I do, I know it'll be in part because I have good people in my life, and lots of support, and a little luck. And part of it will be because I learned how to stand up to the people who loved me before I had to stand up to the people who don’t. But mostly, it'll be up to me. Because there is the world, and there is me, and when we work together, it’s awesome, but when we don’t, somebody has to look out for me.

I sort of like it that way.

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