by Emily Smith
In this economy, it’s safe to say my family feels justifiably proud of me for having a full-time job. I’m pretty proud of it myself. I doubt, though, that we all feel this way for the same reasons. In the first place, you’re in a radically different boat when you say “my daughter got a job” or “my sister has a job,” versus when you can say “I work this job now.” But more importantly, at least to me, our sources of pride are various.
My sister’s emotions remain a mystery to me. She congratulated me along with everyone else when I landed the job. I congratulated her when she found out that she got her first part-time job. As far as I can tell, she sees me as slightly more “normal” now that I work. It makes sense, I suppose. She has this part-time job as a high school student, and even as a college student, my work experience was limited. Maybe she relates more to my life now. That’s a good thing, right?
If I had to hazard a guess, my mother is essentially proud of me for beating the odds of my peer group, despite autism. Given her past herculean efforts to make me functionally normal, I can’t really blame her for this. “Normal” society tells me this too, but I have an easier time agreeing with them on this than on most other things. A decade of wondering how your child is stunted, what needs to get done to catch her up with the pack, who’s lending her a hand this time, will do that to even the staunchest of advocates. (And yes, Mom, you really are the staunchest of advocates. I love you, and my sister, very much.)
Regardless of their positive intentions, both tend to think in terms of despite autism when I’ve accomplished something. They say, “Emily, you have so many challenges.” I agree, and they’re not minor challenges. Sometimes I wonder, though, if they forget I have gifts, and that those are not minor either. Maybe it’s the curse of adulthood starting to work on me. After all, it’s a common irony that children are universally special.
Conversely, despite the many highs and lows of my relationship to my father, I more often feel gifted than challenged around him. He and I are the other unofficial parent-child pair of the family. His conversations tend to fill up with “did you know that?” or “isn’t that amazing?” rather than “I know! Isn’t that color amazing?” But the exchange of seemingly random facts is our small talk. Don’t judge us; it works fine as long as you’re not hoping to hear about other people’s lives. And it’s safe to say, we never are. No offense, other people.
My dad seems proud of me for practical reasons. Reasons of money, productivity, well-being. Granted, I don’t always get this either. Ten years ago he was telling me to always follow my bliss. He still does, on occasion. At present, it seems like I can’t go a day without hearing how much of my income should make rent (a third of it), how to prioritize my other spending (needs first), and the merits of homemade sandwiches versus increasingly expensive fast food (you know, you can get an entire chicken at Byerly’s for $5.99! A whole chicken!). But hey, I’m still saving up to move out. I could use a nickel’s worth of free advice every now and then. Thanks, Dad.
So what makes me proud of the job? Not the job itself. I know, you thought we’d banter about what my job is like, didn’t you? Sorry, gentle readers, you’re out of luck this time. I’ll get the hang of banter someday. Maybe.
I get to use this job… to figure out other jobs. Yup. Read that again.
Why wouldn’t I just be happy about this job, you ask? Well, first of all, my job is made up of tasks that are easy, punctuated by tasks that are terrifying. For most people, those labels would probably be switched, since I think filling out complicated insurance forms is easy and phone calls are terrifying. But the contrast still stands.
The crux of the matter for me is that I get to use these new skills and this new environment to project myself into the future. I get to see what I like to do and don’t like to do, where and how I like working, and with whom I might eventually work. That’s useful information I didn’t have before.
I’ve always had this ambition to “be a writer,” and sort of vaguely figured the day-job stuff would happen later. Now the day-job stuff is actually happening, and I’m feeling pretty awesome about that. It’s Phase Two of “What do I want to be when I grow up?”
I could write and… conduct actuarial research! This one would be lucrative, plus I’d be awesome at it.
I could write and… work with animals! The kid in me still really wants to fly out to Galápagos and tag penguins FOR SCIENCE! It could happen.
I could write and… do marketing for an RPG gaming company! So far, I like this one best and think its timetable is the shortest. If anyone at Paizo Publishing reads this, I would climb the highest mountain to work with you. Which is good, because you’re based in Washington. Anyway, I love you guys, so roll for initiative. And I guess I should make a Climb check.
Bottom line: This is my first iteration of adult life. And it’s the first iteration of many. The function that drives them: What kind of bliss can I follow, to keep my other bliss alive?
That’s one glorious fractal.