Fail Faster: A Change of Plans

by Emily Smith

The creative process and formatting of this blog isn’t working for me. So I propose an altered schedule, to revitalize our writing. Specifically, my own writing. I’ve posted here without my mother’s review, and indeed, without much revision. Sorry, Mom. I guess “autism” really is Latin for selfishness. But I HAVE to get this out there. I HAVE to get this seen.

The collaborative nature of this blog means that the two of us spend a lot of time talking to each other as co-authors before anything gets posted. But that also tends to mean, if we can’t find time to actively collaborate, nothing gets posted. We stagnate, regardless of whose turn it is or who has what posts done. I’m having a lot of trouble with this paradigm. It’s not working.

So I’m posting something every day now. Here are my reasons.

1. I feel compelled to do so. As a creative type, I find that listening to such compulsions usually yields ideas worth sharing.

2. Time I spend writing, especially for this blog, is time I always get back. It fuels a more productive day than I’d have had otherwise. That feels like I can do MAGIC with my time. I put an hour into the spell, and I get two more hours out of it. It’s a fountain, an unwinding clock, a wormhole of constantly regenerating time. It could make me immortal if I did enough of it.

3. Whenever I’m awaiting an editing session, I sprout this gnawing fear of failure. It makes me so twitchy inside that I can’t write anything good. At least, I can’t write what I think will be good enough. Robin Williams tribute? Not topical enough. Description of my day? Nobody wants to hear that. Generic post about a particular autism difficulty? But I could post that anytime! Where’s the perfection?!

But NO creative idea is perfect. Explained on their face, a lot of creative ideas are really bad! Check THESE out!

A video game about a plumber on drugs!

A play about two guys on a bench whose friend never shows up!

A novel about a bumbling old Irishman that’s full of nonsense words! Like the Odyssey, but NOT!

A picture of six hookers, but in the shape of REALLY ugly cubes! And the one in the corner is like, ten times uglier than the other five!

Yeah, let’s go there. Let’s make all that.

And we’ve got Super Mario Brothers, Waiting for Godot, Ulysses, and Les Demoiselles d’Avignon, respectively. They’re works of media we love. They were gamechangers. They became classics in their genres. They made Nintendo, Nintendo. Made Picasso, Picasso. And they’re all totally weird ideas that probably met a lot of failures on their way to the final iteration.

Which is why I need to FAIL FASTER.

Failures transport us between Points A and B. FAIL FASTER.

Failures give birth to human interaction about those same failures. They spawn conversation, spawn revision. FAIL FASTER.

Failures on job interviews might get me down, but they’ll point me toward the authorial success I strive for, and deserve. FAIL. FASTER.

Mom, you can post as frequently or infrequently as you want. I am here to help. I’ll also be asking you for your opinions on these posts as much as ever. I hope you’ll be here to help me as well.

But I need. To fail. Faster.

And if you’ll pardon me, gentle readers, I’m off to my part-time gig, where maybe I’ll fail some more. Just as long as I’m failing faster.

How Emily Beat the Unemployment Statistics

by Jill Wilbur Smith

Earlier this summer I came across a staggering statistic. According to many sources*, an estimated 83 percent of adults with Asperger’s are unemployed.

I stumbled across this information on the Internet a few days after Emily returned home from college. My initial reaction was panic. “Why didn’t I know this?!” I thought. “Why haven’t we been working on this for the past six years?”

I spent the next 24 hours in a funk, keeping this tidbit to myself while I processed what it could mean for our family. I found blog posts and websites that listed the best degrees for people with Asperger’s, most of which don’t recommend English or Political Science, Emily’s major and minor.

I walked around with a worry knot in the pit of my stomach imagining the worst.

Then I got real. My sensible husband helped pull me back from the brink of despair. “What about people with Asperger’s who have a college degree?” he asked. “And who’s the source for the unemployment data?” Good questions. I went back to the Internet.

That search uncovered…nothing. No statistics on how many people with Asperger’s graduate from college. In fact, I was unable to find the original source for the 83 percent statistic, although it appears on many blogs and websites.

So, I decided to ignore the online babel and do what I’ve always done with Emily. Follow my instincts and believe in my heart that she can achieve anything she puts her mind to. Remind myself that her disorder is classified as autism spectrum for a reason. No two people with Asperger’s are exactly the same.

What happened next surprised and overwhelmed me. Emily got a job. Within two months of graduating from college, she landed a full-time job.

I love the story of how she did it. Here’s how it happened.

At my suggestion, she decided to enroll with a temporary employment agency in the hopes of landing an office job while she searched for full-time work. (I offer this advice to anyone looking for a job. It’s served me well in my career.)

On a Monday, she met with an agency in downtown Minneapolis, submitted her resume and took the basic screening tests the agency requires.

On Tuesday, she called her references to see if she could continue to use them for her job search.

One of those calls was to a former Minnesota state representative on whose campaign she volunteered in 2008. He runs a family-owned insurance company near our home. And, he just happened to be looking for a customer service representative to replace someone who was leaving that week. He invited Emily to interview for the job.

On Wednesday, she interviewed.

She started the job on Friday.

Did Emily “beat the odds” of finding employment? Maybe. Or maybe the statistics on the Internet are outdated, untrue or have been misconstrued. Maybe projecting the future for my beautifully complex daughter has nothing to do with numbers, but only with our ongoing journey to explore the many iterations of life that lay before her.

 

*I found one reference to a 2001 study in the U.K., but not the study itself. If you know the original source for this unemployment data, I’d love to know about it!

On Taking Initiative…and Rolling for It

by Emily Smith

My first day of work!

My first day of work!

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.