"Whatever happened to your parents?"
Friends who know me don't ask these questions, but sometimes I am in a situation where I have to explain why I don't have parents. I feel awkward, like an orphan who has to explain, yet again, he was adopted, and no, he doesn't know who his real parents are. I usually say, "My parents are gone," but that's not working, because most people want to know why right away. I hate laying down, "My mother committed suicide when I was 18 and my father took the opportunity to get rid of me. I don't know where he is, and he refuses to tell me." This concept seems weird to a lot of people the first time around. I am sure there are assumptions made, and frankly I am sick of it. Some people assume there's something wrong with me, because parents just don't kill themselves and then abandon their only child. Some feel real bad they asked, and awkwardly steer the conversation in another direction, like how some people suddenly avoid eye contact with the handicapped. Either way, I wish I could just make something up, like "I was adopted," which has slightly less of a stigma to it, for some reason. Maybe, "I was an orphan, raised in a variety of foster homes in the system until I turned 18," but then everything else in my life wouldn't fit. I have even considered saying they were murdered, or their plane went down and the bodies were never found, or something. But I consider lying to strangers as despicable as spitting on random people from a balcony, and so I cannot make up such tales.
There are many times I wish I had parents. My parents growing up were sort of "half-parents," in the sense they gave me a place to stay and food most of the time. But it always seemed that any attempt at love was an awkward glance away from eye contact. My mother was the only one who provided love, but it came at a price: I had to take care of her and the mess she left behind during her alcoholism. It was a price I was willing to pay, because I was desperate for love and attention, like any kid, and at times I felt proud that I could keep up appearances, clean up house as best I could, so my father wouldn't get mad at me. My father never liked me, and any outing we had was usually forced by my mother, who held the belief that if we were forced together enough, we'd bond on some level. I think I despised my father more because I feared him so greatly, and never saw him as a provider that my mother kept telling me to be grateful for. I am turning 35 this year, and REALLY trying to forgive him. I mean, it must have sucked being married to an alcoholic, and forced to have a child because my mother felt is fit some sort of mold. I have been trying to forgive him under the "insanity clause," where I just tell myself he's such a mentally ill person (his side of the family has a lot of crazy people), he can't help the evil that he does... but there's still a lot of unresolved hate I have to work through. So my parents were no more role models to me growing up than any random roommate you might get in college. So during times of stress, when people have mom or dad or even siblings they can turn to... I have nothing. I never really had anything but friends, and there's only so much intimacy you can get from them. I mean, I have Christine, but when you share the same stress (money, health, etc.), I have no one else to turn to, to pat me on the head, give me a hug, some warm cookies, tell me they love me, and give me some sort of warm confidence. I suppose that's supposed to make me tougher. But all I see are people who have that who are still stronger than me every day.
The right track
I have set a track for myself for 2004. It's the year I write and start trying to make money doing so. I said I'd goof off for 2003, stop my convention work, and so on, but after the recent wave of layoffs at work, the weary cracks of my life started to grow a little wider. Why am I doing tech stuff? Do I *really* enjoy it? My friend Brad, after several bad jobs, layoffs, and misdirection, just burned out on the technical scene. I mean, he was GOOD at what he did, but then got laid off company 1, laid off company 2, quit company 3, and then laid off just last month of company 4 in just six years. He saved all his money, though, and is taking an year off. Then he's thinking about becoming a bartender. I am sure many people would say, "That's stupid, you won't make NEAR the same amount of money as tech!" But it's not really about money for him. I am watching him to see how this pans out. I think he'll make a good bartender.
The tech industry is very unstable right now. There's outsourcing, layoffs, automation, and the tree keeps getting shaken. Part of the good from this is that all those people who joined the tech industry just for the money are now no longer attracted to it, and those that got in early are either fleeing for the hills or wedging themselves in tight. I think for a while, the tech industry was being watered down by too many people who didn't love what they did, but could fake it enough to get the serious moola we were all making in the late 90s. Now you see more and more people who stay because they love it; the fakers are getting out. The tech industry is as interesting as it's ever been, and I am excited to be a part of it, but it it my true path?
Ever since I was 12, I wanted to be a writer. I always had a keen knack for observation; an "outsider's view" of the human experience, so to speak. There have been many lessons I have learned since then, like how to keep your writing interesting, and how some people won't like what you have to say. I was taught from a very early age that honesty is the best policy when it comes to journalism, but I have since learned this isn't usually upheld. One of the major flaws I see is that "truth" is considered subjective, even if you report only the facts. The other problem is that no matter what the truth is, or how clearly you tell it, someone will skew your intent with their own spin. Like you could say, "I see six trees on the hill," and get a response, "The fact you didn't mention there were also rocks shows you are a rock-hater and therefore, not to be trusted as an impartial observer." If you don't believe me, watch an "online community" of some sort, and see if everyone gets along. So apart from this journal, I stay closer to fiction when I publish, although a lot of what I write is truth in disguise. Nothing's better or funnier than reality, which is why I also write comedy. But can I make a living at it?
The writing community is an art community, and thus, WILDLY unstable. You have a lot of snobs, unstable people, crazy people, constant lying, and it's all really a shill game of popularity. Since there is no real concrete way to "prove" someone is a good writer or not, I don't see this changing. My best approach with be not "Ars Gratis Artis" ("Art for the sake of art"), because while that make appeal to some, it's not very lucrative, and since art is so subjective anyway, that whole concept is essentially meaningless. I think "art for the sake of money" ("Ars Gratis Pecunae," I think) is closer to home, and "art for the sake of the audience" (I call my friend Neal, a Poet Latinate, to translate this for me) is even better, because money WILL follow as long as you play your cards right. I am not that innocent to think I am just going to waltz right into some publisher and get a book published and be rich. For every JK Rowling there are a thousand other authors we have never heard of. No, I have to play this like you play Hollywood. Flakes, liars, and shills. Endless travel and parties. Hobnobbing. Making friends in the right places. All that I learned in retail and more. So I feel that, as those kids of the 80s knew G.I. Joe to say, "Knowing is half the battle." (Hey Neal, translate that too!)
So I see tech as both a fallback and a transition. It's carried me from retail, given me a good house and everything, but it's probably not the track that will take me to the end station. I realized that when our family planned for the layoff. We realized that we could survive on one income if we moved to, say, Cumberland, Maryland. We had an emergency plan if I lost my job, and it was decided that my writing would be the next logical choice. But of course, I don't want that to be forced. I'd rather live off the two incomes at first, because I doubt my writing will give me NEAR the amount of money I make now for several years... if ever. I have to be realistic. But at least I LIKE working with computers, which is more than I can say for some of the coworkers around me, who seem to despise new work and challenges. I say, "Woohoo, new job skills!" while they say, "Aw man, now stuff is CHANGING again! Ugh!" I worry about them much more than I worry about me.
This entry was originally posted at http://www.punkwalrus.com/blog/archives/00000196.html