Ashe Elton Parker

A Writer of LGBT+ Characters in Speculative Fiction

Tag: school

VR&E Update 1

I have seen my VR&E counselor again. The last time I saw her, we weren’t able to determine what educational track may be best for me; all we did was eliminate Medical Coding and Billing from my roster. We also checked into some other educational tracks, even looking at getting me into online courses for a degree in library science (art—I’ve forgotten which), but the only course which could have helped me get a job at the local City Library was out of state and would have required me to move because they didn’t have any online courses for it the degree.

Between my appointments, since we’d eliminated my primary educational “desire” as well as the library one, I forwarded to Michele a list of other courses I could take that someone else at the VA emailed to me some year or more ago. Then, I did some more research for other jobs I could acquire skills for with relative speed and ease with little success.

At least, not until the 4th Sunday of January, just before my appointment with Michele. On the way home from our Square Dance Club meeting, I discussed with my ride her accounting job. Mandi’s a tax accountant, and I was vaguely considering this as a possible educational track. What she had to say about it disappointed me, but then she said something else which gave me a lot of excitement: they have certificates in the accounting and bookkeeping field. I didn’t have much chance to research this over the next couple of days before seeing Michele, but I had at least something else to discuss with her.

I arrived at Michele’s office well-rested an hour ahead of time, and she got me in a little early. We briefly discussed the medical-aligned careers whose course list links I’d forwarded to her, then mentioned what Mandi had said on the way home from the meeting. Michele happily looked this up for me, and we found an associates degree program as well as a program for a Certificate of Proficiency in general accounting and bookkeeping.

Michele told me that she wants me through school as quickly as possible, because the older I get, the harder it’ll be for me to find work. I added that my big blank space in terms of lack of working for the past several years was another strike against me, and she verified that. She told me that she likes the Certificate of Proficiency program because it looks like it’ll be something quick—I can get the certificate within two years, even if, as I suggested may happen, I’m placed in remedial math by the community college. Michele seemed to think this sort of timeline was possible even if I took classes only part time, as it has been suggested by others in the VA who are familiar with my mental health issues, and I told her that I planned on going to school continuously from beginning to end without taking summer breaks because I find it difficult to get back into the swing of things after an extended break and I also wanted to finish the program as soon as possible—because, why not? There is absolutely no reason for me to waste time in school when I have gads of free time on my hands.

One thing I did forget to mention to her was the fact I’m very concerned about living when I’m in school. I’m fairly certain I’ll lose all my SSDI, and I’ve been warned my VA Pension will disappear to be replaced with a stipend. When I got home, I immediately emailed Michele with this concern, suggesting it may be wise for me to see if I can get transferred to VA Compensation, since I know I’m eligible for that with my 20% disability with my knees.

So, I’m to go this week to the community college and find out if they start classes for the Certificate of Proficiency more frequently than every semester, and I need to get up to the VA to see if I can be transferred to the Compensation program.

School: Difficulties and Progress

I saw my therapist today, and one of the things I discussed with her was the difficulty I’ve been having with kicking things with school into gear. Part of my difficulty has to do with anxiety. Some of it is from my bipolar getting in the way. The rest is just plain not knowing what the heck to do.

The major problem has been that last one, and it’s something that fuels the anxiety. Over the past couple weeks, I’ve sat down and considered what needs to be done and tried to work on it. So far, all I’ve done is decide on my course of study and get into contact with the Social Security Administration. Thus far, I’ve had little success.

I’m trying to find out from Social Security what, if anything, will happen to my income from them if I go to school. Though I looked everywhere I could on the SSA site, and entered every variation of words requesting this information on my various searches, SSA proved not to have this information available. I contacted them via their contact form, and they sent me an email telling me to call the SSA with the best times to do so.

I explained this to my therapist today, and also my difficulties with researching what I need to do to enroll at school on Salt Lake Community College’s website. See, I’ve been using a direct link that someone sent me to the site, so I haven’t been able to find the enrollment procedure. My therapist did a different thing: she Googled the site and the enrollment procedure came up on the search.

Also while I was with my therapist, I saw the Voc Rehab specialist on my psych team at the VA. She said that since it seems like I am eligible for the GI Bill, I could apply for that, but that I’d be doing everything on my own, whereas if I use the VA’s Chapter 31 Vocational Rehabilitation and Employment Program, I’ll have people pointing the way and to help. I applied for that on the spot, since I like the idea of having people help me navigate the enrollment process. Lucy, the Voc Rehab specialist, told me it’s good I’ve researched the course I want to take at SLCC, and that I should make it clear to the people I’ll see with Chapter 31 that I’ve done the research so they know I’m serious about this—it’ll look good to them and indicate my determination to develop a long career with the education I’m seeking. She also suggested that if I can’t find any information regarding my Social Security income on my own, to see if the Chapter 31 people can. Lucy gave me a contact number to call if the Chapter 31 people don’t get back to me in about two weeks.

Anne, my therapist, helped me come up with a To Do list, which should help. Yes, I needed help to come up with it. Trying to on my own was driving up my anxiety. She also taught me a breathing exercise to do when I’m feeling more anxious. I’ll be going back in two weeks to give her an update on what’s going on with the school stuff.

Fears

I think I’ve mentioned that I’m planning on starting school in January of next year. While I’m excited and looking forward to this, I’m also scared out of my mind. I’m not precisely sure just what I’m afraid of with regards to going to school, though. It could be I’m afraid of change. Or maybe the specific change of going back to school, which I feel I’ve never done well in, no matter how much I know otherwise on a conscious level. Or it could be fear that I’m afraid I just might succeed.

I’m a pretty scaredy person. Have been since my breakdown after the Navy. I didn’t used to fear things like this. I just went out and did what I thought I needed to do with my life. I thought I should go to college after high school. So I did; didn’t get far, but that was in part, I think, to my living situation at the time. I needed a job, so I went out and got work (even though my mom at the time thought I didn’t want to work). I wanted to make writing my career, so I devoted most of my free time to it and sent short stories I managed to write out to markets. All this was easy to do with confidence before I had my breakdown. I wasn’t even afraid of the prospect of being homeless and left North Carolina to try and make a life in Colorado before I joined the Navy, and I dealt with homelessness with confidence and courage (and a great deal of fool’s luck), until I entered the military. And I threw myself into my Navy career with confidence I could make it my life.

It’s as if my failure with the Navy colors my entire outlook on success now.

But I’m not content to sit at home all day, living off the government. I need a change, and while I’ve been able to institute some minor changes which have helped me a great deal socially, I need to do something drastic to change my life. Getting a job is that change. But I don’t want just any minimum wage job. I could probably do retail, but I wouldn’t enjoy it. I don’t want to go back to dishwashing, though I think I would if I had to, because I do well with repetitive tasks that I can hyperfocus on with little risk of being distracted by the unexpected. I can’t do fast food—my mind isn’t quick enough for it; it processes things too slowly, and I take too long to think things through, get flustered when there’s a rush on, and am generally my flakiest when I’m working fast food, so that’s completely out.

So that means I need to go to school to make myself more marketable. And I’m terrified. I laugh at myself, because I know once I’m going and I’m in the middle of the situation, I’ll be happy I started. And that’s what’s helping me look forward to going to school.

Part of my fear stems from what I can expect of myself. While stabilized, my bipolar does fluctuate at various times, and it interferes with my life to some extent. I’m quite nervous about how I’ll do on days after nights when I haven’t slept due to the mania keeping me awake. I’m not sure I can consistently get up in the morning, but I do know once I’m used to the schedule, I’ll be able to do so with ease because I thrive in a structured environment, another thing helping me anticipate school. I’m not too sure of the classes, depending upon what I end up taking (I have a couple ideas), because I’ve never been academically confident, and civilian schools, especially in mathematics, tend not to teach at my level (that slow processing thing again).

But I already have plans for how to handle things. I’ll hit the State Street branch of the community college for a prep folder in late November or early December. I’ll get my entrance exam done as soon as I can within the time range they require it be done prior to enrollment. I’ll keep working on my fears about college in therapy and ask for advice every time I think I need the littlest bit of help. And, once I’m in classes, I’ll focus on school.

This means I’ll have to give up writing. Maybe only for weekdays, maybe the entire time unless school’s out for holiday. I’ve done this before, when I entered the Navy. I’ll try to work on my writing, but school will be my main priority.

I’ll face my fears and succeed at something, even if it means I have to drop out and get a minimum wage job. I can’t live like this much longer, because my biggest fear is that the life I’m living now will drive me crazier than I already am.

Learning Disability or Not?

A concern I’ve had since being discharged from the Navy is that I no longer have the ability to take tests with equanimity. The last time I tried one was a few years ago when I first decided to go to school (without knowing precisely what to do while in school). I recall little about that test aside from the fact that I went in very nervous and spent longer at it than two or three other people who arrived after me and left before me. I know this happened because I chose a testing station in the back of the room, because I was still rather afflicted with a paranoia about people peering over my shoulder at things I was doing—an sort of social anxiety where I worried about people judging me. But I took that entry test and a few days later received my score.

I didn’t end up going to college at that time. I let other things get in the way. But I’ve never forgotten my feeling of inferiority as I realized those people who’d entered after me were, one by one, leaving before I’d finished. And I felt certain it wasn’t just because I tend to struggle with certain aspects of mathematics—most especially fractions—and didn’t recognize some of the problems given me at all so spent some time sitting there wondering just which level of mathematics they were from that I had never reached. I let myself get far too distracted on that test—with all aspects of the test, not just the mathematics—and I’ve always wondered if that was just a result of my anxiety, or if I was right about my suspicions about my whole history as a student.

I wondered—have wondered since high school—if I have some sort of learning disability. Sure, given the right teacher, who could teach at my level, I can learn anything up to algebra. But I’ve always wondered if there was some sort of block in my mind with regards to education. If I applied myself—and I tell you, it took quite a bit of application—I could learn anything and get fairly decent grades, sometimes even As. But I struggled, to my mind, an awful lot.

And this has basis in my elementary school history. For most of my fourth grade year, I took lessons in a kind of Special Ed classroom called the Resource Room, where students who had difficulty with regular classes went for one-on-one assistance with their schooling. And by “took lessons” I mean I spent all day in that classroom. Two or three times a week, as a reward for working well, I was allowed to go down to the kindergarten classroom in the afternoon, where they had a special afternoon kindergarten for the real Special Ed students. But aside from those hours, which I wouldn’t be permitted to go if I did not put forth the amount of effort my Resource Room teacher thought appropriate, I was in the Resource Room.

So I’ve always wondered if there wasn’t a little something wrong with my learning ability.

I mean, I’ve heard from friends of mine who have documented learning disabilities, and read various blogs online by people who have learning disabilities that were documented in adulthood how, before their disabilities were documented, they struggled, much like I’ve always felt I have, and how they did what they could to cover up their struggles. It wouldn’t have been difficult for me to slip through the cracks. From fifth through eighth grades—middle school, for the most part—I moved from one school to another. Not due to Mom marrying some military guy, but because of family issues. In sixth grade alone I went to four or five different schools in at least three different states. The other years weren’t nearly as bad, but they weren’t the best either. At least two schools each year, and I had two years of seventh grade, both broken into a few different schools.

By the time I hit ninth grade—the first year of High School in most of the US—I was good at covering up all kinds of facts about my life, including the fact I wasn’t really picking up on something. Luckily, my ninth grade year put me in a variety of classes where the teachers taught at my level–I will be forever grateful to Mrs. Laughenberg (sp?) for being the brilliant, kind, and understanding pre-algebra teacher she was, or I would not have survived that class, because I was not ready for it, and she (and a number of my other instructors) taught me I have the right to ask them any questions I have and for all the help I needed. And that is how I made it through high school. I took that lesson of “ask anything, anytime, and get as much help as you need” from my ninth grade teachers and took it to tenth, eleventh, and twelfth grades in North Carolina. There were times I felt deeply stupid (say, during every single moment in Mrs. Jordan’s class—thank God I got out of those ones before I failed), but every single teacher throughout my high school education (even Mrs. Jordan) welcomed my questions and requests for help.

And to this day, I still feel like I’ve struggled a lot with school. When I was taking Aviation Electronics Engineering courses in the Navy, it amazed me that I could do this complicated math. I think that’s part of what broke me in that school. I could not believe what I was doing, no matter how much I proved to myself that I could. And, again, I have my instructors to thank. Without any of them, I’d have failed out of that A School within the first few weeks of lessons beyond the Navy basics everyone got. All my Aviation Electronics Engineering instructors taught at my level, every single one of them.

So, in preparation for going to college next spring (in January), I decided I needed to do some aptitude testing to determine whether or not I can put this specter of a learning disability to rest. I explained to my therapist what I wanted to do, and she introduced me to someone at the VA who gave me a contact number to call at Salt Lake Community College. Someone who works with Veterans. This person put me in touch with the testers at the VA, who called me and arranged an appointment for my testing.

I went in on the 28th of last month. The testing didn’t take very long—maybe four hours, if that. The tester, Ellen, interviewed me for my educational background and looked up all the primary and secondary schools I could remember for my school records before giving me the tests. I got to play with some blocks, match some patterns, and do a lot of math, as that was something I wanted a good, hard look at since I’ve always struggled with it. At the end, Ellen sent me home with the promise they’d have something to tell me in three weeks after she evaluated my responses on the tests and got my school records.

Even if it turns out all my difficulties are simply anxiety-driven, that’ll give me something to work with, because even with that, at least I can deal with it in therapy. If it’s more complicated, an actual learning disability, then I’ll be able to figure out ways to deal with it so it doesn’t interfere too much in school. By my calculations, I should get the results around the 18th—next week.

My Indie Publishing Career

It has long been my intent to go to college to gain skills for a good-paying job. Some few years ago (’09-’10 or thereabouts), I determined to go to community college for an Associate’s Degree in Accounting. That plan fell through one day because I couldn’t convince my mother, who’d driven me to the community college’s main campus to finish my applications process, to park where the parking lot attendant told her to. Upon hearing we couldn’t park in the cordoned-off area where students, staff, and faculty were permitted to park (provided they had the appropriate sticker or tag or whatever), Mom turned the car around the watch post with the declaration, “I’m not walking all that way to get to the building, and it’s too hot to sit in the car!”

Then again, Mom was never exactly supportive of my goal.

I let that setback beat me back down to the point of not bothering, and it was compounded a couple days later when I went to the financial aid site anyway to apply . . . and had an anxiety attack. Not a severe one, but I could not for the life of me get past the first few boxes I had to fill in with my name and other pertinent information required. It did not abate until I closed the site and went to read to get my mind off the stress of preparing for school, which I’d previously determined I’d find a way to get into no matter what it cost.

It remained in the back of my mind, though. Over the intervening years since my failed attempt, I researched careers, doing a better job this time, and finally settled on Medical Coding and Billing as the career I’d enter. I found the community college’s page with the listing of the class requirements on it and bookmarked it to revisit every so often to inure myself to the idea of going to school. I set a goal: I’d start school in Fall Semester of 2013.

Then I was diagnosed with cancer in August of last year, and all the appointments required for everything from examinations to surgeries to consults for chemo treatment took up that time I needed to apply, prepare, and attend classes. So I set back my college goal to Fall Semester of 2014. I would go to college in 2014, no matter what.

This entire time, I had the plan to Indie Publish my writing. I had that “all” set up in my mind. I’d finish a set number of books, then release them as soon as I had a paying job with my new Medical Coding and Billing skill. This thinking, I have to admit, was carried over from my old, abandoned, Trad Pub goal days. That goal was born in the Nineties. I’d have/get a full time job, write in my off-time, and send my finished product on the rounds of agents. And become Published.

I should say, these were the days when I was much more mentally stable without medications than I am now. I could have handled the Trad Publishing route then. My Bipolar, which I’m certain I presented to some extent in the Nineties (and probably even before, possibly as young as my teens), was not severe. I could sleep nights without assistance from even over-the-counter sleep aids. I was able to hold down a full-time job, and I appreciated all the “free” time my manufacturing positions gave my mind to play with story scenes and ideas, because I’d spend second shift working preplanning one or more scenes in my head, running them through over and over again until they were very nearly edited to perfection in my mind, then go home to spend the hours between midnight and three in the morning actually typing them out on Kitchen Imp, the computer Mom bought, which we put on a desk in the kitchen. A Trad Pub career for me at that time, if I’d been able to launch myself into it, may well have been successful. I was driven, and I was dedicated, and I intended to set the world on fire with my fantasy stories.

And I clung to that dream. Desperately. Get off of Government support. Get an education. Get a good-paying job. Then launch my publishing career. I had other goals wrapped up in this. Namely transitioning as far as possible and buying my own home. And those are still my goals. However, they’ve never been as powerful as my goal to become Published. And, even when I switched my goal to becoming Indie Published, the strength of my desire to be Published never flagged.

But I had an epiphany last week. At some point. I’m not sure what day any more. Probably at some point during the all-nighter I pulled in an attempt to reset my circadian rhythm. Such epiphanies as this generally hit me when I’m exhausted. Being overtired frees my mind, and I make progress on writing if I’m lucky, or have epiphanies about other things to do with my writing or, sometimes, as this one was, regarding my Real Life.

It occurred to me I could launch my Indie Publishing Career any time I want. I could launch it tomorrow, though I’d be woefully unprepared, and my books wouldn’t have covers, and half a hundred other things which need doing and need time to be done, not the least of which is completing radiation treatments. But I could launch my Indie Publishing Career tomorrow if I wanted.

It took several days for this flash of realization to really sink in, though, and I spent those days totally amazed at it, stunned, unable to believe the audacity of the thought. Any time I want. It, frankly, terrified me at first, this thought. As much as going to school terrified me. And I had to let that terror fade before I could even consider the option without freezing and experiencing a deeper anxiety than trying to fill out the financial aid form years ago gave me.

Once it faded sufficiently—a few days ago—I drew J.A. Marlow, the resident Indie Publishing Expert at Forward Motion for Writers into an Instant Messaging chat to discuss what I needed to do to begin the process of establishing my Indie Publishing Career from my current financial status. She had much good advice, and it got me thinking about things I need to start thinking about now if I’m going to make my Indie Publishing Career fly.

No, I’m not scrapping my college goals. They’re being set aside for the nonce, but not forgotten. First things I need to do are talk with Social Security about my SSDI and the VA about my Pension to determine what’s going to happen with my income. This is of prime importance. I need to know what to expect so I can plan for losing at least a part of this income once I start earning any money from sales of books, even if it’s only one or two sales a month. I can’t do this until after my radiation treatments are done, because it’s going to take at least half a day for five days a week anywhere from three to six and a half weeks to get this done—I won’t know until my contract to join the research study is signed and processed and the arm of the study I’m to go in has been randomly selected. Once I’m done radiation treatments, I’ll have the time I need to visit with representatives of Social Security and the VA to discuss this with them.

So, for the next several weeks, I’m going to create a list of questions to ask. I’m going to formulate a tentative Indie Publishing Career Plan, which I will set into motion before I’m certain of anything, because my goal to Indie Publish will remain no matter what, and no date is carved in stone at this point.

I will say this, however: My instinct is to scrap the school-and-paying-job goal and run with the Indie Publishing Career goal. I feel more strongly about this than about any other goal I’ve ever set or claimed to have. Even transitioning. Yes, I want to transition. I’d also very much like to buy my own place to live. But I don’t want either of those things with the same burning fire in the pit of my belly as I want my Indie Publishing Career. As terrifying (and, yes, I’m still deeply terrified of my Indie Publishing Career goal), as it is to think I may be able to get my Indie Publishing Career off the ground from where I’m at right now, it’s also exciting to think about. I feel more anticipation about this than about any other personal goal I’ve ever had. I want to go out and get it done right this minute and have felt this way, in some small way, from the moment I realized I could have my Indie Publishing Career any time I want.

It’s a big risk, an even greater challenge, but I feel better over this possibility than I’ve ever felt over my school-and-paying-job goal. That never excited me; I felt more dread over it, and trapped, and quailed at the thought of forcing myself to endure an uninspiring job. Starting my Indie Publishing Career absolutely thrills me, and the thought I could live my dream of sharing my words with people within two or three years instead of four or six fills me with such joy I don’t think I’ll ever forget the feeling.

But I’m not going to leap without looking, and I’m not going to do it without knowing what I can expect when I start publishing. I have plenty of time to research things and make a well-thought-out decision about this. It’s just that I feel far, far more certain about my Indie Publishing Career goal than I ever did about my school-and-a-paying-job goal.

Today’s Agenda

Later on today, I’ll be going up to the VA.  Not for cancer treatments (yet), but to fill out a form to see if I can get my Naval Discharge status changed.  It wasn’t a strictly Honroable Discharge (though it was not Dishonorable), and I need to see if I can get it changed so I can apply for the Post 9/11 GI Bill education fund.  I would much rather go to school with this, instead of a Pell Grant (if I can even get one), or with a loan (which I may have to take out if I can’t get the Grant).  I’ll also be doing research on other Grants and funds I can apply for in the coming month as I have energy and time (depending upon how wiped I am after chemotherapy).

After this application is ready to be mailed, I’ll probably be returning home just long enough to prepare for square dancing.  Tuesdays are our lesson night, and lessons just started a couple weeks ago.  This may be the last time I dance for a few months, so I’d really like to make it, even though my ride hasn’t called me back to say he’ll be picking me up . . .

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