Sunday, January 30, 2022

Not Even Not Zen 240: Biomythography - Note 17, Getting the Job

A Biomythography - Note 17
by Secret Hippie

Getting the Job

"So you’re pretty good with computers now," Adam announced as he walked back into my room.

"Not really." It was a strange way to re-open the conversation. I knew he was up to something.

"Good enough to build a computer," he said.

“Maybe.” My hardware skills were okay. But I was working on my programming. Except for an assortment of scripts and batch files, every program I’d written had been for school. My skills hadn't been put to the test except literally.

Even as he brought it up, Adam had to know he was being modest about his contribution to the hardware side. He had helped me put together my first 286 computer. I had rebuilt it several times since then and I'd worked on others. But it didn’t amount to much compared to his collection. He owned a 286 machine that he'd updated with a graphics card and sound card, an Amiga that he had upgraded at least twice, and a brand new 386 into which he'd installed SoundBlaster. That SoundBlaster sounded pretty cool.

“Grad school hasn’t hooked you up with a job." He remained on his feet even though I was sitting in front of my computer. "And I know you can draw. Really draw.”

Now he was buttering up my marginal art skills. I couldn’t think of where this could possibly lead.

"You've upgraded Windows," he continued. "I think you could run real graphics."

Maybe this was it. Adam had cajoled me about my graphics before. Because to me, my command line programs were fine.

A single megabyte of memory, a modem, WordPerfect, a Borland compiler, and some BBS software seemed like plenty, or rather, it felt like too much for me. But Adam loved graphics. He sneered at my cheap paperwhite monitor until it ran Windows 3.0 and looked good doing it. A year later, he wanted me to install more main memory and a better graphics card so I could run Windows 3.1. I'd done it partly to keep up to date with him but also because it was an excuse to tinker with the hardware. I enjoyed seating the DRAM and swapping cards in and out of the motherboard.

I just didn't see what he liked about graphics so much. The games with better graphics weren't more fun than the text-based games but they seemed more addictive. They felt different on an intuitive level. I worried about increasing the heroin-power of my distractions.

"Have you ever done computer art?" he asked.

This could be it - he might have an art project in mind. We had talked about going into animation. Adam kept a bank of hobbyist copies of art generation programs. He had tried to give me some and I had politely put the pile of 1.44 MB disks in a case next to my computer. I hadn't installed any. Instead, I had gone with Norton Utilities and Stacker to make sure I had plenty of space on my hard drive for writing and that all of the bad drive sectors had been marked and tracked.

I loved sitting and watching Norton Disk Doctor. When it ran, it popped up an ASCII chart of sectors and colorized its progress around the disk.

"Computer art. Do you mean, like, in Paint?" That was the standard bitmap-based art program included with Windows. Otherwise, the only computer illustration I knew firsthand came through freeware (or adware, or nag-ware, or shareware, or whatever you want to call it) and none of those packages were any good. I understood there was more advanced stuff because I had a friend from undergraduate school, Alan, who had gone to Hollywood to do computer graphics. Personal computer hobbyists didn’t have access to that rendering level, though.

"Uh, no." Adam snorted. "Have you got something more sophisticated? Did you install the CorelDraw or Adobe Photoshop I gave you?"


"Well, you should." Finally, he sat down. Without quite looking at me, he said, "I think I can get you a job if you install the programs and train on them."

“Really? Shit.” This was it. His business proposal wasn’t what I’d expected. “What kind of money?”

“Decent. I mean, newspapers need ads. It’s art, so it’s fun. And it’s on computers. Lots of computers.”

“Okay." I took a deep breath. "I’ll install the stuff.”

That night, I began the process of training myself for the Express Newspapers art test. Apparently, the other job applicants had majored in art. They didn’t know software. My computer knowledge looked like my only advantage. I loaded every program even mildly related to the job. By the next day, I was working in CorelDraw and Adobe Photoshop and a few freeware packages of clip art.

At first, it was frustrating. The tools didn't operate like ink and paper. They required different thinking.

The best program at the time was Corel Draw 3.1. Photoshop 2.5 didn’t have layers. Corel did. It was vector-based, too. I could distort shapes, especially letters, to create attention-grabbing effects. Graphics that had previously taken artists half a day by conventional methods became five-minute jobs for me. The vectors could be resized in a few seconds, too.

That week, I taught myself to draw in vectors and layers. As Adam kept reminding me, it was a matter of creating backgrounds first and putting contrasting shapes into the foreground to build up a finished composition.

Have you got a special savings and loan offer to handle? Take the outline of a bank building, fill it with black, and add in clipart of people shown in silhouette. Suddenly the bank looks full. Smash the ad copy in white letters through it all. Ta da!

Got a mattress sale? Import a few dramatic 'Only This Week!' word balloons. Float the mattress over a party background with streamers, cake, and ribbons. Throw some confetti in there. Give the mattress a dramatic spotlight. It’s a star!

By the time the Express gave me my appointment, I was a day past ready.

“We’ve got four interviews,” Adam announced. “We’re running the mattress sale art test. I think you’re ready. And you’re contestant number four.”

Even though I studied, even though I did the best on the Express interview, I knew the reason I succeeded was that Adam prompted me. So what's the moral here? Do friends look out for one another? Well, yes. But there's more. Adam and I had met on the job as lifeguards. He had already worked with me for a couple months. We had hung out for years. He was pretty sure he could stand to work with me again.

That's not a small thing. Adam was doing a good deed, or trying, and I was living up to it, or trying. But it wouldn't have been as easy a decision for Adam if he knew me as 'that ass who never does any work.' No one likes to hire a friend who goes on to become the boat anchor of the office. That's difficult for everyone.

My approach to getting jobs had always been: be better than anyone else and get lots of certifications and degrees. That didn't cut it all by itself, though. Going through a side door as a computer artist was smart. Seven months later, I landed a paid gig doing VAX programming in exchange for course credit at Hood College. (So the school did hook me up after all.) Three months after that, I landed a full-time gig at Hood, also doing VAX/VMS programming.

For the full-time job interview, I sat down with the head of the department, who had rejected my application for a hardware position a year earlier.

"You have Novell experience?" she said as she read my resume. She shook her arm dramatically with the paper in hand. "Did you have that last year?"


"You would have come out on top if you had. How did you get experience with that?"

I didn't quite tell her that it was through a friend and computer art.


Over the years in technical positions,

At Terrex - I got the job through someone I knew in college
At University Publications - got in based on my resume and interview
At LLC Custom Cables - got in based on the recommendation of a fellow graduate student
At Montgomery Express newspapers - aced the process on the recommendation of a friend
At Hood College – got the programming job based on the recommendation of a fellow grad student
As a contractor with the NIH (CC) – based on my resume and interview
As federal staff with the NIH (NMRF) – based on recommendations of people who knew my work
As a contractor with the NIH (NIAAA) – based on recommendations of people who knew my work
As federal staff at the NIH (NCCAM) – based on recommendations of people who knew my work

In each case, I increased my list of bragging points from my jobs and also my certifications. Those certifications and advanced degrees often get you in the door. They might not be enough if the list of candidates is large, as it often is. It helps if, a) people know your work and, b) they want to work with you.

It’s an obvious point but I’ve had to rephrase it many times. Even computer science professors will say things like, “It’s all a matter of who you know.” That’s wrong. You can know the president but if she thinks you suck and hates you, it’s only going to hurt your chances.

It’s who knows you - and wants to work with you.

Sunday, January 23, 2022

Not Even Not Zen 239: Biomythography - Note 16, Course Correction

A Biomythography - Note 16
by Secret Hippie

Course Correction

In March of 1990, I stood on the shoulder of route 695 next to the flat tire on my car. In my hand I held a tire jack that doubled as the lug nut wrench. The tool was both ingeniously designed and terrible. It was compact and cheap, part of the default emergency rescue set that came with the car. I could have bought a better, faster one for five dollars. And I should have.

I had a AAA membership but no access to it. The company had taken my money, nearly fifty bucks, but I was stranded on the highway and that meant I had no way to call them. Before, in situations like this I had hitched rides to call AAA from a payphone. On this day I didn't have the time.

As I knelt to change my tire, it started to rain. I was pretty sure it was because I had brought no coat. I pumped the car jack faster.

My main concern was not the weather. It was not even the heavy machine screw through my tire. It was that I had a hiring appointment at the Gaithersburg Gazette. I'd been offered a position as a copy editor - not a good offer. The salary was $17,000 per year plus my emotional resignation to having no financial future. Salaries for writers had flatlined a decade before. What's more, at this point in history, computer software had progressed far enough that I had to wonder why a newspaper was still hiring copy editors. Surely they had to wonder, too.

If I took the job, I would be accepting less than my previous offer to continue at University Publications, which I had turned down in favor of Control Data Institute, a technical school.

Contrary to the spirit of my school, I had left classes in Baltimore early that day with the idea of joining the newspaper. I'd worn a nice shirt and everything.

But I knew it was a bad decision.

My arms kept warm, first from pumping the jack, next from turning the lug nuts. The back of my neck and my stomach started to shiver in the cold rain. But I kept at it. While I did, I considered my prospects at the dead-end copy editing job. It was going to be boring.

In contrast, the technical school was fun in its way. I had enrolled in the computer hardware course, where I'd gotten to make JK flip-flop circuits like a kid in physics class. Since I was finishing their curriculum with months to spare, I had cracked into the school's Unix systems (all Xenix), with instructor permission because they'd forgotten the passwords. That let me run through most of the CDI operating systems course. To explore something unrelated to either hardware or systems, I had signed out all of the COBOL books. Doing the COBOL assignments made three technical courses all together but I reasoned that I'd already sunk my training money into the school. I might as well steal what extra education I could find. Besides, I liked it when my COBOL programs did what I wanted.

It's not as if any teachers objected. Like most instructors at any level, they were pleased and surprised to find someone who wanted to learn more than the mandatory minimum.

As I worked on my car, I started to shiver-sweat, hot and cold at the same time. There wasn't any way to hop into the vehicle for temporary shelter until I finished changing the tire. I'd lifted the rear of the auto body off the ground using the tiny jack system. I didn't trust it; I kept push-testing to make sure it was safe. Even when I put on the spare and lowered the car part way to tighten the lug nuts, I didn't want to take a break. I was nearly done.

Before I finished, I became aware that the traffic around me had slowed. On the highway ahead, someone must have had an accident in the rain. That was going to hurt my travel time.

After I tightened the replacement tire, a cold squall drove me back into the car. I still had the hubcap to replace. There were tools to put back into the trunk, too. But I couldn’t take the freezing rain for a minute longer. I tumbled into the passenger seat. Immediately, the windows started to fog. My gaze moved to the clock on the center console. It was twenty minutes to the hour. I stretched my back and sighed. I wasn't going to make it.

As I sat panting and opaquing the windows, I thought about the consequences of being late to the hiring appointment. It was a real failure. Even newspapers have their pride. I could arrive late and beg the manager or I could give up. There wasn't a chance of getting to a phone in time to call and explain. I had no money for a payphone. Calling AAA was one thing. Those phones were designed for toll-free numbers. Calling collect, meaning the charges reversed, to an employer's office as I tried to explain why I was going to be late was another thing - and it wasn't going to go well for me.

Over the course of sitting and thinking for a minute, I made an unusual decision. I decided to give up. Usually, admitting defeat went against my instincts. This time, it felt right.

Fuck correcting other people’s bad writing. Fuck the Gazette newspaper. Fuck my aspiration to join beat reporters who covered the town council, the 4H club, or the county fair. That was a stupid, halfway-to-nothing goal anyway.

I know, most stories are about positive decisions. Life changing affirmations. Newspapers are good. Working for them is romantic. Who would tell a story about giving up a dream?

But I had given up. That was the truth. It was a decision I needed to make. My real, material-world goals involved writing novels and poetry, plus maybe having some kids who would have to listen to my poems. I didn't need a newspaper job to do those things. What I needed was to earn some kind of living.

So I put my hopes on the technical school certificate. No graduate school or advanced degrees, no more class after class, no accepting subsistence wages as a writer, no needing to throw drunks out of bars or dismiss stoned waiters from my restaurant staff. Those ways of living were in the past. My technical school certificate and a job repairing computers would solve the living-wages problem.

As it turns out, I was wrong. The technical school failed to deliver. I aced the courses and the job interviews but I graduated in the midst of a recession. No one hired me.

So I made another course correction. I started on my a graduate degree a few months later, this time in computer science. For practical experience, I wrangled my way into a menial job as a custom computer cable technician. Another grad student got me into it.

Months later, I made another correction as Adam, my friend for a decade, got me a low-level position at a newspaper. It wasn't a writing job. It was in the advertising and art department. I assisted Adam in maintaining their Novell network, built new machines, and generated computer-assisted ad art. The small-town newspaper writers spilled coffee into their computer keyboards, broke their monitors, and lied about what they had done. I shook my head and fixed their hardware with a joke and a laugh. Because I was becoming a computer guy.

Sunday, January 16, 2022

Not Even Not Zen 238: Biomythography - Note 15, Not Now

A Biomythography - Note 15
by Secret Hippie

Yes, Now

It was the spring of 1987. The underbrush in the woodlands around me had turned green. The tree branches above bore a few green buds. White, cabbage butterflies had made their first appearances. Girls in the neighborhood were trying out skirts despite the blustery day. Some of the guys strolled into their yards in their shirts, no jackets. One of them kept his jacket on with a collar up against the gusts of wind.

I drove past a few houses in my car, a metallic blue Mustang, with a young woman by my side. I'd been living Western Massachusetts for a few months. This was only the second time I'd had a woman over as a guest. In this case, she had invited herself to my apartment. She had insisted. I'd felt embarrassed by my place although it was nice, a room in a house that I shared with a former college hallmate. He had decided to settle in town.

He was dating someone local. Now maybe I was, too.

"This place is bigger than I thought!" The young woman gave me a sly smile as we strolled through the front door. "Nice kitchen. You kind of talked it down."

My roommate, Michael, strode up with a smile.

"Who is this beautiful lady?" he asked. Sometimes he could be awkward but, more often, he was genial and charming. He seemed pleased that I was starting to have a social life at last. As a roommate, he worried about me.

Soon after I made introductions, Michael got a call. He had started two small businesses. They kept him constantly on the phone. In fact, he was the first person I knew to own a cell phone. He kept two cars leased, each with mobile phone consoles. When he took his call, he waved goodbye and wandered through the living room into one of his offices. That's why he rented an entire house, so he could run his businesses. Immediately, the young woman took me by the arm and asked to see my room.

"Huh. Mattress on the floor." She put her hands on her hips as she stood in the doorway. "But how is it?"

"It's a futon," I replied. It had been my major expense upon my arrival in town. "I kind of like it."

With a smile, she threw herself against it. She pounded the pillows for good measure. We fooled around for a while, flirting and more. Then she asked me to get up and lock the bedroom door. When I returned to the futon, we got more involved.

I didn't have much sense of time passing. Mentally, I was occupied.

So it came as a surprise when Michael burst into the room. He stood there, mouth agape, for less than a second.

"Not now, Michael!" I yelled. And I raised my left arm to wave him away.

His face turned beet red. He stepped back and closed the door.

"Hah!" Fortunately for me, the young lady laughed. "What was that about?"

"Later." I put both hands on the futon again. "Later."

Although I felt focused on the fun we were having, later eventually arrived. I put on a fresh shirt, pulled up my pants, and meandered out to the kitchen to get some water.

"Sorry!" Michael strode up to the sink next to me. He was trembling. He could barely hold his phone.

"It's fine." I had already forgotten the interruption. If he hadn't reminded me, I might not have thought about it. "Sorry if I shouted. I was, um, surprised."

"Normally, I do knock. You probably should lock the door, though."

"I thought I did." I mused over my glass of water. For a moment, it felt like the glass was dirty. Or there was something wrong with the water. After a few seconds, I realized that actually I was having a problem with the air.  It stung to breathe. "Michael, what's that smell?"

"Oh." He took a deep breath. "The house was on fire."

He had burst into my bedroom in a panic. He'd meant to scream that we needed to evacuate. Instead, he saw naked bodies, got embarrassed, and left. That meant he had to do something about the fire. He had been running around, frantic, unable to think straight or find an extinguisher. 

Downstairs, he had seen flames burst from the electrical panel. They were spreading to the window sill. But he had a fire extinguisher somewhere in the house. He knew he did. His embarrassment proved stronger than his fear or panic. It made him search again. This time he found it.

Over the span of a few minutes, I got the whole story. I'm still not sure of the cause of the fire beyond that it was in the wiring panel.

I leaned back against the kitchen counter. We looked at each other for a moment.

"I put it out," he said.  

He shrugged.  So did I.  Then I emptied my glass of water into the sink.

Later in the evening, I tested the latch on my bedroom door. In his initial panic from the sparks and flames in the cellar beneath us, Michael had pushed through the strike plate without noticing. The lock bolt had shoved the plate forward. He hadn't ripped it out of the door frame but it was a close thing. The wood had splintered. I unscrewed the strike plate and screwed it back in so that it worked again. The door never latched quite right after that, though.

Sunday, January 9, 2022

Not Even Not Zen 237: Biomythography - Note 14, Heights

A Biomythography - Note 14
by Secret Hippie

Fear of Heights

When I was five, I fell out of a dogwood tree.

When I was six, I fell out of a locust tree. That's what comes from climbing trees and rough-housing in them. The next spring, in my front-yard willow, I fell so far and hit so hard that I lay there on the ground for a minute. No one had pushed me. I had just slipped. My body tingled. The back of my head ached and I watched swirls of color in the corners of my vision. My friend, Joe Wood called my name. He clambered down from his branch. Eventually, his younger sister Rebecca jogged over. My younger brother ran up to look at me, too. I hopped back to my feet, embarrassed.

"Can I play?" my brother asked.

"Yeah, but let's not climb the dumb tree," said Joe. "Let's find something else."

I'm not sure when my fear of heights started. It may not have begun with that fall. Heights had caused me prickly sensations and fits of panic before. But about a year after the big willow tree fall, which was followed by falls from playground equipment, I started to get a sort of terror about heights. At that point, I was only eight and didn't know that I could do anything to fix the problem. I had to tough it out, as far as I could tell.

What made the problem seem sort of serious, even at eight, was that I could see my trend. I understood that the phobia was getting worse, year to year. When I was nine, I could climb the lowest branches of trees. By the end of that year, I stopped. I didn't tell anyone why - but I knew the reason.

At ten, I climbed up the ladder on the high dive at the pool and almost passed out over the concrete. I steadied myself, grabbed the aluminum bars tight with an adrenaline rush and visions of death, and pushed on. Maybe that's why my body waited until I reached the end of the diving board. There, I froze up and dropped like a rock. As if from a distance, I heard a loud smack. A spark of electricity lit my body. I was in the water. I could move again.

Burning with shame, I turned over onto my stomach and swam to the edge of the pool. I expected lots of pointing and laughter but only my younger brother was doing that. The lifeguard, in contrast, had turned rigid in his chair. The woman who had been chatting with him stared at me in open-mouthed dismay.

"You okay?" he called. He scowled as he noticed that my limbs wouldn't quite obey me. I had to take a second try at climbing onto the deck.


"Right." His lips looked pale. "How about you don't go on the diving board for a while?"


I'd always loved bouncing over rocks or scrambling up and down muddy slopes next to a stream. By the age of eleven, I couldn't walk across the fallen trees over the water. I had to crawl across like a baby. My terror of heights was starting to get in the way. Soon, even standing on a tree stump made me dizzy.

This was getting intolerable. I knew I had to do something.

At the age of thirteen, the act of hopping over a foot-high rock was uncomfortable. My anger at myself over it had reached new depths, too (not heights, I guess). I had been getting worse for years and had thought about trying to do something but still, I hadn't.

At home, I'd read about exposure therapy. In the psychology textbooks of our family library and in the science and education magazines on our table, there were paragraphs, sometimes whole pages, about how therapists coached their patients to touch spiders or to ride in elevators. There was even a paragraph on therapy for acrophobia. I decided that exposure was the solution.

Visualizing New Heights

My start was not impressive. Mostly, I lay down and imagined being up high. Later in the process, I stood on rocks and pretended they were tall and unsteady. My commitment level was good for a thirteen year old but my real-life exposures, my self-hypnosis sessions, and my other forms of practice were as inconsistent as you might expect from a teenager.

Sometimes, I would be trying to fix myself but get jolted out of the process by someone who would ask me why I was standing on a rock or stump. I never had an answer. Usually I would mutter something evasive like, "Just wanted to," or "Why not?" or "Nothing, dummy." Then I'd step down and never repeat it around them again.

My visualization sessions were important because my exposures were so inconsistent. I didn't know it, but the process would take me six years. I'm sure it would have been faster if I'd been competent at the method. Nevertheless, it produced enough good results in the first two years that I started working at other problems in parallel.

I used the same visualization techniques on basketball, karate, emergency responses, and on letting go of desires. Of course, I actually practiced the sports, the tense situations, and letting go of desirable possessions, too, so the real-world experiences were essential. Visualization helped, though.

Hmm, I said six years. But after five, maybe a little less, I had no more functional problems with my fear of heights. What I wanted, in my sixth year of exposure, was a celebration. That’s how my self-imposed therapy ended in a static-line parachute jump.

Making the jump felt over-the-top, even to me. But it also felt completely right.

Letting go of desires was fine, my paralysis in clutch situations had been replaced with a lean into them, and I could walk on a balance beam. And jump from an airplane.

Sunday, January 2, 2022

Not Even Not Zen 236: Biomythography - Note 13, More Than One

A Biomythography - Note 13
by Secret Hippie

Deciding To Be The One

The decision to have a purpose in life is not the same as a decision to take responsibility for others. When I made the latter choice, it was about becoming 'the one' in my own internal terminology. It was a determination about family, at first. Then it became more.

Family History

The decision started out with my awareness that I had to become a wage slave for the family. It wasn't an instant realization. I was reluctant to admit it. But the choice to go along with the concept seemed inevitable and it gained strength from my awareness of family history.

On my mother's side, three sons of the Stocketts sailed over to America in 1658 to claim their land grant from King Charles II. Two of those brothers died. One lived on with some success. In the next generation, three sons grew to adulthood. Two soon died. That again left one to carry on. The Stocketts kept dying, as a lot of American colonizers did, but they also kept having enough children to maintain themselves and spread out. In the line I'm descended from, however, they lost their family farm to taxes.

That meant my great-grandfather and grandfather spent their generations getting by with less. My grandfather had things especially tough, since he had epilepsy. At the time, epilepsy was treated like a contagious disease, so he found himself often shunned. And he went 4F in the draft. But that was okay. It meant that he could work in the shipyards during the war. For a while, he could afford a family. When the war ended, though, the Navy let go of their 4F men (along with the shipyard women) and my grandfather immediately became desperate for work.

He had never been able to afford a house or land. He had moved onto a patch of his uncle's property that no one was using. It was separate from the rest, which was good because this was the uncle who was cruel to everyone. He killed kittens, apparently just to put children in their place about their pets, and he killed his eldest son by pushing him off the roof during an argument. He had influence in town, too. Taking his land by simply squatting on it, even when it was left unused, was a risk.

My grandfather felt he had no choice. He built a house on the vacant lot by raiding the town dump for lumber and parts. Then, for years, he flattered the rest of the family as much as he could. He named his eldest son after the murderous uncle to whom he was indebted. Eventually, he got a grudging approval to live there. He continued to raise his family and farmed the neighbors' land because they weren't using it.

For a while, he got a job with the phone company. That was great but they kept sending him to work during storms. He followed orders because he was epileptic and everyone was sure he couldn't get another job. As a result, he repeatedly got hit by lightning while up on the poles. The first three times, he got away with it. Finally, he took a bolt so strong that it knocked him off the pole. The company retired him. My grandfather supported eight people in his house living on one disability income. Naturally, he kept farming. It was the source of most of their food.

So my mother grew up in decent circumstances. She had a home, enough to eat, and a large family. True, her father opposed her going to college. He said he couldn't afford it for a girl and that seemed likely enough. My mother's parents had also arranged a marriage for her when she was a child. To their surprise, she refused the marriage. She applied for scholarships, instead, and managed to get so many that she could return the ones she didn't need and still go to college. So she left Annapolis for good. When she graduated from University of Maryland and got a job as a teacher, she attained a genuinely middle class life for herself.

That was a significant achievement. Her siblings followed, too. Her entire generation took the family in a positive direction. They got back to an ordinary level of prosperity.

On my father's side, we never learned much about the history. We know that his Irish grandfather, George Earl Gallagher, came to America near the end of the famines in Ireland. He had an American child, my father's father, and then died at the age of forty-three. His son remarried late, fathered two more children, my Aunt Jenny and my father, and died at the age of forty-two.

June Pond Light, my paternal grandmother, grew up in an orphanage before her marriage. When she left, she lived in Philadelphia for a while. Then she married and became a Gallagher. She discovered that her husband had divorced his first wife. Since he was Catholic, his church didn't recognize the divorce. That meant Robert Gallagher, my father, and his sister Jenny, weren't recognized by the Irish side of the family. They refused to talk with June or her children, so our Irish history was lost. In addition, my father's younger brother Jack, always their mother's favorite, inherited everything from her - the English money, such as it was. Other relatives mentioned it to me on a few occasions, always bitterly, and that's how I knew. In their ways, both of my parents had descended from several generations of not inheriting anything, often because there was nothing to be had. They were the people who did not get the house. In some cases, they did not even get the tea set.

Why the One

It was in that context that I read books about how successful people achieved their status. In nearly all of them, they started from stable, upper middle class or wealthy, owning-class families. Those families provided the springboards for their dive into success.

When the time came to make my decision, I understood that I probably couldn't achieve a high level of material success. But maybe, just maybe, I could still be 'the one,' that is, I could become the somewhat anonymous and dependable provider for a family. I could accumulate enough advantages for the household that someone in the next generation might succeed better in material ways.

At first, I thought this meant I had to,
  • grow the clan
  • watch over it
  • protect it
Soon I saw that it meant accepting I would be a person who gets taken for granted, who is a wage slave, dependable and thoughtful of others. The 'one' may number more than one, of course, since there could easily be a handful in a family - really, there should be - but each one of them is someone to whom a grandmother can go for help, to whom cousins and nieces and nephews can get guidance, and to whom caretaker chores may be given, whether for child care or elder care.

It is an ordinary decision.  Many people make it.  But I felt it was lacking in my immediate family.  And every tribe needs members who take on responsibility for others.  Maybe, in fact, it is the sort of ordinary decision that separates long-lasting families from broken homes.  It is a decision that extends into professional life because it can lead into a career.  The consequences can spill over into hobbies because, apparently, taking responsibility is a habit.  You can find yourself banging a gavel for the Loyal Order of Water Buffalos one day, wondering why it happened. 

Taking responsibility will, likely enough, affect your group of friends.  After all, sometimes even among casual acquaintances it's necessary to make the decision to be responsible, to gather people together, to feed them, to look out for the weak, to assist the strong, and to make the group a success.

The group's success might not belong to 'the one.'  It won't be seen as yours.  You might not get credit at all.  That's what happens in groups.  Sometimes the youngest grandchild goes out to take the bows as a famous artist even though most of her success is due to her grandmother.  It happens.  But her grandma is not a child.  She does not demand attention.  She made her decision to be 'the one' long ago.  She can bask in the success of others, nowadays.  And sometimes those others will understand, just a little, that they have depended on people who decided to be responsible for them and their welfare.

Those people made the decision to care and to act on their caring. For an entire lifetime, everyone around them feels the benefit.