The Road to Recovery

…is paved with good intentions too.

Anyone in RWA (and some who aren’t) knows that yesterday was Golden Heart / Rita award finalist notification day.  I’ve been looking forward to yesterday since November when, in a mad last-minute scramble, I got “Comfort Zone” ready to go.  I’ve entered before and it’s a demanding contest, but the finalists are known throughout RWA as the best of the best.  It’s like the All-Star Game for romance fiction, and more than just being an honor to be nominated, it means your book is really, really good.  As in, this-close-to-selling good.  A lot of GH finalists and winners make sales. 

Of course, I’ve heard people who didn’t final who insist it’s a “crap shoot”, too.  That it all depends on the judges.  I can agree with that somewhat.  As the coordinator of my chapter’s annual contest, I’ve seen judges’ scores cross both ends of the spectrum; one judge hated it and thinks the writer should quit now, the other loved it and can’t wait to see it in print.  The GH gets 5 judges, and you have to charm all 5 to even have a chance at finaling.  Get two who got a ticket on the way in to work, or their scale was feeling cantankerous that morning, and you can kiss your chances of a final goodbye.  Even discrepancy judging can’t fix two ball-busting judges.

Dammit, I wanted to final.  I wanted it more than I wanted food, which I’ve been eating less of.  Yesterday was the first time in six months that I could wear my “skinnier” jeans and still breathe when I sat down.  Little did I know, that’s the only good news I’d be getting yesterday.

When I plunked down my $50 and sent my entry out, I scheduled myself for a vacation day at work, not just because I need to burn the time but because I knew there wasn’t enough distraction in the world to keep me from jumping sky-high when the phone rang.  Instead of sitting home, curled in a fetal position with a bottle of tequila at the ready, I spent the day at the mall, hanging out with 2 published authors and great friends (Judi Fennell and Stephanie Julian), watching the names pile up on Judi’s running blog of finalists.  The Marv Levy quote comes to mind:  “Where else would you rather be than right here, right now?”  I knew going in that no matter the result, we’d have a great time, and we did.  Except none of us got calls.

My phone only rang after I called my bestest yarn buddy, Laura, to tell her I’d seen her name on the RWA list of finalists.  (She didn’t know she finaled.  It’s the second year running I got to make a GH call to someone.)  My critique partner and baseball buddy, Hope Ramsay (soon to be Grand Central author) finaled too, with a MS she forgot she’d entered.  When it became clear that my phone wasn’t going to ring, I went home crying, spent the night wondering why I keep doing this to myself, wrote 250 words that probably suck beets, and went to bed feeling like the shit end of the stick.  Even “The Office” couldn’t make me laugh.

Despite all this whining, I’m not giving up.  I’d like to make that clear now.  I am, however, licking some pretty deep open wounds that don’t heal with “there’s always next year” or “just because you didn’t final doesn’t mean your book isn’t good enough.”  At the moment, that’s exactly how it feels , and how it feels trumps anything anybody says. 

I’ll recover…eventually.  This, too, shall pass.  Like a kidney stone, but it’ll pass.  For the next few days, all the platitudes in the world are only going to bounce off me like water off a duck’s back, so if anyone out there has any good jokes, I’d surely love a chance to laugh again.

Part of my personal recovery process involves music.  Hope sent me a link to a really great song that did help, David Wilcox’s “Turning Point”.  It’s not on YouTube so I can’t give you a link, but if you Google the lyrics, I can highly recommend it.  Even better if you can put it to music. 

One that helped me get through this morning was Train’s “This Ain’t Goodbye.”  Because I’m close to working on the Black Moment in the story, I thought the song was fitting, but this morning on the drive in, I found another layer to it that helped me. 

Maybe by tonight I can listen to any song with the word “gold”, “golden”, or “heart” in it and I won’t so much as sniffle.

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“Burden?!”

Look out; clear a path.  Soap box coming through.  

I just learned this morning that at the last Norristown Area School District Board meeting, the CFO (now identified as Anne Marie Rohricht) called Special Education a “burden” on the school district’s budget.  To my knowledge, the District Superintendent, Dr. Janet Samuels, did not refute the statement.  It’s fairly common knowledge among families with special needs kids that Dr. Samuels agrees with that statement, insofar as the special education department at NASD has been hacked since she took over the school district.  The latest attack came two weeks ago with the unannounced firing of several special ed paraprofessionals in an effort to save money.

As far as I know, and I’d love to have someone clarify this for me, there isn’t a single school board member with a special needs child.  If there were just one, I could say the families of special needs children are being honestly (if not adequately) represented, but to my knowledge, there isn’t.  Safe to say you’ve heard the expression, “Taxation without representation”?  The board is looking at Special Education from the bottom line, and the bottom line only.  What they’re failing to see is the kids behind it.  Perfect or not, these children are our most precious resources, even if they’re considered by some to be a “burden”. 

Trust me, dudes, we didn’t choose this.  If I could go back in time and have a “normal” kid, even if it meant taking 10 years off my life, I’d do it in a heartbeat.  At least then I could trust that my son had a chance of growing up to be a productive, contributing member of society instead of a “burden” on it.  As of right now, because my 13 year old son has the intellectual capacity of a 6 year old, I’m not allowed to dieWho will care for him when I’m not here?  No matter what they say about Special Ed being a “burden” on the district, it’s nothing compared to the rest of my natural life.

Let’s also consider what it would cost if Special Ed weren’t available (and a federal law, if I’m not mistaken).  These children would be a lifetime “burden” on society.  At least with education, understanding, and guidance, they have a chance at a happy life.  Without it, we’ll be going back to the days of Willowbrook.  I lived on Staten Island and I saw it when it was still operational in the early 80’s.  I cry every time I think of the naked 8 year old child standing in an open doorway, watching as my bus passed by.  It’s an image I can’t burn from my brain (and I’ve tried).  If his mother could have seen the lonely, empty shell of a life her child was living, she’d have jumped off the nearest, tallest bridge. 

I’d like for the school board members to realize that regardless of anything else, when these children graduate (such as it is), they’ll no longer be a “burden” to the school district, but my son will be with me for the rest of my life.  As challenging as our lives may/will be, I have never once thought of him as a “burden”.  I’m insulted and disgusted to think that someone who, theoretically, should have my child’s best interests at heart considers him a “burden”.  Shame on you, Norristown Area School Board and Dr. Samuels.  Just you wait ’til the next election.  We will not forget.

My family made an effort to buy a house in Norristown solely for the purpose of keeping our children in the Norristown School District.  In 2002, we were delighted with the curriculum, the teachers, the methodology, and the people.  Now I’m just disgusted, and I’m sorry as hell we didn’t move out of the district and take our tax dollars with us.    We could’ve saved an enormous amount of money on property/school taxes, gotten a bigger house with a bigger yard, been much safer than where we are now (my car was broken into twice since we moved in a year ago) and been just as happy.   Seriously, Norristown Area School District was a great place before Dr. Samuels took over.  Years ago, I went on the Autism Society email loop, extolling the virtues of this place, how wonderful the autism support staff was (I posted a blog about this 2 years ago) and how thorough and child-dedicated the program was.  If someone asked, “Where should I go for the best services?” I waved them on over.  I may be responsible for at least half a dozen families moving here, just to go to the NASD schools. 

Now I’m just sick to my stomach.  Now it’s all about the goddamn bottom line.  “Burden”, my ass. 

I believe in karma.  I hope you do too.

Oh, and if you want a real kick in the teeth, here’s a picture of Dr. Samuels with my son Alex, taken last February after she praised him at the district science fair.  As Bob Dylan said, “They smile in your face, but behind your back, they hiss.”