“Tabula Rasa” by VESID (part II)


[Recommended reading:  “Why no prayers for Bishop Long’s accusers?” at http://www.cnn.com/2010/OPINION/10/01/granderson.bishop.long/index.html?eref=mrss_igoogle_cnn]

Then I call up the counselor and ask her if she has any experience working with people who have learning disabilities.  ‘No,’ she says, then she changes it to ‘yes, sort of.’  She says that she has had applicants with learning disabilities but has never finalized an employment plan with any of them.   She’s discouraging people out of the system because she doesn’t understand how to work with them.  Great.  I have a learning disability and my VESID ( NYS Office of Vocational and Educational Services for Individuals with Disabilities) counselor cannot work successfully with people with learning disabilities.

My CAP counselor and I are working together.  She asks me to send her a list of what and where I’ve been published.  I would like to do that, but I have this learning disability, which easily translates into chaos.  I use the archeological filing system:  if a paper came in three months ago, then it would be in the pile behind the bed, and halfway down; if it came in last week, it would be on the desk chair, about two inches from the top.  I live in a two-room apartment and have two dozen boxes, bags and piles of accumulated paper stuff.  I have a severe learning disability!

Believe me, I cannot produce a comprehensive list of my writing successes, however, in various places in my memory there are things like:

  • A non-rhyming poem that placed fourth in a national competition of—how many—seven thousand entries?  Seventeen thousand?  I have no idea.
  • An anecdote published in the Reader’s Digest, for which I got paid.
  • Two essays published in a book that might have been called Bedlam, for which I got a token payment.
  • Several long letters to the newspaper editor that were run as columns instead of being cut to the usual 250 words.
  • Two essays in a federal report.
  • An essay that placed tenth in a national nonfiction competition.

There have been other odds and ends of things here and there.  And, oh yes, a friend of a friend is an attorney who has a web site wherein I am a guest columnist. 

I have only ever gotten two rejection letters in my life.  I sent an essay to a little literary magazine in California.  The editor sent it back saying that it was too ordinary and I should send him something edgier, so I did.  Then he sent the second one back, saying it was way too far over the top, made him so sick he couldn’t finish it, and what kind of terrible person am I anyway?  To which I wanted to reply, “Hey—don’t ask for it if you can’t stomach it.”

That’s when I realize that the VESID counselor has turned me down without ever reading anything I wrote.  This is not about me.  I am not being judged on my merits.  This is not individualized.  This is VESID policy; this is the arts, and VESID doesn’t do the arts.  But CAP does. 

My CAP counselor is pretty ticked off about all this because she thinks, basically, that anybody who’s really good at what they do should get help so that they can get paid for it.  She asks to read some of my stuff, so I email her some essays, which she reads and says, ‘Yeah, okay, I get this.  You’re good.  Let’s go for it.’

My VESID counselor says, ‘We can’t do this.  Only one person in a million makes it big in publishing.’

To which I reply, “And what if I’m that one?”  Millions and millions of dollars get paid out every year to people who write things.  Who’s to say I can’t be one of those people?”  My VESID counselor has decided she is the one to say—some young woman who’s spent all of her short career filling out forms and sliding papers across a desk has decided that she’s going to spin a brilliant writer into a receptionist.  Did somebody say something about turning a silk purse into a sow’s ear?  VESID is nothing if not profoundly committed to mediocrity.

So I go out and look around.  I go to the university, wherein they have all kinds of special education and disability clinics and stuff.  Unfortunately, they are all for students and I can only access services if I am a matriculated undergraduate.  And I can only become a matriculated undergraduate if VESID will pay for it, which they won’t.  Receptionists don’t need college degrees.

So I go to the Learning Disabilities Association (LDA).  They say they know what to do about this, but it’ll cost $50 an hour, which I would have to pay out of pocket.  That is what we call “cost-prohibitive.”  The VESID counselor says they used to have a contract with LDA but no longer do.

So I go on the Internet.  This is really, really tough for me because everything sort of runs together, and I can’t track my way in and back out again, but I find some place—possibly in the NYS Dept. of Education, but who can remember—that gives a phone number for somebody who should know something.  I leave a message—you never get a person at these places—but (a) my call is not returned, (b) I lose the phone number, and (c) I haven’t a clue how to find it again.

It is at about this time that the CAP counselor proposes that we have a telephone conference call with VESID.  I think that is a really good idea and ask her to set it up.  It takes about a month and a half to schedule the phone call.  The VESID counselor says, “[My boss] is trying to cover Oswego County, I’m split between Onondaga County, Nottingham High School, CNY Works and covering Pulaski . . .  it’s really tough to find a time . . .”

I would like to point out that I have been waiting nine months, plus all my life, but what the hell.  I have chronic renal failure and am not getting any younger, but what the hell.  The VESID counselors are so busy taking care of the ordinary that there is no time for the extraordinary.  You want to know what the problem is?  Being smart is an aberration and us aberrant beings don’t get served.  That observation is called “applying abstract reasoning to complex social relationships.”  (To be continued)

About annecwoodlen

I am a tenth generation American, descended from a family that has been working a farm that was deeded to us by William Penn. The country has changed around us but we have held true. I stand in my grandmother’s kitchen, look down the valley to her brother’s farm and see my great-great-great-great-great-grandmother Hannah standing on the porch. She is holding the baby, surrounded by four other children, and saying goodbye to her husband and oldest son who are going off to fight in the Revolutionary War. The war is twenty miles away and her husband will die fighting. We are not the Daughters of the American Revolution; we were its mothers. My father, Milton C. Woodlen, got his doctorate from Temple University in the 1940’s when—in his words—“a doctorate still meant something.” He became an education professor at West Chester State Teachers College, where my mother, Elizabeth Hope Copeland, had graduated. My mother raised four girls and one boy, of which I am the middle child. My parents are deceased and my siblings are estranged. My fiancé, Robert H. Dobrow, was a fighter pilot in the Marine Corps. In 1974, his plane crashed, his parachute did not open, and we buried him in a cemetery on Long Island. I could say a great deal about him, or nothing; there is no middle ground. I have loved other men; Bob was my soul mate. The single greatest determinate of who I am and what my life has been is that I inherited my father’s gene for bipolar disorder, type II. Associated with all bipolar disorders is executive dysfunction, a learning disability that interferes with the ability to sort and organize. Despite an I.Q. of 139, I failed twelve subjects and got expelled from high school and prep school. I attended Syracuse University and Onondaga Community College and got an associate’s degree after twenty-five years. I am nothing if not tenacious. Gifted with intelligence, constrained by disability, and compromised by depression, my employment was limited to entry level jobs. Being female in the 1960’s meant that I did office work—billing at the university library, calling out telegrams at Western Union, and filing papers at a law firm. During one decade, I worked at about a hundred different places as a temporary secretary. I worked for hospitals, banks, manufacturers and others, including the county government. I quit the District Attorney’s Office to manage a gas station; it was more honest work. After Bob’s death, I started taking antidepressants. Following doctor’s orders, I took them every day for twenty-six years. During that time, I attempted%2
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