Welding

Taking that first step to leave the path of social work was not easy. I invested a lot of time and energy learning how people worked. Years of classes, projects, homework, and tests were just going to be shelved and forgotten. Granted, I wasn’t getting anywhere by wishing upon every star in the galaxy for that fabled phone call from a social service agency. Nonetheless, it was still sad and frustrating that I can’t put anything I learned into practice. So, after ignoring the cold reality social work route has reached a dead-end, I finally started research on a new track, welding.

The first steps to learning more about welding were terrifying for I was on my own. I didn’t have KAP (Kelly Autism Program) to hold my hand and no one in my family has ever taken this path before. I was taking a real-world risk were this was going to pay off or I will be worse off than I started. I was walking into this field on a wing and a prayer and the fear of failure was crippling. So much so I decided to tiptoe into this field by only taking the introductory course.

In Fall of 2016, I arrived early to my first day of class, expecting to walk into a classroom I have sat in a hundred times over. A plain and clean room facing a whiteboard with a teacher behind a podium. What I actually walked into was a gigantic industrial grade garage. Everywhere I looked the classroom(?) disorganized mess of large machines, powerful grinders, tanks of gases, and welders that were twice the size of what I used before. Even the air was saturated with the smell of hot iron and metal shavings, informing me that this room has been well used. I couldn’t see one clean place to sit down, I thought to myself “was this really a classroom?” It also occurred to me that it was a mistake to wear blue jean shorts and tennis shoes this morning.

That first day was spent looking over the syllabus, meeting our professor, meeting our professor’s assistant, meeting our new classmates, and raiding the workshop lockers for tools that have been abandoned by former students.

The first few weeks was split between doing bookwork at home and practice welding in the workshop. The bookwork was composed reading chapters, filling out workbook pages, learning terminology, and learning the individual parts of the welder itself. These sessions did not last long though. After reviewing 2 chapters from the book, the session shifted from lecture to an open lab.

The practice portion involved me actually using a welder to complete certain tasks. The first task I had to complete was drawing a straight line on a small plate of metal with the welder. Sounds insultingly simple, right? Maybe to expert metal-smith, but not to a novice like me. I can’t tell you how many hours (and curse words) I spent trying to get this project right. It seemed like anytime I pushed the nozzle of the weld gun to a piece of metal, all that would come out is a lumpy string instead of a straight line. After 15 or so tries, I realized that welding, although is a type of engineering, is not an exact science but a practiced art. There was hand-eye coordination, precision, technique, patience, and lots and lots of practice. When I learned that, the straight line got easier and I FINALLY was able to move the next project.

At times when I weld, I feel like I’m operating a paint brush instead of a fire-spiting gun. When I wasn’t working on my assignments, I was practicing in other ways. Sometimes my parents needed a trailer hitch for their lawnmower. Sometimes there would be some old chairs frames that needed to be repaired. And sometimes I felt like making some art.

Working on little projects like these are fun for me. I am finally becoming a craftsman and making something extraordinary out of ordinary. Now I get to finally walk in the footsteps of other metal artist. Not to mention, very informative for me. When I am tasked to fix or make something, I am learning about different materials, how to adjust my welder, and putting what I learned to practical use.

I’m not entirely certain where this new direction will take me. Will welding  bring me fortune, adventure, or happiness? I don’t know, but I’m the one that made this decision for better or for worse and i know deep in my heart that it is a step in the right direction.

Path of Hot Iron

“That’s something you could do”, my dad commented.

Years ago, my family was having a day out for fun by visiting the KY State Fair. I wasn’t so interested about the livestock divisions of the fair as I was local artist and collectors exhibitions. I am always amazed to see the brain children of Kentucky’s local artist. My favorite kinds of art are the junk artist. I am envious of the artists that could take the contents of a junkyard and transform it into metal art. Cutlery to Jewry. Spare parts to mini motorcycles. Car mufflers to tin men. I wanted to have that kind of sideways thinking and make something out of nothing.

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While exploring the various booths and galleries my dad pointed out a series of humanoid figures for sale that were made from silverware.

My Dad saw the display, knew of my passion for building, and prompted a thought, “That’s something you could do.”

Since then his comment became one of those ideas that tickled and nagged and refused to go away.

I was a frequent customer to local junk shops that sold a wide assortment of wears that could be identified as “yard sale clutter.” So, finding junk silverware to destroy was the easy part. Next, I had to ask myself, “What kind of creature can one make from forks, spoons, and knives?”  My answer, a sea turtle. All it would require are a shell, a head, and four fins. What other design could be simpler? What came next was a little trickier.

As it so happens that one of my old friends from the Boy Scouts was a mechanic and let me borrow his small wire welder. A tool I have never used before, not even in my engineering high school, but wanted to try it anyway. As a typical male I thought: “How hard could it be?” However, I soon learned why people go to school for these kinds of tools.

As I began my first weld, I ran into problems I didn’t think existed for my simple project. The biggest problem I had was that I had no idea what I was doing. Up till now I thought a welder was just an oversized glue gun and treated the strange device as such. I didn’t know what the little dials on the machine did, I didn’t know I had to attach a big ground clap to whatever I was working on and I certainly didn’t know how hot the metal would be after a little bit of weld solder! My Dad, who was helping me, was even more mystified by this device than I was. The project was one big frustration.

My first attempt wasn’t so successful, but that was to be expected. Disappointing, but expected.

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After my first attempt, I decided to give back the welder and try again with JB Weld glue instead. The results were much more satisfactory. I was so impressed by my own ingenuity; I entered my turtle in the 2013 KY State Fair and won 2nd Place!

 

A great achievement, but welding with glue was not fun for me. So, I decided to shelve my thoughts on metal work for a later date when I can come across better tools and learn how to use them. Flash-forward about three years later, I decided to revisit route. This time, with some proper training.

Jumping the Tracks

My job has been offering tuition reimbursement for its employees for years. However, because I was still tied up with loans from my first run through of college I couldn’t consider re-enrollment so soon. Now debt free, it was time to warmup the java and hit the books again. But… as what?

The job tuition program does offer coverage for a multitude of professions, but not social work oddly enough. Not that I think it would help now. The reason I was turned down from any social service job in the first place was not for my intelligence or lack of trying, but my lack of real-world experience. So even if I went back to school and earned a doctorate in social work, I would still only be book-smart and that is not what the social service industry wants. Being book-smart was not the same as being street-smart and no amount of studying would change that. I realize that now. As such, I made the difficult decision to forsake the road of social work and began looking for a new direction.

One day in the Spring of 2016, I was at work contemplating what to do with my life when came across a familiar poster. I have seen this poster several times to and from my work brakes, but that day it looked a little different somehow. The poster was advertising the need for welders and my warehouse can pay for the classes. “Welding?” I thought. The talent of being able to assemble pieces of metal for buildings, machines, and vehicles. My mind began to wonder.

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My original passion in life was building. Legos, Knex, Erector Sets, furniture kits. I enjoyed taking little parts and making something new. Before I entered into social work, I tried to pursue engineering at WKU to fulfill my desire of assembling for a career, but I could not get past the intense mathematics required for the profession. Maybe…just maybe, I could resume my original passion through trade school.

The Waiting Place

…for people just waiting.

Waiting for a train to go or a bus to come,
or a plane to go or the mail to come,
or the rain to go or the phone to ring,
or the snow to snow or waiting around for a Yes or No
or waiting for their hair to grow.

Everyone is just waiting.

Waiting for the fish to bite
or waiting for wind to fly a kite
or waiting around for Friday night

or waiting, perhaps, for their Uncle Jake
or a pot to boil, or a Better Break
or a string of pearls, or a pair of pants
or a wig with curls, or Another Chance.

Everyone is just waiting.

Dr. Seuss

 

These melancholy words are an excerpt from Dr. Seuss’ famous book Oh, The Places You’ll Go. This book has been often used as a graduation gift to inspire young adults to live unafraid in the real-world. In his otherwise inspirational tale, he describes The Waiting Place as a “most useless place” and can be interpreted as a graveyard where ambition goes to die.

I can ask anyone who has lived long enough that life in the real-world is not all sunshine and rainbows. On the road to success, there will be problems, twists, turns, and dead-ends among other complications on your path. When the path gets rough with ill fortune, some people would rather:

  1. Sit around and give up
  2. Grit and bear their terrible situation
  3. Gamble their future on blind luck

These patient ones’ figure if they wait long enough, eventually a solution will introduce themselves and their problems will magically be solved.

In a scripted fantasy novel, where the normal protagonist is trusted into a fantastic adventure, this method may work. In the real-world, not so much. Nothing ever gets done by keep your hands in your pockets. If you want to change to happen, then you must be bold enough to make that change yourself. I have stayed in The Waiting Place before and I never want to return.

         I too have visited this purgatory. Wishing and dreaming. Praying and waiting. All of it, a waste of time. Of all my talk of doing something better with my life, I have done little to make good on my promise. I have applied to every Social Work industry in the county and prayed to the heavens above that they would change their mind about me. I have waited long enough. I am now 28 years old and still working for a job I hate. The warehouse industry does not need me. People come and go from this job all the time. There I am a number, a replaceable gear, a disposable pawn. My student loans are gone, so what is left to keep me here?

Both of my younger sisters have progressed farther with their lives than I have. One has had the opportunity to be a teacher straight out of college and now living with her boyfriend. While the other has joined the NAVY and has become part of something bigger. Me? The biggest career transition I have made is moving from one warehouse to the one next-door and I got a pretty lanyard that states I have been with the company for 3 years.

Now I could have expressed my grudge towards humanity in a number of ways. I could:

  1. Publish my anger on Facebook and repeatedly post how much the world is not fair.
  2. Be like a coworker and rope random people into whiny conversations about how much I hate my job.
  3. Stop being an obnoxious troll and do something to change my destiny!

It is time to do something about it besides whine. It is time to either find a new path or make one. It is time to go back to school.

 

Pandora’s Boxes

My Dad introduced a YouTube video called, “The Tale of Two Brains” by Mark Gungor. His video was a comedy show depicting his notion of men vs women brain wiring. In his video, he suggests that people, both male and female, have a mental warehouse of boxes in their heads that catalogs everything we know about the world. One box is reserved for your usual routines for your job, another is reserved for the operation of a car, another for food and so on. The big difference between the two genders is that men open one box at a time while women open several boxes at the same time.

Although Mark’s philosophy was presented as a comedy sketch, it does make some poetic sense in the regards of how to explain the way the two genders think. Coupled with the fact that men’s brains have more grey matter than women (the data processing parts of the brain) and women’s brains contain more white matter than men (the data cables that transmit information to different parts in the brain) only validates his reasoning.

If I were to explain my brain in this manner, I would say my mental warehouse of boxes would be different to how Mark would describe it. My cardboard metaphors would not be so uniformed or as neatly organized on the shelves. If I were to give my mental warehouse form, I would describe it like a small room filled with an odd collection of containers with all my boxes stacked on top of each other on random piles and in the middle of this room is a work desk where I consult my business with each case.

For example, every movie I’ve watched would rest in a long, see-through-plastic container filled with VHS cassettes (product of being a child of the 90’s). I would have my memories of High School in an old Office Depo box and filled with old keepsakes from that time. For everything relating to my job, it would rest in nondescript shipping box. Matters that concerned my car was in a glovebox off to the side. My profile filing cabinet that relates names and faces often gets pushed into the back behind everything else. Subjects regarding to Legos, games, and other simple delights lay in wait in an extra big toy chest (I’m a kid at heart).

Alongside the containers I require to function from day to day, there are some I wish I could live without.

-Such as the small sinister black box that lays abandon in a corner of my room. Inside it are profiles of people that have hurt me in the past. Every so often the lid of this box will jar loose and corrupt my thoughts with taunting echoes of my failures. (not to be confused with my skeleton in the closet)

-Another problematic box is the one containing my social repertoire. I have once explained before. It is the mental bank of social of knowing what to do in specific situations. I think there is a leak in this box. I’ve come a long way from where I’ve been, but I still feel this container is never full or ready for action at a moment’s notice. I can joke, I can be playful, but only when I have been around someone I have known for a while.

-Some people can hold conversations like flowing water. Me? I need to fish for words out of a dictionary before I can make a conversation. Such as the function of the box of words, brother box to the social repertoire. Anytime I want/need to talk to someone, I need to collect little strips of paper with printed words and then arrange them in proper order.

This mental process is why it takes me so long to formulate a response. If I try to rush this process, then my messages come out all garbled (This is more commonly known as Word Cluttering). I required some speech therapy before my vocabulary messes got better, my messages became clearer, and the word fishing became easier.

            Although his intent was to make his audience laugh, I believe Mark Gungor has provided perhaps one of the simplest ways to explain the human mind. I hope this warehouse and box themed metaphor has provided a accrete tour inside my head and I hope it brings some clarity to how others with autism think as well.

Nicaragua: Sunday…again

“We are homeward bound and off the ground!” is what I was singing in my head at the airport. Another Sunday has come, and it was already time to leave my new friends and Nicaragua. Even when we were lifting off, part of me wanted to stay behind and finish Catharine’s house along with her two children. I have always been a completest at heart. Whenever I start something, I want to see it through till it’s done. I knew the house would be completed by Javier and his crew, but I wouldn’t see pictures of it until weeks later. I suppose for this reason alone I preferred working on the Belize project. Nothing like seeing your labor of love, sweat, and camaraderie finished and fulfilled when you leave on the last day. That is not to say I regret coming to Nicaragua. I have learned much in this short time, and I do what to come back again. Next time I will learn the local language. Definitely.

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(Souvenirs I brought back from Nicaragua)

Nicaragua: Saturday

With our commitment to the house project done and having already visited half the continent, you would have thought all that was left for us was to sit back and relax till it was time to go home. Well, you would be half right. The last event on our agenda that week was a day at the Pacific Ocean beach resort. While we there, we were free to play in the ocean, walk along the beach, take surfing lessons, or just sit back and relax in the hammocks and read our favorite book while enjoying in the tropical breeze.

But we before we left and did any of that, our trip organizers wanted us to have one last group reflection, to share what we felt during the week, to share our most memorable experiences, and how we planned to prevent throwback (an act of forgetting our experiences and to return to our daily lives unaltered). My lasting impressions for the week included a better awareness of how some charities can inadvertently be more hurtful that helpful, how fortunate that our country’s children are to be able to afford an good education, how fortunate I am to have a roof over my head even if I think it is small, and how much I can really accomplish in one day. My throwback prevention took the form of my daily journals that I have been sketching throughout the week. I explained to group that I was writing a book (which would later become a blog), and I was writing down all of my tasks, deeds, and feelings from that week. That way I could never forget what happened and everyone who reads my work can see what I saw and experienced what I’ve felt. Perhaps I could even inspire a new generation of mission trippers through my stories.