Friday, April 18, 2014

P is for Persistence by John Steiner

Welcome to Unwritten's part of the worldwide A-Z Blog Challenge!! Every day in April (except Sundays), we'll have a new post related to the letters of the alphabet from A-Z. Our theme here on Unwritten is "I Will Survive". I hope these stories will inspire and uplift you. Comments are VERY appreciated!

P is for Persistence
By John Steiner

Amid the wide range of hilarity of Monty Python’s The Holy Grail there’s a scene where a father– not his mother, as the son appears to mix up, tells the son that he built a castle in the swamp… and then it sank. He built a second castle that also sank into the swamp. He built a third, which burned down, fell over and THEN sank into the swamp. But he built a fourth castle and it stayed up.
Most of my life has been about taking hits physically and emotionally. As a kid, I was never accepted by my peers in school or too many in the neighborhood. Worse, at home I had a brother four years older than me who was abusive. I don’t mean Wally smacking the Beav’ around abusive, I mean Abu Ghraib Prison, Iraq abusive. The only things missing were attack dogs, waterboarding and human pyramids. When I
was eight my older brother had already become a full blown alcoholic, and two years later a drug addict, so that’s the context of my developing a high threshold to pain.
Eight years old however, was the first major psychological breakthrough I experienced. It was the last time I contemplated suicide. The thought that people wanted me to go away convinced me that the best way to get under their skin to was to stick it out.
In the summer I turned thirteen I awoke in the middle of the night, summarized the life I had to that point and raised my arms out and said aloud, “I’ll never be normal again. So be it!”
The hits still kept comin’ but they weren’t anything I couldn’t handle. Watching my father struggle while the phone company he worked for systematically slit the throat of the unions was hard on us all, but my father demonstrated persistence as he stuck to that job for nearly thirty years. Coping with my mother’s schizophrenia and five kids, one with a learning disability, didn’t stop my father from doing his best to provide. I don’t blame him for my brother’s behavior, because he intervened whenever he suspected something was wrong. Just that the pattern of abuse includes wielding power over the victim, keeping them from revealing the torment.
Home or school, there was no refuge other than inside my own head. That’s a large part of why I write today. Whole worlds swirled in my mind at an age before I took an interest in girls. From ninth grade to graduating high school, I had a crush on one girl in particular. Yet, I never got the girl in the end. Not until high school did I find a circle of friends who likewise didn’t fit the accepted social groups, and we were better for that.
Other kids had parents able to pay for college. I found work for the time until I had enough to pay my own way without grants or loans. At first, I tried my hand at the U.S. Army. However, problems with my feet and combat boots led to a medical discharge before I had put enough time in for the college fund. I graduated basic training, despite road march restrictions, because persistence kept me from quitting a march I wasn’t meant to be on.
My first steady job after the army was in retail, where managers noticed my persistence. The store director said he’d never seen anyone work as hard for as long as I. An assistance manager had never seen another employee carry pallets in hand after stocking shelves, let alone carry two or four back in one trip. I
abandoned box cutters, to rip off shrink wrap and tape off shipping boxes with my bare hands. When they needed a pallet full of sodas moved with a pallet jack from the back of the building to the front I was the one they called on. A one hundred sixty pound piece of self-assemble furniture needing brought down from the top shelf on eighteen foot high monster racking, I ascended the side of the shelves, hauled it out one-handed and came back down.
It was in my last week at that job I learned that I had the secret nickname of Jungle Boy.
As a biology major in college, I wrote a paper on animal intelligence. My instructor said I couldn’t just use the term animal intelligence, but instead needed to quantify that. The results were seventeen pages long, involved eleven resources and an A for a subject he didn’t think could be done. That instructor’s recommendation letter was the key for my being hired by the same college as a tutor. My boss at the time pointed out the statement that the instructor had written, “If he doesn’t have an answer he keeps at it until he finds one.”
That first boss I had as a college tutor brags to this day about having hired me, and calls it the best decision he’s ever made. Twelve years later I still tutor college students and my persistence has passed on to many of them in turn. People who start came into school hating math left realizing that any challenge can be overcome. I don’t earn a lot of money there, in fact coupled with writing I still don’t quite make ends meet at all times.
In my life today, there is no such thing as calling in sick. The college doesn’t believe in paid sick leave for part time employees. They don’t do vacation time for people at my tier. No benefits, no insurance. The last two years have been a compounding of tragedies, but I’m not beaten down or broken-hearted. That is not an option, because tomorrow is still going to be waiting.
Making it to the next day is a persistent theme in the Firefly series and Serenity movie. I’ve come to identify with Malcolm Reynolds [Nathan Fillion] the most. Here’s a guy who get hit in the ribs without warning, and before he’s even caught his breath there’s another shot to the jaw. But always, even if he doesn’t know why, Mal always stands back up. Each job may well be the last. No guarantees or promises of success. He and his crew are, in his own words, “on the raggedy edge.”
Death doesn’t scare me, but just as importantly I’m not afraid to live. I can’t know how long this rollercoaster of life will last, but I am determined to ride it out to the end.

“Every man dies, not every man truly lives.” –William Ross Wallace

John Steiner earned his Associate of Biology at Salt Lake Community College, where he is currently working as a tutor in math and chemistry. He exercises an avid interest in history, science, philosophy, mythology, martial arts as well as military tactics and technology.


  1. John, your story made a profound impact on me. It gave me pause to stop and think about how many people we pass by with similar stories inside them. Those with the brightest smiles or those with perpetual frowns could be covering up a wealth of hurt in their lives. I applaud you for pulling yourself up in spite of all your troubles.

    I know one thing for sure, writer friends can make such a wonderful difference in a person's life. I have more friends now than I ever had in my years growing up. Take Mysti Parker for example. She probably has no idea how much her friendship and encouragement mean to me. I could go on and on about my writer friends as I'm sure you could too.

    Best wishes with your writing and whatever life throws at you.

  2. Who doesn't love Mal?! He's awesome! He says, the 'wheel keeps turning.' Glad you came back to the middle. - Shelina

  3. There's an argument to be made that not everyone has the same aptitudes for dealing with adversity, but I learned as a kid that the choice is a powerful thing.

  4. Just stopping by from the A-Z list to say "Hi" and good luck with the rest of the challenge :)

    Lovely post honey xx

  5. A very inspiring story, John. I don't think I'll apply the "P" word to anyone else from now on. And I'll think twice about having a pity party next time I get a bad review or some other "end of the world" thing happens :)

  6. Great post!

    Please visit my blog,

    I'm also participating in the A-Z Challenge, and my theme focuses on YA books and the title of the day starts with the letter of the day!

  7. Hang in there! You'll find your niche and be successful. You are a survivor!


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