Sunday, December 7, 2014

Race

The year 2014 is reaching its bittersweet end - I add "sweet" to the "bitter" simply due to the fact that it is almost over.  Is it really over, though?  We all know that Michael Brown and Eric Garner were murdered this year; however, they are unfortunately not the only unarmed black men who have had their lives taken away by police officers.  There was Sean Bell in 2006, Aaron Campbell in 2005, Victor Steen in 2009, and Steven Eugene Washington in 2010.  There are more on the list, which anyone can Google and hopefully use common sense to recognize that there is, indeed, a pattern. None of this is a "fluke" and the fact that racism is still rampant in the United States is something everyone must understand in order for 2015 to be any different from years prior.

Race is a topic in America that continues to be TABOO.  This is incredibly problematic in that pretending something does not exist is not the solution to achieving acceptance or tolerance of that something.  In this case, I am talking about race.

Humans have different skin colors.  We look different, and there are categories under which we fall. Like it or not, those categories have been asserted by society; one of our many labels as humans is what we are racially.

I've been thinking about Ferguson and the reactions we have all seen on our social media platforms that have perhaps caused us to evaluate friendships.  I clicked the "unfriend" button for a couple of people - it was a knee jerk reaction.  Now I am actually pretty disappointed in myself for helping to perpetuate the divide that there is between "us" and "them" (meaning, in this context, people who are outraged by the fact that Michael Brown was killed, and people who think the police officer had no choice but to shoot.)  Putting a wedge between people with opposing views has never turned out well. And the power of social media is underestimated.  Even without a "like" or a comment on something that one posts, we can never know who will be impacted in some way by information or a viewpoint that we put out there for people to mull over.

The topic of race seems to make people angry or it makes people shut down completely and decide not to acknowledge that there are different races in the world.  We all need to listen to each other and learn about what it is like to be black, white, Asian, Hispanic (ok, I am fine tuning things now down to ethnicity, not race)... we should be asking each other how it feels - what society can do to improve its treatment of people of different races.  The solution is not to pretend that we don't all have different experiences in life that are because of what ethnicity/race we are.

Anyway... just some thoughts right now.  Yeah.  Basically I'm just annoyed at myself for initially being a part of the problem.  I should at least stay connected to people on Facebook and see what is behind their viewpoint, and allow them to talk to me so that I can talk to them too.  

Thursday, December 26, 2013

Fathers

My mom just took my younger brother to Houston (they're still there, I think until tomorrow or the next day) to meet some members of his father's side of the family.

I think I'm the only one in the family who truly knows what my brother is feeling right now. I can relate completely, and I remember every minute of the first time I met people on my dad's side of the family.
It's all pretty parallel - John's dad's family speaks Spanish (they’re from Mexico), and John doesn’t understand.  My dad’s family speaks Arabic (they’re from Saudi Arabia) and I don’t understand. Both families (my dad's and John's dad's) are very warm, loving, hospitable and are loyal and connected to each other.

Another parallel: I knew John's family pretty well when I was a child and my mom was married to John’s father. John was a baby, so he doesn't remember any of it, but because I am 9 years older, I very clearly remember our trips to Mexico, and I remember his uncles Juan and Ariel, and his aunt Mika.
I remember John’s dad very well and he doesn't know him at all.
I relate to John when it comes to this, because my sister on my father's side, Sara (who lives in England) lived with our dad when she was a kid, and she remembers him very well and knows so much about him. For me, he is all just a myth and just a story, basically, but for Sara, he's really real. That's how John feels - I know a lot about his dad, but to John, his dad is this mysterious figure who doesn't seem to actually exist.

Anyway, it's hard to express in words what any of this feels like. Bottom line: I'm glad John has at least one person (me) who knows what he's going through right now. There are a lot of mixed feelings that come with the reunion of the family of our fathers - that part is so positive and so amazing; however, the fact that neither of our fathers make an effort to know us (unlike the fact that their relatives do make the effort) is something that is tough to swallow, and we are especially reminded of that during times like these.

John and I are both very lucky to have Mom and our family on her side, and we are both lucky to have relatives on our fathers’ sides who exemplify the qualities that are not present in our fathers themselves.

Friday, May 31, 2013

Happy Birthday



Today is my grandmother's birthday, and it's the first one I, and everyone in her life who is still alive, have experienced without her.  Marian Thomson Scheirman died on January 28 of this year and it's extremely weird not to call her today.  Because she was such a lover of words, I felt like I should write something on her birthday, but I don't really know what to write.  So, instead of writing something new, I want to post one of the last letters she got from me (I sent more after this one but I don't have any of them saved on a computer.)

December 20, 2012

Dear Grandmama,

As promised, here is a letter to remind you that I am thinking of you all the time, and that I miss you every day!

A memory that recently came to mind was when just the two of us were walking around in the field of flowers outside our apartment; we eventually ended up at a mound and stood on top of it looking at Mount Fuji in the distance.  I remember asking you why it looked so close when it was, in reality, far away.  You said that special things like Mount Fuji and the moon were easy to see from any distance.  Then, you started telling me about the moon, and that you could see the same moon from America that I saw from Japan.

Something else I remember was the summer visits to Overland Park, when you warned me about the chiggers and told me about the cicadas being “summer music.”  You also came outside with me sometimes at night to try and catch fireflies.  We would catch them in a jar and let them go after a few minutes.  That’s something that I will always remember about Kansas summers; that’s such a unique thing about the heart of America that I feel lucky to have experienced with you.

In 1994, my mom was about to have a baby, so you and Granddaddy took me, alone, to Oklahoma for our Scheirman family reunion.  That was such a special trip for me; it was so thrilling to ride cross-country in your blue Buick with you and have both of you to myself!  I remember feeling so independent because we weren’t traveling with Mom.  When we got to Oklahoma, we stayed in a cabin with a few relatives.  For years after that trip, I had a pencil made out of tree bark and a dream catcher necklace that you generously got me to have as souvenirs.

After we drove back from Oklahoma to Iowa City, my brother was about to be born.  We didn’t know he would be a boy yet, though.  On July 8th, we woke up and Mom was already at the hospital (I’m not sure what day she went to the hospital – maybe the day before that.)  I had a stomachache, and you and Granddaddy told me it was because I was feeling nervous for my mom.  I was so upset at the idea that my mom would be in pain while she was having the baby.  You were very reassuring that she would be fine.  You took me to my summer day camp and dropped me off.  When I walked up to the park shelter with the camp counselors, they asked me how I was doing.  I remember answering, very casually, “Good.  Oh and my mom is having a baby today.”  At about 2 pm, you came back to pick me up, and the camp counselors asked you about the baby, and you said, “Yes, we’re going to go meet the baby right now!”  On the way to Mercy Hospital, I didn’t say a word because I was so anxious and nervous to hear the gender of the baby.  You broke the silence and said, “He looks like you.”  My heart sank because I was hoping for a girl, but I was feeling a little hopeful that by “he” you weren’t talking about the baby.  So, I asked you, “who are you talking about?”  You said, “Your mom had a baby boy.”  I was so sad the rest of the way to the hospital, but as soon as we walked into the room where my mom was, she was so happy.  A nurse handed John to me and my disappointment completely disappeared and was replaced with excitement.  From that moment, I was so happy about the idea of a little brother; I imagined climbing trees together and taking him in his stroller to the grocery store by myself (which, by the way, my mom allowed me to do later on when he was 1 or 2!)  I was so proud to be the older one, and from then on, you always instilled pride in me that I was the oldest.  Both you and Granddaddy often told me that I had a special role as the oldest grandchild, and as an older sister.

In the summer of 2002, my sister Sara, her mother, my mom, and I drove to Fort Collins (stopping at Mount Rushmore on the way) to see you.  Carla and Sara were never close to Carla’s mother; after they met you, they both thought of you as the mother/grandmother that they had never really had.  You have always had and always will have a special place in their heart, and they care about you very much.  You told me that Granddaddy, shortly before he died earlier that same year, told a visiting chaplain about me recently meeting Sara.  It was one of the last things that he talked about before he died, and you said that he understood how happy I was and how important it was to me to know my sister.

In 2004 and 2005, I went to Fort Collins to stay with you for several months during those summers.  One of those summers, we practiced Praeludium and Allegro by Kreisler every day until we performed it together at your church.  The same summer, you also taught me two pieces on the piano: Für Elise and a piece by Jules Massenet.  You were very patient with me, and by the end of the summer, I was able to play both pieces effortlessly because you reminded me several times a day to practice them, and you sat next to me as I learned each piece measure by measure.

The latest memory I have of us, of course, is from August of this year when you visited us in Minnesota.  It was right before I moved to Vermont for my new job.  The timing was so perfect; I was glad you came before I moved.  It was so fun seeing you every day!  And I really enjoyed the party we had with our friends and relatives in Minnesota. 

Now I will show you some pictures of my life in Vermont.  I love you very much, and I look forward to hearing from my mom how you are doing.  As I always say at the end when I write to you, “talk to you soon!” 

Love, Alia

Thursday, December 13, 2012

Why Vermont is Cool

People have been asking me a lot about Vermont since I have moved here, and for some reason, I’ve been really bad at describing it.  If I say that it’s really quiet (which is true), that makes it sound boring.  If I say there’s a lot going on, it sounds like a more populated place than it actually is.  I focus mostly on Burlington when I tell people what it is like here, since Burlington is where I live, but in general, the whole tiny state of Vermont has a strange balance between silence and noise.

This liberal state might be the only place I have ever experienced talking to someone who would be labeled a “hick” or a “redneck” who fully and proudly supports Obama.There are bumper stickers that say “Keep Vermont Weird.” It is indeed a weird place, and I guess that is why I don’t usually find the right words to fully give someone a picture of what it’s like to live here.

Let’s take I-89, one of the main highways.  The term “rush hour” here takes on such a different meaning than any rush hour I’ve ever experienced.  Rush hour here means that there are possibly 10 more cars than usual on the road in sight.  And I’m talking about 8 in the morning and 5 in the evening on weekdays.

  The rush hour that I was talking about

Meanwhile, City Market, the co-op in Burlington, is usually packed, and it’s often difficult to find a parking spot there.  The hundreds of coffee shops and restaurants are crowded with locals and tourists, and Church Street, the town center of Burlington, is usually very alive.



The lake front (Burlington is right on Lake Champlain) is quiet but never dull; there are always people – college students, travelers, local families, and random people like me who somehow ended up in Vermont for some reason or another – walking and biking in whatever season it happens to be.  During the summer there are swimmers, paddle boarders, fishermen/women, hippies smoking joints, hipsters playing their banjos and ukuleles, and families from all over the world who faithfully return to Burlington every summer because it’s their chosen vacation spot.

Want to catch a drag queen and drag king race involving cupcakes, high heels, and glitter?  Burlington is the right place.  Looking for a tree house open to the public to hang out in?  Go to Burlington!

You can walk down Church Street and hear a mix of languages – you’re bound to hear a lot of French because of the nearby Montreal; I’ve heard Chinese, Arabic, Vietnamese, Somali, Amharic, Hebrew, Spanish, Portuguese, and lots of Russian.  For a city as small as Burlington, I think the demographics are pretty impressive.

Vermont has a lot of great spots outside of Burlington, too.  For example, the most beautiful drive I’ve experienced in Vermont was half an hour south from Burlington to Charlotte.  The drive was full of views of the mountains, farmland, rivers, streams, and old wooden bridges, and there were probably about four other cars that I saw during that entire drive.  We were surrounded by complete silence the whole time.

                      

Another good spot is Stowe, which is the quintessential New England ski resort town that has the Trapp Family Lodge.  The Trapp Family Lodge (click for pictures: http://www.trappfamily.com/) is managed by members of the von Trapp family, the ones that the Sound of Music tells the story of.  The family left Austria in 1938 and immigrated to Vermont.  Now, the Trapp Family Lodge in Stowe is a tourist destination that attracts people from all over the world in all seasons.  You don’t have to sacrifice your entire bank account to enjoy Stowe – you can sit at the coffee shop at the lodge and see what it would be like in a parallel life to actually be staying there.

Skiing in the winter, hiking in the spring, swimming and outdoor concerts in the summer, and the famous New England colors in the fall are some of the reasons that people will travel so far for Stowe.  I have been to Stowe briefly twice, but I definitely want to go for a full day sometime and experience one of the hikes or days of skiing that I hear about so much.
Montpelier is the capital of Vermont and it is another very typical New England village/town that is a good representation of this region of the U.S.  I have never seen such a small capitol building; the town is quiet and relaxed and very quaint.  It is a town that can easily be seen in half an hour, but a person could also find a full day’s worth of stuff to do in Montpelier.


                                 


In southern Vermont, a place that I really liked was Bellows Falls, a town of about 3,200 people.  It is tiny.  You can walk through it in ten minutes.  You can meet a very warm, friendly Greek woman who owns a pizzeria (she’ll make you a vegan pizza if you ask) and ask her why she ended up in Bellows Falls.  She has nothing but good things to say.  The Greek woman isn’t the only friendly person in that town – every person we encountered was extremely kind and excited to tell us about what their town has to offer.
                               
Again, as I mentioned above, Bellows Falls is a town with a mix of liberal, progressive thinkers in a very quiet, country setting.

Vermont has taken me a few months to really, genuinely appreciate; the more I discover here and the more people I meet, I realize the value of being here.   You can be a part of any religion, be of any nationality, any class or educational background, and any age.  No one cares “what” you are; no one even thinks about who you are or where you came from unless you choose to bring it up. Nothing will really faze a Vermonter.

Maybe I’ll eventually be able to articulate this place, but I doubt it.  I missed Burlington while I was in New York City for a weekend a couple months ago.
Anyway.  Vermont: it is just what it is, and I love it.
 


Monday, September 3, 2012

High school writing

I was just looking for a really old email, and in doing so, I found this, which I sent myself back in high school when I was about 16. I remember constantly thinking up scenarios like this in my head; I did stuff like write about elevator rides and make fun of human behavior in situations like that. I still think about typical human actions and reactions in mundane situations all the time, and I try to defy those expected interactions by doing something "unusual," but I know, fully, that despite my resistance to our conditioned, socially sculpted norms, I do all the things that I don't want to admit that I do.
Anyway, here's an exaggerated example of people at family reunions; by far not my best writing or humor, but it's something. It was kinda cool to find something  from more than 10 years ago.


Family reunions are interesting functions. While each one varies, there are a few common, standard types.

In some families, the reunions are polite, civilized, and predictable, where just about every conversation goes somewhat like this:
Person 1: Hello, my name is Tom, and may I ask what yours is?
Person 2: Well good afternoon, Tom! I’m Dora. Nice to meet you.
P1: The pleasure is certainly all mine, Dora. Hmm, so I wonder how we’re related.
P2: I will just take a look here… what is your last name? My maiden name is Smith.
P1: Oh, you brought your family tree, how glorious! My surname is Jones. . . Ah, I see. Our great-great-grandmothers were second cousins. And that would make our great-great-great-grandmothers or grandfathers first cousins!
P2: Yes, I suppose so. I don’t have that many generations written on here yet - this is all I’ve written down so far – I’ve really got to do some more research on the genealogy.
P1: Oh, I do too – I have been meaning to get to that as well! Oh, listen, I am collecting the relatives’ addresses, and if I may have yours, you can expect a Christmas letter from my family next December!
P2: That would be simply marvelous. Do you happen to have a writing utensil? I normally carry my handy-dandy black ballpoint pen in my purse, but I seem to have taken it out earlier.
P1: That happened to me once. It was awful, let me tell you. Fortunately I now have a utensil with which to write, and my address book… Well, thank you very much for your address! I see you live in Houston. I had a friend in my college days from Dallas! What an amazing coincidence that is, huh?
P2: My, that sure is something!
P1: Perhaps you know him – John Smith?
P2: Hmm, not off the top of my head, no.
P1: Shame. Very nice fellow. Well, it was great meeting you, Doris.
P2: Actually it’s Dora – Doris is very close though - good memory!
P1: Oh, yes – Dora. What was I thinking? I apologize profusely. I’m not too good with names.
P2: No problem at all – I am not good with names either. We seem to have many things in common! Anyhow, again, it was wonderfully fantastic to meet you… Timothy, was it? I must go and see who that fellow there is. Goodbye!

Then there are the loud, hugs-and-kisses kind of reunion – among the older generations, anyway. However, those under, say, twenty-five, seem to feel the need to be “cool” around cousins around their age. A typical conversation at one of these reunions might go something like:

Person 1: OH MY GOODNESS!! Little Samuel?! I remember you from when you were THIS LITTLE! I have received several pictures of you from your parents but it has been ages since I last saw you! Give me a smooch, honey! How old are you now? Sixteen?
Person 2: Seventeen.
P1: Seventeen already?! Unbelievable! I met you when you were just two months old! Do you remember?
P2: Hmm, actually I can’t quite remember back that far… sorry.
P1: I am your dad’s first cousin, silly Sam! Surely you remember! My name’s Christina but just call me Auntie Chris! Here, let me get a picture of you and my daughter Lisa – she’s fifteen, almost your age! You two will get along great! Woops, I’m out of my fifth roll of film; you just wait right there while I get more from my car! Lisa, why don’t you two get to know each other while I go do that?
P2: Uh…‘Sup?
P3: Huh? I had my headphones turned up.
P2: Whatever. So, what band is that?
P3: Metallica.
P2: Heavy metal’s tight. You listen to Korn?
P3: Who doesn’t?
P2: Yup.
P3: Yeah…
P2: There’s your mom.
P3: ‘Kay. Well after this picture, I’m gonna jet.
P2: Aight.
P1: Well I’m baa-aack! Lisa, are you listening to that polka music again? Take off your headphones so people can talk to you!
P3: I-I… um… what’re you talking about, Mom?! It’s Metallica!
P1: What a teaser! She’s just a teaser, Sam! She can’t get enough of that polka CD that her grandma gave her! Anyway, get close for a picture! Say cheese!
P3: (blushing still from her secret love for polka having been devulged) I’m so not saying cheese. Saying cheese was sooo yesterday.
P1: You silly goose! Well you two just look so adorable! This is going to be framed!

And of course, you can’t forget the World War 3 family reunions – the kind where people compare their kids so much that they end up despising each other before even learning one another’s name:

Person 1 (Smiling ingenuinely): Hiiiiiiiii. Have you met my son Jason?
Person 2 (Also flashing a fake smile): I don’t believe I have. And THIS is my son Matthew.
P1: Hi Matthew. Well Jason here has just started college at Princeton. He has so many scholarships, we’ve lost count! Ha-ha. Isn’t that just a riot?
P2: Well MATT here is at Harvard and he graduated high school with so many
Advanced Placement classes that he will only need to be in college for three years! He is majoring in business management and communications.
P1: That’s great. That’s great. Did I mention Jason’s scholarships?
P2: You did, you did. Good job, Jason. You are probably almost as smart as my
Matthew!
P1: Did you just say almost? How rude!
P2: I am just speaking the truth. My son is extraordinarily bright. It must run in the family! I, too, was a star student.
P1: It was very nice meeting you. But I’d like to go and talk to somebody who
will actually appreciate my Jason’s wonderful gifts and talents!
P2: You are just a funny one, aren’t you? You know, I don’t even care to know how we are related now. You are very rude and are a conceited show-off. My poor Matthew should not have to be treated this way after all the hard work he has gone through to reach the success he has now – have a nice time at the reunion. Bye-bye.

Of course, by no means am I saying that ALL family reunions consist of exchanges such as the examples above. But perhaps some of you have experienced conversations similar to these… or not. Either way, it is easy to see that family reunions are unique experiences, quite unlike any other function, no matter what sort of family is involved!

Thursday, June 21, 2012

For Shane

Today has been surreal in that our good family friend, Shane Hansell, passed away yesterday.  There was a rainbow right around the time he left.
A lot can be said about Shane Hansell as a human being.  Isn't that true of all cancer sufferers?  Why is it that the most pure-hearted, selfless people are the ones who seem to be afflicted by this disease?
Early this morning when I learned of Shane's death, I was so angry and upset.  I questioned God's existence and I wanted to scream at the universe.  Why does this happen to people like Shane; why do some of the dregs of humanity deserve to stay on this earth instead of Shane?

I've had the day to process this and I'm working on turning the anger into gratitude.  Anyway, it's important to think of the positive points:

-Shane had three very wonderful children.  I've known Travis since 6th grade - not very well, but we were in a lot of classes together - and I know that he got a lot of his good qualities from his father.  Allie is a beautiful, smart girl who has been an amazing mother to her little son, Anthony.  And Reid - he's 16, just a year younger than my brother.  Reid and John (my brother) are best friends, and have been best friends for about ten years.

-Shane was like a father to my brother.  We don't have a father figure in our household; that's okay, but a boy probably could use a male role model from time to time.  Shane held that role for John more than just time to time; he genuinely was a constant and amazing man for John to learn from and look up to.  John was at their house all the time; he learned from Shane's words and actions, and I believe that he is a better person because of Shane.  Maybe he doesn't know it yet, but he'll realize that when he's older.

-Shane was honestly, from an outsider's perspective, anyway, one of the most loving, compassionate, selfless husbands I ever knew.  He treated his wife, Julie, with so much care and respect.  I see so many marriages (not the new ones, but the ones that have lasted for a couple decades or more) filled with tension, coldness, and forced love.  From what I could tell, Shane had nothing but honest love for Julie (and vice-versa.)

-He had a kidney removed in 1992 due to cancer.  He got a lot better, and he was fine for many years.  In 2006, cancer found him again, and he had his second kidney removed and was put on dialysis.  That was six years ago; he said that he wanted to see his youngest son (Reid) turn 16.  Sure enough, he fought hard - he was angry and frustrated and determined - and he made it.  He saw his son turn 16, and he also recently visited Travis (the oldest) in Colorado.  He did everything he could to be there for as long as he could for his family.

Shane, you have one of the purest souls of anyone I've been privileged to meet.  Your family and friends love and miss you, but we'll focus on the fact that we're all so fortunate to have had you in our lives.  I cannot even begin to imagine or comprehend how Julie and your three kids and your grandson must feel.  Take care of them.




Friday, June 8, 2012

Depression: Is it real?

Depression seems paralyzing.  I haven't experienced it myself (I'm talking about internal depression, the disorder, not just life-altering sadness caused only by external forces.)  I only mention this (not in the way that there are people who immediately say, "But I'm not gay!" when talking about LGBT-related issues, or something to that effect) because I want to preface this rant/opinion/thought/whatever it is with the fact that I have no personal, first-hand knowledge of clinical depression.  But I feel compelled to write something about it right now.

The topic is on my mind because I overheard two women at work today in the coffee room talking about the fact that "depression" is fiction, made up, and completely concocted by one's intent to receive pity or to give excuses as to why they're not living a fully functional, productive life.  WHY did I not speak up?  I have no idea!  Because I didn't let out my annoyance there, some stupid blog is where I'll express it.  I'm pretty sure I used to subconsciously have a slightly negative opinion of depression until I actually knew people who suffered from it.  It is so real.  I imagine it to be like this: you know how we all have those periods in our life (it could be days or even as long as years) when it seems like we're staring through a tiny window (I know, the term "tunnel vision" would've sufficed to explain that) and we're completely in this restrictive zone where we feel emotionally or physically or mentally trapped.  I look at depression as being a long-term (or maybe depression can be very short-term) state of that.

That's all I really have to say on the matter.  It is demoralizing as humans to demoralize others for something that is completely unrelatable (is that a word?) It's like that phrase, "Seeing is believing" - I guess it takes seeing to understand something, and I get that.  But it's a good goal to reach, in my opinion, to not only believe in what we see, but to trust that millions of people wouldn't make something up.

(photo borrowed from mummydaze)