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: 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
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)

Thursday, May 17, 2012

In America seeking the real American Dream... or not

The American Dream... what does it all mean?

Yesterday, I received a phone call from my temp agency while I was at work.  Although we're not allowed to use our phones in the room where we work, I always have mine nearby and on vibrate in case it is a phone call I need to answer.  Being that this call was from the temp agency through which I have my current employment, I thought I'd better leave the room to speak to them.  I answered, and the conversation was as follows:

Me: Hello?
Temp. Agency Employment Counselor (i.e. TAEC for the rest of this post): "Hi, Alia, this is Persephone (name changed for sake of my internet reputation) from XYZ Temp Agency.  I'm just calling to let you know that I forgot to have you sign two sheets of paper, so I'm gonna need you to come in sometime soon and sign those.  Are you able to stop by today and do that?"
Me: Actually, as it happens, I'm working right now.
TAEC: Oh, right, you're working for ____.  Well, what we could do is have you come in at 6 in the morning tomorrow; the office opens at 6 and there will be someone here.
Me: Actually, could we do this by mail or by email?  It would be pretty hard for me to get from my town to where your office is located, and make it to work on time, all while during rush hour.
TAEC: Nah, we're gonna have to have you do it in person.  It'll take 2 seconds, and if you could just swing by, that would be great.  They're your payroll forms so they're really important, and we're gonna need those signatures on there, 'kay?
Me: (too surprised by the fact that this conversation seems at all logical to TAEC to respond) Alright, I'll see what I can do.  Thanks.

I sat at my desk, angry and completely stunned.  It's not simply the fact that I was going to have to wake up at five in order to correct a mistake that I was not responsible for.  That's a first-world, tiny problem in the grand scheme of things.  It would not be much of a hardship at all to drink some extra black water/caffeine combination that our bodies run on like gasoline, get into my car with the heater on to envelop myself in a contained environment shielding me from the morning cold, and barrel down the highway to a rectangular office building to lift my hand and sign my name.  I could handle that; I would not die.  No, it was, of course, the principle of the matter that angered me.  How is it that a salaried, full-time employee at a multi-million corporation can make a mistake, and then treat the hourly-waged pawn piece of a temp, the one working for the client, that way?  How was it my responsibility to drive (at least!) an hour and a half to put my signature on these forgotten forms?  Because I have been in a grim state as of late, due to many factors, I dramatized the situation in my head, resulting in thoughts about our country and the growing normalcy of temp agencies.  After about half an hour of working while seething, I called the agency back.  The conversation:

Lady at Front Desk (LFD): Good morning, you've reached ______; this is Janice (rather than use her actual name, I'll use the name I gave the voice of my GPS), how may I help you?
Me: (explained the previous conversation with Persephone) So, I was wondering who I should contact to request compensation for my time and for the gas.
LFD: What's your name?
Me: (spelled out my name)  Are you sure it isn't possible to do this by mail?
LFD: Oh, I see you live in the town of R and work in the town of P.  Correct?
Me: Yes.  And with rush hour traffic, it would be nearly impossible to make it to work in time.
LFD: Well, unfortunately we cannot offer you compensation.  What we can do is send you to another one of our offices that is on the way from your town of R. to the town of P.  Would that work for you?  I can speak with them to make sure someone will be there before your working hours, and we'll get back to you later today.
Me: Sure, that is definitely more manageable.  I appreciate your help!

A few hours later, I hadn't heard back, so during one of our breaks, I called, and Persephone answered.  She said that she had been "given the information," and would be in touch with me shortly.

Work ended, and I checked my voice mail.  After Persephone, Janice, and whoever else got involved in this Complicated Form Signing Matter had had the day to mull over this issue, the message on my voice mail from Persephone was as follows (I still have the message, so here's a pretty accurate transcription):
Hi this is Persephone from _____.  I'm just calling - um, just wanna follow up with you.  I'm gonna mail those forms that you have to sign.  I'm gonna mail them to you.  I'm gonna put my card in the envelope, so when you sign them, just shoot em back and mail them back to me and we'll be good to go.  If you have any questions, just call _________.  Thank you.  Bye."

No, none of this is truly the American Dream.  Who is actually happy to be living this scenario?  It's not the American Dream for someone spending half a day figuring out the logic of using the postal service to fix their mistake.  However, the American Dream as we know it is actually, in reality, quite unhappy (2.5 children - come on, half a child would not be ideal now, would it?, a large house that we hardly are in to enjoy, a one man and one woman family, 50% of the time resulting in divorce, one automobile per person, a safe, 8-hour job in an air-conditioned, clean office, being protected by a health insurance company that, in fact, makes its money off of denying the "care" it promises) is rapidly resulting in millions of people finding themselves dependent on a third party to ease their financial stress.  The temp agency, as I have discovered from many conversations since returning from the Peace Corps, is becoming the way to financial stability for so many people.  Companies love temps; they get work done cheaply without needing to provide benefits.

The American Dream has taken a small handful of our population far, setting them at the top.  At risk of sounding like a bitter 20-something-year-old hipster: Corporations are eating us alive right now.  They didn't necessarily in the past, not to this degree.  But now, our population is larger, corporations are more resource-consuming yet not paying the taxes that would replenish those resources they use (need examples?  I can write a list, but not here - I should at least attempt to stay on topic), and we're becoming more and more dependent on the mercy of said corporations, such as temporary agencies, to survive.  And, slowly but surely, people equal chess pieces in the large-scale, patriarchal family of a nation that we are.

(Oh, and for the record, today was my last day working with this temp agency; therefore, I do not mind putting this post up right now.)

Friday, April 13, 2012

A sheephuman in Times Square

For the last three months, I lived in New York City with a cousin of mine. Inspired by a human wearing a unicorn mask walking around an ordinary, urban setting (I think I saw it on YouTube), I decided to grace Times Square one night with my sheep/human presence.

Wednesday, April 11, 2012

Johnny, are you out there?

You have two sisters and a brother; I'm your sister in America. I'm 27, and you're around 35. All I know about you, besides your approximate age, is that your name is "Johnny" (maybe Johann?), you're from Germany, and your mother's name is Margarita (although, I don't know how she spells it.) She also has red hair.
So... maybe someday you'll Google the name Fawaz Khusaifan (or Khesaifan, or Khisaifan, or Alkhusaifan) out of curiosity, and you'll see this. I don't know him, and our sister barely knows him anymore. He doesn't seem to want anything to do with his children, and that's his loss. But the siblings should know each other.
This is pretty personal information, I know, but I decided to write something that the whole internet would have access to, cause you never know, right? :)