Them College Kids

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Back when I was in high school, I became really close to the art teacher (even though I was a terrible artist).  I used to come to his room every day at lunch time, and he would usually have lunch for me that he made from home.  We would sit and talk for the whole period about life.  He would listen to what was going on with me, he would tell me what was going on with him, etc.  I have no idea how that started, but it lasted for a couple of months in my senior year.

During one of these lunches, I told my teacher a secret that I hadn’t told anyone else yet: I was going to take a year off of college.  I knew if I told my parents what I wanted, they would be mad at me.  My friends wouldn’t understand my reasons and would try and encourage me to go straight to college after I graduated.  But I didn’t want to be convinced.

I explained to my teacher that I had a crap situation at home and that I thought it would be much smarter to take the year off, work full-time, save up money so I could leave, and then start school once I was out of my parents’ house.  I told him my plan was to get a job that paid $20,000 a year because I could save exactly half of it and end up with $10,000.  I planned to live on that money while I went to school because $10,000 is a lot of money and should be able to cover me for a while.  I would get a super cheap studio and use my savings to pay rent.  I’d get a part-time job to cover other, smaller stuff, but I could definitely survive mainly on my savings.

He listened to my entire idea with patience.  He said nothing except to nod his head and smile.  I remember thinking there was something behind that smile, but I just couldn’t figure it out, so I put it out of my mind.

That was back in 2004.  It’s ten years later, and I currently live in the space between two ideas: I am much wiser than I used to be, and yet there is still so much left for me to learn.  Things absolutely did not work out the way I planned them, and that turned out to be a good thing.  In any case, ten years later I found myself sitting with a college senior, having lunch and talking about life.  I asked him what his plans were after graduation, and he said that while he wasn’t sure yet, he was in the process of looking for a “good” job, one that made use of his skills and expertise, had benefits, etc.  His eventual goal is to get into politics, but for now he’d be happy being the manager of something.  He was aiming for a job that paid $60,000 a year, because, you know, he couldn’t take just ANYTHING, not with the thousands that he’s going to owe in student loans.

I listened patiently, and I smiled the same smile my teacher did ten years ago.  The meaning finally clicked.

The smile was many things.  It was a stifled laugh, not only at the absurdity of the idea itself, but also at the idea that life can be planned at all.  It was pity for the person who does not yet understand how many pieces of the puzzle he is missing.  It was hope that the person would get what he wanted anyway, but it was also a cynical, knowing smile.  It was the suppression of the urge to say, “It doesn’t work that way,” because not only do you not want to destroy someone’s hopes and dreams, you also know that he won’t listen to you anyway.  He has a plan.

He probably never noticed all that was behind it, but if he did he’ll probably store it away in his head and realize the meaning years from now.

College kids are supremely unrealistic gamblers.  They take out these insane loans hoping that the risk will be worth it, but really they have no proof that it will be.  If they would simply pay attention, they would realize that there is actually a lot of proof that the risk is NOT worth it, that student loan debt can be crippling, and that if they can’t pay this one bill they are sort of screwed for life.

(I am definitely overgeneralizing, but bear with me)

But I wonder how much of these unrealistic outlooks on life can be attributed to the naivete of youth, and how much can be explained by society itself.  As societal values go, the College Education is among the most highly regarded.  We tell kids, “Just go to college, whatever the price.  Once you get the degree, your horizons will broaden significantly and you’ll be super successful right away.  And by the way, after all the hard work you put into your education, you deserve success.”  We do not do a good job as a society for preparing teenagers and young adults for the realities of the world.  No, most people to do not start out of the gate with a bachelors degree making “only” $60,000 based on their “skills” and “expertise.”  This idea came from the lies that higher education has fed this young man, and while I do hope he gets what he wants, experience tells me he won’t.  I think it’s sad that he wasn’t better prepared by society at large to think realistically and logically.

For the record, you absolutely CANNOT live on $10,000 for four years in NEW YORK CITY.  This was definitely unrealistic, but I was never told this was possible by anyone.  I made this shit up in my own stupid 17 year old head.  So when life did not work out, all I had to blame was myself for my foolishness.  I was never sold a lie.

I used to think that the students I was surrounded by here were much better prepared for everything than I was.  They had supportive parents, they had the ability to make their college educations happen sooner rather than later, and they were making connections that would help them in the future.  In truth, I have realized I was really lucky to have dropped out of college early.  I got to have a few years of actual life experience before the Higher Education Machine could get a hold of me and convince me that my bachelors degree would have some magical effect on my life.  I am prepared for the challenges I’ll face after graduating next year.  Unfortunately, these students not prepared, and I can’t help but think that while there is something to be said for youthful naivete, society itself has fostered this unpreparedness.

Memorials

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I have been absent for a while.  It’s bad news, unfortunately.  I have been trying to write about this for about a month, but a combination of burnout and antisocial-ness has prevented me from doing so.  On Memorial Day, May 26th, my sister-in-law died of a heart attack.  She was 37 years old and left behind her mother, father, brother, and her two children.

To explain… Jasmine was born with a genetic heart condition which thickened the muscle in her heart.  She had been in need of a transplant since she was a teenager, and she got that transplant eleven years ago.  So time was always short for her.  We knew this would come eventually, that it was unlikely that she’d make it to 40, but this was very sudden since she’d been doing fine health-wise right up to Memorial Day.  She was out with a friend when the heart attack occurred, and she died on the way to the hospital.  From what we understand, it was pretty quick.  I think her family is trying to believe that she went without pain, but she had had an immeasurable number of heart attacks in her life, and I remember her describing them all as quite painful.  So I’m not fooling myself.  It may have been quick, but I’m sure it was painful and I think that’s sad.

Anyway.  We got the call at 12:30am, right as Memorial Day began.  Fairly fitting.  She was born on Veteran’s Day, and thinking about these dates in the context of her life, they make so much sense.

We needed to make an emergency trip to NYC, and we stayed for almost two weeks.  We experienced a lot of drama out there (which I’ll get to in a minute), but I would like to point out that this occurred during my 8th week of classes (out of 10).  So essentially, I had a lot of work due that week (including at least 3 papers) and finals to begin studying for.  This was a hard term to begin with, since I was finishing a film that should have been finished the term before, and because I was doing some independent study in addition to my normal course load.  So I was already driving myself absolutely insane, not really sleeping, not eating very well, etc.  It was a very rough term, and just when I had started to see the light at the end of the tunnel, life stopped.  It really did.  This event really threw my academic life into disarray, but I am happy to say that despite that I still walked away with A’s and A-’s in all of my classes, even made it to the Dean’s List.  I had to hand in a lot of work late, but whatever.  It worked out.

So that was my tangent.  Back to the important stuff.  As soon as we found out, we started calling and texting a bunch of family members to let them know what was going on.  Angel’s mom was beyond devastated, and there of course was nothing we could say or do to make things any better.  We had a really hard time getting back to NYC because there were a bunch of thunderstorms in the Midwest the day that we traveled.  The trip took about 16 hours (and it was mostly by plane, so this is insanity), but that was certainly better than not getting back at all.

New York was disorienting.  Part of it may have been that I didn’t get much sleep that first week.  In fact, I probably slept less than 10 hours TOTAL that first week.  I just couldn’t sleep, even when I tried, until things were settled and we had a final mass for Jasmine.  Beyond this, we experienced reverse culture shock, which was really hard to deal with under the circumstances.  It felt like Appleton had been a long dream, and I wasn’t sure if I had ever left NYC.

I also ended up feeling alone.  I felt homeless all over again, like I did not belong anywhere.  While I was definitely surprised at the support we received from some people, I was equally surprised at the support we did not receive from others.  Appleton didn’t feel real, and neither did NYC.  I wasn’t sure anymore who was really a friend.  And of course I had no family support.  It felt like my world was turned upside-down, and to be honest I wasn’t even mourning for Jasmine.  We were not close.  In fact, she never liked me and we never got along.  She called me nasty names behind my back and even tried to convince Angel not to marry me the night before our wedding.  So I hadn’t lost anything.  That said, I can only imagine how Angel felt given that he DID lose someone very important to him.  These feelings have been hard to shake off, and two months after the fact I’m still feeling untrusting and out-of-place.

Anyway, as I mentioned, there was drama when we got here.  The friend Jasmine was with when she died was her not-official-boyfriend/friend-with-benefits (I’ll shorten that to FWB), and he was angry that Angel was given so much responsibility in terms of Jasmine’s wake/burial/etc. over him (because, as you’ll see, he was a fucking douchebag).  We found this out within the first 24 hours of arriving, and we just knew it would only go downhill from there.

And downhill it went.  Originally, FWB was supposed to pick us up from the airport when we got to NYC, but my mother-in-law let us know that he was drunk, so at the last minute I had to call a really good friend of mine who got her boyfriend up and drove to the airport at 12:30am on a weeknight to get us.  A couple of days later, we had a big gathering at the house, and FWB invited at least a dozen of his own family members without telling anyone, so suddenly we didn’t have enough food or space or anything.  One of the women insulted my mother-in-law, speaking to her in English and then stopping short to ask if my mother-in-law even spoke English.  While our family was conserving food to be considerate of everyone else (it wasn’t a fucking party), FWB’s family LOADED UP.  FWB made it about himself and we later found out that he had been staying in my mother-in-law’s house before we got there.  There’s so much more to explain with this, but honestly there aren’t enough words to describe how hectic, awful, and generally fucked-up this situation was.  He even vented to Angel on the night we got back, telling him all about his own pain.  Ummm, Jasmine was Angel’s SISTER, and FWB couldn’t even be considerate of the fact that ummm Angel might have been grieving too.  You know, just a little bit.

Anyway.  The wake went well for the most part until the very end.  In the last 20 minutes, things went CRAZY and Angel and I almost got into a fistfight with FWB and a few of Angel’s cousins.

I am not the fighting type, so this was actually pretty serious.

It all started because FWB was at the wake.  He got there at the very beginning but couldn’t bring himself to see Jasmine’s body.  He’d been there about four hours when Jasmine’s daughters and ex showed up.  Her oldest daughter never liked FWB (and I don’t blame her, he was shady as shit), and when she saw him she told me and Angel that she didn’t want him there, it made her uncomfortable.  I figured he’d had more than enough time to go and see Jasmine, and that my first and only responsibility was to my nieces who were trying to mourn their mother in peace, so I told FWB to leave. It was very simple, shouldn’t have been a dramatic thing, but FWB went off drinking and was called back by a cousin of Angel’s that didn’t know the situation.

Another of Angel’s cousins, Liz, was Jasmine’s best friend, and when she showed up near the end she made a huge scene about how FWB should be there, how it didn’t matter what Jasmine’s girls wanted (ARGGGHHH!!), etc. She then threw a fit when she saw the body, and we had to get her out of the parlor because she was scaring Jasmine’s youngest daughter, who is just 6 years old. Once we got Liz in the lobby, her and her daughter Kiana started to get into Angel’s face, screaming at him. So I lost my patience (terrible of me, I know), got in her face, and screamed back, and that 18-year-old, bitch-ass Kiana tried to punch me. All of the cousins dragged Liz, Kiana, and FWB out, but in the end they made it clear that the only way the drama would stop was if we let FWB in to say his goodbyes. So Angel’s mom had to help him walk into the parlor (he was too drunk to walk on his own) so that everyone would stop acting stupid.

I thought the entire thing was disgusting, and I was disappointed that these were the type of people that Jasmine had in her life, people that would act this way. A couple of weeks later, we heard that FWB thinks we owed him an apology because we chose the girls over him. Our collective response (as we’ve talked amongst ourselves, because why even dignify him with a response?) has been who the hell is he?

So that was the drama.  We had to be on watch during Jasmine’s church service because we banned FWB, Liz, and Kiana from attending but were afraid they’d try to show up anyway.  Sad that we couldn’t mourn in peace.  But they didn’t show up, thank Jesus, so that was the end of the nastiness.

We spend another week at home after that before we came back to Appleton.  I made it back just in time to attend the last day of classes and get extensions for all of my work.  I made up two weeks’ of work and completed all of my finals as soon as I possibly could.  I never got a breather because I finished my work right at the time I started my summer jobs.  I felt (and still feel) burnt out and antisocial.  People have been getting me out of the house, but it’s a slow process because honesty all I want is to be left alone by the world.  I feel abandoned, I feel angry, and I feel disconnected.

But none of this compares to what Angel feels.  He won’t express much of anything, but I know he’s in pain.  He lost his only sister.  They had their problems, but I know he loved her dearly, and now he feels alone in the world.  Every once in a while I cry for him.  The other day, we were talking about how my sister never takes my damn advice, and then I remembered that Angel used to give lots of advice to his own sister.  But now there is no more advice to give.  There are no more conversations to be had.  No more hugs to give or receive.  And I had to step away to cry for a minute (I didn’t want him to start crying too) because I am so incredibly sad for him.

For the first month we were back, he would freak out whenever his mom would call him because he thought something was wrong.  He talks much more with his mom now, at least once every day or two.  We both reconnected with a cousin of Angel’s who is amazing, which was one of the few good things to come out of this mess.  I text this cousin a lot these days.  And Angel’s been reconnecting with a lot of distant friends of his because he realizes how short life is and how much he wants other people in his life.  So his reaction to this whole thing has been, in some ways, opposite of mine.  He reaches out while I have withdrawn from the world.

Okay.  I think this is about all I can do for now.  This post could be so much longer than it is, but if I wrote everything that happened during that time, all of the politics that are playing out now, and all the things we found out about Jasmine after she died, I would be here for a while.  I don’t have the time or energy for that.

Here’s an article that was written about Jasmine after her church service.  The person on the front left with the curly hair and gray sweater is Angel.  He was one of the pall bearers.  Sigh.  I didn’t like that they took pictures of us exiting the church, but what can you do?  The Daily News is sleazy that way.

http://www.nydailynews.com/new-york/uptown/mom-dies-11-years-heart-transplant-article-1.1812182

I’ll be back.  Now that I’ve gotten this out I can start focusing on some of the topic ideas I had before all of this mess.

Until later.

Brothers and Sisters, Mothers and Fathers

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I spoke to my sister today for the first time in about 4 or 5 months.  We’re not fighting or anything, we’re on good terms and all.  We’ve just been busy.  She has her baby, I have my schoolwork, and it’s been hard for us to connect.  But she had some time today so she called me and updated me on some happenings with my family.  The events themselves didn’t affect me much, but her commentary and analysis of them depressed me a little bit, and I had to write down some thoughts before my mind would be clear enough to return to my reading.

Our brother has had his own apartment since roughly September last year.  However, he was still living with my parents.  In other words, he was paying rent to a place that he wasn’t living in.  This made absolutely no sense to anyone except, of course, him.  He finally moved into his apartment this month.  I remember seeing this news on Facebook and saw how my sister talked about losing her best friend, yada yada.  It got me thinking about how things were when I left home.  I was 18 when I was kicked out (my family claims that I just up and left, but my father did literally tell me to get the fuck out, so….).  There was no fanfare.  There was no concern for my well-being.  I was no one’s best friend.  My sister and I weren’t close at that point, we were both involved in our own lives.

When I left, there was no offer to help me if I needed anything or anyone telling me I could come back home.  They got rid of my bed two months after I left.  I had no home.

I’m 27 now, so that was a long time ago.  My brother is 24 this year.  He wasn’t forced out, he left when he was ready to leave, even waiting for a few months after getting his apartment to do so.  From what my sister said, she and my dad were really depressed after my brother left.  My mother was fine, she continued life as if nothing happened.  But my sister and father were devastated.  My father misses my brother so much.  He said he felt like he couldn’t protect his son anymore now that his son was out in the world.  He let my brother keep the keys to the house in case he needed them.

I came back a few months after getting kicked out to get the rest of my stuff.  When I arrived, my dad told me to leave my keys there.

Ten years ago, when I left, neither of my parents was depressed, they both went on as if nothing had occurred.  They weren’t concerned about not being able to protect me out in the world.

Anyway, it was interesting to hear my sister talk about how sad it was in the aftermath of my brother’s move, because it made me think back to those days and to how abandoned I felt.  It made me think of how homeless and family-less I feel even today.  Aside from some feelings of jealousy (why should my brother be missed so much and me not at all?), thinking back to this actually didn’t bother me so much.  It’s interesting to think about, and it’s a bit sad, but it’s in the past, it happened, and I’m happy without my parents in my life.  I’m okay.

But my sister kept going, and this is where it started coming apart for me.

It’s weird.  She said that these things made her think of the past, too.  When my father talked to her about how much he missed my brother and how much he felt like he couldn’t protect his poor son, my sister replied, “Well, that doesn’t make sense.  When Ariel left, you weren’t upset about not being able to protect her, and she was a kid when she left.  Mil (our brother) is an adult now.  Ariel was a kid.  Shouldn’t you have been worried about her being alone in the world?”

“Yeah, but Ariel was different,” he said.

“How was she different?  She was a kid.”

“Mil doesn’t see things, he isn’t street smart.  Like, he’ll be able to see a shady person, but he doesn’t see other things.  People can take advantage of him.  That would never happen to Ariel.”

“But he’s an adult.  You weren’t concerned about Ariel’s safety.  She was a little girl when she left.”

He changed the subject.

My sister had a similar conversation later with my mother.  My mother commented on how depressed my sister and father have been with my brother’s move, and I somehow came up in this conversation.  My sister commented on how it wasn’t like this when I left, no one was depressed or worried or anything.  My mother said, “Yeah, well Ariel was different.  And besides, she wasn’t living here anyway by that point, she was only here on weekends.”

“But she was a little girl.

My mother didn’t get it.

My sister said she felt like my parents were judging her for bringing this all up, and that they clearly didn’t understand what a huge discrepancy there was between how they behaved when I left and when my brother left.

My mother has been asking my sister how my brother is doing.  She has been wondering if he has enough towels.  My parents have sent my brother food and supplies.  My sister said, “You didn’t do any of this with Ariel.  And she was a kid.

They really, really don’t get it.

My sister monologued about this for a while.  She talked about how she was seeing patterns that she didn’t understand, that she wanted to try and understand them so that she could break these patterns.  She said she doesn’t want to raise her daughter to be broken like she was broken.

She also said that she had thought she was breaking patterns before all of this, but she realized she wasn’t.  For example, she broke up with her baby’s father because she didn’t want to have her daughter raised by an awful father like she was.  But she realized that even though this was the right thing to do, she still hadn’t broken the pattern because part of the reason she has problems with him today is that she treats him the same way that my mother treats my father.  She stopped doing that, and since then things have been much better.  They’re not getting back together, not by a long shot, but she understands that what makes them different from my parents is the fact that they’re adults and that they can deal with their daughter as adults together.  But this required a change in her.

She said that she realized that my mother wasn’t the type of mother that I (me, Ariela) needed or wanted.  She said that while this was true for all three of us in one way or another, that it was the most true for me.  My mother isn’t “real.”  She’s passive-aggressive and she can’t handle the truth.  I have never been the kind of person that can deal with that, and so as a result my mother couldn’t deal with me.

She said that she and my mother were watching a show the other day about a grandmother who raised her grandchild because her mother was too young to do it on her own when she had the child.  The child felt abandoned by her mother and kept talking about all of her feelings on the matter.  I guess the mother kept taking it personally, so the host stepped in and said, “Your daughter’s feelings have nothing to do with you.  They are her feelings based on her perceptions.  It’s not about you.”  In other words, this host was trying to get the mother to stop seeing herself in the center of the situation and to listen and take in her child’s feelings instead.

My sister emphatically agreed with this, and my mother turned to her and said, “How could she say that?  Of course it has to do with her mother.  How could her mother not matter?”

THIS. RIGHT HERE.  This is where much of the problems lie between her and her children.

———

It was so strange to hear my sister say all of these things.  I was happy to hear that she was seeing things that I saw many years ago and that these things led her to realizations that are helping her improve her own life and especially the life of her child.  These are the good things.

I was kicked out of my home for trying to protect my sister.  But the thing is, I wasn’t supposed to protect her.  I was supposed to teach her.

Still, there are so many things to be sad about.  How am I different?  Why are my parents so callous and unfeeling toward me?  Why don’t they love me?  They did not let me go because they knew I’d be okay, even if that’s the excuse they want to give.  They let me go because they didn’t want me anymore.  They brought me into this world and I became more than they could handle.  They were glad to get rid of me at the first opportunity.

I think they stopped loving me a long time ago.  And I’m not sure what I did to make them stop loving me.

Maybe it’s because I’m a mirror.  They could avoid having to deal with themselves and their issues until they looked at me, and I looked back at them.  They saw themselves in me, they saw their ugliness, and instead of turning inward and trying to figure out their own problems they blamed me for making them ugly.  Then they threw me away.

Anyway.  I’m happy for my sister.  I am sad for myself.  I don’t know what the life lesson is for me in all of this.  Why did these things happen?  What’s the point?

My brother is 24 years old.  He is an adult and should’ve been on his own years ago.  My parents are doing everything they can to make sure that he’s doing okay.

I emailed my mother after my father kicked me out.  It had been almost two weeks and my parents hadn’t tried to contact me.  I emailed her and told her how angry I was, how I didn’t understand how they could do what they did.  I asked her how she and my father could send an 18 year old out on her own, not knowing where she was, not knowing if she was okay, not knowing if she was eating or had a roof over her head.  I told her I wasn’t going to speak to her anymore.  She said, “I love you, Ariel, always.”

She wasn’t telling me she loved me.  She was saying goodbye.

She was OKAY with not knowing where I was.  She was OKAY not knowing whether I had a safe place to stay or food to eat.  She was FINE.  She is STILL fine.  And so is my father.

But they must protect their son.  Their adult, shit-ass, disrespectful son.

I’m feeling all sorts of fucked up right now.

At least all of this will lead to my niece’s life being much better than mine or my sister’s.  That’s the good part.

I’m going to go cry now.

Inside The Actor’s Studio Plus Updates

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Yup, I’ve been busy.  I have a lot of thoughts and ideas for blogs that I probably won’t get to until the summer at this rate hahaha.  But I’m writing them down so I won’t forget and in the meantime I am still reading everyone’s blogs and junk.

Today I’m answering the questions from Inside the Actor’s Studio because why the fuck not? It’s my blog, I’ll do what I want!!

(I’ve had coffee, and yet I’m sleepy and a little punchy)

What is your favorite word? Cloud.
What is your least favorite word? No.
What turns you on? Laughter, good times, happiness.
What turns you off? Halitosis.
What is your favorite curse word? Fuck (duh, is there anything else?)
What sound or noise do you love? The stirring of ice in a glass.
What sound or noise do you hate? People chewing their food.
What profession other than your own would you like to attempt? Almost all of them. Seriously. Astronomer, stunt double, farmer, you name it I want it!
What profession would you not like to do? Whichever one requires you to go into sewers for any reason. Or teaching.
If Heaven exists, what would you like to hear God say when you arrive at the Pearly Gates? I am so sorry. OR So what did we learn?

And off I go.

The winter term was stressful as shit. I got an INCOMPLETE in a class for the first time in my entire life because my group members were fucking lazy and I didn’t realize this was a problem I couldn’t handle until it was too late, and now I have work to make up in addition to three new classes AND research AND clubs and whatnot.  Spring term starts tomorrow and I’m stressed just thinking about everything that I need to get done.

Sooooo yeah.

Fun.

Oh research!!  I remember when I first made the decision to come to Lawrence.  One of my bosses tried to talk me out of it because the school was honestly one of the least prestigious schools I had been accepted to.  In fact, I was accepted to many schools which are very well-known and have a better reputation for offering research opportunities to its students (ahem, I’m looking at you, Rochester U. and Smith), and this boss was convinced that for whatever reason I needed to be at a school that would give me the opportunity to participate in research.  When I told him I had already accepted Lawrence’s offer and that it was too late, he looked like a piece of him had died.

Seriously.  It was really fucking dramatic for no reason.

Anyhoo, so as much as I truly love that boss he can suck my cock because I landed a research position at Lawrence for the summer!  I will be training for it through the spring term and I’ll work full-time for 10 weeks during the summer on this research.  In short, I’m working with the psych department (of all places, really, I’m never going to be a psych major, but this opportunity is too amazing to let pass me by) on looking at the effects of technology and social media on parent-teenager relationships, hopefully helping them get towards the paper writing and publishing stage.

If all goes well, I could be given some kind of credit in an academic paper.  Just sayin.

I’ll also be working with them in assessing the needs of institutions that handle early childhood education in the Fox Valley area so that we can help them address those needs. This will involve me going into the community and speaking with parents of young children as well as attending community meetings and speaking with officials in those institutions.

I’m mega excited for everything this experience will teach, and I’m excited to work with the two professors I’m working with.

Tha’ts as much of an update as I can muster today.  Well, I can also say that it is warm in Wisco today – it’s above 50 degrees and everything!  People are walking around in shorts and tank tops.  Angel and I drove to school with the windows down and the heat off today.  Because after the Polar Vortex thing, this truly feels like SUMMER.

Anyhoo.  I’ll be a better blogger next time, promise ;)

On “Disability”

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There’s a young man in my film class, and some of my classmates are pretty sure he has autism.  Having read about autism, I’m not so sure they’re right.  That said, he is most certainly awkward in social situations and seems to have no understanding of or care for other people’s emotions.

He was upset when he got assigned to a film team which is handing a very emotionally sensitive topic because he didn’t want to “deal with” emotions.  When we’ve had discussions about our film topics in class, he has commented on how it seems that we are all going for the dramatic and he doesn’t understand why.  He is also not afraid to express his actual feelings and doesn’t seem to care how he comes off.  He thought an exercise was stupid, and he expressed that through his very audible sighs and his “I guess so” response when he was asked to participate. 

I read an article last term about Theory of Mind, which is the ability to attribute your thoughts and feelings to yourself and to recognize that other people have their own thoughts and feelings.  The article related this concept to autism and explained how those with autism develop this skill later than most, or sometimes not at all.  The article went on to explain how the social aspects of autism could be explained using a empathizing-systematizing spectrum since people with autism have a hard time empathizing with others but are better at understanding systems.  Where one falls on this spectrum determines how severe one’s autism is.

I think what the article was trying to hit home was that autism may not be some crazy mental disorder, but that most people who have autism are just like the rest of us.  They just happen to fall on the extreme of a spectrum that, in the end, we’re all on.  At least, that’s how I remember it.

At first, I thought about this young man and the article.  I don’t know if he has autism or not, but he does seem to fall onto the extreme of this spectrum.

But then I felt stupid for thinking this way, because I realized, what’s so wrong about him anyway?

He is honest.  He doesn’t see the need to put up with the bullshit the rest of us do.  When something seems pointless, he says so.  When his classmates seem to be more focused on pulling heartstrings than making an informative documentary, which is the point of the class, he tells them so.  He doesn’t pretend.  When he smiles and says hello to me, I know he means it.  When he doesn’t, I know he’s not interested in talking to me.  I always know where he stands.

Whether he has autism or not, he is much better than the rest of us.

People with mental “handicaps” seem to be better than the rest of us “normal” people most of the time.

The last time Angel and I went to the supermarket, there was a man with Down Syndrome packing our bags.  I asked him how he was doing, and he said, “I’m super awesome!”  He then went on to tell me the year he was born and how that meant that he was around to watch “Star Wars” when it first came out, and that he got to play with the Rubiks Cube when it was new.  He said, “I’m super awesome because I was around in 1982.  Where were you in 1982?”  I told him I hadn’t been born yet, and he laughed.

He was very happy with his job and his life.  Being a “bag boy” didn’t seem to bother him at all – he took pride in his work.  He was so nice to me and had a full conversation with me without even knowing me.  He treated me with a kindness and respect that “normal” people rarely give me.

So I’ve been thinking lately about what we consider mental handicaps.  Are we thinking about this correctly at all?

I don’t mean to downplay the challenges that people face.  People with Down Syndrome and autism deal with much more than with the stereotypes of impaired intellect or social awkwardness.  I know this all too well.

But why aren’t the rest of us as sincere as the film student?  Why do we pretend to be interested in things we’re not?  Why do we put up with situations that we know are total bullshit?  Why do value not “rocking the boat” more than we value progress?

Why aren’t we as nice to each other as the man with Down Syndrome is to EVERYONE?  Why aren’t we so proud of the things we do?  Why don’t we look back at life and feel grateful for having been around to experience the things we’ve experienced?  Why do we take so much for granted?

Are we the ones who have some issues here?

Who’s REALLY handicapped?

Rant About Race and Identification

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Ever since I’ve moved to Good Ol’ Wisco, race has been on my mind.  I find that I am treated differently here than I was in New York, and racial discrimination has become more than just a figment of other people’s imaginations.  Based on this, I can’t help but think more about who I am, how I self-identify, and where I stand on racialized issues.

Who am I?  My parents are Puerto Rican Americans.  My dad’s mother was from Costa Rica.  Her mother was German, and her grandmother was a Costa Rican Indian.  My mother’s ancestors are African, Spanish, and a host of other things.  So what am I?  The only thing I identify with on any regular basis is AMERICAN.  I was born here.  My parents were born here.  Though born abroad, all but one of my grandparents was a natural-born citizen since Puerto Rico is a colony commonwealth of the United States.

And yet there is always confusion.  I love when people ask, “What are you?” and when I respond, “I’m American” or “I’m from New York,” they then respond with, “No, but where are you from really?”  Because apparently being born here doesn’t mean I BELONG here.

We don’t ask Italians or Polish or Germans or even African Americans where they are “really” from.  They are all of this county and that’s the end of it.

Tons of hispanics have been in this country since the 1800′s.  America took over like half of Mexico back then.  Some Mexicans have been in this country longer than whites, and should therefore be considered more American.

Anyway.

So I’m told by the Americans that I’m not actually American.  Fine?

Then there are the hispanics that say I’m not one of them because I am Americanized and don’t speak Spanish.  That’s always a fun one.

And the black people who tell me I should stop denying my roots because you’re black too.

I do not identify as black.  If you’re thinking why not? then my answer to you is why should I?  I could identify as pretty much anything I want.  German, Costa Rican, Spanish, even perhaps French.  And I do not identify as any of these either.  Why should I use any label other than hispanic?  I think that word captures everything that I am.  I am a mix of wonderful things, and I don’t see a need to choose one particular side at any given time.

I guess I don’t have much to say except that I’m really fed up with people trying to tell me who I’m SUPPOSED TO be.  Fuck it.  There is no way I’m SUPPOSED TO act, speak, think, work, or identify.  Stop being so concerned about other people’s identities and worry about your own.  In the meantime, I will continue to identify as a Hispanic American.  NOT as a black person.  NOT as a foreigner.  NOT as JUST an American.

End rant.

End O’ The Year Reflection

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I don’t know if I’ll have another chance to write before the year is up, so I thought I would take advantage of my inability to sleep this morning and reflect a bit.  This is really more of a freewrite, so I’m sorry in advance if I dart back and forth.

I was looking back at my blogs from this time this year, and I am in such a different, better place.  This time last year, I was an empty shell.  I was physically and emotionally exhausted and depleted after everything that was happening with my sister, my family, my life.  Despite the rough transition of moving to Appleton this year, looking back I’ve actually done pretty well for myself.

I’m sitting in a hotel room in Skokie, Illinois right now.  One of my best friends is in an adjoining room with her boyfriend.  We all just got here yesterday to celebrate Christmas together in Chicago.  They drove all the way from NYC to be here, and they’re tired.  So are Angel and I.  Right now, everyone is sleeping but me.  I’ve been up since 6am for no particular reason.  So I decided to sit in front of our window and watch the sun rise.  It’s cloudy today, so there isn’t much to see, but we got a light dusting of snow last night and there’s no one on the road since it’s Christmas and all.  So despite the lack of a sunrise it’s still a nice view.

Back in August, my best friend’s mom was murdered.  It was just a few days after I moved to Appleton, and I was heartbroken because I could not be there for her.  Now, her mom was no saint, and I didn’t like her at all, but that’s still her MOM.  She loved her mom.  Despite their problems and her mother’s abuse of her, my friend was still trying to work on having a relationship with her mom.  Some disgusting excuse of a human being took that away from her.

My friend didn’t want to discuss the details of what happened over the phone.  She wanted to wait until we saw each other in person.  So last night, as we relaxed in her room, she blurted it out.  Her mom had been stabbed 16 times by some unknown person in an apartment just a few doors down from where she had lived.  No one heard a thing [yeah right], there are no leads, and the crime is unsolved.  She doesn’t know why someone killed her mom.  No one deserves to die this way.

She cried a lot as she explained how angry she was, how much she wanted the murderer and his [her?] whole family to suffer, how depressed she was, how she wanted to die herself.  I couldn’t talk much at that point.  What do you say?  Really, all I could say was that she was justified to feel the way she felt and that she should allow herself to grieve for as long as she needs to.  Angel ended up doing most of the talking, and I think this made her feel better because he really understood where she was coming from.

After this, we went to dinner and had a good time.  Ate some amazing food.  Drank a little.  Chatted with the waitress who told us about all the cool things we could do for Christmas and about the places we should avoid in the city.  It was a bizarre night of anger, sadness, and joy.  It was life.

I’m really happy to be here.  We both needed a vacation [for different reasons, of course], and I’m glad that I get to spend time with her, hopefully helping her be just a tiny bit happy on her first Christmas without her mom.

We’ve known each other since we started junior high together.  We couldn’t stand each other back then!  But we grew to become best friends and now we’re more like sisters.  No matter what happens in life, we’re stuck with each other, and we’re both content with this fact.

Anyhoo.

Angel and I were originally going to come into Chicago for a day or two, but she convinced us to make it a full 5 days, even paying for a couple of the nights at our hotel since we couldn’t afford it.  Angel and I are picking up a friend on December 29th whose coming back from a vacation in Israel.  That friend lent us her car for the month while she and her family were gone so that we could continue our own car search.  In exchange, she asked that we pick her up from the airport.  We happily agreed.  And that’s how spending any time in Chicago became an idea in the first place.

So here I am.  Once again reflecting on life and death at the end of the year.  My grandmother’s birthday was December 19th.  Poor Edith G.  I was thinking about her that day, about how I didn’t really get to know her, but how she was an amazing woman.  I don’t even know how old she would’ve been this year…. And there’s my friend’s mom.  But there’s also us.  There’s friendship and laughter and a whole big city for us to take advantage of.  There’s life.

You know, I’ve never really liked Christmas.  My dad was shot through his lung a week before Christmas back in 1992, when I was just 6 years old.  He didn’t die, but I thought he was going to at the time.  My mom dealt with things the best she could, but instead of really having tough conversations with her kids [we were 6, 5, and 3, so I guess that would've been really hard], she just sat us in front of the tv to watch those Christmas cartoons they give every year, like the Rudolph claymation and the classic Frosty the Snowman.  For many, many years later, Christmas was torture.  All I ever felt was sadness and depression.  I couldn’t watch those silly movies because they made me feel suicidal.

But today…. this Christmas is the first Christmas since I was a kid that I am actually happy.  Not just not depressed, but truly happy.  It’s a great day.

So what did I do this year?

- I graduated from college with my associates degree.

- I accidentally made an award-winning film.

- I made really good new friends and connected again with really old ones.

- I had an amazing job which I wish I could go back to.

- I’ve had great sex with someone I love to pieces.

- I reconnected with my aunt.

- I finally got out of New York City to begin a whole new life, which has been my dream for years.

- I learned how to ride my bike really well.

- I got my first car.

- I transferred to a really great school which is challenging everything about who I am and what I believe.

- I dyed my hair red like I’ve always wanted [ok, well a friend did it for me, but still].

- I took a really long, scenic train ride through various cities I’ve always wanted to visit.

- I’ve made it to Chicago.

- I grew closer to my sister.

Okay, so things are not perfect.  Life can still really, really suck.  Last year, I wrote that I had to go through the same situations twice in a row to really learn some lessons.  And this year, I have been rewarded for finally learning those lessons.  Despite everything [my grandmother's hidden death, my best friend's mom's murder, the rough landing I've been dealing with in Appleton, etc. etc.], it’s a good year and I have a fucking good life.

I am grateful to be alive and to be able to enjoy spending time with people in my life.  I am grateful for the good times.  And I understand that there can be no good without bad, no happiness without misery, no joy without pain.  Because if the bad stuff didn’t exist, would we really appreciate the good stuff?  How would we know that the good stuff was good?

So that’s life.  Happy holidays friends.  See you next year.

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