Tag Archives: culture

I'm an equal-opportunity lover.

My mother didn’t teach me how to love suburban-style or warn me about falling in love with a boy for whom English was a second language.

Oops.

I’m concerned we’ve watched one too many movies set in the 1950s where everyone’s skin is the color of Wonderbread.

Is racism is now a chemical additive in our Skippy and Welch’s jars so that when we make a peanut butter and jelly sandwich, all that bad stuff sticks to the inside of our mouths and lines our stomachs and eats away the acid?

I go to college in the south, where 80% of last year’s freshman class was white. My roommates don’t know about diversity. They never had the option to fall in love with a boy whose skin glows golden in the summer. Tanned arms wrapped around them on a breezy summer night like a blanket.

They might not think twice about cutting someone down because of the color of his skin or the love threaded into his mother’s cooking.

For the record, she made some of the best lasagna I’ve ever had in my life.

We’re not together anymore. Me and him. It had nothing to do with the way his mother says his name, a breath of air easing off her tongue in a way I could never master. Nor did it have to do with conversations between the two of them, while I stood on the other side of the staircase while they fought—her yelling in Spanish and him in English, just to drive her crazy.

It’s called code-switching.

And it doesn’t matter that he answers her in English, because she retorts back in Spanish.

That’s how love works, too. It happens to each of us differently, but we all know what it is. We all know the other person’s falling even if it feels like they’re speaking a different language.

I’ve been living with my grandparents for a month now. We don’t see much of each other except at dinner, and we generally get along. But sometimes, the generational gap creeps up on me from behind and pulls a sack over my head. Leaves me stuck in the middle of their kitchen with no words to defend someone else’s story.

My grandparents believe everyone in America should speak English. I never met my ex-boyfriend’s grandmother, even though she visited that whole first summer we dated. She doesn’t speak English, but I don’t think she needs to.

Because it doesn’t matter.

“If you live in the country, you should learn to speak the language,” my grandfather says to me. I try to find the words to tell him about the Hispanic families I drive by on the way to work in New Brunswick each morning. The mothers who push strollers and walk their antsy sons and daughters to the front steps of the elementary schools lining the road.

No words come. We are speaking different languages—me, the advocate for those with less money and more love, and him, the consummate logic-abider who does not budge for anyone.

I wonder how he would’ve reacted if my ex-boyfriend didn’t speak English. If my grandfather knew he isn’t technically an American citizen; that his mother sometimes stumbles over words and his cousins will probably always speak Spanish.

“Castilian Spanish,” my grandfather says to me. “That’s real Spanish.”

As if the rest of the dialects are fake imposters lined up in a county jail, waiting to be identified. Slapped on the wrist for trying to be a language. For trying to communicate amongst people, and share life and love and compassion.

If he weren’t from Madrid, should I have loved him any less? Should we cut someone else down because they came to America and didn’t have the resources or the brain capacity left to start learning all over again?

I wonder, if my grandfather moved to Spain, what he would do. I wonder if he knows that you cannot choose how you fall in love, but that you simply wake up, well after you’ve said your goodbyes, and realize the song “Forever Love (Digame)” by Anna Nalick will always freak you out.

Because my mother never taught me about the proper way to fall in love. For that, I can only thank her.

We have become experts in grabbing onto someone else to pull ourselves up higher.

The first time I ran three miles, I almost cried when I saw the 7-Eleven up ahead. My lungs ached; my legs felt like a ton of bricks; my heartbeat thumped loud in my ears and mocked the sound of sneakers on concrete. I was acutely aware of every movement, every step forward to the invisible finish line.

It wasn’t a race.

guys running slow road woods

via http://weheartit.com/entry/9898252

But us slow pokes in the back have trouble remembering that. We round the next corner and spot a street sign up ahead.

“Make it to that crosswalk and then, maybe, you can take a quick break.”

And then we pass the crosswalk and refocus on a new landmark. That’s the way life should be handled: as a series of stops we should conquer one at a time. Don’t look too far ahead, kid. You’ll freak yourself out.

Someone should have told us that. Someone should have written us a letter when we were just old enough to read and said that life is a marathon—not a sprint.

Instead, we had to wait until we could grasp the metaphorical concept sung about on the radio and written about in books and challenged in movies. We had to figure it out slowly over time, after we already pressed hard harder hardest toward the end.

To take the 30 seconds to stop and look at where we’re at, who we’re with, what we’re doing, that’s crazy, right?

My senior year of high school, I finally figured out the whole running thing. I’m high strung by nature, but the day I ran my best, the clouds covered the sun and the light breeze cooled my back as I started from the back of the pack and picked the girls off, one by one, like flowers on tree branches as I eased by them. I wasn’t aggressive or laid back; I found a rhythm and I trusted myself.

That’s the way to go through life.

Instead, we’ve turned to vices. A quick cigarette here to ease the nervous jitters. A shot of tequila to make that guy in the corner by the jukebox look worthy enough to take home. And then the invisible ones:

Surveying a room full of strangers and knocking each of them down three rungs on some beauty ladder by tearing apart their bad hair dye job or their orange skin tone or their extra little flab around the waist.

We have become experts in grabbing onto someone else and using them to pull ourselves up higher. In life, in love, in the workplace.

We’ve taught ourselves that the only way out is through. Through holes in hearts and cracks in consistency and the pieces of us that break off when we shed pounds in preparation for bikini season the way dogs shed fur.

Have we forgotten to believe in helpfulness? In buying the box of girl scout cookies from the 7-year-olds dancing and skipping and begging us to pay attention please, oh please, just this once, it’s for a good cause?

All of it’s become extra weight we don’t need to carry around.

We’ve forgotten about connections.

About linking hands and hearts and creating an army of good to battle the bad in our past, present, future. We’re warriors fighting against each other when really, we should band together against the disease and terror and heartbreak that threatens to kill us each and every day.

Have we forgotten to sweep our neighbor’s sidewalk when the leaves fall or the snow piles up? To take in their delivered package on the porch when it’s raining and they’re on vacation?

We forgot about Gandhi. About being the change we wish to see in the world. Instead, we see the face in the mirror transform into the change we should’ve avoided.

The good news is that it’s never too late to get it back. What will you do today to turn it around?

This is not about orange juice.

via weheartit.com

I’m terrified of becoming the cheap can of orange juice concentrate in Walmart’s freezer section.

It’s on sale. Yes. It’s looks like orange juice. Yes. But it’s in a can. No.

My mom used to buy that kind. She’d scoop it out with a wooden spoon into a pitcher and she’d add water; the spoon handle knocked against the narrow opening of the plastic pitcher.

I can still hear it in my head. That thumping noise as she churned the thick orange glob into something resembling real juice. The good stuff straight from Florida.

I kind of want to charge over to the dairy aisle where milk carton meets juice box and they become best friends. I want to bend over sideways and tilt my head and try to see the orchard on the other side of the shelves, but I know I’ll only see the stock hands and the white rubber gloves as rows are filled and refilled.

I know that the best kind of orange juice is fresh squeezed.

The canned pulp gets the job done, yes, but if you had the time, wouldn’t you opt for the fresh-squeezed nectar from the fruit itself? I would. I so totally would.

Maybe not anymore since you can buy the carton in Walmart that says ‘fresh-squeezed’ even though it was squeezed 600 miles away and packed on a delivery truck.

But this is not about orange juice. This is about us being taught to devalue ourselves every day unless we master one impossible task: stretching our goodness, our hearts, thin to cover every inch of this Earth.

Really, we should love a few things as best we can. Nothing wants half a heart’s worth of love. Not even our orange juice.

I’ve been taught to believe it though.

“One project is not enough. Fill every day with something different,” the voice in my head says. “Stress is your best friend, Kaleigh. Stress will keep you company on the lonely nights when people desert you. When you fall short again and again.”

“Stress will make me feel adequate?” I might look up with hope in the back of my throat. Blue eyes to the clear sky.

“Yes. It means you’re pushing forward in this world.”

“But I don’t feel like I am,” I’ll say. “I feel like it’s making things worse.”

I’ll treat stress like a warm, thick blanket that chokes me in the middle of summer. False comfort and not what I want at all, but it’ll be there.

We believe we need it because that’s what we’re taught. But stress isn’t passion. It isn’t love. It isn’t hope.

It’s just stress, repackaged to look more attractive like that can of orange juice concentrate. It’s cheap and convenient and tastes OK if you don’t think about it too much.

It sits in the freezer collecting frost on the edges. It won’t taste better when you bring it home and mix in the water. When you stir until your arm almost comes off.

Go buy the navel oranges. Squeeze them. Wring out every last drop and taste the difference.

Taste the hard work and the love and the focus on one single task on your lips.

It’s there. And it’s so good. Juicy and sweet. Tangy and zesty and full of life.

Dear WSJ, you've forgotten about childhood.

When I read the book review written by the Wall Street Journal about teen literature, I wanted to scream. Take my laptop and chuck it out the window. Let it land in the hard earth beneath my second-story window and smash into two pieces.

But I knew that wouldn’t accomplish anything. I knew that my best bet, or my better one at least, would be to march straight up to the offices in New York and let the journalists know something fundamental:

That there are two types of educators.

There are those we recognize each year for outstanding achievements. For helping a child learn to speak English or bridging a relationship between two people using sign language. For crossing boundaries with test scores and setting the bar higher.

And then there are those who open our eyes by exposing the world’s injustices. Those who write stories of families who don’t function the same as the ones we see standing on the cover of real estate catalogs. Teens whose hearts break in the middle of the school hallway when the person they love kisses someone else in front of their locker between classes. Kids whose first lesson in separation is not going to sleepover camp but learning how to pack a bag to transition between a mother and father’s houses each weekend.

And I’m concerned the Wall Street Journal doesn’t know that. Or, if I’m giving those journalists the benefit of the doubt, I’d say this:

“You’ve forgotten. You’ve forgotten about childhood.”

“What are you talking about? Of course we haven’t.”

“It’s okay,” I’ll tell them. “That’s what we’re here for. To remind you.”

“We don’t need to be reminded. We remember. That’s why we’re doing this.”

“That’s why?” I’ll shake my head at the floor and wait for them to backtrack and say it’s not true.

They won’t.

“Yes,” they’ll say. “We’re trying to keep kids thinking positively. Clearly. They have enough problems.”

Kids have enough problems. They don’t need us to stack the problems of the protagonist from their favorite novel on top of the family issues and fights between friends and therapy sessions. They just need to pretend that life really is guaranteed to come tailor made with a white picket fence.

They need a promise that tomorrow will be better.

The Wall Street Journal seems to have forgotten that that’s why we write these stories. That’s why we breathe life into these characters whose problems might, at times, frighten us.

We need to remember that change is possible. That these stories and these problems are real, yes, but the transformation within them is, too.

Being a teen sucks. And maybe that sounds juvenile but that’s exactly what your 15-year-old son or daughter will tell you. Your heart will break for a thousand different reasons and not all of them have to start with a crush. Not all of the heartbreaks have to take up permanent residence in their bodies.

Some of them can be healed.

Some of them can be exposed for what they are and worked through and someone in this world’s got to shine light on those situations. Someone’s got to believe in the lost causes.

“Maybe,” I’d tell those journalists, “that’s our job. To write what’s real and make it better. To give these kids hope. Do you want to cut down their hope?”

And I’ll stand in front of these professionals with tears streaming down my eyes because I’m scared they won’t understand. I’m scared they don’t want to.