Memories and lessons learned

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My dad loved to tell stories…

…and like most good fathers out there, he liked to tell you the same ones over and over again.  I’m not sure when it began, but I at some point in my life, I realized I may never hear his stories again. So, I made a conscious effort to ask him for a story whenever I could. Here is my top 10 list of how his most favorite stories began:

1) “In my country, I was Chief of Police…” (this was a good one that scared a lot of boys)

2) “I came to this country [America] with one suitcase!”

3) “In the police academy, my teacher wrote the word “trust” on the board and then quickly crossed it out…”

4) “When I was your age…” (these were typically stories intended on teaching me respect)

5) “Sit down, let me tell you a story…” (these were typically about Afghan history)

6) “Did I ever tell you about the time…” (these stories were typically about his or his family’s athletic prowess)

7) “OK, tell me if you’ve heard this Mullah Nasruddin story already…” (stories of a wise fool – always good for a laugh)

8) “Fart it out.” (not really a story, just some advice to a little kid with an upset tummy)

9) “This one time, at band camp…”   Oh, wait. That’s a different storyteller…
Here’s a good one: Instead of simply answering, “Of course I think you’re pretty!” to his insecure little girl when she asked him if he thought she was pretty, he told me the story of a little baby porcupine who asked his momma if she thought his fur was soft. So the momma porcupine took her paw and ran it over the quills of her child, scratching herself up and said, “You have the softest fur I’ve ever felt!”  I was never really sure how to take that story, but I appreciated the attempt. Thanks, dad.

10) “You can achieve anything with hard work in this country…” That was probably his truest story. He had everything – wealth, material possessions, job prestige, etc – and gave it all up to start over in a new country with his wife and daughter. He put his ego aside and worked manual labor jobs the rest of his life so that we could all be safe and together. We were never as rich as we were in Afghanistan again, but we were certainly wealthy.

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I was almost a “Feelings Hooker” …

Therapists are "Feelings Hookers"

Therapists are “Feelings Hookers”

When I was in high school, I remember telling my mom and some of my extended family that I wanted to go into psychiatry. My family laughed and thought it was cute in their usual condescending way and my mom thought it was a lousy idea. But I remember taking a few psychology classes my freshman and sophomore years at Emory and it was as interesting a field as I thought it would be, albeit much harder than I thought it would be, too. I was en route to becoming a Feelings Hooker. But I kept getting pressure from my family to be “a real doctor”, as if a psychiatrist didn’t have to go through medical school and have an “MD” at the end of their name also. Eventually, I got fed up with everyone telling me it was a shitty idea. So, I came up with a shittier one – Sociology, society’s Feelings Hooker. I guess I showed them…  huge-mistake

Happy Mother’s Day, Dad!

My mother and I had a wonderful Mother’s Day yesterday. We spent the day together, went shopping, had a nice dinner, and I gave her the 3-month membership I bought her to LA fitness so she could use the pool for the summer. She has always loved the water and her arthritis and diabetes affect her knees and feet to a point where she has trouble performing basic tasks, let alone working out. So the pool allows her to stay active and get out of the house.

At dinner, I was telling her about a friend who has 2 small children and whose husband neglected to do something for her on Mother’s Day. My mom got angry for her. “It’s the husband’s job to take care of Mother’s Day while the children are young!,” she would’ve said if her English were better. Then she told me about how dad always came through for her on Mother’s Day, no matter how old I got.

“One Mother’s Day, when we were still living in California,” she said, “you were maybe 4 years old and your dad was working as a janitor at a local theater. He came home after a long shift and he literally opened the door to the apartment, looked in, said hello, and then walked right back out.  I was so confused! ‘What’s going on?,’ I asked myself. I bet he has a little harlot on the side!!”

Like I said before, my mother’s English isn’t this good, so this is how she would’ve told it if she were fluent. At this point in her life, she’s lived half her life in Afghanistan and half in America. Not only is her English broken, but so is her Persian! It’s cute.  But it makes communication tricky. Anyway, on with the story…

“So I grabbed you and we followed your dad to see where he was going. We didn’t have a car then, so we walked everywhere. We walked down the street, making sure your father didn’t see us behind him. We walked for a couple minutes when I realized that he was walking to the local grocery store. ‘Oh, maybe he just went to pickup some food!’

I felt silly and decided we had to go straight back home to make sure I got back before him. Ten minutes after we got home, he came back. He walks in the door and I saw what he went to the grocery store for: he had a bouquet of flowers in his hand for me! He must have forgotten it was Mother’s Day until the last minute and he wanted to make sure I had a gift!”

She told this story with the most beautiful smile on her face. She looked radiant. And it is always wonderful to hear her happy memories of her life with my father. We both miss him dearly.

My dad always told me that he loved me. But he always made sure to remind me that my mother loved me more.

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Stop calling it “Entitlement”!

The “Amercian Dream”. What does that even mean anymore? When my dad brought my mother and myself here from Afghanistan, it meant that anyone who worked hard and saved his/her money could make a good, honest life for him/herself. Not anymore. The media and government would have you believe there is a new class category in today’s America called “the working poor.” I would argue that there has always been a working poor, however, there are more of them today than there was yesterday. But we can get into that another time.

When working class people and people living below the poverty line receive money from Social Security, healthcare from Medicare, nutrition from food stamps, and other social welfare benefits, the conservatives and the rich would would have you believe that they are receiving so-called “entitlements”. As in, “How dare those dirty poor people think they are entitled to MY tax dollars??” Let’s be clear, Richie Rich, poor people are responsible for paying Uncle Sam from their meager little check, too.

Define: "Entitlement"

Define: “Entitlement”?

In the latest race to snatch away the entitlements of the working poor, the House Subcommittee on Workforce Protections (which probably should be renamed the “House Subcommittee on CEO profit-share Protections”) introduced the Working Families Flexibility Act of 2013. Theoretically, it would allow workers to choose between getting overtime pay or being comped with additional time off. Seems like a totally non-evil scheme on the surface, sure. But let’s look at how this plays out in practice:

I get paid on an hourly basis. If you ask me to work 45 hours this week, not only are you legally required to pay me my regular salary, but now you have to add 5 hours of time-and-a-half to my paycheck. You needed the work to get done, but now you’re stuck paying me more money. Money I really needed. Boo-hoo for you.

Now, you’re presented with this option of not having to pay me for that extra 5 hours of work. You still have to pay me my regular salary, because let’s face it, this isn’t a garment factory in Bangladesh, but whatever, you’ll figure a way around that another day. But now you can just say, “Hey, do me this solid and stay another 5 hours and I promise, one day, I’ll let you have 5 hours off of work. Deal?”

I propose that politicians get paid hourly.

I propose that politicians get paid hourly.

It’s a month down the line and your dog is sick. You need to take him to the vet, so you ask your boss, “Remember that extra 5 hours I worked a month ago?”
Boss, “Kind of…”
You, “I need to take my dog to the vet today, so I’ll probably need to use 2 hours of that time today. I’ll be in around 11am.”
Boss, “Actually, today I have to leave early to go to the chiropractor and I need to make sure there is coverage at the front desk. Can it wait until another day?”
You, “Well, I think he got into my secret chocolate stash last night and today he’s been throwing up, he’s lethargic, I really don’t think this can wait…”
Boss, “Yeah, it’s just chocolate. He probably just has a tummy ache. Rub his belly and tell him to walk it off. I’ll see you as usual at 9am. I left a pile of work for you on your desk. Thanks.”

Ok, maybe it doesn’t go down exactly like that, but you get the point. There are a lot of questions surrounding H.R. 1406: whether it is the employer or the employee who gets to decide when that extra time is taken off, under what circumstances, and whether the employee really will get the right to choose between overtime pay or overtime time off.

With the economy the way it is, a lot of employees feel the pressure of keeping the jobs they do have. They are constantly reminded, whether explicitly or not, by their bosses that there are literally hundreds of people lined up for your job if you’re not satisfied with it.

I’m just going to put it out there: Yes, employees are entitled to receive proper compensation for their time, skills, and labor. And yes, I do think taxes are the cost of living in a civilized society. And yes, I do think that when you fall on hard times, one of the benefits of citizenship is that your government helps you out a bit. I’m not talking about buying you a mansion to live in and a Mercedes to drive you there. But I’m talking about providing you with healthcare, food, and safety. Have you been to the projects in any city? If you want to call that an “entitlement”… I don’t know, maybe you just need a new dictionary or something.

Maybe you’re finding it hard to sympathize with me here. I get it. Even the media are having a hard time sympathizing with the poor… although, I’ve got to hand it to them, they sure are trying. Check out all of these sad sacks all bummed out about their taxes going up. How will they ever survive on their meager salaries???

Graphic is from The Wall Street Journal in an article that ran on January 4, 2013.

Graphic is from The Wall Street Journal in an article that ran on January 4, 2013.

Let’s bring this discussion full circle: My dad was making less than $35,000/year when he retired. That was the peak of his salary. The peak. But somehow, he and my mom, who made even less than him, managed to pay their taxes every year, buy a house, buy themselves cars, buy me a car, and pay for my education on their salaries. I never remember them looking as sad as the assholes in this picture who are making between 3 and 10 times what they made!! If you are making $650,000/year and you can’t figure out how to make ends meet, YOU, my friend, are the entitled asshole. Wow, it looks like I may be lacking in some sympathy too…

Aside

I figured out the purpose of writing this blog

When my father passed away, I dove into a severe depression, which I’m still struggling to crawl my way out of. My world went spiraling out of control and I had no idea how to stop it. I tried seeing a counselor, I tried anti-depressants. I moved away from my closest friends to be with my mother so that I could help support her. However, I lost my own support system in the process. I would’ve liked to have kept training jiu jitsu. The exercise and the support of teammates would’ve made a world of difference, I’m sure. But I didn’t have a job and jiu jitsu is an expensive lover.

I’ve also been struggling with what to do with my blog. I like being creative and writing can be a good form of therapy. So, for the time-being, that’s what this blog will morph into. My personal therapy session. But rather than bore you with my feelings and what happened to me today, I’m going to share stories my father told me and lessons I learned from him. He was my favorite teacher.

For those of you lucky enough to never have suffered a bout of depression, I’m going to provide you a link to a wonderful blog post about what depression is like. For me personally, some of the things it describes happened in another order, but that’s not really the point. This is quite clever and completely worth the time to check out: Hyperbole and a Half

Hyperbole and a Half: Depression Part Two

Hyperbole and a Half: Depression Part Two

Do-overs, part 2

It’s been a little over a year now since my father passed away. It’s been the toughest year of my life. I had to pack up and leave my life behind, all of my friends, all of my belongings, all at a moment’s notice. I don’t necessarily regret it, I did what I thought I had to do, but I wish (for so many reasons) that I didn’t have to.

My last post was about how I would do things differently if I had a second chance. Knowing what I know now and having gone through what I’ve gone through, and seeing what both of my parents have gone through in the last few years, I’ve come to the conclusion that I just want a complete do-over. At some point, I assume everyone has wanted to start over and go through their life again, but this time with the knowledge that they have accumulated so far. Me, I’d like my new starting point to be freshman year of undergrad. At best, assuming there is such thing as heaven and I get to go there, that’s only something you get to do when life is over and maybe that gets to be your version of your personal heaven.

For now, the best I can hope for is that I can pick up the remaining pieces of my heart and my life and build up from here. Learn what I can, adapt, and rebuild. With that in mind, one of my new projects will be to rebuild and revamp my blog. I haven’t quite figured out what I want my blog to focus on. But hopefully you’ll stick with me on my journey and we can figure that out together…

Until then, look for some changes on here: most likely a new title, maybe a new look, definitely some new entries.

Do-overs!

If I could do grad school over again, I would:

1) Decide sooner that I wanted to do a dual degree program. It’s taken forever finishing one then starting another and now I’m broke and ready to start a job so that I can get PAID for my time… you know, instead of me paying the university to work me to death.

2) Make better financial decisions. First of all, this means living in grad housing only ONE year, not two!  I loved my little apartment in La Aldea, but honestly, it boils down to laziness on my part not trying to find a cheaper place to live after that first year.  Second, this means being more careful with my money – buying less clothes, not eating at expensive (and by “expensive” I mean anything more than $6) restaurants, and not caving in to so-called friends who insist on eating at expensive restaurants and have no consideration for your financial situation like texting you constantly when you told her you do not have unlimited texting or making you go snowboarding after you told her you can’t afford the lift or rental costs, etc.

3) Not being active enough.  I have a gym that I love and close group of friends that train with me there, but because of school, I’m too sporadic with my training.  I have spurts when I go all the time, but then school kicks in and I’m not in the gym again for months.  Then things slow down or I catch up and I can start training again, but that’s temporary and I stop again.  I think it may come down to bad time management.  Which brings me to my fourth point,

4) Better time management.  I don’t really think this needs much elaboration.  I think anybody that does anything more than sit on the couch all day in front of the TV can understand and relate to this problem.

5) Learning multimedia earlier and more thoroughly. It’s such a pain in the ass to lug around a camera, mic, and tripod, but it sure does add life to your stories. And while Final Cut was an even bigger pain, every time I use it, I learn about a new feature. My latest discovery is the master template. In the menu, choose Sequence > Add Master Template. So cool if you want to add an extra flare to your projects.

6) Learn photography and videography. Learning the software to put your pieces together is important, but if all you have are a bunch of blurry pictures and even worse video, there’s no real project to put together.

7) No regrets. I wish I had done a lot of things differently, but eventually I got around to most of the things I wanted to do and tried my best to correct the things that I messed up. And I’m sure one day I’ll have a job where I can put everything I’ve learned to use and build even more upon that.

Some of the BEST decisions I’ve made:

1) Looking at departments other than my own to take classes in.  Some of my favorite classes have resulted from this – Grant Writing, History of India-Pakistan, and Media Coverage of International Crisis (that last one was what made me decide to do the dual degree program with Near Eastern Studies and Journalism).

2) Being social.  I went dancing with my friends.  We had dinners at each others apartments.  We took trips to Mexico, California, and Las Vegas together.  Most of the time, we’d just hang out and talk.  And now I have lifelong, wonderful friends.  Grad school is crazy stressful.  I would’ve never survived if I didn’t occasionally play hooky with my buddies, or spent a day doing nothing with the people I feel so close to now.

3) Being active.  Not only does this keep you healthy, but it kept my stress levels down and I found a whole new circle of friends that have my back no matter what.  Not a lot of people train jiujitsu and just the sheer nature of what we do, you form intimate relationships with your teammates real quick.  More than a few very close friends of mine are from this group of fighters and being part of this close-knit community means that even when you visit another gym in another city, you have an instant set of new friends.

When I was an undergrad, I lived at home.  I didn’t make that many friends.  I don’t remember going to any parties.  I certainly didn’t workout much.  When I started the grad program, I corrected some of these mistakes but made others.  For my next degree (maybe something in the sciences???), I plan on correcting those mistakes.  One day, probably after my fifth degree, I’ll get it right…

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