We spend most of our lives watering our leaves . . .
but we rarely stop to water the roots.
(Click the side arrow to the left for more stories!)
We spend most of our lives watering our leaves . . .
but we rarely stop to water the roots.
(Click the side arrow to the left for more stories!)
Now that I only have two weeks left in Israel, many of the types of questions I’m receiving about my year have undergone a noticeable shift in content. Somehow, the conversations eventually get sidelined to, “So, what are you going to do now? Have you found a job?” Or, what the skeptics are thinking, “Was the master’s degree worth it?”
It’s no surprise that these questions don’t elicit the most enthusiastic response from me. Sure, I understand that these questions are completely normal, and mostly a formality. Sure, if I had a job lined up, maybe they would even be fun to answer, rather than feel like a painful stab at my self-worth and hard work. But I was thinking … wouldn’t it be nice to have another set of metrics to measure the “worth” of an experience, both as it is progressing and once it has reached its end?
So I sat there and came up with a list of questions that I would personally like to be asked regarding my experience. What questions would matter if someone was truly interested in hearing about my time here?
I wrote the questions below for whoever seeks to ask me about my year, because rather than boil my experience down to one line on my resume in anticipation of the next line, these questions can bring us both closer to the heart of who I was before I came here, and who I am now. My successes, and my shortcomings. The beautiful moments, and the more difficult ones.
What I’ve seen, and felt, and learned, and lived.
These are the questions I hope to be asked during each subsequent experience in my life. It’s the answers to these questions, in turn, that will deepen our understandings of each other and what it means to be a human and to live a meaningful life.
1. Did you try to make yourself a better person?
2. Did you view each experience as an opportunity for growth?
3. Did you take advantage of all that was around you?
4. Were you inspired?
5. Did you try to inspire others?
6. Were you challenged, intellectually and personally?
7. Did you change for the better?
8. Did you arrive at a greater understanding of something or someone?
9. Did you overcome obstacles and learn from them?
10. Did you keep your optimism in tact?
11. Have you found your passion, or confirmed it?
12. Has your thirst for life and learning increased?
13. Do you now value something in your life more?
14. Have you had experiences you wouldn’t trade for anything?
15. Have you realized what’s really important to you?
16. Did you try your hardest and give it all you had?
17. Did you become stronger in the process?
18. Did you learn to appreciate the kindness of others, and to reciprocate it?
19. Did you enjoy as many moments as possible?
20. Did you experience?
Prologue: Over the past several months, I’ve read a few extremely relevant books. In keeping with the trend of sharing some of my more unique political experiences, I figured it would make sense for me to share my thoughts about the best of these books. Please feel free to contact me with any thoughts or questions. Enjoy!
Review: “The Failure of Capitalist Production” by Andrew Kliman
In the wake of the financial crash and the subsequent Great Recession, it has become increasingly evident that we, as a society, are probably doing something wrong in our management of the economy. There are, of course, a number of differing opinions about what needs to change.
Powerful conservative elements of the political apparatus blame the government’s fiscal irresponsibility, and are taking this opportunity to gut social programs in the name of deficit reduction. Meanwhile, many left-leaning thinkers and politicians are promoting various forms of underconsumptionist (“Keynesian”) theory, claiming that our economy can be spurred into sustainable growth through massive government spending, paid for by increased taxes or large deficits. Nobel Laureate in Economics Paul Krugman, Former Secretary of Labor Robert Reich and self-proclaimed Marxist economist Richard Wolff are three prominent contemporary underconsumptionists.
In the midst of this, Andrew Kliman, an economist at Pace University in New York, attempts to test theory against historical evidence by looking for the underlying causes of the Great Recession. In his bluntly-titled book, “The Failure of Capitalist Production,” Kliman makes the case that severe economic downturns, as bad as or worse than the current one, are an inevitable feature of the capitalist method of economic production, and cannot be resolved by simply bolstering consumer demand or otherwise artificially stimulating the economy (although such measures can postpone, but will likely ultimately exacerbate an eventual downturn).
This is a very big claim, with immense implications. Whether you end up agreeing with his ultimate conclusion or not, this book should be required reading for anyone with a serious interest in working toward an economy that is capable of long-term, equitable prosperity. Kliman attempts to make his case through rigorous analysis of credible data from sources such as the US Bureau of Economic Analysis. I was thoroughly impressed by the clarity and transparency of Kliman’s analysis. As he lays out his arguments, he tells you exactly what he is doing and why. He explains any theory he needs to draw upon in a clear, understandable, even engaging way, often with easy-to-understand examples.
Kliman then weaves this analysis and theory together into a compelling story that I frankly had a hard time putting down. In the course of this book, Kliman makes the case for a rather stark picture of our economic future. In the process, he points out methodological flaws that appear to lie behind some of the main claims that have been circulating in underconsumptionist circles. Kliman also points out what he claims are serious logical flaws inherent in the theoretical foundations of underconsumptionism.
I cannot sum up Kliman’s argument in its full complexity within this brief book review, but I will outline the basic points here. If you would like the full argument, I strongly recommend that you read the book.
Kliman’s primary thesis is this: the average rate of profit for businesses in the United States has tended to fall since 1973. About half of the book is devoted to exploring popular objections to this claim and providing a substantial rebuttal to each one. An entire chapter is devoted to an argument against the claim that the neoliberal policy shift, which began in the 1980s, managed to restore the rate of profit (albeit at the expense of workers’ wages and benefits). Kliman argues that the resulting low rate of profit results in a whole slew of destabilizing effects, including reckless speculation and an increased likelihood that businesses will fail under stress, both which can lead to crisis.
Kliman goes on to note that this demonstrated trend for the rate of the profit to fall is something that Marx talked about in his economic theory, which is based on the labor theory of value (the idea that wealth ultimately comes from labor). The basic argument goes like this: Marx noted that in periods of stability, businesses tend to increase investment in capital (mechanization) at the expense of hiring workers. Because new value comes only from labor, the amount of surplus value, which roughly corresponds to profit, that comes from a given dollar of investment tends to decline. Thus over time as mechanization increases, the rate of profit tends to decline. Kliman spends a significant portion of the book making the case that this theory goes a long way toward explaining the current economic situation in the US.
Kliman’s ultimate conclusion is that under continued stable capitalist production, rates of profit will continue to fall, except temporarily during speculative bubbles. Rates of profit will only be restored if there is massive destruction of “capital value”, i.e. massive defaults akin to the 1929 stock market crash, or physical destruction of productive assets through something like a war or a catastrophic natural disaster. Even after such an event, the rate of profit will only temporarily remain high, and will eventually begin a long descent for the reasons described above and the cycle will begin again (assuming capitalist production survives the crisis).
Kliman claims that stimulative measures such as massive government deficit spending can delay crisis, and indeed they have. Kliman notes that over the past thirty years, the government has attempted to mollify successive recessions both through explicit stimulative spending and through less overt measures such as the artificially low interest rates we have seen over the past decade or so. Kliman makes the claim that the only way to avoid this immensely painful inevitability is to dispense with capitalist production and move toward an economy that produces primarily to people’s needs and is not generally governed by the profit motive.
Shifting the fundamental economic basis of a society is very difficult to do, and Kliman himself admits that he does not know precisely how we might go about it. “The Failure of Capitalist Production” covers a lot of ground in 207 pages, and it would be unreasonable to expect a blueprint for the reorganization of an entire society inside this short book. I will say that I think that he is too hasty to categorically dismiss the main existing ideas of how to move a society away from capitalism.
In conclusion, for those of us who are interested in getting our country out of grinding stagnation and onto a path that is stable, equitable and prosperous, I highly recommend this book. “The Failure of Capitalist Production” raises a lot of important points that are not yet being treated with the seriousness they deserve.
For more constructive talk about what needs to be done in general, and what is being done in the SF bay area, visit https://constructivetalk.wordpress.com/
My parents never went on a honeymoon. They had plans to travel around Europe on their way to the U.S. from Iran after receiving their visa in Cyprus, but their trip came to a somber and abrupt end when they were notified of the death of a close relative back in the U.S.
During the past two weeks, my parents finally went on their European honeymoon in Italy and Spain, over 30 years after marrying in Iran in 1980, a year after the 1979 Iranian Revolution.
1980 marked a difficult year for my parents, and not just because it was the start of the Iran-Iraq War. It was during this year that they realized that the road to having kids would not be a short one. My parents had been trying, to no avail. My mom visited my dad’s office one day, where his Indian accountant read her palm and told her she would have four kids. My mom laughed. She couldn’t even have one.
Two years passed, and my parents still weren’t able to become pregnant––practically a century in a country where children are expected shortly after marriage. People started asking my parents what was wrong. Why didn’t they have kids yet? Prospective mothers would stay away from my mom. Some believed that the “evil eye” had cursed her.
It was at this point that my mom started visiting fertility doctors, and it certainly wouldn’t be the last time. Three more years passed. Every month was the same, my mom said. They would wait anxiously to see if she was pregnant, and as soon as they found out she wasn’t, it was back to the doctor.
Meanwhile, my parents were also trying to find a way to leave Iran, as they were one of the last members of our extended family that were still left. But Iranian authorities weren’t letting Jews out of Iran because they believed they would try to flee to Israel and become refugees. Instead of going to the police to request a passport like everyone else, Jews had to go to what my dad refers to as the “Prime Ministry.” My parents pled their case, using my mom’s infertility and desire to see doctors abroad as an excuse to leave Iran. They were told that they would have to go to the Ministry of Health. “If they say you can go out, then we will let you leave,” they told my parents.
My parents went to Ministry of Health, and over the course of a year and a half, my mom was sent to different doctors throughout Tehran, underwent multiple surgeries to find out why she wasn’t able to get pregnant, and visited the Prime Ministry to demand them to let my parents leave. At the end of all of that, my mom was simply told that her infertility could not be explained.
But, the Ministry of Health finally said they could leave. With their permission, my parents went back to the Prime Ministry. Now, they were told that they would have to pay 100,000 tomans (approx. $10,000) and would need to get someone to give up their passport in order to vouch that my parents would return (i.e., they would not be able to leave Iran until my parents came back). My parents could alternatively pay 200,000 tomans without finding someone to vouch for their return.
My parents ended up rounding up the 200,000 tomans and brought it to the Prime Ministry. The officials at the Prime Ministry took the receipt for the transaction and changed their minds. “You have to bring a passport in addition to the 200,000 tomans,” they said. My parents were devastated.
They went around asking relatives whether they would be able to leave their passports. But it was the time of the Iran-Iraq War; no one, particularly Jews, wanted to stay in Iran. That is, except my uncle, Moussa, who I never met but who has played a crucial role in my family’s story. A doctor in Iran who had no plans of leaving, he told my parents that he would vouch for them and wouldn’t request a passport until they came back.
With that, my dad went to the police and finally got the passports they needed. He wanted to surprise my mom, and when she met him for lunch he was flipping casually through the passport as if it was nothing special. She just looked at him and said, “Something’s weird with you. What’s going on?”
And then she saw the passport. “You got a passport!” They were both ecstatic, he remembers.
Next, it was time to get a visa for America. With the aid of my uncle, they hired an immigration lawyer stating that they both had jobs in Iran and would be returning after their “vacation” in the U.S. They were told that the best place to get a visa was in Cyprus, so that’s where they went.
When they arrived in Cyprus, their passports were given a stamp that said they were ineligible for a visa. My dad tells me I can’t even imagine how they felt. They didn’t know what to do at this point.
Sometimes, things in life work out in inexplicable ways. They had come this far, and decided they would go back the next day to see if they could still get a visa … and the authorities in Cyprus granted it. To this day, my parents still don’t know why they changed their minds.
That night, they went to a restaurant with live music to celebrate. My dad remembers a woman singing Stevie Wonder’s “I just called to say I love you,” which was very popular at the time, and which I grew used to hearing him sing throughout my childhood. My dad told me they tried to find a place just like that to go to during their trip last week, but weren’t able to.
After Cyprus, my parents went to Switzerland and Belgium, where they visited a famous infertility doctor who said he couldn’t help them at the time. While in Belgium, they received the news that my cousin was in a coma. They cut their travel plans short and hurried to the U.S. When my uncle picked them up at the airport, he notified them that my cousin had died, and that he hadn’t wanted to upset them with the news while they were on their trip.
My parents had left the hardships of life back in Iran, but their first year in the U.S. was not short of its own difficulties. Unable to get a green card for his business, my dad told Moussa that he would have to apply for asylum in order to stay in the U.S. But if he did that, he told him, he would never be able to come back to Iran, which meant that Moussa would never be able to leave Iran.
Moussa repeated that he didn’t want to come. “Just do what you need to do,” he told him.
My dad applied for asylum and was granted it.
Then, it was back to trying for the eigth year. My mom continued to see fertility doctors, and was finally referred to a highly reputable one, Dr. Marse. But even he couldn’t figure out what was wrong.
My mom remembers shouting at him when he told them there’s nothing more he could do. “I know you’re not doing everything you can,” she told him. He only repeated what he had told them before. “I’ve done everything I can possibly do, and I can’t do anything else. I’m sorry. It seems that god doesn’t want you to have kids.” My mom said she didn’t think so.
My dad says he distinctly remembers waiting for the elevator to leave the building that day. “I just turned to your mom and said, ‘Well, I guess that’s it. We’re not having kids.’”
“I pictured the two of us at the dinner table, staring at each other, then staring at the wall, then staring back at each other for the rest of our lives,” my dad said.
But my parents gave it one more chance. They had tried for nine years, across different continents, through revolutions and wars, with numerous roadblocks and disappointments. They were going to try one more time. They would go to one more doctor. After that, they said, the rest was up to god.
Two months later, my mom was pregnant.
…. And then another little one a year later.
While riding to Jerusalem this past Friday, I realized: I like long bus rides.
I’m not referencing your day-to-day commute, which will inevitably take on a monotonous character, but rather those rides when you’re off to somewhere new. There’s something about boarding a vehicle, whether it be a plane or metro or bus, and with an unknown cast of characters, that makes you feel like you’re headed towards adventure and possibility. These kinds of rides slow down time, making space for idle hours spent staring out the window, conversations with old friends or chance acquaintances, and silent trips through memories residing in cobwebbed corners of your mind.
These are some of the things I remember on long bus rides:
The fourth grade, when we went on a school field trip to Mission San Juan Capistrano in Southern California. I remember my mom was helping chaperone the trip because we had told her she wasn’t like all the “cool moms” who were involved at school, always too busy going to night school and studying … while taking care of four kids. Somehow, it was only years later that I would realize she was the coolest mom of them all.
I remember all the students had been divided among three buses, and I had been separated from my best friend. I walked quietly to the back of my bus, passing the moms sitting together, and took a seat alone by the window. I was painfully shy in those years, and prepared myself for a long bus ride alone. A moment later, I remember sensing a body next to my own and feeling a hand take mine. “I’ve always wanted to sit next to my daughter and look at the views outside the window on a long bus ride,” my mom said. I’ll never forget how excited she looked, or how warm I felt.
Freshman year of college, when I went to the Tenderloin district of San Francisco on a crisp November day to do research for a group presentation with a girl from class. We had never really talked before that day, and I remember our conversations being light, but pleasant. On the way back, we ran through rainy weather we were ill-prepared for, our soaking-wet bodies making it back just in time for the BART ride back. We sat down on adjacent seats and she took her iPod out and said, “This is the song I always listen to on long BART rides.”
We each took an ear bud and listened for a while in silence. I told her I really liked the song, and she looked at me and grinned. The next day in class she tapped me on the shoulder and handed me a mixtape with her favorite songs for long drives. We’ve long-since lost touch, but I still listen to some of those songs.
Traveling through Argentina on long bus rides with my good friend and study abroad partner-in-crime, Clare, in the spring of 2010. We’d grown perfectly comfortable with zoning out to the landscape or writing in our journals on the rides, not feeling obligated to fill silences, as none were uncomfortable at this point. Our nights were spent recounting the day’s adventures and observations over a glass of wine on rooftops in new locations.
I remember on this particular 18-hour ride, after many hours of grumbling stomachs and moments spent wondering whether we would actually be receiving food (it was nearing 11 p.m.), they were finally bestowed upon us: trays of plastic-wrapped mystery food, unidentifiable in both content and degree of edibility. I videotaped Clare as she bravely opened the wrapper, and the giggling fueled by our delirious states broke our silence, echoing throughout the bus.
My bus ride this past Friday to Jerusalem, where I set out to explore alone, comforted by my successful stint of meditative silence the weekend before. But while silence can be a worthy companion, it can also be lonely and overbearing. This time it was. I didn’t actually end up making it to my location of choice due to the lack of planning attached to my spontaneous trip. So I headed to the Mehane Yehuda market, or Jerusalem’s shuk, instead. Walking through the crowds of shoppers, I felt unmoved by how oblivious each individual was to each other, as they pushed past shoppers on their way to a loaf of challah for Shabbat or groceries for the week.
There was an urgency to their actions. Time had speeded up, interactions seemed reduced to a strictly monetary variety, and I found myself craving the feeling I had gotten on the bus ride there, of excitement and adventure. Here, everyone was lost in his or her own world.
Yet on the bus ride back from Jerusalem to Tel Aviv that afternoon, I realized the same could be said of all the passengers: they were lost in their own worlds. I don’t know why it had felt so different on the way there. I guess what it comes down to is this: that in the beginning of adventures, everything feels new and exciting and it doesn’t really matter who’s along for the ride. Everyone and everything holds a sort of intoxicating mysteriousness to it, including the ride itself.
But towards the ends of things, whether it’s bus rides back or winding-down experiences, it’s often times the people that accompany you that will make them into memories worth remembering, and the moments that will make their way out of the recesses of your mind on long bus rides.
“I have never let my schooling interfere with my education.” – Mark Twain
In early April, when I was tying up loose ends to ensure that I really was graduating in May, I realized that I had not yet signed up for Commencement Weekend tickets. It seemed like a small matter, but an important one, considering how upset my family would be at my stupidity in not bothering to get tickets for them to listen to generic speeches for several hours. And so I did some internet searching and quickly found the right webpage, only to discover that I had to complete an extensive “graduation survey” in order to obtain my tickets. With a sigh, I opened up the link, answered the basic preliminary questions, and then groaned when I realized that the survey would focus on how “my experience at GW compares to a typical undergraduate experience.”
Up until that point, I had considered my four years at GW to be pretty “blah” compared to the time of my fellow GW students. Yes, I got involved in a few extracurricular activities, worked at a few jobs, and enrolled in the necessary courses, but I never considered college to have been “the time of my life.” So when I began answering the survey questions, I assumed that most of my responses would be rather negative, and that GW would not measure up to other schools in terms of how much I really learned.
The survey did not change my thoughts about GW so much as my thoughts about college in general, because when it started asking questions such as, “Did you ever question your religion while at GW?” I realized that while I have long forgotten things like organic chemistry and biological psychology, what I have taken away from my time at GW is a lot more personal than simply a bachelor’s degree. In fact, I did question my religion – a lot, actually – and I did have the opportunity to watch my friends grow and mature into exceptional young adults.
I was able to try new things, meet new people, and play an active role in a few organizations that interested me. Sure, it would have been nice to not have had to pay so much money in tuition to have done all of these things, but looking back, I cannot say that I regret my choice to attend GW, and stay all four years, even if there are a few things I wish I had done differently. I never would have met the people I met, the people who impacted my life so much, and helped me to feel comfortable being myself.
All year I was in denial about graduating, because as much as I felt ready to leave GW, I still knew that it had been my home for so long. I kept worrying about how I might make it work if I tried to stay in Washington, DC, and get a job, how I didn’t think I could afford to stay; it just wouldn’t be feasible. I knew I had to stick around, because so many people I knew were staying and finding apartments and getting real jobs. And then, sometime during my spring semester, I realized that I needed to stop making excuses.
The truth was, as much as I loved DC, I knew that what I really wanted was to return home, to my roots. I did not need to stay in DC; there was nothing really keeping me there. Subconsciously, I thought that I needed to be near my friends in order to keep them. And so, it came as such a relief when I realized that we’re not all meant to stay in one place, together. We can be together without all being present. We do not have to do the same things, make the same decisions. I finally understood that it was okay to go home.
Going home did not mean that I failed in any way. The expectation to stay in DC and find a job was not my expectation to fulfill. I may be an adult, but I am not a grown up. I may have discovered part of my identity in college, but I know that the other parts will have to be found elsewhere. We all grow at different rates and while the decisions we made in high school were largely influenced by our friends and family, the decisions we make now have to be for ourselves. The time has come for us to be selfish, because that is what we need to remain individuals. Sometimes you need to put yourself first.
And so, while crossing that stage and receiving that diploma, I understood that that piece of paper was a recognition that I had earned not only a psychology degree, but the knowledge that I have the power to develop my own thoughts and make my own decisions, now that I know a little bit more about myself.
Water The Roots is undergoing a slight change of concept. More specifically, I think it’s time to add to the definition of what “watering our roots” exactly is.
In addition to stories that document our diverse human experiences and perspectives––spanning continents, ages and ideologies––I’ve been inspired by sites like Big Think and the ever-popular TED to add a new aspect to the site: Ideas. In an age of constant innovation propelled by a globalized society, what are the ideas that inspire us? What visions do we have for now and the future––in the fields of economics, technology, medicine, journalism, poverty and social equality, just to name a few? What are the subjects that galvanize us and influence our career decisions, our innovations, or our daily thoughts? What are the core concepts you believe everyone should have an understanding of, whether it’s theoretical physics or the state of healthcare worldwide?
Unlike the underlying assumption of much of the media we currently have at our disposal, I’m not convinced that you need to be famous or an expert to have an idea worth sharing with the world. There is so much to learn from those around us, those far from us, and those we will never meet. I believe harnessing and democratizing our collective intelligence online in a forum that allows us to propose and exchange ideas would be perfectly complementary to the exchange of personal experiences and perspectives that Water The Roots currently aims to facilitate.
And with that, here’s a list of 10 sites that have inspired me, both in my vision for this website and in my daily life. What inspires you? What are your ideas?
1. BigThink- is an online forum featuring interviews, multi-media and roundtable discussions from experts presenting “big ideas” in a wide range of fields.
2. Brainpickings- a curated website that calls itself a “human-powered discovery engine for interestingness,” brainpickings creates cross-disciplinary connections that bridge art, design, technology, philosophy, history, politics … you name it.
3. Creative Mornings- with chapters in major cities all around the world, this site facilitates accessible, inspiring morning lecture series for “creative types” … for free! and with coffee!
4. Cowbird- is a community “focused on deeper, longer-lasting, more personal type of storytelling” with the aim of creating a new type of participatory journalism grounded in the stories behind major events.
5. OpenCulture- provides free cultural and educational media on the web, including: free audio books, online courses, movies, language lessons and e-books.
6. Science Daily- covers breaking news about the latest scientific discoveries in a user-friendly format, covering everything from astronomy to nanotechnology to psychology.
7. Stanford Social Innovation Review- is a magazine and website for cross-sector solutions to global problems, written for and by social change leaders collaborating in the non-profit, business and government sectors.
8. Fast Company- is a “progressive business media brand” with an eye on innovation in technology, ethical economics, leadership and design.
9. Skillshare- is a website/community marketplace with a mission: “to transform education by empowering teaching and democratizing learning,” allowing users to teach and take classes on everything from coding to bartending.
10. TED- is a global set of conferences with the aim of disseminating “ideas worth spreading,” featuring world-renown speakers and thought-leaders who present their ides as engagingly as they can in 18 minutes.
That Kotel Moment
You long for that feeling.
You know, the one you are
To feel in Israel.
Immersed in the antiquity and history of
The feeling of harmony with the
Yemenite store owner,
And random black hatter strolling on Ben Yehudah.
All enveloped under our Jewish state that we fought so hard to obtain.
These casual encounters should be enough.
You know, to have that feeling.
Truth be told: this did not truly suffice.
The Kotel was the place that defined that “expected” feeling.
Constantly reminding you that you are home.
A feeling that sends shivers up and down your body,
Reaching every last nerve,
Adequate enough to send you a startling jolt.
Making your heart palpitate as if you had just witnessed a ghost or a miracle.
But in fact, that is exactly what you have just observed.
The ghost is the spirit of your beloved lost grandfather (your Zidy to be exact).
He approaches you for that brief yet substantial moment as if he were there,
Standing with you,
Gripping onto that sacred wall with such might as if it were the
End of the world around us.
A moment so brief that when retelling the magic that just occurred,
The tale seems like an utter
But far from a fabrication it was.
A miracle did in fact ensue at the Kotel.
Those countless, ordinary stones bound together by the Jewish people’s
And future celebrations,
Reunited you and your Zidy (the Yiddish word for grandfather),
For that brief,
Yet life-altering moment.
You finally felt that feeling you were longing for.
You know, the one you are
To feel in Israel.
On July 23, 2012, I will have completed another first. This will be the first year that I have spent 365 consecutive days in one country. At the age of 22, I am finally planting roots – ish. I have never been more terrified in my life. When a close friend of my mind simply stated the obvious while we were at lunch some time in early April I had no verbal response, but a strange sense of fear rippled from my head to my toes and back up.
To explain why such fear runs through me, let me briefly explain my childhood. The most concise way to describe my life thus far would be military-brat, without the military. In fact, capitalist-hippies raised me. Yes, they exist. My father worked as a “professional economist” for General Motors, analyzing markets as they developed and then forecasting the sales of the regions, while my mother played with real estate and non-profit organizations. Wanderlust had struck the two of them in your classic university lecture hall, he the professor and she the student. I need not say more. Somewhere along the line I came about. Because of their tendencies, I thought that moving was a part of life. Every 18 to 24 months my belongings were inventoried, categorized, and packed into no less than ten boxes.
Last week it was time for me to move again. It had been seven months since I had last moved, but with graduation comes the end of the apartment lease and a need to find a new home. With every contract that I read and apartment that I toured, another tab was left open on my browser. Flights and hotels in: Tahiti, Costa Rica, Granada, Morocco, Japan, Tibet, Madagascar, and New Zealand are still open. To the kids that grew up on Maple road in the same house that has their height change etched into the door, I think I envy you. But I am also terrified of where you come from. Yet another crossroad no matter how cliché it may sound.
So now I am left to ponder. Do I grow up, apply to real jobs that require real commitment and a real non-P.O. Box address, or do I continue to flirt with the vagabond tendencies that have so far controlled my life?
This might be why the third most popular book bought during the graduation season is Oh, The Places You Will Go by Dr. Seuss. All of us who have walked around in the recycled plastic bottle known as regalia are facing our own cliffs and ridges. Or, for that matter, this next phase of time may be entirely about your root system. Those of us who move home and begin to work in the community around a place that has been embedded in our history define one group of planting. The rest of us branch. There is nothing wrong or right about either option.
And here we are. A conglomerate of people all linked together by a variable means of separation all heading in the same general direction. Forward. In some ways, that is the blanket that we share to comfort all of us. There is something to be said in the power of numbers.
So now as I look at my ten neatly stacked and profusely organized boxes, life seems pretty simple. I can choose to unpack them and share my belongings with my surroundings, or I can see how far these ten boxes will take me in direction and time. As of right now, I haven’t closed the tabs on my browser looking at flights to distant regions of the world, nor have I thrown out the applications to grad school and jobs. For right now, I can still have all of the qualities of the in-between. As scary as it might be looking forward there is always the comfort that you have not left everything behind yet. For the kid that has never planted a tree, that is the most alleviating feeling I can find.
Yesterday, I found myself in a small shop on Bar Kochva trying to pick a fight with a tailor.
It was 5 p.m., I was standing in a room resembling a scene straight out of Hoarders, and I was arguing with a man who could only supplement his accusatory gestures with bursts of angry Russian, a language I do not understand (both Russian and angry Russian).
I had come to pick up a dress, only to realize that the tailor was charging me five times more than what I had previously been told I would be charged––and, really, about half the price I had originally bought the dress for. I was furious. Anyone who knows me knows that I am non-confrontational, but this was about the principle. Yes, it was the principle; I wasn’t about to let this man rip me off, at least not without a fight.
But as the rest of the store jumped in to gang up on me in the man’s defense––“He’s an honest man! What’s wrong with you?”––I had a change of heart. I handed the tailor his money and walked out of there with the sobering realization that I had ruined at least a portion of my evening, and his, over what came down to a measly $13.
All I could think on my way home was: what am I doing?
It’s a question I’ve entertained quite a bit over the past few weeks. I find myself letting negative thoughts about my future, my abilities and my self-worth in general seep into moments that I’ve normally tried to keep sacred: my morning meditation, night runs along the beach, and get-togethers with friends. The sheer uncertainty of what lies ahead for me––a characteristic that I knew from the start would accompany my interests in journalism and international affairs––has taken a toll on my optimism. I want answers.
And more than that, if I’m completely honest with myself, I want validation in all aspects of my life.
I know realistically that these answers won’t be coming as soon as I want them to. I also know that I can’t allow my happiness to be dependent on things that I have no control over, whether they are answers or external validation, material items or guarantees about the future. So I’ve come up with a metaphor for myself of what I can control, to keep me pushing through the negative thoughts.
I picture myself sitting at a table with a stack of cards spread out in front of me. Face down and with no apparent order, the cards look daunting from where I’m sitting and I have absolutely no idea which one to choose. That’s the point, though. I can choose one. I can pick one up and go with it and just see where it takes me; it’s the beautiful part of uncertainty. It can lead me to a wonderful year-long adventure in Israel, like the card I picked up last year. At the same time, it can also lead me to dead ends in job applications, insecurities that I didn’t realize I had, and a general fear of changes.
I finally realized how crippling these thoughts could be when I met with Middle East analyst and writer Meir Javedanfar for coffee this morning, and he asked me what my dream is for myself.
I had some ideas, but I just told him that I didn’t know.
“Do you really not know?” he asked. “Or are you just scared?”
It was the latter. I had said I didn’t know because I don’t know which of my dreams can actually end up realities, and which ones will just stay dreams because of the economy and the state of the industries I’m entering, the opportunities that will be available to me, and the amount of strength I can muster up to go on despite the rejections, and there will be many.
Here I was thinking about all the negatives again, when to be able to do something as simple as voice a dream is to allow yourself a certain amount of self-confidence in the person you are.
Really, it was the validation that I was seeking from others, except that I realized I could give it to myself. My level of self-confidence is one of the rare things that I have complete control over, no matter which card I end up choosing.
Because there will be many things in our cards that won’t be in our control or necessarily positive. Sometimes you’ll get ripped off by tailors. Sometimes you won’t get the job you really wanted. Sometimes you won’t be ready for endings––with people, places, particular moments or entire periods in your life––but they will come anyway.
There will be times when you have to stand up for the things you believe are rightfully yours and be relentless in your pursuit of them. Dreams fall into this category; $13 contributing to a tailor’s modest livelihood do not.
But there are other times when you just have to believe that the things you think you’re lacking just aren’t meant to be, for the time being. They’re not in your cards.
Luckily for me and anyone else finding themselves in periods of change, self-doubt and uncertainty about what’s to come, we have plenty more cards waiting for us. Stay strong, and you will find the right ones.
The reason for our “chutzpah”
When one travels while being an Israeli Jew, there are some questions you must be prepared to
be asked repeatedly almost every single time you get to know a new fellow traveler: your views regarding the Israeli-Palestinian conflict and the peace process (or lack of it), the recent high profile anti-Semitic incident, and, more often than not, your country’s infrastructure and the quality of life in it, to name a few.
Though three months of backpacking have made me proficient in responding to any of those topics thoroughly, there’s one other Israeli tribute that I would like to take the time to discuss: the “in your face” attitude, commonly known as chutzpa.
I’m almost positive that every one of you who has met an Israeli person was shocked (sometimes even appalled) by our bluntness. We say what we think, in many cases without being asked to share our opinions and with zero respect for personal space.
To an outsider, this behavior may seem vulgar and invasive, but the way we see it, it’s perfectly normal.
We have a saying here—“All of Israel vouch for one another”— meaning we all see ourselves responsible to help each other through difficulties. If that’s the point of departure, is it any wonder that everyone else’s business is my own as well?
It may be overwhelming to imagine complete strangers allowing themselves to force their ways into your life, but take a minute and think of how many times you’ve seen a person crying alone on a bench in the park without anyone trying to reach them. In my country, it won’t happen. For some reason, when you’re in need, there are always helping hands surrounding you.
After the usual Q & A session, I always responded with a question of my own: “Do you miss home?” Obviously, the vast majority did miss home to some extent. Some missed their friends, some missed their families, but no one who wasn’t Israeli said they missed their country. When I asked specifically, “Do you miss France / Germany / the US?” and so on, I was still answered with “I miss the people I have waiting for me there, not the place itself.”
We miss the place itself, we miss hearing Hebrew spoken on the street, we miss the cranky old lady on the bus yelling that you’re talking too loudly. The way we see it, it’s an immense and substantial part of our home’s identity.
Very few Israelis I know consider emigrating and settling in a different country, and it’s definitely not because life here is a walk in the park. This country has many enemies and we’re required to serve in the military for three years without any payment, everything is extremely expensive (Tel Aviv and Jerusalem, Israel’s two metropolitan areas are also two of the world’s ten most expensive cities to live in, both ranking higher than NYC) and the list goes on.
I believe that it’s that very same chutzpah, that feeling that we all share one destiny together, is the reason we’re all not planning on getting out of here. People have always looked for and relied on the feeling of “togetherness” and that’s the sole thing this country has never had a shortage of.
So the next time an Israeli person sticks their nose where it doesn’t belong, it’s not because we’re trying to meddle, it’s because we care.
“Water the Roots” is an appropriate metaphor. It compares us to trees that are nurtured by the environment, getting both water and food from the soil and spreading seed so that new trees can grow in the vicinity. The analogy is not perfect, but close enough. The main difference is that we are more mobile and are able to plant our trees and get nurtured in different places as well as spread seeds for trees in those new places.
My name is Mitchell Locks. I am Jewish, an American citizen born in Chicago, Illinois in 1922, a Ph.D. in Economics from the University of Chicago, a former professor at Oklahoma State University as well as a former statistician in the aerospace industry and retired for almost all of the past 25 years. I also worked in the computer industry in some of my early years.
My most immediate roots go back to the Ashkenazi Jewish community of Eastern Europe, my father from the vicinity of Kiev in the Ukraine and my mother from Belarus, both areas then a part of greater Russia sunder the control of the Czar. Both my mother and father arrived in America at the turn of the 20th century in the great migration of Jews from eastern Europe that occurred at that time. My mother and father met in a night school for new immigrants, married, and had three children, the last of which was me.
I know relatively little about my father’s family because he was the only one in his close-in family to come here, most likely to escape service in the Russian army. My paternal grandmother died in birthing my father, her first and only child. His father remarried, so that my father was brought up by a caring stepmother and became the older brother of his 6 stepsisters. We had some limited contact with his stepmother and stepsisters after World War II, who at that time were all living in Moscow, through letters, several international telephone calls and some relief packages, but that contact was not maintained.
By contrast my mother’s family came in its entirety within a period of a year or so, my grandfather and grandmother, all 11 of their children, plus my grandfather’s 13 siblings and their families and my grandmother’s brother and his family, as well as my great grandmother whom we knew as der bubby Hirosha. The reason for the big hurry of so many related people making the trip at nearly the same time is that there had been a pogrom in their town. My great-uncle Morris Raginsky, a gentle giant, killed a pogromchick with his bare hands and escaped town; the rest of the family(ies) followed as soon as possible. All of them came to Chicago initially, so that I knew all of my uncles, aunts and first cousins on that side of the family, as well as many great uncles and great aunts, first cousins of my mother and even some second cousins, their children.
I had an older brother, Herman, and still have an older sister, Debbie. Herman died at the age of 58, but Debbie, thankfully, is still around at the age of 94, with her faculties intact (she has a computer and communicates on the internet) living alone but with enough help to take care of things she can no longer handle by herself. We kids had many great memories, particularly of our maternal family. Three times a year, Passover, Rosh Hashanah and Chanukah we would all gather at zadie and bubby’s house, together with our uncles, aunts and 14 first cousins for holiday celebrations. The Chanukah get-together was particularly noteable. Each grandchild received a silver dollar (99% pure silver in those days) from zadie and a kiss as well as a kiss for bubby, followed by either a quarter, dime or buffalo nickel, or sometimes a 5-cent package of chewing gum, from an uncle.
The holiday celebrations of the Ragins family continued after the death of our grandparents in the 1930’s, first with my mother and father hosting annual Chanukah parties where the delicacy was my mother’s Russian-style blinis lathered with all of the sour cream and melted butter your heart could handle and later, with the first cousins spreading out all over the United States, with annual get-togethers at that time of the year at a restaurant in Chicago. Remarkably, these Chanukah parties of the Ragins family with the first cousins and their respective families were held until about three years ago complete with Chanukah Gelt for the children and remembrances of zadie and bubby who started it all.
Speaking about “roots” there is a Ragins family tree that traces a significant portion of our ancestry back to the middle of the 18th century. This tree shows that there were marriages of first cousins to first cousins, or uncles with nieces, as is permitted under Jewish law, but is not always legal today under the laws of the states of the USA. When we (my wife Rochelle, our daughter Ronna and I) moved to the Southern California area in 1959 there were a number of second cousins here, who had formed a cousins club that in effect became our extended family pro tem. I expanded the family tree to include the common ancestors of all of the members of the cousins club living in this area so that we could all see how we were related to one another. Another version of the tree was a later expansion put together by a cousin, Hertsell Conway, in Chicago. The tree is now maintained electronically by a third cousin, Marcia Rapp, who lives in Kiryat Arbe in Israel.
The foregoing has all been about my historic roots. Now for a new set of roots. This can be traced to 1936 when my foresighted future in-laws did the greatest favor anyone ever did for me by bringing their 14-year old daughter, Rochelle, and her brother and sister to Chicago from Lithuania, in time to forestall the consequences of their all remaining in Europe. I knew Rochelle as a classmate in Hebrew High School and as a chavera in Habonim Labor Zionist youth. It took a little time to establish a serious relationship, but we were married in during World War II in 1943 when I was in the civilian reserve of the US Army taking specialized training in electronics. We had three months of marital bliss while I completed the training after which I was sent on active duty, which included a year and a half overseas, mostly in the Philippines.
I returned from the Army in January, 1946, initially to take graduate training in Economics at the University of Chicago, as well to welcome into the family near the end of that year our “baby boomer” and only child, Ronna. Rochelle and I were married a total of 61 years until she died in 2004. The years since my first teaching position at Duluth, Minnesota in 1949 can only be described as an “adventure.” We lived in four different states: Illinois, Minnesota, Oklahoma and California, in six different communities: Chicago; Duluth and St. Paul, Minnesota; Norman and Stillwater, Oklahoma; and Beverly Hills, California. These stays are not consecutive; they involved six different interstate transfers of our household goods, the last one back to California 25 years ago.
Now there are more sets of roots in our family due to trees that were planted in California by our daughter Ronna and her husband Rick Shpall who were married in 1973, They have three beautiful and talented daughters: Rebecca, Jessica and Elana; Rebecca and Jessica are both married, Rebecca to Ron Sandel and Jessica to Ezra Rosen, who is both a Ph.D. and a medical student. Rebecca is a practicing dermatologist and now also the mother of three boys: Jonah, 3 , Benji, 2, and Joshi, 2 months. Jessica is a practicing attorney and Elana is a medical student.
Having known and interacted with my great grandmother Hirosha who was born in 1840, I have lived long enough that our combined intersecting lifetimes covers parts of three centuries, the 19th , 20th . and 21st . If, by God’s will, any of my three great grandsons or their future siblings, if any, or future first cousins, if any and in due time, are fortunate enough to live as long as I have so far, that chain will reach another century, the 22nd .If you augment the tree at the other end with ancestors whose names are on the Ragins family tree, my “virtual” lifetime could potentially reach all the way back to the middle of the 18th century, making my “virtual” lifetime potentially 5 centuries. To “stretch” an example that has already been stretched a little too much, you could further augment the tree with 4+ millennia of Jewish history as recorded in the Hebrew Bible.
There are two more set of roots, Desiree, that I would like to say something about. The first of these is the common Jewish heritage that you and I and our respective families share, with about 14 million other people, that facilitated my friendship with you dad, even though we both come from different backgrounds. The second set of roots is the one planted by the founding fathers of this great and beautiful country that we both live in, due to the foresight of our parents and other ancestors. This being an election season, it is worth keeping in mind that it will remain as it has been so far with “government of the people, by the people and for the people” and “liberty and justice for all” only if its citizens vote intelligently in choosing their elected officials. This election appears to be the most critical one ever, even more so than the one in 1860 that preceded the war between the states. In my opinion the current administration is not doing the “right” thing to preserve the kind of country that you and I would want for our descendants.
“We’ve been Jews for 3,300 years, and Iranian for 2,500 years. It’s not something that leaves your identity quickly …”
That’s the response I had received from the former secretary general of the Iranian-American Jewish Federation when I asked him about what he saw as the future of the Iranian-Jewish identity. It’s a question that entered my mind again when Iran and Israel began dominating the news over the past weeks, and one that I returned to again this week, as Tel Aviv celebrated the holiday of Purim, a Persian-Jewish historical event dating back to the fourth century BCE.
The Iranian-Jewish identity I’ve experienced is a complicated one. Due to the persecution and exclusion their parents had faced before fleeing Iran, many second-generation members of the Iranian-Jewish diaspora in the U.S. have come to base their perceptions of Iran on the memories they inherited from their parents: stories of grandparents being arrested for owning bookstores with Hebrew books, and similar tales of religious prejudice against Jews.
For years, second-generation Iranian Jews like myself had no reason to feel a sense of solidarity with Iran; every mention of Iran in the media centered on the actions of a government we disapproved of, and a president who consistently made anti-semitic and anti-Israel remarks. How could foreign-born Iranian Jews—most of whom had never been able to even visit Iran—possibly feel a connection to Iran, and Iranians abroad?
Then the June 2009 election in Iran happened.
As thousands of protesters filled the streets of Tehran to denounce the fraudulent election and Ahmadinejad’s presidency, it became clear that his government did not necessarily represent the Iranian people. Despite their emotional and physical distance from Iran, second-generation Iranians suddenly found themselves following the lives of Iranians their age, via Twitter and Youtube, during the disturbing events of the June 2009 election aftermath. The people and the struggles many members of the Iranian-Jewish diaspora had left behind after the 1979 Revolution, and had been able to forget, began to resurface.
It was then that I realized something that I was sure most of my Iranian-Jewish peers realized, too. More than 60% of the population of Iran is under the age of 30, meaning that they were born after the 1979 Revolution. In other words, the youth protesters in Iran could have been me or any one of the members of my age cohort, had our parents not left Iran after the revolution thirty years ago.
And yet, most of the Iranian-American Jews I interviewed after the elections said they felt little to no connection with the protesters in Iran.
Over the course of twenty interviews, I came to realize that I was somewhat of an anomaly in terms of the strange affinity I felt with my Iranian identity, despite the fact that I have been unable to visit Iran and that I’ve heard similar tales of religious persecution from those who fled Iran after the 1979 Revolution. But I also know that these stories don’t characterize all Iranians, and are in most cases over 30 years outdated.
And so it’s sad to me when an entire population becomes reduced to negative memories and tied to a regime that many of them clearly don’t even support. You hear stories like the one about the grandfather who was arrested and imprisoned because he owned a bookstore with Hebrew books in it — but you don’t hear the end of the story. That while he was in jail, the prison guard had recognized him as the author of his third-grade math textbook, and had helped him escape. You don’t hear about the moments of humanity.
I think about what it means to be “Iranian” now, when any time the term is brought up it has an explicitly negative connotation. If you read about Iran in the news today, there’s no doubt that you’re reading about it in the context of nuclear weapons and sanctions. Recently, any time I’ve been asked about my Iranian identity, it’s usually been about whether I think Israel will attack Iran, as if my Iranian identity grants me some expert opinion.
But what’s worse than the perceptions created by the news coverage of Iran are the perceptions that entertainment media has intentionally sought to create. Tomorrow, March 11, is the long-dreaded premiere of “Shahs of Sunset,” Bravo TV’s new show portraying a highly unrepresentative sampling of wealthy Iranian-Americans as superficial, lavish and spoiled. It’s shameful that the show’s participants have allowed themselves, and their community, to be portrayed this way. But what’s even more shameful is what producer Ryan Seacrest has endeavored to do: commodify and exploit a product—really, a people—because he recognized a consumer market for it.
With all this, it’s easy (and sad) to see how an Iranian-Jew can grow up thinking of him or herself as a “self-loathing Persian,” as someone once put it. To be ashamed of his Iranian ethnic identity and the connotations it brings with it, both in terms of its political and cultural stereotypes. As one Iranian-Jewish university student I had interviewed admitted to me: “I disassociated myself from my Iranian identity a long time ago.”
It’s times like this where having an excuse to celebrate my Persian-Jewish cultural heritage, through Purim, is a welcome respite. I like thinking about what my Persian identity has given me access to: delicious Iranian cuisine and tea, poetry from literary masters like Rumi and Saadi, and Farsi, a language that is among the oldest in use today. I like thinking about how long the Persian-Jewish identity and its traditions have survived: over 2,500 years.
It’s just much harder to acknowledge that its future among Iranian Jews in the U.S., who grow ever more alienated by the representations of their Iranian identity, may not last much longer.
A couple of days ago, a friend of mine told me there was something she wanted to tell me. After the usual “You’re pregnant?” and “So, getting married?” auto-responses from me, she told me she had recently decided to become a vegan. This unexpected transition occurred after she had watched some of the clips that are recently running around the internet, particularly on Facebook. She was appalled by the views to the point of nausea, after which came the contemplation that concluded in making a decision.
A big step for any person, no doubt, but this particular friend descends from a long and distinguished Argentinian family. And that’s the real problem.
You see, Argentinians are world-renowned for their carnivorism. For an Argentinian father, a gay son, as bad news as it gets for a Latin man, is still favorable over a vegetarian son. And don’t think that daughters get any discounts. So you can imagine her feeling between a rock and a hard place. In fact, at the time she told me that, I had learned that she had only confided in her brother. Her father hadn’t heard it yet.
It was obvious that she needed to unload, so I let her tell me about the entire process she was going through. Since I don’t share her views on either the pseudo-medical justification or the moral justification of becoming a vegan, I couldn’t help myself but occasionally respond to some of the points that she brought up.
I didn’t do it to start a discussion. Honestly. I respected her decision (like my volleyball coach always used to say about bad referees: “He has the right to be wrong”…) and I had no intention to convince her otherwise. I was just being a typical guy, unable to tell an “I’d like you to help me or tell me what you think” situation, which us guys tend to default into, from the famous, elusive and uncharted “I need you to shut up, listen and nod” situation. And to be honest, she wasn’t trying to convince (or convert, if you prefer) me either.
And suddenly, as my ADHD temporarily took over my train of thoughts, it hit me.
I realized what the single, most significant thing I disliked about religion was. Any religion. Be it Judaism, Christianity, Islam, Science or Apple (the latter two being my symbiotic religions). It was the obsessive, unapologetic, unforgiving urge to not only be certain that you are following the right way, but rather to try to convince others to desert the path they were taking and follow yours. Willfully at times, forcefully at others.
It’s not the only thing I don’t like about religion. There are a few more, such as the arrogance to believe that religion itself (or even the Bible alone) already has all the answers to all the questions, but that is all beside the point. It’s the “My way or the highway” attitude.
And suddenly it occurred to me that the fact that she was telling me about her transformation without trying to convince me to tag along was so unusual that it actually bothered me.
Looking back on various conversations I had throughout my life in Israel, it was starting to be evident that Israelis have this tendency to try to convince others to go their way. “Dude, you just HAVE to watch The Wire. I’m telling you, it’s the best TV show ever!” Or “We just came back from two weeks in Thailand. Man, you just HAVE to go there!” Or how about, “Man, this iPhone is amazing! You HAVE to get one! Throw that stupid Nokia already!”
I was trying to figure out why it is that we do that. Where the need to be trend-setters and leaders comes from. The best explanation I could come up with, as shallow as it may sound, is that by seeing people following our lead, we draw reassurances to the correctness of our choices and the social value that we carry. We’re actually trying to convince you to do something so WE can feel better, not so YOU can.
I have decided to put myself into observation mode for a couple of weeks. I will try to listen to conversations around me and to listen to conversations I’m in. I’m going to try to NOT engage myself in trying to convince people. I’ll try to just say “The Wire is a great TV show, I had an amazing time watching it” without adding “you HAVE to watch it if you haven’t already.”
Old habits die hard. I wonder how well I’ll do. And since I’m only starting tomorrow, I’ll conclude by saying that this is one of a few epiphanies I’ve had in my life, I think it’s a great idea and you all HAVE to give it a try.
Ball So Hard: Iowa
Iowa. I once had to show a college-educated person from the east coast where the state of Iowa was on a map. I wouldn’t say this is the first time something like this has happened to me, but come on, how could you not know elementary geography?
I was born and raised in Iowa and went to college in Iowa. Now, I get the pleasure of working in Iowa. The state of Iowa and I have a love hate relationship. I love it because, well, it’s where I’m from and who doesn’t have a piece of their homeland in their heart? I love it because I can attend football games at my alma mater. I love it because the cost of living is low and the people are generally genuine. I love it because it’s an underdog and we don’t get any respect. To be honest, I could go on for quite a while.
However, at times I also hate Iowa. I hate it because there’s nothing to do here. I hate it because people say there are endless outdoor activities, yet I hit the “endless” part by the time I was 12 years old. I hate it because Iowans have a love affair with chain restaurants and it can be difficult to find good local eateries. I hate it because most people are fine with throwing on jeans and wearing their “Anderson Family Reunion 2007” sweatshirts. I don’t know, maybe I’m just not your typical Iowan.
For some background on my up bringing … I was born and raised in Davenport, which has a current population of around 100,000 people. This makes it the third largest city in Iowa behind Des Moines (state capital) and Cedar Rapids. I’m from an area called the Quad Cities which consists of Davenport, IA, Bettendorf, IA, Moline, IL, and Rock Island, IL. Metro-wide I believe the population is somewhere around 300K. I’ll admit this is not a large assembly of the masses, but it is contrary to what most people think living in a agricultural state is like. Most people (particularly those who live on the coasts) probably think I rode a tractor to school and have one stop light in my hometown.
This is what bugs me the most about being from and living in Iowa: stereotypes. Every time I go out of the midwest bubble, I like to rep Iowa hard. I’m not trying to convince people to live here — God knows I want out — but I just want people to understand this state is not all corn and pigs. People probably think I worked on a farm growing up. Nope, in fact I’m pretty sure I never stepped foot on a farm until I was in middle school for some class project. I grew up playing sports, swimming in the summer with my friends, boating … you know, normal stuff. However, I must acknowledge this is a rural state.
Because of my job I get the opportunity to travel extensively throughout Iowa, and yes, I agree these stereotypes that I hate so much do exist (isn’t there always some truth to stereotypes?). My work usually takes me to small towns, and whenever I walk into a restaurant for lunch or dinner with my colleagues, we usually get the 180 degree head turn from the locals with the look of “You ain’t from around here, is you?” on their faces.
But in order for these stereotypes to come to fruition, you have to dig pretty deep. So deep in fact it’s probably not worth your time. I guess what I am getting at is Iowa is not what you think it is.It’s a surprisingly politically progressive state, where people dress horribly, waddle as they walk, and have a common respect for each other.
My intentions are not to sit here and write how Iowans don’t (typically) conform to stereotypes; you can find that out on your own. And if you don’t, at least you’ll know after reading this fine piece of literary excellence (unless you checked out at “Ball So Hard: Iowa”). If I could leave you with once piece of wisdom, it would be: Iowa is a fun time, if you like to drink. With that said, I’m gonna finish this beer and head to the bars. What else is there to do on a Tuesday night?