Aside

I think it’s impossible to really understand somebody, what they want, what they believe, and not love them the way they love themselves. -Orson Scott Card, Ender’s Game

There are many people that I have never gotten to know. I define them by their occupation, their gender, their religion, their race, or their age. It is by this information that I decide whether or not I like them, whether or not they deserve my time, or attention, or money, or respect. I have certain feelings about hunters, and vegans, and panhandlers, and millionaires, until you ask me to talk about one whom I know.

I know a lot of different people. I define them by their passions, their sense of humor, their past mistakes, and their future ambitions. If I know someone, I may not agree with them, but I don’t treat them like a statistic or a characteristic. I treat them like a human being. I love them.

I want to get to know people in a more honest way. I want to go beyond occupation and gender and religion and race and age. I want to understand people. I want to love them better.

Each week, I will introduce someone. It may not be someone you care to know. But I think it’s important that you do… we do.

Let’s get to know each other.

You know, you love.

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C.J. STRICKLAND IS A HUMAN, AND NATIVE AMERICAN

Clinton Strickland

Your Name: C.J. Strickland

Age: 24

Location: Tokyo, Japan

Occupation: Language Instructor, Fashion Nomad, and Food Instagrammer

Where did you come from? I was raised on a small Native American reservation in Atmore, Alabama, but have since claimed Tokyo as my tribal grounds.

A Fear: One of my biggest fears, presently, is not taking the necessary risks to become the next great designer. I work tirelessly to hone my visionary and technical skills, so to never make it would be heartbreaking. I’m also completely terrified of the ocean – I take sleeping pills every time I fly over the Pacific.

A Goal: To do what I love and love what I do. I’ve never been content with the idea of a 9-5.

A Memory: Earlier this year I began working on a new business that focused on Japanese fashion trends and popularizing it to the Western market. I worked with a few close friends of mine and together we developed the outline for what looked to be a promising business venture. Sadly, due to waning interest from group members and a lack of dedication, the project fell through and I was left disappointed. That was my first lesson in business: never expect others to be as dedicated to your goals as you are.

A Hero: The Man in Black, Johnny Cash. He managed to rise from years of addiction and built an incredible legacy. His extremely honest lyrics have always resonated with me and inspire me to be just as transparent.

A Fault: My greatest fault would certainly be my tendency to burn bridges with people after a negative experience. Sadly, this is especially true with close friends. Because I easily trust people and let them in, I am more hurt and angered when they disrespect betray me. It’s an issue I’ve been working through, but there isn’t a simple solution to it.

A Talent: Oration. I’ve always had a knack for it even from a young age. Though it took some time for it to develop, my talent for delivering a strong narrative and commanding attention when I speak has certainly aided me throughout the years.

A Prized Possession: My kick-ass beaded tribal bolo tie. It was a custom made piece from my uncle and is the perfect statement piece for any look.

A Need: An internship with Paul Smith.

I want More: Opportunities to see my loved ones. I miss them so much.

I want Less: Moments in which I doubt my own abilities and self-worth. Thinking poorly of myself creates unnecessary barriers.

What would you change about the world? Let’s spend fewer hours behind the desk and more time running in the grass with no shoes on.

What do you love about yourself? Setting my sails for lands beyond the barriers of the reservation. Being a nomad has helped me learn how to love myself.

ALLISON EPSTEIN IS A HUMAN, AND AN EATING DISORDER SURVIVOR

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Name: Allison Epstein

Age: 23

Location: Berwyn, Illinois (Western suburb of Chicago for out-of-staters)

Occupation:

Junior business-to-business marketing copywriter by day, managing editor at Adios Barbie by night. I write and edit articles about everything from eating disorders to rape culture to systemic racism. At my day job, I write copy about products you didn’t know existed for trade magazines you also didn’t know existed. (Ask me anything about galvanized steel conduit. No, go ahead, ask.)

Where did you come from?

Lansing, Michigan, home of several now-defunct General Motors plants, the state capital, and, at one point, Malcolm X.

A Fear: Settling. Choosing comfort over working for what intimidates and inspires me, professionally and personally. Also bats. Slit-nosed leather-winged furry demons. Nothankyou.

A Goal: Pay the bills by writing fiction. It can be one short story I sell for $20 to pay my electric bill with. I’m not picky.

A Memory: In the summer of 2013, I was studying abroad in Northern Ireland when my grandmother passed away from Parkinson’s disease. I couldn’t make it back in time for the funeral, but I traveled to the Antrim coast along the north of the island, and spent the day of the service on a cliff above the blue-green sea, watching the waves roll past and listening to seals barking on the rocks below. I don’t know what I believe about this life and anything after, but I’ve never felt more connected to the universe and whatever’s beyond it.

A Mistake: Backing out of opportunities from fear of what people will think of me. It’s an ongoing mistake, and one I’m working daily to correct.

A Hero: My parents and Ruth Bader Ginsberg.

A Fault: You haven’t seen Type A until you see how I do Type A. My work-life balance is a hot mess, and I’ve always demanded more of myself than I can deliver. Someday I’ll be able to fall asleep with unanswered emails still in my inbox. Until then, I will lull myself into a false sense of security with lists, spreadsheets, and a flawlessly alphabetized bookshelf.

A Talent: I have a Shakespeare reference ready for almost any occasion. The number of friends and family members I’ve convinced to read / watch / attend a performance of King Lear is frankly alarming. I’m not sure if this is a talent or a nuisance.

A Prized Possession: My library of notebooks. I write longhand whenever I can, and haven’t thrown away a book since 2007. Everything before then is too embarrassing to be read, anyway.

A Need: Solitude. As an introvert, I’m like old film: For anything to turn out OK, sometimes I need to be alone in a dark room for a while.

I want More: Compassion. Locally and globally, for people we know and understand and for people we don’t.

I want Less: Coldplay.

What would you change about the world?

I want to get rid of the connection between food, our bodies, and our worth. There’s so much morality tied up in these issues when there just doesn’t need to be. There is nothing good or bad about food or bodies — they are what they are. The way you treat someone, whether or not you tip your servers, how you vote on social issues, how you support friends in need, there’s morality in that. In our thighs? If we could stop this culturally sanctioned long con, I’d be over the moon.

What do you love about yourself?

My writing voice. Whether anyone but my family, friends, or workshop group reads my work is beside the point (although if you’re searching for a novelist-for-hire, hit me up…). I’m closer emotionally to the main character of my novel-in-eternal-progress than I am to most people. He just understands me.

MARIANO AVILA IS A HUMAN, AND ALSO MEXICAN

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Name: Mariano I. Avila

Age: I’m XXXVII, born in MCMLXXVIII–that’s dead language for “getting old.”

Location: On the left (as usual) of the white sofa in my living room, Grand Rapids, Michigan, USA

Occupation: Dad, Husband, Writer, Activist, Language Teacher

Where did you come from? Mom. We were in Mexico City that day.

A Fear: The bear that licked me some years back–long story.

A Goal: Nonviolence. More of it.

A Memory: The first summer I took a group of students to the Holy Land, an Israeli soldier wouldn’t let me into Bethlehem and had me stand in the noon sun (blazing at 100 ºF) because he was convinced I was Jewish–the middle “I” stands for Israel. It also didn’t help that one of the Dutch dudes in the group was Aaron Zachariah. I demanded to speak with the checkpoint commander when the soldier implied that he’d check us for circumcision if we didn’t convince him. After an hour they let us go without demanding more than paperwork.

A Mistake: This year, my friend and brother, Ben Bufford, woke me up on my birthday. It was 8 a.m., I had decided to sleep in. He sang his best rendition of Happy Birthday Mr. President complete with his Marilyn Monroe impression. I’m pretty sure he was in his cubicle at work. We talked for almost an hour. He said some very affirming things, assured me that God had plans for me, and suggested that we meet up very soon, but I was too busy for the next few days. A week later, at 1 a.m., I rushed to the hospital because he’d fainted, but when I got there he had passed away–he was 36. The last time I talked to him wasn’t in person. I will always regret that.

A Hero: Right now, Foucault.

A Fault: Whichever one shows up that day. Seriously, I think I’ve hosted most by now.

A Talent: I used to do a killer Christopher Walken impression, then my accent started reverting to Philly and now when I try it, folks say I sound drunk or tired. I don’t do it anymore.

A Prized Possession: The rollerball Meisterstük pen that my wife, Kate, gave me when I got accepted to Warren Wilson’s MFA, but a close second is the Olivetti Valentine (typewriter) that my friend, Brent, found for me in Portland.

A Need: Wisdom to raise my daughter to fight the patriarchy, practice nonviolence, love herself, love others, love God, and hopefully me too.

I want More: Time to read and write

I want Less: Stuff in general or at least the need for it.

What would you change about the world? Violence, I’d do away with all forms of it–verbal, physical, systemic, economic, cultural. But, I’d settle for a general ban on war and having all international conflicts solved either through extreme Jenga matches or Angry Birds (the latter because my six-year-old nephew, Luisito, would soon become supreme commander of the known universe) .

What do you love about yourself? The space I tend to occupy in relationships I value. I can’t think of a better way to say it. It’s not so much who I am on my own, or achievements, or habits. Rather, in my relationships with others, I tend to be given a space in their set scheme of social roles, needs, or wants.

SARAH SCOTT IS A HUMAN, AND AN ACTIVIST

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Your Name: Sarah Sunshine Scott

Age: 39

Location: Grand Rapids, Michigan

Occupation: Arts Coordinator, Heartside Gallery and Studio. Also, Mother.

Where did you come from? A convict and a farm girl, born at home in Grand Rapids in 1975

A Fear: Watching the neighborhoods I live and work in turn to shit from gentrification

A Goal: To work part time at a place I love, have time to nurse my baby and make art with my ten year old, to garden and to figure out how to love.

A Memory: Nearly failing out of high school and the first year of college and then falling in love with printmaking and having one serious BFA show.

A Mistake: Getting married. This does not reflect on my ex husband or me having a child with him at all. I mean the act of getting married. My gut told me otherwise and I didn’t listen. I’m not religious and I didn’t need a piece of paper to bond me to another person, it was never a childhood dream of mine. I’m learning to listen to my gut more now.

A Hero: Grace Lee Boggs, Lynnee Denise, Jane Van Dommelen.

A Fault: I worry so much.

A Talent: I’m a damn good mama.

A Prized Possession: My printmaking press.

A Need: More time to myself and to learn to throw my phone in the garbage.

I want More: Quiet, connections.

I want Less: Scheduling

What would you change about the world? More sharing of and listening to each other’s stories, more systemic looks at poverty and the ridiculous rate of mass incarceration, more digging in and less head nodding.

What do you love about yourself? I don’t give up, ever.

CAMERON YOUNG IS A HUMAN, AND IS ON WHEELS

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Your Name: Cameron Young

Age: 28

Location: Grand Rapids, MI

Occupation: I get paid by Steelcase, the global office furniture manufacturer, for my contributions to their brand communications department, but I’m involved with a few other organizations, namely Disability Advocates of Kent County and Indian Trails Camp, for which I make unpaid, but (hopefully) equally valuable contributions.

Where did you come from? I was born and raised in suburban Grand Rapids, but I think where you come from is more than the physical location of your childhood; it’s the people and community that raised and instilled values in you. In that case, I came from a very loving, supportive, encouraging place.

A Fear: My fear isn’t necessarily that I won’t walk again, but rather that I’ll be unable to live a happy life in a wheelchair.

A Goal: In that same vein, my overarching goal is to get back on my feet. At this point, I’ll need some assistance from science, but if I can surf the Internet in a flying metal cylinder 30,000 feet above an expanse of never-ending ocean, anything is possible…right?

A Memory: I remember in the moments after I broke my neck, lying face down in the ocean, it was peaceful, just quiet. A gentle rolling of the waves. Then someone grabbed me and flipped me over, and I glimpsed a look of abject horror on my friend’s face. And reality set in.

A Mistake: There have been too many instances in my life where caution and my tendency toward risk-aversion have won out over my better judgment. Mostly involving girls.

A Hero: My heroes growing up were the athletes I watched excelling on the television. Now that I’m the same age or older than many elite, world-famous athletes, it’s too weird. I’d say my heroes now are my grandfathers; both rose to the top of their fields through hard work, tenacity, and determination. Both also never forgot about causes larger than themselves, and were able to keep wicked senses of humor while doing it.

A Fault: I think I too often look for the validation and approval of others, when I should have the self-confidence to do what I know is right all along.

A Talent: I used to be good at sports, but that was mostly in elementary school. Now I thrive in matters of arcane pop culture and sports trivia.

A Prized Possession: I have a Dwight Schrute bobblehead that keeps a close and creepy eye on me at my desk.

A Need: Smarter doctors. Study, kids!

I want More: Laughter in my life.

I want Less: Potholes in the road.

What would you change about the world? I want the world to become a more accessible place. Not accessible as in more ramps and automatic doors (although those are cool too) but accessible in terms of entrée to information, each other, and the truth.

What do you love about yourself? I love that I can stay optimistic even in the worst of times.

BAILY RACHEAL WARMAN IS A HUMAN, AND A SEMINARIAN

BAILY
Name: Baily Racheal Warman
Age: 23
Location: Chicago, Ill
Occupation: Full time Seminary Student. I work various part time jobs around campus to make ends meet.
Where did you come from? I was born and raised in the Northwest suburbs of Chicago, IL.
I spent a year in Florida attending Eckerd College then moved back to Chicago to finish up my undergraduate degree.
A Fear: Not being enough.
A Goal: To see more of the world.
A Memory: Working as a recycler my freshman year of college. St. Petersburg didn’t have a recycling service, so we used to ride around campus in the back of an old beat up pick up truck collecting and sorting everyone’s trash. It was disgusting, rewarding, and awesome all once.
A Mistake: Not telling those whom I’ve loved, “I love you.”
A Hero: Savitribai Phule. She and her husband spent their lives dignifying and educating India’s Dalit women. She lived to abolish oppression based on gender and caste. She was such a badass.
A Fault: I let people go to easily.
A Talent: Empathy.
A Prized Possession: My journals and scriptures.
A Need: Time alone.
I want more: Love.
I want less: Fear of missing out.
What would you change about the world? I would change the way women are treated globally and all forms of social hierarchy based on gender, race, religion, caste, orientation, etc.
What do you love about yourself? I love how deeply I feel things. I cry a lot. Like a lot. It’s something I used to get made fun of for, but I believe God uses my tears for a greater purpose. I love that I am comfortable and open with how I feel. No one should ever be ashamed to feel what they feel.

GAIL HANSON IS A HUMAN, AND A MOTHER

GAIL HANSON

Name: Gail A. Hanson

Age:  43

Location:  Grand Rapids, Michigan

Occupation:  I evaluate training / motivation materials.

Where did you come from? Born and raised in Southern California.

A Fear:  Never accomplishing something of significance. Leaving my boys without a legacy they can be proud of and not being remembered.

A Goal:  Write a book. I’ve started more than once. If only I could finish.

A Memory:  One of my favorite memories of childhood is riding my lavender bike with the white basket to the library. Filling that basket with books for the week and then riding to the grocery store for ice cream or candy. This is what summer looks like. Even though every trip was a little different I remember them all as one collective snapshot. And, I’m always smiling and happy with the sun beating down.

A Mistake:  I will always regret not finishing college.

A Hero:  My older sister for making the raising of children look easy even when it was hard. Single mothers never get enough credit for what they do.

A Fault:  I think I know everything and therefore I am always right. I do not and I am not. (Don’t tell my husband I admitted that.)

A Talent:  I can crochet.

A Prized Possession:  An old broken manual typewriter that belonged to my father. Once it was my dream to use it to write my novel. It reminds me of how he believed I could do anything. I still long to have it repaired.

A Need:  Patience.

I want more:  Time and energy to enjoy life with my family and friends. The introvert in me is always searching for quiet places but I also want the boisterous moments with those I love.

I want less:  Stress and worry.

What would you change about the world?  I would change the prevalence of prejudice; eliminate the hate crimes that accompany racism. Bring about justice for the marginalized. Recent years have shown too many instances of injustice. I worry for my boys and what the next generation faces.

What do you love about yourself?  Such a tough question … I love my sense of humor. The moments when I can feel light in laughter. It doesn’t happen nearly as much as I would like but still I feel my best at those times.