My first taste of freedom came in 1992 when I was 18. It was late August, and my brother dropped me off for college at Penn State. Happy Valley was huge. The dorms were divided into six housing areas : North, South, East, West, Pollock, and Nittany Apartments and Suites. I never took a campus tour so, essentially, I was plopped in the middle of Central Pennsylvania and had to figure my own shit out. No one in my family set foot on campus again until almost four years later when I was about to graduate. My parents didn’t even come to drop me off. When my brother left my dorm, I could hardly contain my excitement. Finally, I was on my own and loving it.
That night, I went to some dorm party for freshman. I immediately befriended some girls on my floor. We had a great time. I came back to my room exhausted but happy. In the morning, I woke up and thought: Oh shit. Am I going to make it here? I’m not sure what came over me. I think it was just that it was such a big campus, and I had to navigate by myself. From the same unknown place, another feeling came over me: I am going to make it.
Smells Like Teen Spirit
That was a defining moment for me. I was scared, but I decided to get over it. That was the first time I decided to just plow through fear. I also got over the shyness that was such a huge part of my high school existence. I just blossomed socially. I called people to see what parties were going on. I hardly did that in high school unless I knew someone well. At Penn State, I just went with the flow. On many a night, I would be hanging out in my dorm and random friends would stop by and snatch me up for some adventure. Let’s be honest. It was usually a party. During that time, I just decided to get on with it, whatever was happening and whatever apprehension I felt.
Another defining moment was when I was about to graduate in 1996. I was pretty much broke, like most college students. Despite that technicality, I stayed until the end of my lease in my studio apartment. I came back home with about 26 dollars in my checking account. I was a fresh college graduate and had already decided that I was going to enter a graduate certification program to become a teacher. I chose that route because I thought it best to get my certification and Master’s at the same time. Even with just 26 dollars in my checking account, I had a plan and a brain. With those two things, my gut instinct told me I would work through this thing called life.
The Best Teacher
Two years later, life threw me a curve when my father’s emphysema dealt him a blow that almost killed him. Getting a tracheostomy saved him but he had to breathe through a tube and stay attached to an oxygen tank for the next three years. According to his doctors, he was only supposed to live one more year after the tracheostomy. He proved them wrong. He was good at proving people wrong who underestimated him. As am I. How he handled an illness that he wasn’t sure he would survive cemented the foundation for who I became.
He taught me one of his greatest lessons through his example. He had a hospital stint and wanted to leave his room. He had to take his portable oxygen tank to walk down the hall to an equipment room he had laid claim to when he wanted some down time. I watched him as he silently and deliberately straightened himself so he could walk with dignity and composure. He couldn’t breathe on his own, and no one would have blamed him if he walked in a hunched position. But he wouldn’t have that. In that small action, he taught me to stand tall and walk proud no matter what is happening to you or around you. Even as he took his last breaths, he kept showing me how to live.
These moments showed me what I’m made of. No matter what may come, I will keep my swagger, just like my old man did.
Until next time...look behind and beyond the veil...
Photo by Dmitry Bayer on
Ronald Reagan. Rubik’s cube. Leg warmers. The first music video ever played on MTV. These were only a few of the iconic associations of the 80's. I grew up during that time and was part of Generation X. Some people refer to us as slackers and cynics. I proudly identify as both. I questioned the status quo and the notion of breaking my neck to achieve the “American Dream.” At the end of the day, most of us knew how to work hard. We just knew how to play hard, too. In so many ways, it was a simpler time to grow up in. We were given a certain set of circumstances, and we figured out what to do with them. Now, the kids coming up have so much thrown at them that they may not know what to do. Let’s not forget the music. Real musicians who played instruments. Imagine that. I can’t go into all of the shit that made the 80's a cool time to grow up in this small space, but I can give you 7 reasons I loved growing up in the 80s:
1. We can troubleshoot easily.
First of all, we can tell time on a clock and light a match. We know how to use a rotary phone. We have used a stamp and envelope many times, and we know where to get them. The point is, if our lives take an unexpected turn and we end up in a place where things aren’t so easily accessible, we will be okay.
2. A scrape on the knee wasn't a catastrophe.
I wasn’t dressed head to toe in protective gear before I left the house. I never wore knee pads or a helmet when I rode a bike. None of the kids I grew up with did either. We’re still alive with most of our brain cells intact. I still have a scar on the inside of my left knee that I don’t remember how I got. When I was 8, I stepped on a fishing hook that one of my brothers left behind in my father’s van. He held onto me while my uncle pulled it out of the sole of my foot. They sent me on my merry way after that. As a result of all these things, I am not delicate and don’t need my hand held every time I stub my big toe.
3. We went outside to play.
We weren't in the house playing computer games all day. We stayed out until the street lights came on or dinner, whichever came first. You know it's bad when the NFL has to encourage kids to play outside for 60 minutes a day.
4. Albums were king.
I don’t know how old I was when I first looked through my oldest brother’s boxes of albums. I just know that I was fascinated by the music and the whole ritual of listening to a new album. Opening the album, taking the vinyl out, looking at looking at the cover art, and reading the lyrics, if they were available was like opening a present that you have been waiting for. Spotify and iTunes can’t give you that.
5. We waited in line for concert tickets... And they were no more than 20 bucks!
Waiting in line for concert tickets was an experience within itself. The anticipation of getting good seats and connecting with other people who like the same band you do was exciting. You saw scalpers fact-to-face and had tickets in your hand right away. Now, you take your chances getting ripped off online if you missed the online presale. And tickets were cheap.
6. MTV actually played music videos.
I remember watching the first video ever played on MTV: The Buggles, “Video Killed the Radio Star.” I loved seeing a mini-movie with a song. Now, you can’t see a fucking video on MTV. It’s all shows now. I think you can see some videos on MTV2, but why call it Music Television when you’re not showing music?
7. I discovered Prince in the 80's.
I have talked about Prince in blogs many times and will continue to do so. He is that important in my life. In the “1999” video, Prince mesmerized me in a purple trench coat and jheri curl while playing guitar and dancing in time with the other guys in the band. The consummate musician and performer. The camera loved him. When I discovered him, I discovered R&B and funk. Before that, I was a classic rock devotee just like my oldest brother. I think Prince had the same effect on him because he went out and got the “1999” and “Purple Rain” albums. “1999” was the first double album I ever saw, and the vinyl for “Purple Rain” was actually purple. “1999” was a nuclear protest song and a bomb ass dance track.
I’m not saying the 80's were perfect, but growing up in that time helped make me the snarky asshole I am today. I’m pretty grateful for that.
If you grew up in the 80's, what's your favorite memory? Answer in the comments below!
Until next time… look behind and beyond the veil...
I loved being a teacher. I love learning and being a part of someone else’s learning process. Teaching gave me an opportunity to be creative, coming up with lessons and projects that were fun for me and my students. I miss education and being around other teachers everyday. Most of all, I miss the students and mentoring them. We had fun together, and they did learn something. I am proud to say. If I do say so my snarky self, I had the best one-liners as a teacher. Here are my top 10 teacher quotes:
1. I am never late to class. I am never early to class. Because class doesn’t start until I get here!” - Frequently, I walked into class after the bell rang because I didn’t have my own classroom for a long time. As a result, I would stroll in after the scheduled start time because I was coming from another classroom. A student jokingly said, “You’re late.” A blatant deflection but true nonetheless.
2. “Whatever you’re thinking about doing, I either invented it or perfected it.”
3. “You can’t win. So don’t try.” - This line was reserved for when a student tried to talk their way out of something, and I wasn’t in the mood to entertain them.
4. “I’m the teacher, and I can flunk you.” - A 7th grader tried to tell me they were “the man,” and they could choose whether or not they were going to do their work. He wasn’t being defiant as much as he was just being a smart ass. I showed him who the bigger smart ass was.
5. “If you want my help, ask me. And don’t wait until the day before it’s due!” - I found myself saying this many times.
6. “Okay. Leave me alone now.” - This was used when I had a free period, and a student I had a good rapport with didn’t need help but just wanted to hang out and lollygag.
7. “Do your work. Don’t make me save you!” - By saving, I meant I didn’t want to go to another teacher and ask for a meeting to see what the kid had to do to not fail. As a teacher of English Language Learners, I had to advocate. I only said this to kids who I knew were capable of doing the work.
8. “Shut up.” - If I had to tell a kid more than twice to be quiet. It turned into, “shut up.” No, I don’t feel bad about that. If you got a “shut up, “ you deserved it.
9. “Sit down.” - It’s amazing how many times I had to say that to high school kids.
10. “Okay. Get out.” - Used in place of “bye” or “see you later.” I only said this to students who were used to my sense of humor.
Based on this list, you might think it's a good idea I am no longer a teacher. When I did practice this wonderful craft, I did a lot of good. As a colleague once told me, "sweet is not a weapon in your arsenal." Maybe so but the kids knew they could count on me. I just have to be myself no matter where I am.
Until next time… look behind and beyond the veil...
Because in the end, you won’t remember the time you spent working in the office or mowing your lawn. Climb that goddamn mountain.” Jack Kerouac
The Origins of my Wanderlust
I am an explorer at heart. Wherever I go, even if it’s someplace I’ve already been, I want to discover something new about it. The first time I left the country, I went to Montreal. For the first time, I had to get around in a place that had a language other than English on street signs and buildings. I had a French-speaking aunt as my guide, so it wasn’t even that hard. I don’t remember a lot about that trip, but I do know that I enjoyed the experience of doing something different and getting the hell out of Lansdale, Pennsylvania.
By the time I was 15, I was dead set on going to college away from home. My first choice was UCLA. When I realized that out-of-state tuition was a thing and accepted that I was too lazy to get the A average necessary for a scholarship, I settled on a state school. I meandered my way into Penn State. I went straight to Main Campus, no less. How I managed to not flunk out is a miracle because I didn’t really get serious about my learning until junior year.
I have to say for all my horseshit shenanigans, going to school 3 and a half hours away from my hometown was the best thing I could have done for myself. I went out of my comfort zone and learned how to figure things out without someone to help me navigate. I came out of my shell and found my tribe.
Learning Lessons, Taking Memories, and Leaving Footprints
I have left where it was comfortable to do something different at least two more times in my life. 12 years ago, I left Lansdale again to move to West Chester, PA. After 10 years there, I moved to Georgia. Each time I moved was a turning point in my life, and I embraced the changes. I love learning a new place. I love adding to my tribe.
My travels have taught me many things. Getting lost walking around Paris taught me I can Forrest Gump my way through a lot. Going to Barcelona showed me there is a city outside the United States I could actually live in. On two different sojourns to the Caribbean with my mother, I learned that if I paid more attention to tradition I would be her, and if she allowed herself to be wild-at-heart, she would be me. More evidence that we are more alike than unalike.
These memories planted seeds in my heart for more. More experiences out of my comfort zone. More reminders of what a capable, competent woman I can be if I gave myself a chance.
In the places I have lived, I would like to think I made some sort of an impression, left a mark. Hopefully, I will continue to do that. Mostly I feel that travel or just leaving the place you were born is important for 3 crucial reasons:
1. To learn other people’s perspectives. When you don’t know something and don’t understand it, you are many times fearful of it. Living life in fear is no way to live. When you see how other people live, you might actually learn something and take away something of value for yourself.
2. To discover something new about yourself. You may learn something about yourself along the way. I just went to Asheville, NC recently. The universe drew me there to reflect. While I was hanging out at a bar, I was presented with two different snapshots of my personality sitting on either side of me. On the left side was someone just sad and content to be sad. On my right was someone who was just angry and hadn’t fully worked out why they were angry. I’ve been both of those people at different times in my life. I appreciate them both and why I was those personalities, but I don’t need them anymore.
3. Sometimes, it’s the only way to grow. I can say with 100% certainty that I would not be the person that I am today without my travels and without leaving the place where I grew up. When you stay in the same place physically, there’s a tendency to stay in the same place emotionally. You have the same myopic view all the time. That’s okay if you like the view, if it resonates with you. If it doesn’t, like in my case, it will stifle you. For me leaving the place I was born was the only way to go.
Where I will stay is anyone’s guess. Even when I do find a place I want to stay in, the wanderlust will come and go. One thing’s for sure: I will always climb the goddamn mountain.
Until next time… look behind and beyond the veil...
Sameena K. Mughal, Author, Freelance Writer