A drop of Sheila

"This world would be a whole lot better if we just made an effort to be less horrible to one another." — Ellen Page

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Leap of Faith

Screen Shot 2015-02-24 at 7.15.51 PMMy mom and dad performing in their wedding ceremonies.

My parents’ marriage began with a leap of faith.

My mom and dad could have unknowingly passed each other dozens of times in the streets of Madras, India before formally meeting in May of 1988. But the two never met in Madras, both of their hometowns, and instead in Los Angeles, as planned.

Let me back up a little bit. My maternal grandpa worked in America for many years, cherished his time here and often told my mom and her siblings about the great opportunities America offers. My mom’s siblings moved to America to start their new lives, and my mom made the 20-hour trip to see what all the fuss was about…and wasn’t impressed. She spent the next two years back in India, bored without her siblings and willing to go back to America to be closer to them. When my grandparents on my dad’s side met my mom and suggested she go to California to meet my dad, she took a leap.

My mom first stopped in New Jersey where her sister was living, and together they flew to California and met with my aunt’s friends. It was at the friends’ house that my mom and dad first met. He introduced himself with the same name as my mom’s brother, sparking years of muddled confusion. But that’s another story.

The group paid a visit to San Francisco, my aunt and her friends driving in one car, and my mom and dad driving in my dad’s all-too-classy white Nissan Sentra. He sure knew how to impress a girl.

I imagine my mom sitting far back into the seat, resting her hands in her lap, as she always does, and my dad constantly checking his mirrors and sides as he always does. They spent the day driving to the sound of their small talk, which was probably strangely comfortable.

“When did you both decide you’d get married?” I asked my dad recently.

“A few days after the San Francisco trip, I asked her,” he said. “She said yes.”

Three months later: my mom and dad were married in (simplified) Indian style. And they’ve been together for those 26 and a half years.

Arranged marriages do not always go so smoothly, as I have seen in a few extended family members’ situations. My parents are lucky, to say the least, for finding mutual companionship.

My mom could have said no — the worst misconception about arranged marriages is the notion that parents force marriage upon their children, offering them no choice but to obey.

That couldn’t be further from the truth, at least for my parents. When my mom came over to the States, her parents and siblings undoubtedly had hope that she would meet my dad and want to spend her life with him, but they didn’t have any expectations. Her ticket wasn’t one-way. It was just a leap of faith.

So no, they weren’t high school sweethearts, and no, they didn’t meet serendipitously in a big city or on top of the Empire State building. Their love story won’t be replicated on a Hollywood screen (though Bollywood has made many fair attempts).

Their marriage captures the kind of love that stems from trust and commitment. So when people (often) ask me, “Do your parents even like each other?” the answer is yes, they are in love, their own definition of love – even though their meeting isn’t the same as Harry and Sally’s.

It all started with a leap.

Screen Shot 2015-02-24 at 7.32.05 PM

Left: My parents exchanging garlands as part of Indian ritual; center: My mom cheesin’ on her big day; right: My parents throwing rice as part of the wedding ceremony.

This column was originally posted on thecspn.com.

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The plane truth

Airports are rampant with a sense of urgency. Rushing between terminals. Speed-stripping at security. Hurrying through Starbucks lines.

So it makes sense, then, that the only real time to breathe is on the airplane itself. After the take-off, of course, when the oh-my-god-how-is-this-going-to-fly panic is overridden. We sit with our belts fastened, our seat backs in the upright position, our tray tables folded — and in this wifi-less atmosphere, we are finally allowed a moment of distraction-free thinking. For the duration of the flight, we have nothing to do, which gives us endless freedom.

On Sunday as I flew back from my Thanksgiving-weekend trip, I occupied myself with Beyoncé streaming through my right earbud, a book in my lap and a magazine underneath. The girl next to me, indecisive between sleeping or reading, flashed her seat light on and off, occasionally leaving me in the dark and feeling like turning my own light on would be unfair to her. I looked at my parents, already asleep (before the plane left the runway), my dad undoubtedly hoping his heavy congestion wouldn’t lead to in-flight snoring. I was slightly annoyed by the people speaking loudly in German behind me.

But then I stopped, listened to the loud purr of the engine, and brushed away my irritation. I realized that all of us on that plane were in some sort of harmony with each other. Whether we acknowledged it or not, we were all packed together in this time capsule of a vehicle, pummeling us 30,000 feet into the air — and for that hour and 38 minutes, we were all alone with our thoughts.

We use the time to breathe on a plane as a getaway from our daily obligations and find time to compensate for everything we’ve missed. The books we never got to reading, the sleep our alarms prohibited, the conversations we failed to speak.

So the next time I’m on a plane, forgive me for flashing my seat light, or snoring or speaking too loudly — I’m just making up for everything missed.


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The Confrontation

No, I’m not writing about the song from Les Mis — but keep reading and I might.

I’m referring to the actual act of confronting someone (sometimes thought of as dramatic as the song), which often results in people shying away behind screens of cell phones or laptops, anything to avoid face-to-face contact. When I receive a text, or Facebook message, or email starting with “I need to talk to you,” and continuing for several inches of text, I don’t know how to respond. My mouth usually curls up a little, one eyebrow raises, as I wonder how much nerve this person had to muster up for this, and how much more would warrant a direct, personal conversation.

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Breaking point

Stress is a mess.

Immense stress that results in an intense emotional moment, coined the “breakdown” or “meltdown”, is not uncommon for high school students.

According to The Franklin Institute, lack of sleep, lack of exercise and overstimulation result in overactive stress hormones that damage and kill brain cells. School psychologist Jeff Schlaeger said that this imbalance in the brain triggers a breakdown.

“You have portions of your brain that are geared to respond to stress or danger or overstimulation or work, and that balance is knocked off or skewed [during a breakdown],” Schlaeger said. “There [are]…not enough of the healthy things for your brain–like appropriate sleep, exercise…so then the system…gets unbalanced and is hard to get balanced again. So then you have this vicious cycle, where you’re already unbalanced, you’re staying up until 2:00 am for…a tough AP class, and you’re adding more coffee and Monsters and sleeping less and less, and not exercising…that’s not the solution.”

For junior Jenna McCabe, her breakdown moment involved the two-time damaging of her self-portrait project. The first accident was because of spilled hair dye. The second was thanks to McCabe’s dogs playing on top of the project.

“[My dogs] got on top of it and they were just scratching it and I yelled at them and told them to get off,” McCabe said. “I looked over and I just sat down on my bed and I was like, ‘Mom, I give up.’…I just bawled. I felt so pathetic.”

McCabe’s stress was soon alleviated with help from drawing teacher Beth Eline, who helped cover up the marks.

Not every breakdown, however, is resolved similarly. According to junior Corie Lawhorn, breakdowns are attributed to many demanding responsibilities piling on a person. For Lawhorn, a dance team member, long practices and schoolwork are a difficult combination.

“Recently [in] AP Bio…there was a point where she updated grades and I was really frustrated about it,” Lawhorn said. “And there was stuff going on at dance and it just gets super stressful when there’s a lot happening altogether. I just kind of broke down.”

Parental pressure is also a driving force of overwhelming stress, according to Lawhorn.

“I think there’s a lot of pressure now as you get older because you have college looming over your head, and with [pressure from] parents,” Lawhorn said. “My parents push me really, really hard. So that causes it too.”

Schlaeger said that expectations imposed by parents, teachers and counselors lead students to stress and eventual breakdown. The key to overcoming outside pressure is to prioritize responsibilities and [to be] aware of personal breaking points, he said.

“Everyone has their limits of what they can handle, from personality and cognitively and just attention span,” Schlaeger said. “…Prevent- ing [a breakdown] is just knowing your limits.”

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YouTube loyalty

A friend of mine is going through a rough time. She used to be the most popular girl around — everyone knew her, and everyone wanted to hang out with her. But lately, she’s been feeling a little low. This new guy moved in a few years ago, and since then she hasn’t been the same. He took over her social clique – which was incredibly non-selective – and now none of her old friends spend time with her anymore. They all diverted to him, never looked back.

That is, except me.

My long-time friend, YouTube, still jerks a twang of loyalty in me. What did we do with our time just before Netflix? Where did we go to stream video? It’s YouTube, and for me, it’s still a major time-waster. Whether it’s a piano instrumental of my latest song obsession or a 40-minute blooper reel, I respect YouTube for the power it contains.

YouTube has a way of catapulting regular people to fame. Take Jenna Marbles, Michelle Phan, Tyler Oakley. Beyond personalities, YouTube offers an integral voice of communication. A simple link to a video, music clip, audio byte, can reinvent the way of thought. It’s just a click. No account necessary. No pop-up, hidden-close-button advertisements. YouTube is gentle and tame. And YouTube was first.

Don’t get me wrong, Netflix is one of my best pals. But YouTube offers something that few others can – a combination of music, audio, video, television and film. Netflix is particular about episodes and movies, iTunes and Hulu Plus ask for cash. Sketchy sites are notorious for transferring sketchier viruses. YouTube is safe. YouTube is all-encompassing. And YouTube, as we know it today, is getting lonelier.

It’s no surprise. “New is always better,” as Barney Stinson reminds us. But just remember – while you’re hanging out with the new guy, in the end your old friend, YouTube, really has all you need.

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Frank Bruni on NFL player’s coming out

Ah, of course! If anyone is to write about Michael Sam’s coming out, it’s Frank Bruni.

Bruni’s sarcasm is top-notch. It enables him to write about these tense social issues without offending too deeply, without being too bland. His wording is too good — too precise to replicate, so see his column for yourself.

Bruni’s got a keen way of calling out society. Not necessarily one general group — sometimes anit-gay NFL players, sometimes the Sochi government, etc. I find it admirable that he sticks up for the LGBT community — that he’s openly a part of — so adamantly and frequently. Some would disagree, but no surprise there.

I love that even with the nation’s scrutiny, potential implications and emotional toll Sam took this giant risk. I mean, someone had to.

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Twenty fourteen

I suppose we’re all obliged to make some sort of “goodbye-2013-hello-new-year” post. Or statement. Or some kind of formal huzzah.

And I don’t fully care for that responsibility. It’s interesting that millions of people feel a sudden motivation on just one day (December 31) to find the significance of the entire preceding year. Why just today?

It’s no surprise — people spend too much time complaining, criticizing, putting down and moping that they miss out on appreciation. You can’t live like that.

I’m not one for new year’s resolutions, but this year is an exception. This time around I have been more aware of my surroundings — the people, the events, everything. And my resolution is not only for myself, but I wish it upon everyone it can reach.

I hope that 2014 will bring more care, more appreciation, more life.

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My tribute to a freedom-maker


Lasting legacy laced with love.

Originally posted on Gina Deaton:


It only takes one spark to start a wildfire.

Nelson Mandela, the spark for anti-apartheid movements in South Africa, died an incredible leader with an unbelievable legacy.

The definition of courage, 67 years of Mandela’s 95 total were spent fighting for civil rights. In college, when his stepfather announced his arranged marriage, Mandela ran from home because he did not agree with his stepfather’s calm, reserved plans for his life. This life was his, and he was determined to use it to make a change.

Mandela participated in peaceful protest after protest against apartheid with the African National Congress. Within this group, he and a few others banded together to form a new movement of stronger protests, believing that the old, polite protests were ineffective. For this, he was imprisoned.

Nelson Mandela received a lifetime imprisonment sentence and spent 27 years in confinement. 27 years. That’s 324 months spent restricted…

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