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From Unwanted Companion to Respected Friend
By Mark Liles
With long and deliberate strokes I signed my kindergarten masterpiece, M-A-R-K, narrowly missing the puddle of wet white glue above the floppy plastic eyeball. I paused with a familiar thought: it just didn’t fit. Mark was just too short and awkward sounding and such a great tissue paper turkey deserved a better signature. I couldn’t escape the disappointment because Mark followed me in bold letters everywhere. On my lunch box, the tag inside my coat, my baseball glove, etc. The name Mark was like the annoying neighborhood kid you get stuck with over summer vacation and just can’t get rid of. I had no idea that over time, this unwanted companion would become my respected friend.
Why couldn’t I have names like my brothers? Richard was the oldest and his name was strong and confident. Best of all he could be Rich or Richard, a multifunctional name; Richard when he became president and Rich with his buddies on the playground. And then there was Russell who could always be Russ when the need arose. What were my parents thinking? Did they just run out of letters? It was obvious to me that my name should’ve been Robert. This theory was reinforced by my Sesame Street logic: Richard, Russell, Robert, Mark; which one of these just doesn’t belong? I wanted Robert… not Mark, and like that unwanted tag along there didn’t seem to be anything I could do to get rid of it.
As years went by, various experiences made me more accepting of my name. One of the most memorable came on the first day of middle school when the teacher called out our FULL names in the roll call. I’d always kept my middle name a closely guarded secret, fearing certain humiliation if anyone ever learned what is was. I expected a room full of laughter as she called out “Mark Harold Liles”, but to my amazement everyone was quiet. Then something totally unexpected happened. The quiet girl I secretly admired turned to me and said, “I like your name, it sounds cool”. That day marked a turning point. Maybe I’d been wrong about Mark, maybe the name was ok.
There was a time when I lost my name all together. I had joined the military and had to pack up all of my civilian clothes and personal effects into a cardboard box that would be stored until completion of basic training. My name Mark was put in the box as well, having been issued the new name “Private”, courtesy of the United States Marine Corps. That passage was tough and through it all I developed confidence and greater self esteem. Shortly after finishing boot camp I was given dog tags. Stamped deep in the simple metal tag were the words: Liles, Mark H., USMC. I’d been given my name back, only now there was more; I had earned the title of Marine. Going through this period of losing my individuality made me appreciate the uniqueness that I possessed and gave me a new appreciation for my name.
My time in the military has long since passed, and today my name and I are fully engulfed in the working world. Mark still follows me everywhere, only now it’s on my office door, the cover of business papers, and on the introduction slide of corporate PowerPoint presentations. My name in many ways has become a list of attributes and accomplishments that people associate me with and that I associate with myself. I work hard to make sure that when people hear my name they think of a dedicated employee, a pleasant neighbor, and a good father. I understand the value of a good name and work diligently to protect it.
Sometimes I think back on my days in kindergarten when I didn’t like my name and I laugh. I’m so happy to be Mark and not Robert. I like the person I’ve become and am thankful for the people and events that have helped shape me. I realize how it was never really about my name but instead about personal feelings of self confidence and self worth. There are times in life that I see obstacles and wonder how I’m going to overcome them; I worry about who I can count on to help me. But then I pause and remember that dependable friend that has always been there, I think of my respected friend, Mark Liles, myself.
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Sam: The Motorcycle Chick
By Samantha Miller
On a hot and sunny Arizona afternoon, I stand next to my shiny lime green two wheeled machine and swing my right leg over the hot black seat. I start the engine and listen to the deep exhaust as I twist the throttle. Maneuvering my way out of the parking lot filled with big lifted trucks and neon sport bikes I feel a sense of people watching me. As I look to the left, I see two tall men wearing baby blue collared shirts with looks of confusion and excitement. I begin to realize this must be the first time they have seen a girl who is five feet, four inches tall with long brown curly hair and a small waist controlling what has been traditionally seen as man’s vehicle. My name is Samantha, and I ride and repair motorcycles. Samantha may sound beautiful, soft and caring; however I am brute, loud and hardhearted female in a man’s world of mechanics.
As long as I can remember, I have been labeled as a tomboy. I believe this is how I adapted the nickname Sam so easily. Sam is a short version for the masculine name of Samuel. A particular memory I have using the name Sam over Samantha was on Monday, June 6th, 2005. It was my first day of class and I remember entering a classroom full of men ranging from a young smug football player to a kind simplistic looking grandpa. I sat down in the closest blue plastic chair that was available, not realizing it was broken. I began to wonder if this was a place for a “Samantha.” Surely they would accept a “Sam” as a serious and strong person in the motorcycle industry. So, as the potbelly forty-year-old man with short gray peppered hair and a five o’clock shadow called our names, I simply replied with “Here” and “Call me Sam.” Throughout the rest of my training at Motorcycle Mechanics Institute, my bully attitude and dirty clothing tagged me, Sam, as one of the guys.
Even though I respond to a masculine sounding name, I use my gentle feminine Samantha side to listen and express myself to others. Whenever someone is talking, I listen with full intent. The words inhabit my brain as I imagine myself in that person’s shoes. However, I do not like to repeat myself. If I have to repeat something to a person, who has clearly not listened, I will repeat it very loudly to express my irritation. Maybe it’s just me or the fact my name means listener, but listening is not hard. Listening is very beneficial because absorbing and maintaining information is useful for solving problems. For example, I would yell across the service shop to a very tall barbarian classmate who constantly forgot to put the special tools into the large red metal cabinet. When a man hears a woman’s enraged voice yelling, he soon remembers her words.
In combination with yelling, my blood starts pumping and my mind begins to take over responses, leaving all feelings aside. My heart will give a little when someone is hurt or in need. However, if a person carries out a dim-witted decision, I feel they should learn from their actions. This stubborn method of thinking symbolizes my German last name Miller. My German grandfather, Leroy, fell in love with a beautiful but stubborn Norwegian woman named Marjean. Even to this day, at the age of 76, my short, plump and snow white curly haired grandmother will not take “no” for an answer. Sometimes I wish my last name was a softer one, like Bloom. I could than be imaged as a flower, which is the Greek definition of Samantha. Samantha Miller, a girl who is a flower that blooms. But, I am not Greek and all eventually flowers die.
In the end, people will remember me as Sam Miller, a strong woman in a man’s world of mechanics. I am a tomboy who enjoys wrenching and repairs anything that produces speed. I am also a beautiful girl who listens well and expresses irritation when others do not listen. My family brings out my stubbornness that allows me to be tough on others when they make bad decisions. I am a brute, loud and hardhearted who thinks like a boy and acts like a boy. But, I still turn heads when people see a small figure on a lime green two wheeled machine with a long brown hair waving in the wind.
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Paola: Your Instructor
By Paola Brown
Paola Brown is an enthusiastic woman who enjoys wearing many different hats throughout her week. Every day, she is a wife and a mother. Having been married for almost five years, her husband and she just welcomed their first son, Mateus, into their family about a year ago. While she loves spending the day at home with Mateus, she sincerely enjoys teaching her online and night classes. Currently, she is teaching freshman composition at Glendale and Gateway
Community College. Paola also loves to write. She has recently submitted an article, an ethnographic research study she conducted in 2007, to a professional magazine, and it is under consideration for publication. While this kind of academic writing can be a creative outlet for her, she also enjoys writing children’s fiction. As a Brazilian-
American, much of her fiction is bilingual, weaving English and Portuguese within the story’s plot. Indeed, Paola’s variety of hats brings her life exciting opportunities for spending time with wonderful people and for expressing her creativity.
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My Neighborhood & The People Who Make It
I live in a neighborhood that is somewhat misunderstood. Unless someone has actually experienced living here, they probably don’t really understand what it is like. You see, my area is stereotyped as an area of social deprivation which means that there is a high rate of substance abuse, increased crime and poverty is above average. If you don’t live here then it is easy to look at the statistics and at the semi derelict buildings and make a snap judgment about the people who live here, but in the majority of cases your judgment would be wrong. You see, my neighborhood wasn’t always this way. Not too long ago we were part of a bustling industry town where almost every family had someone working in the steel mill, the textiles plant or the coal mine. However, when the industry moved out of town, that is when poverty moved in. Families moved out of the neighborhood when there was no work to be found locally and no-one moved in to replace them leave entire blocks of empty apartments. No-body wanted to take responsibility for them and a combination of vandalism and neglect has left most of them uninhabitable and fit only for demolition – if only someone was willing to pay to do it! However, all of this is superficial and if you look beyond the rather shabby exterior, you will find the people of our neighborhood and they are the ones who make it!
One thing that you might not expect in our neighborhood is the diversity in our community. We have a large population of Congolese refugees who relocated her 9 years ago from The Democratic Republic of Congo who were forced to flee their homes during the civil war. They were welcomed with open arms into the neighborhood and are now an integral part of it. They have built a gospel church and they spend time putting on family events all year round including summer fetes, Easter egg hunts and barbecues making sure to invite every single family in our neighborhood. There are now a new generation of Scottish Congolese who were born here after their families settled in the area. You might not expect to see that in a so-called socially deprived area, but here everyone is accepted. We also have large numbers of Polish, Estonian and Chinese residents.
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Another thing you might not expect is that not everyone here is unemployed, a drug addict or an alcoholic. One local teenager is heading to the Olympics this summer with the hopes of bringing back a gold medal after winning gold at the Commonwealth Games. Our local high school is one of only six sports comprehensives in the country and also houses an official SFA football school. Children travel from miles around to attend the school. Again, these are things that you probably would not expect to find in what is perceived to be a rough neighborhood.
Then, of course, there are the other people living in the community. The people who volunteer to pick up litter, maintain the old cemetery which is home to several war graves, the man who organizes charity toy drives and food parcels at Christmas for less privileged people, the locals who arrange a fireworks display on bonfire night and even the lady who leaves a biscuit on our doorstep for our dog. It is all these small actions that add up to form a community spirit within the neighborhood.
In conclusion, you cannot judge a neighborhood on superficial appearances and government statistics. The people who live within a neighborhood are what makes it great so it is necessary to look a little bit deeper and see what is really going on. You might just be surprised at what you find.