high school

All posts tagged high school

Being Authentic… to Ourselves and Each Other

Published May 28, 2020 by Maryanne

Being Authentic: A Memoir by Morhaf Al Achkar, MD, PhD

Review by Maryanne Christiano-Mistretta

While many people are complaining about being cooped up during the pandemic, I’m secretly rejoicing because I’ve been doing what I didn’t have much time for before—READING! Since the mid-March lockdown, I’ve read six books, all special in their own right.

Prior to writing this review, I questioned myself… Is it weird to say I can relate to a man who was born in Syria, two years after I graduated high school? A man who became both an MD and a PhD–whereas I struggled just to get my diploma?

First, I took the safe route and wrote the blog as a regular book review. However, after a re-read, my review appeared dull and stale. This author deserves so much more. After he exposed his deep feelings for all to read, I promised myself I should do the same. I do not see that as narcissistic, but rather compassionate. In this review I want people to see me as a person who can find something in common with almost anyone—male/female, young/older, rich/middle class/poor, black/white/mixed. Because this is what the world needs right now, to focus on what we have in common, rather than what sets us apart. (And, honestly, I’ve been quiet about politics for too long, so read on!)

Leo

Author, Morhaf Al Alchar, MD, PhD, and faithful companion, Leo! 

Morhaf Al Achkar has not reached his 40th birthday, yet he ponders death.

I question: Why is he thinking about this now? Perhaps because of his struggle with both Crohn’s disease and a stage four lung cancer; perhaps because he dealt with the devastating loss of his own mother at a young age; or perhaps because we are in the midst a pandemic, all of us facing a virus that has no cure yet. And so many people are at each other’s throats, making it political.

In his memoir, Dr. Achkar strives to be authentic—his true self. And that he is. His story is direct as he gets right to the point with no apologies. And he is vulnerable. There is absolutely no pretense. You do not feel like you are reading a book written by a doctor, with both an MD and a PhD. Instead, you are chatting with a brand new friend.

Growing up in Syria, in a family of nine children, Morhaf often locked himself in a room reading books. He was labeled the “philosopher of his family” by his father. Early on, one of his major struggles was living in a culture “with hypertrophied masculinity.” Men boasting of foolish things like beatings or shootings was the norm. There were also bullies and schoolteachers who were abusive. Wise beyond his years, Morhaf made sense of it all and did not let any of this hinder his growth as a human being. As a person who was also bullied, I relate to this.

Once I began sharing my story to others, I no longer felt shame, but rather a big relief—even empowered! When I read about other people being bullied, it’s a soft spot for me. I can’t help but get a lump in my throat. Then I immediately switch my brain to the good parts of one’s life; their triumphs!

The saving grace in this picture is Morhaf’s mother, a warm, trusting woman, but one of authority and one who greatly valued education. Reading about how his mom pushed Morhaf to take the first steps on the dance floor reminded me of my grandmother.

Grandma practically raised me since my parents were divorced and neither were around much. I think about a family reunion we had when I was about 12. My sister, cousins and I danced to the hired band. When the reunion came to an end, my grandmother encouraged me to “talk to them.” I was shy, but wanted to make Grandma happy, so with my older cousin, we went up to the stage and asked the musicians for their autographs. A parent or grandparent encouraging the kids to dance or talk to someone at a party is a great move to get a kid out of their shy shell.

Another way I relate to Morhaf is not being satisfied with religion and rituals. As a Muslim he reflects on his faith after his mother passes. I was raised without religion, so I had nothing to go by except the standards Catholic holidays that Italian families practiced. When I was 24, I met an older Filipino gentleman who became my mentor. Together we studied religions and philosophies from all over the world.

Remaining open-minded until I met some Christian friends, I decided to give Christianity a chance. But then after my grandmother died, I lost faith, the same way Morhaf felt his faith was faltering after his mother died.

I stopped going to church and celebrating any holidays that had to do with Jesus. When I returned to faith, I took it all with a grain of salt, saving the positive and discarding what seemed overbearing. I now believe in Jesus, but also Buddha, God, and The Universe.

Perhaps this is something people of all faiths go through, but not many admit. So once again, as I’m reading the book, I am grateful to Morhaf for his honesty.

Amongst his great successes, he has had his shares of disappointments too. His passion in activism inspired was an option to leave his family, but after failing a commission-based job, he returned home.

Some of the best times seem to be spent in America. At first, Morhaf lived in Columbus, Ohio with his sister and continued to study. He traveled extensively throughout the USA. In addition to his studies, he had fun adventures that young people experience like dancing, hookah nights, playing cards, consuming cheap drinks, and adopting a canine companion named Leo.

Sadly, dating was an issue, especially in Indiana, where he lived and where many women were prejudiced to his color and didn’t think twice about making racist remarks. It felt terrible to read this. I am sorry that many USA women put a bad taste in one’s mouth, but I want people from other countries to know we are not all that way.

I live in NJ, a democratic state where we are open-minded to making friends of all races and colors—without judgement. I know behind my back my conservative friends and family refer to me as a “Libtard.” It’s wrong and very hurtful.

As a spiritual person, I refuse to retaliate with words and placing derogatory memes on Facebook. Instead I pray for them. And I pray for our president, who I do not care for.

During the month Donald Trump was elected president, Dr. Morhaf was diagnosed with cancer. As a Syrian immigrant he felt affected by the ban on Muslims, fearing he would not be able to say goodbye to his family. He wrote a letter to speak of his struggles. It was published in a Huffington Post blog, entitled “Dear Mr. Trump, You Are Cancer and I Only Live If You Shrink!” The letter explained what it was like to live with what he had then perceived as a terminal illness and as a Syrian immigrant affected by the ban on Muslims. After writing the letter, he felt empowered and liberated him to engage with the Syrian struggle.

I suppose many have friends who have immigrated to the United States and have been affected by Trump’s stance. It is absolutely heartbreaking seeing families being broken up. I know one personally, and will leave it at that to protect their privacy.

Aside from the prejudice Morhaf experienced from American women, he has decided to stay single because he doesn’t want to be a burden to someone should his health fail. I seriously hope he changes his mind because true love is mending.

I’ve shared the story many times and am happy to share it again. When I first began dating my husband I was going to many doctors because I never felt right. A few doctors feared I had cancer. After many ultra-sounds, CAT scans, and countless opinions nothing was found. Seven months after dating my husband, I had one final test that showed I was cancer-free and perfectly healthy! A week later I felt better than I did my entire life! Having a supportive loving person by my side healed me. I believe that!

So, you can see why I’ve enjoyed “Being Authentic” so much. There’s enough to relate to, but also much to learn. And, that, is what a good book should be!

Morhaf’s reflections on life in his later years, while he is now, fortunately, in stable health, we see that he is a true humanitarian and invites others to be as authentic as he is. This is what I wanted from my book, “I Don’t Want to Be Like You.” I want others to share their stories without feeling disgrace. The troubled times are what got you to where you are today. Always remember that.

When we look deep inside ourselves, and share our notions in writing, the reader gets a peek at our true soul. A reader may not “get it” entirely, but the more open an author is, the more we can learn about each other; and love each other. After all, deep down we are more alike than different. This is a book everyone can learn from. And Morhaf will be remembered for writing it.

To purchase “Being Authentic” (and have a sneak peek inside the book) please click on this link: Being Authentic

Follow Morhaf Al Alchar on Twitter at: https://twitter.com/morhafalachkar

95849294_2817039011678255_9072810759997620224_oBeing Authentic book cover

 

Maryanne Christiano-Mistretta can be reached at: maryannechristiano@gmail.com.

She is available for blogging, ghost writing, writing. She is also available for book signings and motivational speaking engagements. She is the author of the following books :

“Be (Extra)Ordinary: 10 Ways to Become Your Own Hero” is available on Amazon. To get your paperback or Kindle version, visit: https://www.amazon.com/Be-Extra-Ordinary-Ways-Become/dp/1733546227

“I Don’t Want to Be Like You” is available on Amazon. To get your paperback, Kindle or audio copy, go here: https://www.amazon.com/Dont-Want-Be-Like-You/dp/1726273261

 

Teens Deserve a Voice as Much as Rock Stars

Published September 11, 2015 by Maryanne

Keith-Richards-Jerry-Garcia-630x420Photo by Jason Merritt, Getty Images, Warner Brothers

The big news in rock today is that Keith Richard bashed the Grateful Dead, calling the music of the late Jerry Garcia “boring shit, man.” (http://ultimateclassicrock.com/keith-richards-grateful-dead-comment/).

People are all over Facebook putting in their two cents. Since I follow rock groups, it’s most people that agree with Keith … agreeing that The Grateful Dead suck.

In later years our tastes change. As a woman in my early 50s, I’ve grown to the point where I enjoy some Grateful Dead songs and will listen on a Sirius, but I have no desire to see them live or purchase their music. As a teen, my attitude was not so kind. I agreed with Keith — they were boring shit. (Sorry, Jerry!) However, unlike Mr. Keith Richard, I was bullied, relentlessly, for my opinion.

I suppose Keith Richard will never have three guys attack him in a school hallway and have a teacher turn a blind eye. (Yes, that happened to me — a little girl, skinny, and probably the smallest in the class). Simply because I didn’t like the Grateful Dead, as most of my high school did. No, it was 1979 and I liked PUNK ROCK.

So every day I was punished for my musical tastes. When I shared with my husband that three guys tried to beat me up (again this tiny little thing) he said, “What kind of guys did you go to school with? I was always taught to respect girls.” PIGS! That’s the kind of kids I went to school with. Disrespectful, disgusting, fools who didn’t know how to be kind to others. By now half of them are probably serving time.

In another incident, a German girl who got left back a year in order to learn to speak English properly, was twice my size and always picked on me. I wasn’t sure why. We were once friends but one day she was over my house, playing in the pool. My mother told her not to splash around so much. Since then the German girl harassed me. I think she had a crush on my mom, as she always told me how beautiful she was. So since my mother yelled at her, she took her garbage out on me. She never laid a hand on me, but she threatened and verbally abused from grade school throughout high school. Then one day she actually took a photograph of me while I was changing for gym class. This German girl was now 18-years-old, picking on me — still a minor at 17. Again, twice my size. I was a tiny thing. She was a woman. I was still a kid. Shame on HER. Interesting one time she was in the school bathroom, strung out on acid, crying to me that she was upset I had a boyfriend and she didn’t. I thought that was an ice-breaker and an opportunity to be friends. Feeling bad, I listened. But then she came down from her trip and the bullying resumed.

These are just two incidents, but there were many … every single day and not one teacher did anything to help.

Did I deserve this, just because I chose to listen to punk rock?

What can I say, I thought The Clash had a lot more to say than, “truckin’ like a doo-dah man.” Though the funny thing is The Grateful Dead are about love and community, right? How funny that me, the little punk rocker, was just a shy, but good-hearted kid who was a great friend given the chance. Once I became a senior, in 1980 to 1981, I was happy to defend younger children from bullies. Listening to punk rock eventually gave me confidence — and a voice.

What was really funny though was one Halloween when I decided to go to school dressed like a Dead Head. Instead of wearing my leather jacket and black Nancy Spungeon make-up, I went to school without make-up. All these hypocrites approached me telling me I was “so pretty.” They were nice to me for one day because I fit in.

If not being true to myself meant making fake friends, I wanted no part of it.

SAM_1942“Scumbag” and “Dog” were names I was called every day

So where were you, back in 1979, Keith Richard? Gathering no moss, of course. Now you are an old codger who has paid your dues. Everyone listens to what you have to say and puts in their two cents. God bless you.

But, let me take this opportunity to put in a voice to those who need it: teenagers (and children) who are being bullied and harassed RIGHT THIS MOMENT just like I was once, simply for being themselves. In the words of the late Joe Strummer, “Go easy, step lightly … stay free.”

And in my own words, DEAR TEENAGERS:

Please be strong! Don’t do anything horrible, like killing yourself. I know I wished I was dead, many times, but that is not the answer. Be strong and be YOU-nique. There is life after high school and things do change. Though adults are no better and still bully, but in more passive/aggressive ways, so there is no escape. The good news is, as you grow, you’ll find others who are just like you — and know, in your heart, that your life has a purpose. People need you and someday you’ll be the one who inspires others!

Much love from one who has been there, Maryanne xo

SAM_8410Today = 52 and happy as shit! ❤

Here is my most recent interview on anti-bullying on The Drew Carson show (my segment is about 12 minutes in) http://www.podcastgarden.com/episode/maryanne-christiano-mistretta-interview_57952

Maryanne Christiano-Mistretta is the author of “On the Guest List: Adventures of a Music Journalist.” This book shares her experiences with bullying. Available on Amazon: http://www.amazon.com/gp/product/162903908X

She is also an anti-bullying motivational speaker. Email for rates and availability: maryannechristiano@gmail.com

Westfield High School Students Shine as Paper Mill’s ‘Rising Star’ Nominees

Published May 17, 2013 by Maryanne

SAM_0832Westfield High School cast and crew of “Bat Boy: The Musical”

Photo by Maryanne Christiano-Mistretta

Yesterday morning I had the pleasure of interviewing some students from the cast and crew of “Bat Boy: The Musical.”

This play received many nominations for the Paper Mill Play House Rising Star awards which will happen on June 4.

Note, Jersey girl and Academy Award winner Anne Hathaway received a Paper Mill Rising Star award, back in the day!

Enjoy my full article here: http://thealternativepress.com/articles/westfield-high-school-students-shine-as-paper-mil

Chapter 2 of My Music Book

Published March 26, 2013 by Maryanne

Lori BurtonLori Burton inspired me! (Photo from Google Search)

Here is chapter 2 of the music memoir I am working on. Any feedback appreciated.

CHAPTER 2 – Number 9 Dream

High school was not a fun place for me and I never got why. It wasn’t until many later years, when I started my own home-based business that I learned I am way too creative to live by any structure. And I am not a team player either.

I did my duty and got good grades in some classes like art, music theory (I, II and III), creative writing, English and child development. And got by the skin of my teeth in other areas, including gym, which is surprising because later in life I became a health advocate who exercises regularly and follows a pretty impressive health regimen.

I found it so hard to fit in with other kids. No one really interested me except a dreamy poetic soul named Sandy who I became friends with. Sandy, like me, wore satin pants to school. She once told me, “When I brought these pants I said, ‘Good-bye to Sandra Dee’” quoting from the popular movie “Grease.” Like me, Sandy was trying to find her way. But Sandy found her niche with the smart kids who wrote for the school newspaper and those who went to Bible studies; whereas I never found my niche, only a part of me could connect with any given group. I just couldn’t commit myself as others did. I was too much a free spirit.

I crossed my school days off the calendar like a prisoner counting down his jail time. I dreamed about being like the rock chicks and rock muses I saw in Rock Scene magazine. I bleached my hair blonde to look like they did – Cyrinda Foxe, Debbie Harry, Cherie Curie and Nancy Spungeon.

Needless to say, this did not fly in 1979 where suburban kids in Little Falls, New Jersey were still grasping on to the Summer of Love and thought Jim Morrison was God. All fine and good, but at the time I fancied myself a modern girl at heart and was more into The Sex Pistols (but kept my Doors records stashed away in a closet because every so often I liked hearing the song “Touch Me.”)

My room didn’t even look like the rooms of other kids – well, at least not the girls, who kept dolls on their canapé beds. The walls of my bedroom were plastered with Creem magazine covers. And my prized collection was a beautiful bookcase my mom got me, where the bottom part was large enough to fit records. My growing album collection was filling up the bookcase nicely.

Kids in school threw rocks at me because I wore a lot of eye make-up and had bleached blonde hair with the roots showing. Extremely tame compared to what rock kids eventually morphed into in years to come. Today young people have magenta hair and facial piercings, and depending on where you live, it’s socially accepted. But sad to say bullying is still a very serious issue, which no child or teen should have to endure.

Even though my musical tastes were more modern than my school mates, I did get along fine with my music theory class and spent some time hanging out with some of the guys in that class, like my friend Teddy, an easy going, laid back Dead Head who was very nice to me and allowed me into his circle, even though some of his friends didn’t get me.

Teddy had a very cool cousin, George Hall who went to another school in West Milford, but came down to visit from time to time. George and I were both very into music and became friends fast. We went to see the movie “Hair” one night and the next night George invited me over to dinner at his father’s.

His father, Warren Hall, lived in a townhouse, The Claridge House in Verona owned by his girlfriend, Lori Burton (Cicala). Lori was a famous singer and song writer. She sang back up with May Pang and John Lennon on his song, “Number 9 Dream.”

The gold record was hanging up in the dining room. She also wrote the song, “Ain’t Gonna Eat out My Heart Anymore” which was recorded by the Rascals, as well as one of my favorite bands at the time, Angel. So needless to say, I was impressed to have met her.

I got along great with Lori and she was a loyal friend to me even when not in my presence. George once told me he shared with Lori that I was having problems with other kids in school because I had bleached blonde hair and wore heavy eye make-up.

But Lori defended me and said, “So what’s a little bit of eye make-up?” Little did she know at the time her words changed my life.

While guidance counselors and the school psychiatrist felt it best that I change my image to fit in with the other students, I stuck to my guns and continued to be the “me” I felt most comfortable with.

The only time I ever looked somewhat like the other students was one Halloween when I came to school without make-up and wore jeans and a Grateful Dead t-shirt I borrowed from a girl who borrowed my clothes to be a rock chick. Everyone told me I looked pretty without make-up, but it just wasn’t me. I couldn’t wait to get back to being the real Maryanne again the next day. Back to normal. My normal.

Thank you, Lori Burton, for making me realize that everyone has their own personality and should embrace wherever they are at – at that moment.

No one should change for anyone. I’m glad I didn’t.

 By Maryanne Christiano-Mistretta, COPYRIGHT 2013