Mario Eugene Shell (The Person I Almost Was): If I’m Both Hispanic and White, Which Box Do I Check in Those Surveys?

If only I looked more ethnic.


It’s hard to fathom now, but the entire time my mom knew she was pregnant with me (from October 1980 to April 1981) her “boy name” for me was Mario Eugene Shell.  But of course, my name is instead Nicholas Shane Shell.  Why?  I “didn’t look like a Mario”.  In other words, I was too white.

In essence, I am a mixed race- technically only half white.  One of the main ways I determine whether or not a person is “white” (other than their skin color) is by looking at their last name- if it ends in a vowel, they are probably not white.  My mom’s maiden name was Metallo (Italian) and her mother’s maiden name was Mendez (it doesn’t end in a vowel but it’s common knowledge that Mexicans are not “white”- especially not the ones in my family- they have darker skin).

My dad (a Southern boy of English, German, Cherokee Indian, and distant Greek traces) had married this exotic black haired woman from the North (Buffalo, NY).  It was assumed that their child would take after the more ethnic features, like mocha skin and black curly hair.  But on April 20, 1981 at 8:37 PM, both my parents were amazed to hold a seemingly All-American baby.

They looked at each other, then my mom said to my dad, “He’s not a Mario.  We need a new name.”  A few hours later, before midnight, still on the day I was born, I was named Nicholas (a Greek name that is a popular Italian male name).  My middle name is Shane, which is a form of Sean, which is a form of the Hebrew (Jewish) name, John.  (Shane was considered for my first name but “Shane Shell” really doesn’t work.)

And that’s how I got my name- a quickly formed “plan B”.  To imagine, if I looked more Mexican (like my sister, though she’s often mistaken for Hawaiian) or even a dark-skinned Italian, I would have been Mario Eugene.  (My dad’s middle name is Eugene.)  That’s means that growing up, everyone at school would have called me Super Mario and constantly made references to video game series.  But I don’t think it would have been all that different from my actual childhood, where everyone sang “Nick-nick-nick-nick-nick-nick-nick-nick, Nickelodeon!” to me.  And some people still do… Aunt Rosa!

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Dane Cook is to Comedy What Benny Hinn is to Christianity

In regards to our own religious beliefs, or lack of them, it all ultimately comes down to the classic case of choosing to either overlook or focus on the best or worst of extremes and using that viewpoint as the unchangeable standard to support what we believe.

When it comes to my involvement with facebook, I’m more of an observer and less of a participant.  I’ll comment on people’s pictures and random status updates (as a way to “stay in the loop” with people I haven’t seen in years, because sometimes, there’s nothing really new to say to them, just “hey, how are you doing?”).  It may be safe to say that I tend to get the most enjoyment by reading the controversial status updates that at least 20 people comment on.  It’s just funny, if nothing else, to see the original “status updater” provoke that many people to argue with him or her, or other commenters.

In the last few weeks, I’ve seen several occurrences of this scenario involving religious sorts of proclamations.  The status updater makes a statement that at least in some subtle tone indicates that people who belong to any sort of religion (typically Christianity is specifically targeted) are gullible and naïve.  Then all those who are also non-religious and outspoken jump on the “no god wagon” which in turn provokes those who are religious to either defend themselves or their beliefs.

Benny Hinn, saying his famous catch phrase, "Be healed!"

By being a silent spectator of these events, I get to learn exactly how those who are disgusted by/apathetic towards religion became that way.  It seems a lot of the time the reason they stopped believing in God has to do with other people they saw who were in some way hypocritical.  Or televangelists who make money by telling their listeners they can become rich and blessed by giving money to the church and/or buying his book on “abundant living”.  Or judgmental church marquee signs that try to be cute by scarring people into church: “Without the bread of life, you’re toast!”  (A reference to Holy Smoke). Or because they visited a church one time and were either really bored or ignored by everyone.  Or because they never got a satisfying answer to this question: Why Do Bad Things Happen to Good People ? (Click that title to read why.)

Or any other of the thousands of reasons why the concept of God coming to Earth in the form of a Jewish man to die for the sins of the entire world (who was raised back to life after three days, then 40 days later ascend to Heaven) because He loves them and wants a personal relationship with them and will give them eternal life yet will cast them to hell if they don’t believe doesn’t seem logical, practical, or coherent.

And here's your host for "Your Best Life Now", superstar Joel Osteen!...

There are so many reasons not to believe.  I can see how it could be pretty easy to focus on any of them.  But just like the way nonbelievers focus on any of those reasons for a basis for not believing, I overlook all those reasons and instead focus on all the other thousands of reasons to actually believe.

At the end of the day (and more literally, our earthly life), we will have had the free will to choose which reasons why we do or do not believe.  I won’t get into all the details here, but the whole reason I exist ultimately goes back to a scam in 1973 involving some shady tent revival “preachers” who convinced my grandparents to sell all their belongs (and give the money to the church, which in turn went to the preachers) and move from Buffalo, NY (to avoid a prophesied national famine that never came) to Fort Payne, AL (the “Promised Land”, safe from the national famine).  Ultimately, my parents met as teenagers, both being forced to go to that weird church.  They got married four years later, then four years after that, I was born.

What, is it a sin or judgmental that I don't think this guy is funny? Dane, if you're reading this, sorry- I'll buy you lunch. Email me.

If anyone had a reason to be bitter or disgusted or simply just “through with” organized religion and/or God, it was my family.  But instead, they chose to recognize that they had been misled by deceptive people who claimed to be following God.  They chose to trust in God despite of other people, not allowing faulted human beings to get in the way with their relationship with God.

Of all the reasons not to believe in God, the one that I understand the least is the fact that hypocrites and less-than-perfect Christians exist.  To judge an entire religion because of the worst specimens seems unfair to everyone.  I love comedy and comedians.  I’m not a fan of Dane Cook or Larry the Cable Guy, but I don’t denounce comedy in general because of what I perceive as poor example of what a comedian is.  But ultimately sometimes it’s much easier to judge an entire group by picking out the worst examples as the mascot for the whole team.

Yes.  Greedy, selfish, hateful, people are all around who call themselves Christians.  But there are also the ones that don’t make the headlines.  The ones who demand less attention.  The ones risking their lives to help starving and dying villages in the poorest parts of the world.  But instead, Christianity is often judged by our worst examples.

And as hard as I try to be a perfect Christian and try to be a good example for everyone, I will constantly miss the mark in some way.  If I personally was the only example of Christianity for the whole world to see, it would be dangerous for Christianity.  The world would see my sincerity, my love for others, my time in prayer for so many people, my humility in my constant trusting in God for all the unseen and the future.  But they would see me mess up too.  My pride, my selfishness, and my shame.

Multiply that concept by the hundreds of millions, to symbolize all the Christians of the world.  What would onlookers choose to see?  Just the good?  Just the bad?  Both?  Whatever the answer is, that’s most likely how you see God, or don’t.

Free will is a complicated and dangerous thing.


What Howard Gardner’s Theory of Multiple Intelligences Taught Me about Why I Have Such a Good Memory

 

In 1988 for Ms. Riddle’s 2nd grade reading class we had to write a poem telling about a time when we really wanted something for a long time and finally got it. I remember Susan Johnson writing about getting to go to the beach. And Diego Reynoso wrote about getting a pet dog. That was the general idea of the assignment. I, on the other hand, wrote a poem about how happy I was when my dad went to the True Value hardware store and bought an adapter so I could play my Atari games on the TV in my bedroom.

Ten years and 3 weeks ago I walked across the stage for my high school graduation. All seniors had been given a document from the principal listing the proper attire to wear underneath our gowns. We were clearly told to wear black shoes. The token rebel thing to do was to go barefoot. I, instead, chose to wear canary yellow Saucony tennis shoes and hold out a stick of Mentos candy to the audience as I crossed the stage. It’s simply what’s expected from the kid who was voted “One and Only” for the Senior Who’s Who.

One question I have consistently been asked throughout my lifetime is, “You just HAVE to be different, don’t you?” Assuming it must be true, I would always casually agree. But then two weeks ago my wife came back from one of her Master’s classes for Childhood Education and dropped some science on me. Having learned Howard Gardner’s Theory of Multiple Intelligence (1983), she told me that I am a “visual-linguistic learner”. That’s when it was officially confirmed: Yes, I HAVE to be different.

 

I have been hard-wired to seek out the road less travelled, every time. Not a rebel in the expected way, but a rebel in the fact I am prone to find a different perspective on everything I encounter in life. I was never the annoying kid in class who tried to argue with the teacher. That kid always annoyed me. But I was the kid who, when given a project, always ended up with the weirdest possible submission and was able to pull it off.

Noted, my long-term memory is often exceptionally unbelievable. In high school, many people were forced to be made aware of my obsession with 1980’s trivia, since I could correctly tell the year of any movie or song, my specialty being 1983. In college, most people who knew me were forced to be made aware that they could name any celebrity and I could accurately tell the height of that celebrity. I’m simply not much fun to play against in modern trivia board games like Scene It or Trivial Pursuit and being the first to solve the puzzle while watching Wheel of Fortune just comes natural.

And it turns out I’m not the only one. A quick visit to Wikipedia helped my life make a lot more sense:

“Verbal-linguistic Intelligence

This area has to do with words, spoken or written. People with high verbal-linguistic intelligence display a facility with words and languages. They are typically good at reading, writing, telling stories and MEMORIZING WORDS ALONG WITH DATES. They tend to learn best by reading, taking notes, listening to lectures, and discussion and debate. They are also frequently skilled at explaining, teaching and oration or persuasive speaking. Those with verbal-linguistic intelligence learn foreign languages very easily as they have high verbal memory and recall, and an ability to understand and manipulate syntax and structure. This intelligence is highest in writers, lawyers, philosophers, journalists, politicians, poets, and teachers.”

Being raised my whole life in the South, people from the North and out West have always questioned my lack of a Southern accent. Because my mom moved from Buffalo, NY when she was 14, I always assumed that neutralized me. But after realizing anyone who’s ever met my mom says she actually has one of the biggest Southern accents out there, I’ve recently come to terms with the truth there is another reason people think I’m from Pennsylvania or Ohio.

The reason: I am overly aware of how words are supposed to sound. I could never bring myself to say “Eh’ll seeh yuh nehxt Tuesdee, Eh reckin!” (“I’ll see you next Tuesday, I reckon!”) For me, that’s a sin. That’s breaking so many rules of pronunciation and is a threat to clear communication. I never realized I was so OCD about words and speech.

Speaking of communication, when I met my wife for the first time on October 5, 2006, it was her beauty that captured me from across the crowded lobby. Anytime I revisit that event with her she confirms it was because I was good at telling stories and entertaining her that caused a random new stranger like me to be able to steal her attention. (I purposely stood next to her as we waited in an hour long line- that’s how we met.) As we began dating four months later (to the day) and immediately fell in love thereafter, two particular things attracted her most to me: 1) I knew “who I was” and was confident in that, 2) She knew because of my random knowledge that we would never run out of things to talk about.

Not because I was suave and charming, but because my randomness of speech worked for me.

So thanks to Howard Gardner, it’s safe to say I’m not that weird after all. Actually, I am- but at least now I have been diagnosed. While I may be a bit of a prodigy at a few things, any talent I have in other fields is completely absent: Math, science, multi-tasking (driving while talking on a cell phone), and sports (except Corn Hole and Mario Kart Wii). Like by magnetic force, I am drawn to what is offbeat and untrendy.

This, has been my version of a Top 25 or a “Which Power Ranger Would You Be?” quiz.

The other intelligences…
http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Theory_of_multiple_intelligences