The red shoes.


The red shoes.
by Ari Siletz

Shohreh pampers her pretty eleven year old daughter as much as any mother I know. She will spare no sacrifice to make sure Nahid is comfortable, goes to the best school, and has everything she needs to command the respect of her peers so that she can lead a happy social life. Ballet, piano, voice lessons, latest Ipad, school field trips to Europe, birthday gifts worth the cost of feeding a whole village in Somalia.

I like Nahid. She has been taught the good manners of a Persian child and seems to actually delight in being pleasant. But somehow, despite the talent, classy upbringing, and the freedoms she has as a child with liberal parents, I feel an odd sadness for her. She is in perfect health, but my heart reaches out to her the way it would for a child in a wheelchair. It wasn’t until last winter’s heavy rains in Los Angeles that I got a clue as to what Nahid’s disability may be.

We had taken Shohreh’s shopping car--a Lexus SUV—to the mall to buy a pair of red party shoes for Nahid. It was a boy’s birthday a couple of mansions up the hill in their neighborhood and Nahid didn’t have the right kind of red shoes. I had said perhaps we should wait for the rain to stop. It was pouring like I have never seen it pour in LA. But Shohreh was worried that if the rains didn’t stop then the streets would flood and Nahid wouldn’t get her shoes in time.

In the mall parking lot, it looked like everyone had had the same worry that if they didn’t do their shopping right then, they may not be able buy what they needed until after the rains stopped. As Shohreh drove into the frighteningly busy parking lot, I thought it would take us a long time to find a parking spot. But Shohreh confidently drove into a spot only a few meters away from the mall entrance, turned off the car and ordered everyone out.

“Shohreh jaan,” I said, “The sign says pregnant women or those with small children

“I won’t get a ticket,” she explained. “This is mall property, not city property. They don’t even check the pregnant women spot because the law doesn’t require it. Only disabled parking spots get tickets.”

“Still…” I said flabbergasted. “It’s not about the ticket. Even if this spot is just a courtesy…”

She stared at me like I was an idiot. “Aamrikaayee baazi dar nayaar! “Which pregnant mom is going to go shopping in this rain? No one will know. Besides they have umbrellas.”

“Shohreh, we have umbrellas too,” I said. “And the only reason this spot is available is because everyone else has been respecting the sign,” Nahid was eyeing the conversation, perhaps to see if this will turn into a mom and dad fight.

“I do this all time,” Shohreh said petulantly.

“OK, but this time it is raining pretty hard. Leaving this spot open for people who really need it is more important now than before when its nice and sunny.”

I offered to park the car while they went inside to shop, but Shohreh gave me another idiot stare and said it wouldn’t be as much fun shopping without me. Meanwhile I could see in Nahid’s face that she was torn between the high ideals they teach at her very expensive school and day-to-day reality where even her mom didn’t believe in them.

Hypocrisy is learned. It is painful and psychologically disfiguring for a child to see a role model act contrary to what is praised as moral. Her still developing conscience will forever trouble her as she walks through life, in just the way a malformed spinal chord would trouble her as she puts one foot in front of the other. Fewer drops of rain on the child's head wasn’t worth damaging her in a way that one would feel as sorry for her as for a child in a wheelchair.

While we walked the shopping mall looking for red shoes, I got Shohreh to talk about her own mom.


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by Joshr on

Having red shoes in your compilation is a brilliant idea. There are so a lot of
types of shoes with diverse designs and styles to choose from to make your red
shoes unique. From red strappy high heels shoes to red wedges, the choice is
yours to compose.

desideratum.anthropomorphized anonymous000


by desideratum.anthropomorph... on

Thank you for giving this attention, and for your candid response.  Tangentially, it amused me a little to see how one blog has drawn different reactions each pulling to one direction – zanne khod va yaare man etc. !


Both stories of personal experience you share are illustrative.  In dealing with any perceived difference from the “norm,” societies have historically, to various degrees, moved from fear to a description or understanding of victimhood, and further along the line, to compassion too.  There’s a long way to go between pure compassion and real acceptance.  At the cost of boxing your former housemate’s experience in a category in disregard of her unique reaction, I suspect it must have been real recognition that she’d been after and found wanting.


If I take off my professional hat and do without all the ingrained analytics, I must admit that the empathy versus sympathy platform easily falls apart under the feet in real life if all that advocacy and educational efforts aim for is empathy alone.  Compared to any other manifestation of difference (think whatever fits in the civil rights movement, old and ongoing), with a little self-awareness, physical and mental vulnerability should be the easiest to see oneself potentially exposed to.  The difficult progressive leap, then, isn’t “what if I’m there one day?” but “in what ways I would want to be received and recognized in the social space if I’m there some day.”   That’s how empathy – a particularly conscious product of compassion, compassion towards oneself and others – grows into recognition.


On the writing front, and how one portrays things and how the text will live its own life and is read through different eyes, I have a long way to go myself before I can say anything of use.  But, in agreement with your statement about the influence of writers on the public, and more addressed to myself than to others, I can say so much that when it comes to attitudinal change, all my years of privilege in the bubble of learning armchairs (a la Google not Freud – just kidding!) weigh less than a piece of writing that is able to reach the public’s mind and hart.  What’s good wire to do that, I don’t know just yet. But perhaps carrying a microscope in your pocket to detect traces of prejudicial mindset in oneself and others – whether conscious or mere slips, is a first step?


More to be said on ongoing projects, so far as they relate to the Iranian culture by and large, and literature and film specifically in their impact on social attitude vis-à-vis differences.  But I fear this may not be an apt forum to disclose identity (in cyberspace, illusion of anonymity is sometimes as effective as its reality!)


Great Article, it cut very deep.

by amirparvizforsecularmonarchy on

This is why it is ironic for us call ourselves Iranian meaning noble people, when we are even lying about pursuit of ideals and choose to deny our lack of good character. 

I can't imagine how tough it must be to live and work in an environment/country where you hear 10 different answers to the same question from 10 different people.  Getting to the truth and being an example for the truth is critical to alleviate the suffering that our society experiences at its own hands.

Shah and many of the people around him must have been very compassionate and loving people to have served iranians despite their deficiencies and backward religious beliefs based on proveable lies and corruption. 

Pity is when you have 1,000,000 liars all saying one thing and it clearly is wrong, you get either labelled a dictator for not going along with them or against human rights by not giving violent terrorists a voice.




Living with lies

by Princess on

Thanks for another thoughtful blog, Ari.

Some people would argue that living with lies is in our blood. Even a relatively recent movie (About Elly ) has tried to deal with topic. The scariest thing is it has become so second nature that sometimes we don't even realise we are doing it.

But your story deals with more than just the question of lies and hypocrisy. It touches on the issue of the disrespect for not only the law, for other citizens. I sometimes wonder if it is only selfishness or if it is about a much more deeply rooted complex. 




by comments on

I found your writings enlightening.  One should have some criticisms if he finds one’s writing great; unfortunately, I don't at present. 


I love to read Iranian thoughts about anything especially when well-organized.

Ari Siletz


by Ari Siletz on

There are so many variations on, "It's not what you say that matters,
its' what you do," all meant to convey that our actions are more
important than how we come across. This has never been true of writers.
What else do writers "do" but "say" to influence the actions of many
other people? Even though the response of my person to your criticism
is, "That's not how I feel or what I meant," a piece of writing, however
personal, is not a person. It's a public prescription for mindset and
attitude. Which is why I need your help to sort things out. Here are a couple of paragraphs to orient you as my guide.  

Having been on the receiving end of the disability pity very briefly and
in a miniscule way, I have visited a corner of where thinkers like Mc
Bryde Johnson may be coming from. Decades ago, during a hay fever storm,
I had to wear a pollen mask in the streets. A father and his little
girl were walking by, and the daughter seemed alarmed by my appearance. I
heard the father explain to her, “Allergy victim” in a tone so as to
teach her that the proper response is pity, not fear. Now, I had never
thought of myself as a “victim” of any sort--even though my condition
was quite incapacitating at times. Had the father just said, “He’s got
bad hay fever,” I wouldn’t have felt categorized in a neatly excludable
from. That, for me, was the moment of recognizing the difference between
pity and compassion. Pity excludes while compassion includes. Before
patting myself on the back, I should say that even with this realization
I was off the mark when it came to my attitude towards people with

At the time, I was housemates with a young woman who couldn’t use one
arm. One day during her freshman year in college she had collapsed in
class and when she regained consciousness, half her body was paralyzed.
She had made a remarkable recovery but the arm was never the same and
she still walked with difficulty. I had never believed her when she said
she had found it easier to accept having only one working arm than to
adapt to how people viewed her after the stroke. The hay fever mask
episode had given me a brief and vague glimpse into this social reality,
but it took many more years of life experience before I saw that she
wasn’t just talking about pity; she didn’t want people’s compassion or
empathy eithe
! It shriveled her emotional universe that considerate
feelings about her condition had become the dominant emotion in all
first acquaintances and often beyond.

This is where my insight is currently stuck. Am I there yet? I ask
because if  you detect insensitivity in my writings that works to expel
story characters with disabilities, then obviously I’m still partly blind (not a
Freudian slip) in some way.


Iranian to the root

by divaneh on

The lack of respect for law and social norms in the West is demonstrated by most people who are coming from less developed countries such as Iran. In the UK there is a hidden class awareness and such behaviour is an indication of a lower class. It is very interesting to see some Iranians riding their expensive cars that they expect to bring them some class and then they show their real class with their action. Those who are brought up here or have lived here for a long time seem to have more respect for the law and regulations. Some however never change.

Ari Siletz

desideratum, criticism not insignificant at all.

by Ari Siletz on

Since the reply is a discussion on an important and subtle topic of general interest to all writers, it will take longer than the "comment norm" to formulate and express. Please check this blog again tomorrow.

desideratum.anthropomorphized anonymous000

Out of context, but (hopefully) not out of line

by desideratum.anthropomorph... on

Dear Ari, Thank you for a blog with a worthy reminder. As an infrequent visitor of this site and a selective reader, I try to read a good deal of what you write so much as possible and rarely leave without a take-away. So much as you write as a community service, I am grateful for that (and no less so for the esthetics of good writing!) I’m concerned, however, about the text’s both position and tone about disability. Your usual, evident humanism translates into a feeling of pity (or sympathy at best). While this might sound insignificant to many in the larger context of the blog’s message, for those of us who are working towards an inclusive, democratic ideal of a society, it unwittingly reaffirms and reinforces one of the dark spots in society’s approach to another kind of difference -- disability. I once (or twice if my memory doesn’t fail me) tried to engage with a similar position in one of your stories (as I recall now, relating to a woman who had lost her sight and her lover?) through a comment (I’m writing in haste and am unable to dig that up but would be happy to do so later if that’s needed – apologies for a statement without support), but didn’t get any response (quite possibly due to my own inadequate articulation of it). I hope this is taken as an invitation to reconsider a point worth thinking about, rather than an out of context criticism. And since we’re talking wheelchair, I thought to recommend this piece (if for no other reason but that it may be on par with the quality of your own writing). Harriet McBryde Johnson, Unspeakable Conversations, NY Times Magazine, February 16, 2003 //

Anahid Hojjati

Thanks Ari for your blog

by Anahid Hojjati on

I enjoyed reading the story. The quest to shop even in extreme weather. Thanks for sharing.


Thank you.

by comments on

Thank you.  I usually stop by to improve my writing skill in here.  This time was a fine emotional experience.

I never disobey driving laws, and I am so fond of courtesy.  On the other hand, I don't blame Shohreh for who she is.  Many people know when to be "smarties", and others like Shohreh has no clue, and they experience their "smarties" skill by parking in a pregnant designated spot.  I wouldn't be much worred about the influence on Nahid.


I have been psychologically disfigured and I wonder ….

by Bavafa on

How many of us "Iranians" are not!!!!

For a number of years (10+) I have been on a quest of not to lie. I mean I was never one of those who perpetually lied just for any reason, but if I was in a jam, lets say to get a visa or in a job interview, things that generally we Iranians consider harmless and not a "lie" I would say to get by.

Well, at first it was extremely difficult, I learned it is not easy to be FULLY honest and I admired those friends who could say it all in honesty even if it was painful to say the truth. Another hard part has been dealing with family members, who would fib for no apparent reason and when confronted, they brush it off as "oh this is not going to harm any one"

Doing the right thing is not always the easiest, but it is always the best path.

Really enjoyed your story and feel for Nahid.

'Vahdat' is the main key to victory