Angie Hilem Talks Human About Our Capacity to Help Each Other and Keep Learning.

If you’re constantly learning new things and if you’re constantly working on being a better version of yourself, that’s the point.
— Angie Hilem

Angie Hilem sits down to talk human to me about capacity to help and care for each other, the working class, understanding poverty and underserved communities, teaching and education in urban communities, her father's different point of views, her relationship with her mother and illness, universal truths, and why it's important to keep learning.

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Our Conversation with Angie Hilem

Jeffrey Shiau: [0:23] Alright lets get started here. Angie, thanks for being like water, being fluid this is totally out of the blue where we were just having breakfast this morning and an hour later I was like, ‘Wait can I come over and record an episode with you?’. [Laughs] So thanks for being flexible with your time today.  

Angie Hilem: [0:46] I don’t think anyone has ever said I’m like water but I’m pretty into it.

Jeffrey Shiau: [0:52] It’s Bruce Lee-ing it, it’s Bruce Lee.

Angie Hilem: [0:53] [Laughs] That’s what I’m saying.

Jeffrey Shiau: [0:56] Ok so I start every episode of Talk Human To Me with the same question and that is, ‘What about humans strikes you the most?’

Angie Hilem: [1:15] That is a really loaded question and immediately I think about our capacity to help each other and care...because that’s the thing that really sets us apart, right? I the Bay Area there’s actually a species of whale that’s been saving seals from killer whales [Orcas] and this year, you know there’s a bunch of really cool organizations that are preserving and studying marine life here. Those tour bus, tour ship boats that you can take, there are some that are actually lead by marine biologists so that the information that they give you is really scientific and they’re actually conducting research while you’re on this cool trip. Any who, so Nick, my husband and I are constantly looking into that because we’d like to do it again, we did it once in Monterey and it was really great.

All this to say that previously only certain primates were thought to really care about other animals and other species outside of their own but whales do it too and you know what even though there’s a lot of ugly in the world and sometimes we get hung up on people who are self seeking, I immediately think about how many times in my life there has been someone to care and just do that little bit extra so that I felt supported and I didn’t feel completely alone. 

Jeffrey Shiau: [2:52] What do you think it is that prevents humans from caring for each other? That kind of eluded to all the crazy shit that’s happening around the world right now, why would this huge capacity to care for each other and ultimately care for each other...

Angie Hilem: [3:13] So you know Maslow’s ‘Hierarchy of Needs’?

Jeffrey Shiau: [3:15] Yeah.

Angie Hilem: [3:16] How the most basic needs are necessary to be met prior to actualization but even under actualization, right, you’ve got your basic needs, you’ve got your emotional comfort, without having all those things an individual doesn’t even have the capacity to care for somebody else because you’re constantly in fear. Granted a lot of the times the people that are most greedy, are the people that have the most wealth and it’s because of what they value. So even though on an objective more general scale, it seems like they should be the happiest and most willing to help, they’re not, and they are so far away from imagining that life could be like any other way, that they are just constantly trying to seek different forms of validation and what’s next for them because they are on this upward trajectory that they don’t even...

Jeffrey Shiau: [4:12] Validation of money?

Angie Hilem: [4:15] A lot of times it’s money, sometimes it’s owning things, right? It’s because there’s such a big divide between the haves and have nots, that if you didn’t grow up working class or lower class or you know poor,’s hard to think like that. So because of fear, because of one’s individual needs being met they literally do not have the capacity. Sometimes they just don’t have the interest and sometimes they’re completely unaware and oblivious to the fact that their neighbor might be suffering, or that they could do something slightly different in their life or support a small business instead of going to a Walmart. These things have a huge impact, and I’d like to think that more people are becoming conscious and everything that they do,  because there’s a shift towards this awakening that’s happening, but there are still people that are blissfully unaware. It’s not even blissfully unaware, it’s like they’re freaking miserable, they have everything they could possibly need but they’re not happy.

Jeffrey Shiau: [5:31] So these people who we just observed that are almost on void of concern or just ignoring those that are suffering, are actually suffering themselves.

Angie Hilem: [5:47] Oh for sure but it’s just a different way, right, we all have struggles, we all have things that make us hate ourselves sometimes but depending on the pace of one’s life and the resources that individual has, they all just...they look different and you know for someone with less money, less resources, less education, even though they might be similar struggles, they are just far more detrimental.

Jeffrey Shiau: [6:26] Do you think that actually is the opposite side of the same coin with caring then? Because when you were just talking about this it made me think, ‘Well what makes people suffer?’ and it’s usually if someone were to point something out what makes them suffer, it’s usually something that doesn’t necessarily care about them and is preventing them from having something that is allowing them to be well and to be cared for, and so therefore the thing that makes them suffer, they also no longer care for,  they almost have a visceral or maybe sometimes even a violent, as you see in war, as you see in conflicts between people where care completely disappears. Because like you said fundamentally I think...I agree with you, I think people genuinely care about each other even if they’re strangers but if one of the strangers is making you suffer, you’re going to...

Angie Hilem: [7:28] Or inconveniencing you, right? So it’s interesting that you use the word ‘well’, right, like being well because what is wellness? There’s holistic wellness, where it’s mental and physical and again there’s a shift happening where people understand that they are very much connected, if you exercise more it’s going to increase your endorphins and endorphins make people happy and happy people don’t kill people, you know, Legally Blonde. [Laughs] Cinematic classic. [Laughs]

Jeffrey Shiau:  [8:03] [Laughs]

Angie Hilem: [8:07] God it’s such a good movie. Anyway, so yeah, just because somebody has all the tools to be completely well doesn't mean they’re actually using them. Additionally...dang there was some other point I was going to make...there is this really good book, I didn’t read it all but it’s called ‘Understanding Poverty’ and I grew up in a very under served community with parents that did not know how to manage their money and they did not make a lot of money so I went without a lot of things that a lot of people our age did and particularly being from a rural area where there wasn’t public transit and stuff, I missed out on a lot of clubs and activities when I was younger.

When I used to be a high school English teacher, I always knew I wanted to be a teacher because it was the example of teachers in my life that really helped mold me into who I am, because neither of my parents are college educated either but a friend of mine, an old teacher’s partner, who I actually substitute taught with, handed me this book, because where I grew up they gave a copy of ‘Understanding Poverty’ to every teacher. Where I taught they didn’t have much funding and federal grants and nothing like that and I had a Blood and a Crip in my classroom one time...

Jeffrey Shiau: [9:48] What grade? 

Angie Hilem: [9:49] Ninth.

Jeffrey Shiau: [9:50] Ninth grade. 

Angie Hilem: [9:52] And.... 

Jeffrey Shiau: [9:55] Where were you teaching?

Angie Hilem: [9:56] Irvington, New Jersey. It’s right outside of Newark, New Jersey, Essex County and you know this Crip was stepping to this Blood, and I felt so bad because the one...the kid who was brim was a new student, it’s like the first freaking day in my classroom and then this other troublemaker, like, steps into him, right, well guess what, my classroom phone didn’t work and I was the last classroom on the first floor and the security was an elderly woman and never in sight. So I had to intervene...I faced so much shit that I wasn’t prepared for and it was really that districts fault for not preparing me and it’s so bizarre, that where I grew up, which you know is this underserved area with a lot of poor students, they actually used their funding to educate the teachers as best as possible and really try and provide programs that would help the students excel. So what’s the difference there, right? Two similar demographics, all the teachers are still kind of educated, why is it that where I'm from there’s more of an invested interest and concern on the part of educators than there was where I actually taught? Honestly some of the older teachers in that district...[Pause] I’m searching for words to describe how appalling it was, like the way that they thought about their students, they did not actually even care about them as humans, let alone possibly the only adult that they might see who can actually have a positive impact on them that day. I don’t know why I went on this tangent.

Jeffrey Shiau: [11:59] No I think... 

Angie Hilem: [12:01] Thinking of...okay so this is why. In that book it discusses how, even though a family might be really poor and there might not be any food in the fridge, there’s a T.V. in every room and typically they’re wearing these sneakers. It’s just when you’re actually living in poverty you’re looking for these momentary things that give you relief and that’s valued, because you know what, poverty is like a cycle that’s near impossible to break. And, in addition to that lower income level, there’s a lower educational level because I saw it with my students. They are not the first generation to be underserved by their teachers, right? Their parents have the same attitude towards school as not necessarily being a place where they are going to be uplifted or helped. Shoot, a lot of them didn’t have parents in their lives, they’re being raised by their grandparents. So community is really, really interesting and a lot of times in under served communities.

Here’s another reason why people can’t break out of poverty because if somebody has an extra hundred dollars or two hundred dollars and anyone in your community finds out about it, they’re going to ask you to loan it to them and even though your kid might need glasses and that hundred dollars really really comes in handy, if your neighbor asks you for a little bit of money, you can’t really say no because guess what, when you’re hard up you’re probably going to need to ask that person too.’s interesting how different types of communities care for each other and that was a really extreme example of one thing that just happens in certain communities and I’m trying to wrap my head around [San Francisco] right now because I’ve never lived anywhere like San Francisco before and maybe it’s because of precisely where I live, there is no neighborly anything. I know some peoples names that live in my building because I have a weird memory but the closest thing to neighbors are the people at the front desk and I hate it so much, and I treat them really kindly and I know all of their names and I kind of care about them, but it’s so weird because it’s their job to care about me.

Jeffrey Shiau: [14:38] As I’m watching you kind of reflect on your experiences as a teacher and how you see the different dynamics especially with different socio-economical...even within the same socio-economical status, and we’re talking about suffering, it’s strange how  suffering almost sounds like it is a...almost a kind of currency within these groups of humans and the more suffering they have, the more they have to invest in caring of each other but in really unique ways and then the less suffering they have economically, specifically speaking economically, it seems like they can put zero care into each other as humans. So that’s like the dynamic you’re seeing in the apartment building you live in.

Angie Hilem: [15:49] Yep because everybody here has the resources here where they can hire someone, right, or seek that out or they’re educated enough to know that there are stores or programs or what have you...because education is a privilege too and it’s something that most people don’t recognize as a privilege but it totally freaking is. It changes your life and your quality of life.

Jeffrey Shiau: [16:22] You eluded to kind of your family and growing up and you can feel just how much you cared for those students in your classroom. usually a lot of the times, again, they can empathize with something or they care so much about something, it’s because they’ve lived that experience. Can you talk about...

Angie Hilem: [16:47] Abso-freaking-lutely. So you know I grew up in the Pine Barrens of New Jersey, it’s...I explained to you earlier [Laughs] for those of you listening [Laughs] New Jersey has the last pine lands in North America and it’s got this really cool ecosystem and there’s plants and trees and water and a type of acidic sand that doesn’t really exist anywhere else in North America. It’s really beautiful but it’s also really separated from the rest of New Jersey, it’s kind of like the town most people drive through to get to The Shore and also it’s really close to some mega-bases; Fort Dix and McGuire Air Force Base. 

Jeffrey Shiau: [17:36] Oh military bases.

Angie Hilem: [17:38] Yeah, I mean that’s why I’m there right because my father is retired Army. So luckily because of that, there was a lot of ethnic diversity, I had no idea that the rest of the world was still kind of segregated until I went to college. Because where I’m from we all just hung out and it really didn’t matter if you were brown or white or what have you. It wasn’t until going to college and then teaching myself, that I realized that I was really really really fortunate to be tracked into the honor system in our school district early on because I have friends whose siblings weren’t and their experience at our same schools, living in the same household was just totally different. We were pretty well prepared for college except for the social part. It was totally fine, college was whatever i was more than capable but that’s because my teachers did kind of care a little more because i was lucky to be tracked into that. I don’t know where I’m going with this.

Jeffrey Shiau: [18:59] What was your relationship with your parents? 

Angie Hilem: [19:02] My mom worked twelve hours a day, six days a week and my dad was active military until he wasn’t and he just had whatever job...he was like a security guard at the local hospital and then he went into the prison system as what is called an ‘institutional training instructor’. So when he was in the military, he ran the mess halls.

Jeffrey Shiau: [19:36] Oh dang, okay.

Angie Hilem: [19:38] So he ordered the food, planned the meals and essentially instructed the other people on how to prepare stuff. Then he got this opportunity to work in the Juvenile Justice Commission of New Jersey and he got to work with teenagers, initially, on this place called ‘Jones Farm’. So not only was he teaching him how to cook but these kids had a chance to work on a farm and be with animals and take horticultural classes and my dad loved it because my dad was also a really bad kid who basically had the choice of going into the army or going into prison. So he also treated them like human beings and it was so sweet because he would come home sometimes and be like, ‘Yeah you know one of the kids it was his birthday so uh I made him a cake, we had a little party.’ And I’m like, ‘Oh my god!’ No one else is going to do that, right, and then like I said my dad is a high school dropout, I guess he got his GED so he could go into the Army and he met my mom pretty young but he would also...before these people were released, I don’t know the proper terminology to say because I know you are not supposed to call someone imprisoned an inmate, that’s not an ethical way of referring to them. So I’m not really sure how to say after their time has been served? I don’t fucking know.

Anyway, if he found out that someone was leaving, he would make them a certificate so that they could take it to a future employer and always write them a letter of recommendation. My dad is a really good guy [Laughs] and my mom rules, she just worked super hard but they did not know how to manage money and also when she came they met on the seventies, they came here, had my brother, went back to Korea, had me and then two years later the four of us moved back to New Jersey because of the bases and then my mom brought over my grandmother, grandfather, Imo, Imo’s two kids, my male cousins, Som Chim...

Jeffrey Shiau: [22:14] So your mom is Korean?

Angie Hilem: [22:15] Som Chim’s wife and Som Chim’s three kids. So I guess counted eleven people on my hand as I was saying that and my mom also really cared about them and trying to provide as much as she could for them but because of a lack of awareness and this understanding that you have to take care of yourself before you can take care of other people. She always over extended herself and then was very pained if she was met with anything except utter gratitude. But this is the thing with East Asian families, right, you sacrifice and you do everything for your family. Compound that with Christianity, particularly Protestantism, I’m going to say that again, Protestantism. It’s all about sacrificing oneself to take care of your family and that’s really fucked up.

My mom worked herself into the ground, she...whenever any of us over extends ourselves, no one really wins, right, like the person that you are doing this thing for probably isn’t getting the perfect delivery because you’re not adequately able to do it so you’re frenzied some how or you’re lacking in something but at the same time if you are not taking care of yourself, how can you take care of anyone else? That can only happen for so long before your get really sick, you know, either that manifest physically or your spirit dwindles and you have nothing to give anymore. So I think that was my mom's Achilles heel, honestly. Also with education and the comfort of not needing to worry where your next meal is coming from you have the ability to analyze situations a bit more clear-headedly. I said clear-headedly [Laughs] I stand by it [Laughs].

So she lacked the skills to take a step back and take a breather and I know that’s because for however many years there was no time for that but then even when there was time for that, as she got older...I actually deferred going away to college because my grandmother died and she raised me. She died my senior year in high school, right before I graduated.

Jeffrey Shiau: [24:59] Your mother or your grandmother?

Angie Hilem: [25:01] My grandmother, my maternal grandmother. It was pretty fucking devastating and at this point my mom was running a dry cleaners but it wasn’t hers, it was actually her friend and her friend did not give my mom much time to grieve. So my mom quit and threw my overachieving ass, being involved in a bunch of clubs and job shadowing day in high school, I learned that our area was a ‘UEZ’ an Urban Enterprise Zone. So that’s like a thing, I don’t know if it’s a federal thing, I don’t know if it’s a state thing but there is actually a commission that helps small business owners get on their feet and start their businesses and my mom started her own dry cleaners.

This was the summer of 2002, I got accepted to go to Rutgers but I don’t know, my mom was starting a business, right, I didn’t want her to have to hire anybody so I stayed home and went to community college for a year and so yeah she was profitable in a year because we all worked like crazy. Why did I start talking about this? Oh okay that was the first time in my life that I actually spent a lot of time with my mom and it was hard because again she was stressed out, she was unnecessarily mean to me a lot. So much so that church members that would come to visit would be like, ‘Is everything okay? Why are you treating your daughter like that?’ and like for me it's just you know whatever, this is my Korean mom and I’m just going to take it and work for her as much as I can, help her out as much as I can. But in retrospect by her working so hard and working herself into the ground...I mean it was really cool and liberating for her though, right, she taught herself how to sew and after a year in business she was altering wedding gowns and making curtains and doing all these things that she learned after being fifty. Kind of because she really didn’t have a choice, because she was heart broken, how could she work for somebody else but because she was just so focused on making that work, she never focused on herself or her health and there were a lot of signs that she should have stopped and taken a break but she didn’t.

Jeffrey Shiau: [27:50] When did your mom...when did she leave us?

Angie Hilem: [27:53] So she had rheumatoid arthritis and I know we were talking about the inadequate treatments for people with autoimmune diseases. For a lot of years she took prednisone, so much so that she irrevocably damaged her liver and some specialists she would visit [giggles] inadequately thought that she was a drinker but I am very much like my mom in that I get drunk really fast so we just don’t drink a lot. So she ended up having to get double hip replacement surgery in like ’09 and there were some really jacked up things that happened in rehab that I don’t really want to get into because I’m going to lose my shit but lets just say someone put a suppository where they shouldn’t have put a suppository and then basically ignored her so even her rehab was cut short because she was terrified of staying there anymore and I convinced her to sell the business.

Jeffrey Shiau: [29:01] She was assaulted or...

Angie Hilem: [29:03] Dude, like someone is supposed to put a suppository in the back door.

Jeffrey Shiau: [29:08] Right.

Angie Hilem: [29:09] They were going towards the front door and she was like, ‘That’s not where that goes. That’s not where it should go’ and that person put it there anyway...and I brought her home the next day. At that time I actually took FMLA to take care of my mom. So my dad's a good dude but again he didn’t have a healthy home life nor is he very equipped emotionally. He actually has a gambling problem, so even though my mom worked her ass off, he would spend so much money on lottery tickets. I didn’t realize this until around the time my mom had hip replacement surgery and I took FMLA...

Jeffrey Shiau: [29:58] What’s FMLA?

Angie Hilem: [30:00] Family Medical Leave Act, so it’s this law that states if you have an immediate family member who needs medical care your job is supposed to be safe. I got laid off actually after doing that but whatever. So after that I convinced her to sell her business and she did and it was fine but she missed working so she would go sometimes. She did not know how to travel, my dad is retired military, they could hop on a plane basically for free and go anywhere but neither of them have ever traveled so they just don’t know how to even go about that.  

So she sold it I guess 2009. I get laid off. I go and hangout in Korea for a bit and my brother was stationed there, he was like a cryptological linguist in the U.S. Air Force and he lived not too far from where I was born actually and I plan on moving there, my mom's semi retired. She ended up getting a job on assembling, on an assembly line with a bunch of other old Korean people just putting together the little paper inserts that go into electrical products [Laughs] I’m like, ‘Mommy what are you doing?’ but she had  fun, you know, we’re very similar, she’s a very social person, she always wanted to be doing something, she never not worked.

So I hang out in Korea, I come back, I get of my apartment and about to move over there because everybody goes to Korea to teach English and I'm actually a certified teacher with a degree in English. And then my dad tells me that my mom has a doctor's appointment because she found a lump and I’m like, ‘Mom, what the fuck, were you going to tell me about this? I scheduled my plane ticket and everything, it’s next month.’ and she’s like, ‘Don’t worry about it, don’t worry about it. I’ve been praying, God told me I’m fine.’ So one morning, she’s getting ready for work and at this time my apartment lease was up so I was just hanging out at my parents house until I moved across the world and her boob looked really weird, her nipple was funky and I was like, ‘This is not right’ and I called the doctor and was like, ‘You’re going to see my mom today’. So we go there and they do this crazy biopsy, I can’t believe that my mom was able to do that, it was fucking weird and I didn’t know that people did shit like that. Sure enough it was a pretty aggressive cancer but I really didn’t like that doctor and I was like, ‘Fuck this guy, let’s go see this other guy. Let’s go see whoever we need to see that we feel comfortable with.’ So once I learned that she had cancer I cancelled my flight and I became her sole caretaker.

Jeffrey Shiau: [33:31] Where was your dad at this time?

Angie Hilem: {33:34] Home...but you have to understand, if someone isn’t very educated and they don’t know how to take care of themselves, then they especially don’t know how to take care of somebody else. So my dad was like...since my mom was working so hard and making more money than ever, there quality of life didn’t improve, they hadn’t taken any trips or anything, he just started buying more lottery tickets. Which doesn’t even make sense. Which I didn’t know until after mommy was diagnosed. I knew they were having financial troubles and I had some savings and in addition to taking my mom to all of her appointments, I essentially paid off all of their debt and drove my dad to GA which is Gamblers Anonymous. It was terrible, he was crying so much, he felt so bad but I needed him to not jeopardize my mom's recovery, you know? I don’t think he does that shit anymore, I hope not. [Pause] Was that a cohesive story? I ramble a lot Jeff. Okay.

Jeffrey Shiau: [35:07] I think this is a very...obviously this is a very personal story.

Angie Hilem: [35:11] Yeah.

Jeffrey Shiau: [35:12] And...

Angie Hilem: [35:16] They’re really good people. My mom was a really good person both of them, they care a little too much about other people and if I didn’t meet Nick, I very well might have been making the same mistakes that my mom did. I remember when we were first dating, he was just getting to know me and i was listing the things I was doing for my family or my friends and he would be like, ‘Who’s going to take care of you?’ and I was like, ‘Oh shit.’ I was twenty-eight and I never thought about that. I mean I had some dudes that like wanted to take care of me. Last time I was in Korea, I dated this fucking farmer, and I know that sounds crazy but he was so hot and six three and a professional athlete, who used to work in intelligence and then was going to take over his dad's farm.

Jeffrey Shiau: [36:22] So, James Bond, but a farmer. 

Angie Hilem: [36:24] I don’t know if he was that bright actually [Laughs]


Angie Hilem: [36:30] To be honest. I was friends with his sister, his sister lived near my brother in Osan.

Jeffrey Shiau: [36:34] But he was super hot?

Angie Hilem: [36:36] Oh my god. I went on like one date and kissed one time and of course I met his family because I was friends with his sister and I used to watch his niece a bunch, who also looked like me because she’s half Korean and had auburn hair. Anyways, he was like ready to build be a house and take care of me so that...he was like, ‘Well you like writing and I’ll support you and you can be my wife.’ and I was like, ‘Oh shit’. So you know there have been people that wanted to take care of me but that doesn’t really appeal to me. I’d rather be working together and constantly earning, so not necessarily in that sense of who’s going to take care of me but I mean even though Nick and I are very different, because he is so introverted and we think so differently. He subtlety says things that makes me pause and introspect on why I do the shit that I do. I used to get a lot more irrationally upset and I think that that’s like my lizard brain from the days when I didn’t have a lot and or just from having spent all that time with my mom, working with her was so hard, pff, imagine being with her when she’s in chemo when she’s really not feeling well and like really kind of limited in who she can see and where she can go, it was bad.

So sometimes I get know PTSD can be transferred generationally and I’m certain that that happened because sometimes I just catch my breath. I don’t go to therapy now but I wish that I could find one. The one therapist that I went to that I really liked in[Philadelphia] , switched her practice but also my mom was dying at the time so I couldn’t go anymore but she noticed that even when I talk that I kind of hold my breath and what happens when you do that, your whole body tenses up because physiologically not getting enough oxygen so you’re kind of putting your body through stress which also makes you feel stressed and messes with you emotionally. When she pointed that out, ever since then I try to pause, take a deep breath or just regulate my breath throughout the day, it immediately helps but it also made me realize my mom did that shit, always. So anyways, helped my mom and in addition to helping her, since I wasn’t working and I was technically unemployed, the state of New Jersey does this thing or at least they used to, if you’re unemployed they’ it’s not that they pay for your education but as long as you pursue a different certification or different path that you can prove has a growing need, they will cover certain expenses of courses at certain institutions.

So I was taking a full course of math and science, I was an english lit major I did not take statistics or biology or any of that because it’s not my cup of tea but I did take a career assessment that said I would be a really great occupational therapist. English teacher was the first thing, OT was the third thing, I think one was like a horticulturalist or something weird that I never considered, then I looked into OT and it is one of the highest trending occupations, in part because of baby boomers, in part because there are so many different therapies now that help and I learned that I could still work with kids and be creative and teach them stuff and I was like, ‘dope’. So I took my mom to her oncologist, to her surgeons, to all of her treatments and I did like a full course load and then after a year she was in remission and I was like, ‘Tight, let me move away, now it’s my dad’s turn to step in’ because I’m at this point where I’m twenty-eight single, what the fuck am I doing, right? And she always gave me shit about not being married, and I’m like, ‘Mom I'm always taking care of you, how am I supposed to do this’. Anyway, my first night in [Philadelphia] I meet Nick. [Laughs] That’s a funny face. I didn’t really expect anything and I was kind of seeing somebody else for a little bit but it wasn’t serious because we both had weird family stuff going on but because I didn’t expect anything with Nick, I was really open and you know me I'm open anyway, so imagine meeting me for the first time and me just being balls to the walls like, ‘Yeah sure, so what have you been doing?‘ ‘Uh my mom had cancer so I was actually taking care of her for the past year.’ and he was just like, ‘What?’ It’s just not your typical first date conversation, right? It’s like, ‘Oh what do you want to do?’  ‘Whatever you want.’ I was like ‘blah’, just telling him everything but I think, no I know, because I was so candid and maybe this is the thing about me because I don’t really have many walls up other people are really comfortable being themselves as well.

So he was pretty open, his first girlfriend is actually a friend of mine from college. We went to Rutgers around the same time, I know we went to the same basement show but I never actually met him and then I mentioned this girl named Giget, and he was like, ‘Is Giget going to grad school in New York right now but she used to live her?’ and I was like, ‘Yeah?’. So on our first date not only was I being incredibly honest, we had four or five people in common. Was that a weird tangent?

Jeffrey Shiau: [43:32] This is great, keep going.

Angie Hilem: [43:34] Okay so that was early twenty-twelve and my mom was doing pretty good, she was going to the gym everyday, doing aqua-aerobics and stuff and I was trying to be me and not go  home as much. Her cancer came back and when it came back it came back really hard so I think in part that may have accelerated things with Nick a little bit. I know she wanted to see me with someone before she died but also on our second date I was like, ‘So do you want kids? Because I’m not fucking around either.’ You know like when you face losing someone, it changes the way you live your life and the decisions you make. i know that I didn’t really want to waste time. Aright like what are we doing right, I need to know right away because I don’t have enough time to waste. He wasn’t really opposed, he actually had a really interesting answer that I don’t feel like getting into about wanting to adopt first so that that child feels really loved before having a bio-kid. I was like, ‘Dude we’re not young’ [Laughs] Okay admirable, into it we’re probably going to have to which that order a little bit.  

Yeah so, anywho, we got engaged the following year and started planning our wedding but it was hard to because my mom was sick, and then she didn’t even make the wedding. Our venue depended a lot on would she be okay to get in on a wheelchair. So a lot of people are like, ‘Oh this is the happiest day of my life.’ and I just have really really weird feeling about it. I never printed a picture from the day because I don’t know a lot of women...first of all I never wanted a big diamond ring and I never thought of it , like, ‘I’m going to be a beautiful bride’, I don’t fucking care. I honestly just want a vintage dress that went to my shins and I wanted to get married in my aunts backyard but my aunt was really mad at me and was like, ‘ You can’t have a short dress.’, and I was like, ‘What?’. So I was like, ‘I don’t want you to be mad at me.’, but this is how I am now, this is who I’ve been always because of limited resources I had a friend do my hair and a friend do my face makeup and i bought a wedding dress the first time I went shopping and my best friend was like, ‘Are you sure?’ and I was like, ‘Yeah.’ Because I kind of wanted to just be over with it, i just wanted to do it. So it really sucked that she didn’t make it. Twenty-thirteen was hard. I forget what I was watching, it was either a show or a movie and it was talking about how we all mourn differently. You know what it was, did you read that long editorial about that Filipino man who had a slave? 

Jeffrey Shiau: [47:21] No.

Angie Hilem: [47:22] It went viral this week on Facebook, I’ll send it to you. It was really interesting but in it he wrote something about the fact that even though his lola had died five years prior, he didn’t ever really let himself mourn. So even though my mom died four years ago, ever since her funeral I haven’t even been back to the gravesite. I feel like such a terrible daughter but I’m just not ready yet and after reading that even though it was a really heavy article with a lot of other issues in it, it kind of made me feel less alone. Okay this is a thing that other people feel too because I don’t really have that many friends who have already lost a parent. I attribute so much of who I am to my mom, even though she wasn’t always around because she was always working twelve hour days, I know for a fact that a lot of my personality is similar to hers and I am really thankful for that.

I’m also really thankful I married someone that does not come from that kind of world and honestly a lot of times it bothers me that he’s not as empathic as I am, that he doesn’t really care that much about others or that his upper middle class upbringing as a white man who went to a prep school and then went to an Ivy league school. Even though he was like a punk rock anarchist and stuff right like whatever, his experience is still so different from mine. You said it earlier, yeah I think because of that we are so good for each other because even in how we think or decisions that we might make individually are so different from the other person, we love and respect each other enough that a lot of times we do meet in the middle and we’re both better for it. She makes me really wonder about our perspective children. I don’t want them to be soft, I feel like I’m really soft now, in the fact that I’m so privileged and I don’t need to go more than two blocks to get anywhere in San Francisco or buy anything I could possibly need. Yeah growing up the way I did was hard but it made me resilient and I don’t give up very easily and it means so much more whenever I accomplish something because so much was stacked against me.

Jeffrey Shiau: [50:40] Although you haven’t been to see your mom yet, I mean, do you want to say something now? 

Angie Hilem: [50:53] Nope [Laughs] 

Jeffrey Shiau: [50:56] Still need some time?

Angie Hilem: [51:00] I mean I gave her a eulogy.

Jeffrey Shiau: [51:05] When was the last time you talked to your dad?  

Angie Hilem: [51:09] After we got brunch [Laughs] I called him on my walk home. 

Jeffrey Shiau: [51:13] You two are still close?

Angie Hilem: [51:17] I guess, I don’t know. I mean I’m named after him, he’s Angelo, I’m Angela [Laughs] When I was younger I used to kind of hate him because I always thought it was his fault that my mom had to work so hard because he was just so bad at managing money but now that I’m older first of all it doesn’t benefit to claim shift and there’s a lot of people who like to blame people for the way there life is and that’s bullshit. Cause even with my mom she chose to bring my family over, she chose to constantly help my Imo, she chose to constantly help my grandparents. no one was forcing her, maybe that was the false narrative playing in her head but nobody was forcing her, right. No one was forcing her to stay with my dad. What would have happened if she worked a little less? Would that have forced him to be responsible? They always blamed my extended family for the reason why their relationship fell apart. Fuck that. They’re grown ass adults.

Why did I...oh yeah, so as I got older and I started developing as a person and becoming more and more emotionally mature [sighs] it made me appreciate my dad more. I mean when my mom health starting fading again I was very mad at it him, because I don’t think...he wasn’t giving her adequate care...[Laughs]. When I was last in [Philadelphia] last month, I met up with a friend whose father’s brain cancer is back and that was the first time I was able to talk to someone around my age whose parent was in hospice and then bond over the fact that the other parent was inadequately caring for the sick parent and I know that his parents are educated. it’s just really really hard and a lot of the times because we don’t talk about this, people don’t know what resources are available. My parents insurance covered nurses that came home but they didn’t learn that until I learned that my mom was basically bedridden, she couldn’t get up.

So yeah I guess my dad and I are close. He still voted for Trump. I thought I was going to have to never speak to him again. I made his ass cry. I cursed him out so bad, I’m like, ‘You’re on [to] your second immigrant wife asshole.’ Like ‘you know I don’t feel safe when I go to the South right?’ [Laughs] ‘You know that who you voted to make your wife’s life less safe as well as your two children because we look pretty Asian, Dad.’ [Laughs] But at the same time, my dad doesn’t read a lot, he listens to shitty talk radio and he’s one of those people that goes to church every Sunday. There’s this weird brainwashing with people that go to church, I mean that was the whole point of institutionalizing Christianity anyway was to get the masses to tie, to kind of have control over them. Religion is beautiful, I study religion, I consider myself a Pluralist. I think that there are universal truths but I also recognize it’s pretty dangerous when someone is overzealous and or too fundamental and it doesn’t matter what religion you are, if you’re a fundamentalist, you’re probably fucked up and ignoring that empathy that we started this conversation talking about.

Jeffrey Shiau: [56:18] I can’t thank you enough for taking the time today and actually, after this episode this actually might be the first time...I actually want to do a part two with you.

Angie Hilem: [56:28] [Laughs]

Jeffrey Shiau: [56:36] I really...I think a lot of people will be listening to this will not only feel almost heard by you are feel like, ‘Oh that’s the exact same experience’ because that’s something I'm learning is...all the types of people who think they are just a fucking weirdo in this world, right? Maybe we’re not that weird maybe there are a lot of folks that have that connection but it’s just...because we are so afraid to sometimes come out of the woodwork or  we almost marginalize ourselves away from people and forget to connect but...

Angie Hilem: [57:26] That word weird is engineered to make you feel distanced from somebody else. What does that even mean? Being unique, alright I’ll be weird all day.

Jeffrey Shiau: [57:37] Yeah, I can’t thank you enough for your openness and your vulnerability today...

Angie Hilem: [57:44] We didn’t even talk about entrepreneurship. I guess we did through my mom’s story because she...

Jeffrey Shiau: [57:48] Well that’s the whole point.

Angie Hilem: [57:49]...She was pretty successful...

Jeffrey Shiau: [57:51] The whole point of this podcast, is it’s a podcast for entrepreneurs with nothing about entrepreneurship. 

Angie Hilem: [57:56] Really? 

Jeffrey Shiau: [57:57] Yeah [Laughs]

Angie Hilem: [57:58] Oh, well okay I want to mention this one last thing. A lot of times when women write autobiographies, they tell the story of their lives through their mothers.  It’s like this inextricable fact and that’s because of the way society has conditioned women to think of ourselves in relation to others, where as men are conditioned to think of themselves as a whole person without necessarily being attached to others. I’m sorry if I’m rambling, I think that’s a very important distinction. 

Jeffrey Shiau: [58:29] That’s...

Angie Hilem: [58:30] And I’m curious to know other women that you interview and how much they talk about their families.

Jeffrey Shiau: [58:37] How much they end up talking about their families, yeah.

Angie Hilem: [58:40] I mean you can edit this out [Laughs] 

Jeffrey Shiau: [58:43] No, no I...all interviews go unedited [Laughs] 

Angie Hilem: [58:48] Oh shit [Laughs]

Jeffrey Shiau: [58:51] So now you have my curiosity because now I...we actually do transcribe every interview, so I’ll be able to go back and see...even when I’m interviewing and asking questions, I’m curious, ‘Oh do I tend to ask about family with women or do I tend to do it equally with both men and women’.

Angie Hilem: [59:13] But the difference is...while I was waiting for you to come over today, I was like, ‘Man you know I think this is like only the second time I’ve hung out with Jeff in person’ but you feel like my cousin, like there’s kind of always been a connection, right? So that could be it too. Because we talk about our experiences, we talked about family all through out brunch.

Jeffrey Shiau: [59:36] We became homies in Philly, so...

Angie Hilem: [59:38] After like...yeah you gave me a tour.

Jeffrey Shiau: [59:41] [Laughs]

Angie Hilem: [59:43] That was it.

Jeffrey Shiau: [59:44] During that tour, we became homies right away there’s that spiritual  connection right there.

Angie Hilem: [59:49] For real.

Jeffrey Shiau: [59:51] Well I again, this is the way I’ll end this conversation, at least this first one, I’ll have to think of completely new shit for our next one

Angie Hilem: [1:00:00] [Laughs]

Jeffrey Shiau: [1:00:02] Because there has never been a part two. But I end every Talk Human To Me episode also with the same question and it’s ultimately what’s the point of all of this?


Angie Hilem: [1:00:23] It’s to keep learning because also through caring about each other you learn more about yourself. As an educator even though I’m not in the classroom anymore, a lot of my business focuses on teaching others and anyone who has ever taught a class or a course, you learn more about yourself and the subject that you’re teaching just from the way people learn and with learning is growth. If you’re constantly learning new things and if you’re constantly working on being a better version of yourself, that’s the point. you said it earlier, ‘I don’t know anything’, I don’t we were eating burgers and you made that comment and I love it and that’s actually why I messaged Nick back on OkCupid because he had this line in his bio that said, oh goodness, it said, ‘All I know is that I don’t know nothing’. Right? Something like that and I was like, ‘Oh that’s like so Socrates’ right, it was a fucking Op Ivy lyric [Laughs] So I thought he was being really deeply philosophical which philosophy is one of his favorite things to read about and talk about but it was an Operation Ivy lyric. Anyway, so yeah [Laughs].


Why Did I Start This Podcast?

Equipment & Software:

Yeti Microphone & Ice Microphone by Blue Microphones

Audacity for Mac

WD My Passport Ultra 1 TB

Macbook Pro Retina 15inch Late 2013


Smile by Daniel Alan Gautreau

Tiny Bits by Felipe Adorno Vassao

Time & Reflection by Bjorn Lynne

Retro Video Game Hotseat by Bjorn Lynne