Sally, Where are you?

I’ve been rummaging through boxes of old mementos, and I came across a letter from a former student of mine. Here name was Sally. That’s not her real name. She’s Chinese from Dalian where I spent the summer of 1993. I remember her well. She taught me to play Chinese chess, which I have since forgotten. She had a bubbly personality and was a pleasure to chat with. When I left China, we exchanged a few letters and as time would have it, the summer of 1993 faded from our memories. The letters stopped as our lives continued in new directions. But I still remember Sally. Here’s the short letter she wrote to me that I found today:

“Mark, how are you? I’m eagerly to hear from you. I’m too busy to write to you. I have a lot word to talk with you, about my new work. So I write another letter to you. Post a book you’d like to read. ‘Selected Stories of Lu Hsun” and a very traditional Chinese disc. I hope you like it. Ok. God with you!”

Sally  93.02.09

Thank you, Sally. I wish I remembered your Chinese name and knew how to find you, but I don’t. I wonder where you are now. I wonder where your English language skills have taken you. You must be forty years old now with a family. Do you encourage your kids to learn English? Did you stay in Dalian? Have you had a happy life?

People come and go in one’s life. Sally is one who has gone. But I still remember her and I wish that the years have treated her well and that the brief moment I was her teacher in the summer of 1993 played a small role in her being able to accomplish her dreams.

God with you, Sally.

 

You Should Tolerate Bad Writing

I’m not a perfectionist. As a writer, this can be a disadvantage. I’m confident there have been times when I could have improved a piece with one more revision or one more re-write. But I must admit, I become bored and just want it to be over so I can get on to my next creative idea.

On the other hand, not being a perfectionist as a writer has its distinct advantages. One of those has to do with the writing process and that enigmatic term we like to call writer’s block. I’m not completely convinced that writer’s block actually exists. Sure, there may be times of uncertainty where one needs to put in the requisite amount of thinking before it becomes clear where a plot should go or how a character should act. However, I do think that, perhaps, sometimes writer’s block is just not be willing to tolerate bad writing.

We have good days. We have bad days. Sometimes the words are clicking with clarity and ease, the phrasings are coherent and the descriptions vivid. Other times every single sentence is a chore and when you look back over your last paragraph, you realize that a second grader could have sounded so clever. When that happens, it’s precisely the moment that you need to be tolerant of bad writing.

In 2002, I started my first novel. The writing was so bad that I stopped on the second page. It took me 10 more years until I finally finished my first novel.

I couldn’t tolerate bad writing. Therefore, I paid for it, languishing away in non-writing pursuits.

Recently, I was working on a section of my new novel and that self-criticism reared its ugly head: this isn’t particularly good. But I made a decision to move on. I didn’t care if it wasn’t good, I told myself, it will eventually BE good.

That’s the key. Bad writing doesn’t necessarily need to remain bad writing. I’ve come across parts of my manuscripts in the past which are terrific and then I’ll reach a section which is quite less than great. I’ve learned to appreciate these sections. For one, I’m happy I can recognize bad writing when I see it. Two, I appreciate the fact that I motored through a bad writing session because it does help further the story. It’s much easier to rewrite and improve a poorly worded section than it is to come up with a completely new section.

Bad writing should be embraced. It’s one of the backbones for good writing. Don’t get discouraged when the words aren’t flowing. Keep moving forward, even if you have to use your 2nd grade vocabulary. On revision day, I’m sure you’ll be glad you have something to work with.

Goodbye, Malaysia. A Memoir in Food Photos

I’m leaving Malaysia for good after eleven wonderful years living in Penang. Though there are people and customs and culture and other things I’ll miss about Malaysia, I thought my Goodbye Post should highlight some of the food items I ate in my last week. I will miss all of this tremendously.

Imagine the fragrance and flavor as you look at these beauties:

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Beef Rendang – Indonesian, coconuty, Amazing!

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Nyonya – Roti Babi – fried pork sandwich. Yum. Oh, and some greens.

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Nyonya Pork Rendang. So different from the beef, but equally delicious.

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Sambal Goreng – so unique, prawn, coconut, eggplant, sambal

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Thai Long Bean & Pork – tremendous curry sauce on it

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Indian! The best butter chicken masala with garlic butter naan.

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Dry Curry Mee Noodles. Oh. My. Goodness.

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Manchurian Califlower – fried, spicy, crunchy

The terrible thing about these photos (besides I’m not going to be able to eat these foods daily) is that it truly only scratches the surface of Malaysian fare. It’s diverse, flavorful, and dare I some, some of the best food in the world.

Goodbye Penang. Goodbye Malaysia.

 

40 Years Ago – Star Wars at Penn Theater

Recently, Star Wars celebrated its 40th year anniversary of its original theatrical release in 1977. I remember it well.

I was nine years old and had seen an extremely low number of movies in my lifetime up to that point. Maybe two. One for sure. My family didn’t go to movies. We were not the entertainment type. We were the sit on the front porch and watch the neighbors type. I do remember seeing The Hiding Place in 1976, which we undoubtedly saw because of its Christian foundation. I enjoyed that movie tremendously, and re-watched it two years ago before visiting the Corrie Ten Boon house in Haarlem, Netherlands. Star Wars, however, was different.

My sister, Melanie, who was seven years older than me with a drivers license, had bought into the media hype surrounding the big release and wanted to take me and my brother, who was 15. Of course the movie had never before seen special effects! It was all as mesmerizing as it could have been by word of mouth or by a small black and white ad on the next to  the last page of the daily Butler Eagle. Melanie arranged a time when the car would be available and we went, most assuredly, on a Saturday afternoon of early May 1977.

I remember three things about that day. The first was my brother’s doubts about the film. He downplayed its potential because “he didn’t like science fiction” films. He was such the skeptic that I wondered why he went, but I didn’t care. We were standing in line at the Penn Theater in downtown Butler with my brother’s doom and doubt sitting on our shoulders, and it was wonderful. There was excitement in the air–an opportunity to go out on the town, six miles from home without any parents, an amazingly rare treat for us back then. It turned out that Star Wars was just the beginning of an unforgettable year for me.  Just one month after the opening of Star Wars, our family would have our yearly end-of-school celebration where we would go to Winky’s and eat a hamburger. That was our yearly ration of restaurant fare. Later that summer, I would attend my very first Pirates game. I still remember that they lost 4-1 with Dave Parker scoring the only run, to which I commented “Of course, he’s the only one who ever does anything.” I wouldn’t mind having that lineup back.

1977 sat large on my mind that day and would forevermore since it would also be the last year we would have with our sister Melanie, as she passed on in February of the following year.

So that line, on that day, in my memory today, holds a special moment. A frozen link to my childhood that I’ll never forget. We went in and watched the film. The second thing I remember is how I was mesmerized from start to finish. It must have felt like a second in a wonderland, a million miles away from the slow-paced country life I was used to. A dreamworld where anything could come true and a small boy of nine could realize his potential in profound and unforgettable ways.

The third memory is when my brother ate crow. His face shone wide-eyed and his expressions exaggerated as he blurted out the most contrarian line he could think of as we emerged onto Main Street: “That was the best movie I’ve ever seen!”

Yes, it was. And it’s still one of my best memories.

 

 

Opening Tonight in Brooklyn: Safe Spaces

I’m thrilled to have my play “Safe Spaces” open tonight in Brooklyn at the Gallery Players Theatre as part of their Black Box New Play Festival. Unfortunately, I’m sitting 12,000 miles away and will miss the show which opens tonight and runs through Sunday afternoon – 4 shows!

So if you are in the NYC area, please do stop by and enjoy this and other plays this weekend. “Safe Spaces” is a satirical look at cultural appropriation with this premise: Madison, editor of the university campus newspaper, has been put into a safe space, isolated from the rest of campus, for an op-ed he published. He’s joined by Garner who was brought their after serving a pulled pork sandwich with the wrong cultural overtones. Madison and Garner deal with Dawes who shows up to give them insight into how they can be re-aligned and released from their safe space if they do as she says. Mayhem and ridiculous banter follows as Madison tries to understand the logic behind the safe space. Good luck!

I had a blast writing this play and I hope the audience will enjoy this world-premiere rendition of it.

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A Timely Story of the Courage to Change

Some protest in violence. One man stands in silence.

When writer Gerald Sanpatri loses everything he holds dear, he has a choice to make. His anger leads him to the crowded Presidential Square, full of mob mentality and wrath towards the brutal dictator Antoine. As Gerald takes part in the demonstration for freedom, he allows his angst to bubble close to the brink of desperation, and he sees the soldiers come forth out of the gates, unleashing a torrent of pain and violence on the seething crowd.

Gerald cowers. He sees a young teen fall dead at his feet. Fear grips him, and he flees for his life into the desperate seat of the rebellion.

He comes to believe that violence cannot be the answer, and that a soul as broken as himself cannot cause a revolution. He can’t right all the wrongs. But he can remove the garbage dump from underneath his neighbor’s house. He can write stories of courage and goodness.

So one day, he returns to the Presidential Square where he stands on his sore feet with a smile on his face and a dream in his pocket. And he waits for the revolution to come.

A story of courage. A story of hope. A story of achieving the unthinkable. Experience the amazing story of Gerald Sanpatri, the man who decided to pen “A Love Story for a Nation.”

Available on Kindle and in Paperback from AMAZON!

Get paperback with free worldwide shipping from The Book Depository

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One View on the Paris Accord Pullout

Well, President Trump pulled out of the Paris Climate Accords and the anti-Trump pundits are in a full tizzy about him doing exactly what he said he was going to do during his campaign.  You can debate the merits of the Paris Accords all you like, and you’ll find people on both sides of the issue, hotly touting their view as the one which will “save the world from a climate cataclysm” or will “finally put America first, dislodging it from being the world’s lapdog for punishing the neo-colonial forces of the world.”

I’d like to stay away from those arguments to look at this issue in a couple of different ways. Trump’s pulling out of the accord is President Obama’s fault. No, don’t get me wrong. I’m not using the Obama administration tactic of blaming the previous president for everything. Obama set the stage for a withdrawal by circumventing the way U.S. treaties are supposed to work. The U.S. constitutional lays out very clearly that treaties with foreign entities must receive Congressional approval. The Obama administration didn’t even attempt to pass the accord through Congress because he knew, as written, it would have never passed. So he signed it as an accord, approved only by the executive branch, which allows the next chief executive to rescind it at will. If it had passed through Congress, President Trump would not have been able to pull out of it without, again, Congressional approval. Perhaps the Obama administration thought that his legacy would remain due to a favorable election outcome in 2016. Well, we all know how that went. The Dems walked away with egg on their face. And now they have a non-binding Paris agreement which falls by the wayside because they didn’t involve Congress.

It’s easy to see why Obama didn’t involve Congress. He knew that the Republican controlled House and Senate wouldn’t have ratified it. But this was his greatest mistake. Ours is a republic, a pluralistic one, a two-party one, which requires compromise, give and take, back and forth wrangling in order to get anything done. Can that be frustrating at times? Of course, but that’s the way the Founding Fathers wanted it. Obama would have been wise to use this tactic in Paris. “Look guys, I’m with you on this. I really am. But you have to understand how my government works. If you want a lasting treaty on climate which is going to mean anything moving forward, we have to negotiate with our elected Congress. No, you’re not going to get everything you want. But if we don’t come together and find an agreement palatable for both parties, this accord could unravel very quickly with a different president who doesn’t hold my views.”

President Obama could have approached the Paris Accords like this. But he didn’t and so the U.S. pulled out. Just like that.

President Trump said in his pull-out speech that he would be willing to renegotiate the Paris Accords in order to find terms more acceptable for the United States. Here’s a response written in one of the articles about the pullout:

“While Trump said the United States would be willing to rejoin the accord if it could obtain more favorable terms, the three European leaders said the agreement cannot be renegotiated, ‘since it is a vital instrument for our planet, societies and economics.'”

And this brings me to my second point of contention about this whole issue. According to these world leaders, “it” (it being the Paris Accords) is a “vital instrument” for our planet … blah, blah, blah. It. Only it. This whole explanation reeks of elitism which I hate more than anything else. Only the accord as they have negotiated it, as they have proposed it, as they have signed, IT and only IT can be “a vital instrument for our planet, societies, and economics.”

A re-negotiated deal could never do that?  Really?

It’s the same old “our way is the only way.” Now their way will unravel because they are unwilling to ponder different possibilities.

Moral of the story: this is politics. If you live in a democracy, you have to work with others. If not, you just have a series of short jaunts in various directions depending on who is in office.