The Men’s Room Podcast & a Student of Mine

Do you want to hear about the breath-taking changes happening in Saudi Arabia through the eyes of a 19-year-old Saudi-American student?  Well, here’s your chance. In The Men’s Room Podcast below, the host delves deep into the changes with one of my very own drama students — Sami Fathi. He’s an articulate communicator and talented young actor. I hope you enjoy his take on Saudi’s generation Z.

The Rise of Generation Z in Saudi Arabia

Don’t Gravitate Towards Sports Just Because Everyone Does

I’ve seen it many times over my teaching career. Talented art-leaning students choosing sports because everyone does.

And before you peg me as a non-sports person who doesn’t know … blah, blah.

I understand. Growing up, baseball was my life. Quite literally. When I wasn’t playing on a team, I was throwing the ball against our porch wall or creating elaborate fake leagues with statistics and MVPs and trades and expansion teams. I was obsessed. And in those dark winter months, I started listening to Pitt Panthers basketball, created fake hockey scores, and played a lot of tackle football in our backyard. I was a sports guy, completely. And I wasn’t so bad at it. I had a fastball in the mid-80s and was even told I had a shot at getting drafted if I worked hard. Full disclosure, I didn’t.

And I think I know why. I was an arts person caught up in a sports world. The thing is: I didn’t know I was an arts person. How is a person to know? Okay, I liked to write poetry. Perhaps that should have been a clue. I liked to attend plays even though I was much too shy and lacking in confidence to think I should ever have auditioned for them.

I still remember watching my sister perform beautifully in the play Done to Death. I admired her so much. She painted too. She was an arts person, who sadly died her senior year in high school when I was ten. I still think about her all the time. I miss her.

I created things all the time – whether my own radio station on cassette tape or a play or a song lyric. But I loved baseball, and so I pursued it.

Nothing wrong with pursuing sports. I get it.

But I have seen too much creative talent being wasted in a mediocre basketball game. I’ve had kids who have terrific vocals, strong creative skills, wonderful acting abilities who end up playing third strong on a team when they could have been starring in the spotlight—kids who could really go somewhere in the arts—and if not, at least benefit tremendously from the communication skills and creative people-skills so in demand in today’s world.

I’ve told kids repeatedly, don’t go your entire high school career without trying out for a play. Step out of your comfort zone. I’ve seen talented and creative folks with great potential quit drama in the middle of a production because of a sport or they have too much to study.

Please, parents, you know if your kids are creative. Encourage them. “Hey, have you thought about dropping basketball for a year in order to take part in the musical? You have those abilities.”

They don’t always listen to me, but I almost can guarantee if they do, they will never regret it.

Creatitivity breeds confidence and more creativity. It will change the way you think, what you do, what you feel is important, and it will open doors you never thought possible.

So please, don’t gravitate towards sports just because everyone else does. Kids need to be encouraged  to do something creative, something co-curricular, outside of the realm of a classroom. I’m going to keep encouraging kids to do what I never did.

I realized late in life how important the arts are to me. I’m grateful I found this hidden calling of mine. I’m hoping there are many young people who will discover this side of them much earlier than I did.

Remember: create, not consume.

… and What’s on Tap for 2020?

A new year for a writer is filled with hopes and ambitions. Most of them swirl around the hope that any particular writer (me, in my case) will have enough time to accomplish all that is whipping around in their brain.

If 2020 is an ideal year for writing, here’s what I hope to accomplish.

NOVELS

  • I plan to release my 9th novel–MOSES THE SINGER–by mid-year. It’s now in the final editing stage.
  • Novel 10 – an alternative history novel which I have been toying with for the past two years. I’ve even written the first chapter, but it has some problems. I hope to overcome those and get the darn thing down.
  • The great baseball novel. I have an idea which I too have been fiddling around with. I wrote a short story called THE HUNDRED PITCH AT BAT which I intend to be a jumping off point for an entire baseball book of fiction. Let’s do it!

PLAYS

  • I want to write a new complete show to be produced in the following school year. I’ve started with some preliminary writing. It will be a play with different stories but are woven together as an ensemble show. I have some interesting ideas. I want to get this done in the spring.
  • Christmas Compilation: I have been trying to compile and publish my second volume of plays. This one called: Tales of Wonder: The Plays of Christmas.  It’s a compilation of the three Christmas shows I wrote and produced in Penang. I need to get this done by the summer.
  • Dear High School – I plan on compiling and publishing this play which is a full-show of different short plays themed around high school. All of them have been produced to great success, and I think this would be a fun one for many schools to produce.
  • Lastly, I have a play I’ve written over the last five years about the confluence of different ideologies between evangelical Christianity and the LGBT movement in relation to the gay marriage movement and the 2015 Supreme Court ruling. Maybe I’ll finally let this one out of my clutches. It’s my most raw play I’ve ever written. But perhaps it’s time.

Other stuff:

Writing residency. I’m hoping to create my own residency and head back to Penang for a week to write and eat and write and enjoy my old stomping grounds. I think that could be a productive time.

Maybe a trip to Turkey? Ancient Ephesus sounds nice.

And finally, I’ll go where my brain takes me. There are always unexpected writing twists and turns depending on what is percolating up there. We shall see.

Here’s to a productive 2020!authorsasse

What is Wrong With Us?

I’m worried about us. Humans, that is. And it has everything to do with cell phones.

I had my final show tonight. Seussical. A culmination of 3.5 months of hard work. It was a great show. I’m so proud of my actors and tech crew who pulled it off. But what I saw tonight sickened me. And it made me worry about us. Us humans.

I was sitting in the audience. That’s what I do as a director. When the show comes around, I always consider my work to be finished. So I enjoy the show from the house and see what my many months of work has produced.

I’m proud of this show. We had a lot of things go wrong, but we weathered the storm and put on a great show for the audience. But here’s where my worries enter.

Right in front of me was the uncle of one of the performers. And he couldn’t pay attention. At all. I mean at all. If he went a minute without checking his phone I’d be surprised. He came to the show, paid money for a ticket, was there to watch his nephew, and yet couldn’t pull himself away from his phone long enough to even pay attention to the show going on in front of him.

I’m worried. Very worried about us. Us humans.

He was looking at his Facebook feed. I mean studying his Facebook feed. The same feed he monitors all day long. And he couldn’t pull himself away from it for even a few minutes to watch a great production with his NEPHEW being one of the leads. No. That was too much. His Facebook feed was so compelling that he couldn’t look away.

What does that mean for us? It’s not good. These screens have become our dictators. Our gods. Our everything. And he (and it’s not only he, it’s many people) couldn’t bother to pay attention to what his nephew was doing on stage. (rather brilliantly, might I add) He couldn’t bother with actual life. He needed the virtual. He couldn’t pull away. He needed the feel of the screen — the thrill of the scroll. He turned his back on his own kin for a cheap thrill of a tiny screen.

I am sickened. For all of us. What will we become?

What is wrong with us?

Want to Experience Bad Writing? Watch Madame Secretary, Season 5, episodes 17-19

I don’t watch a lot of television, but when I do, I want to enjoy myself – not be preached at. Earlier this year, I started watching Madame Secretary. Honestly, the first season had some issues, especially early on, but I thought the writing got stronger and more creative as the show progressed into the later seasons. Not long ago, I said to myself that I am really enjoying this show, season 5, for some fun story lines and intriguing drama. And then the writers dared to get on their high horse and started moralizing. It became nauseating. I almost stopped watching.

Moralizing kills creativity. And creativity, once slain, is a beast to resurrect.

Now, I’m not opposed to writing having a message or at least an opinion. I think writing is generally better when there is purpose behind it.

But, and this is a huge but, when writing becomes didactic, and doesn’t allow for open-ended inquiry and thought, it’s a HUGE bore. And that’s what happened with Madame Secretary.

The writing got bogged down in an endless and nauseating cycle of global warming, climate migration, and brow-beating moralizing that became predictable and a flat-out snooze-fest. This is not what I want for entertainment. If I want people spouting their opinions at me, I’ll watch cable news.

But if you’re writing for a network drama, GET CREATIVE!

When writing doesn’t allow people to think for themselves, it’s lazy.

When writing doesn’t facilitate dialogue from different points of views, it’s boring.

When creative writing is no different than watching cable news, please find a new job as a copy editor or web blogger. Get out of the entertainment business.

It took four episodes for Madame Secretary to begin to find its footing again. How did it do that? By getting back to issues that centered around the characters and not on a series of real-world crisis.

Hey writers, if you wanted to convince people to think certain ways about important topics, you did the exact opposite. You almost lost some viewers.

Please do better.

Sincerely,

Someone who thinks he can.

Novel Finished. Barely. What’s next?

Novel Finished. Barely. What’s next?

Sometimes writing takes a backseat to life. How dare it! Cutting into my writing time with family and barbecues and travel and house repairs and … You get the picture. And it’s all good, all the time. But even when I’m in the midst of enjoying some time away from writing, the bug to scratch out a few words and ideas is never far away. After all, I have been hopelessly bitten by the creative parasite which has been replacing my blood with writing ideas for the past ten years.

Even in the midst of a busy time in life, I was still able to finish my novel this summer, which was, at the very least, the baseline goal I was shooting for. My earlier summer-self had hoped to write two novels this summer. Well, I was fortunate to get one done.

Novel #9 – currently titled MOSES THE SINGER. It is set in Penang, Malaysia and involves a group of teen musicians and a homeless illegal immigrant. Of the five main characters in the novel, four are teens aged 16-18, so I will be marketing it as my first ever YA novel. As with all of my novels, I wonder how it is. What will people think? Will it be interesting? Gripping? Moving? Will readers have as much fun reading it as I had writing it? I suppose these are questions every writer grapples with.  The reality is, no matter how long one has been writing, these questions don’t go away, but I can never let them define how I move forward with a story. One has to be committed to the story and push the story from all angles in a relentless pursuit of making it the very best possible.

This is what I’ll be doing the next few months: revising. I will be completing a couple more drafts of the novel before passing it on to some beta readers for the frightening feedback.

This fall, I will also be pushing my plays as much as possible in hopes of finding a theatre which will produce one of them. I do have a short play hitting the stage in Penang this November.

On top of this, I’ll be directing Suessical The Musical for an international school, and I have another show called DUETS which will hit the stage in late October.

It’s going to be crazy busy, but that’s the way I like it. Except for the fact that my writing time will continue to be limited. Keep moving forward. That’s the only thing to be done.

Ironing Shirts & Writing Novels. What’s the Difference?

I bought a new shirt. It came in a box cause that’s how shirt’s are made these days, right?

It didn’t fit. I sent it back. Didn’t even need a box cause that’s how shipping is done these days, right?

I ordered another shirt. It fit great. I liked it. But it was cottony and wrinkly and I couldn’t go out into public looking like a wrinkled grape. Cause that’s how people think these days, right?

But I decided that the only way to iron out these difficulties was to, indeed, pull out my iron. So I plugged it in and heated it up. I pressed one side smooth only to realize I creased the underside because, obviously, I don’t know how to iron properly.

But I tried anyways, and one ironed-out crease led to two more creases which needed ironing out. It could have been frustrating if I would have been paying attention. But I keep looking at my shirt and thinking how nice it will be when it’s finished. Being ironed out. Which I certainly didn’t know how to do.

But being me, that never stopped me, the not knowing how to do something, that is.

So I pressed on.

And little by little my shirt started to look smooth. Those darn little collars were a beast. And around the buttons were a pain. And I still couldn’t figure out how to reach all those little shoulder spots without creating a new crease underneath. I mean, why does the fabric flip on top of each other like an unwieldy plot hole?

I worked and I learned and by the end of the my ironing session, I was satisfied with the end product and placed it aside. Not carefully, mind you. No, that would have been the smart move. I placed it aside in a clump until I realized I created new wrinkles. Clumping does that.

I put it back on the board and fixed those, and, with a stroke of luck and genius, I hung it on a door knob. Brilliant. No more wrinkles.

Later that morning, I put on my shirt. It wasn’t perfect. There were still some visible wrinkles, but I thought I looked good, and I was proud of the effort. I could have just thrown it on right out of the box, but I took my time and did it the right way–the best I knew how. Next time, my ironing will be much better, even if my shirt arrives in a box.

As I reflected on my ironing experience, I thought, isn’t this exactly the same as writing a novel?

Yes, yes, it is because there are only two ways to do things in this world: you either learn through experience how to best to iron-out all those unsightly creases in your plot line, or you just throw it on right out of the box and pretend everything you do is automatically amazing.

Writers, plug in your irons.