Hope

My mother-in-law, a beautiful human being, passed on from this life today. It’s been a difficult day for the family, and as my wife boards a flight to head home to be with loved ones during this time, I was reminded of one simple word: Hope. It’s a word I strongly believe in. And as I processed the day with that word in mind, here’s what I wrote:

 

Hope is not a homeless cast-off, living in squalid conditions on the edge of the sunset’s shadows.

Though you will find it there.

Hope is not a forgotten word, buried under scientific jargon, dying an abandoned existence in a dusty appendix.

Though surely you can scan the final pages with your index finger and find it there too.

Hope is not an empty, opiate-filled wish, meant to pacify the cravings of a desolate heart.

Though hope is comfortable in emptiness, tucking neatly in an upside-down crevice of a turned-out pocket.

Hope is the undefinable assurance, proved to the heart by a million micro-steps of life, that joy can never be fully extinguished.

Hope is as high as a thousand-mile mountain peak, yet as thin as an inch-thick stream spreading out indefinitely in all directions.

Hope casts off doubt and lingers until despair yields to its indomitable message.

When the world doesn’t choose hope, hope merely grows stronger, encouraged in the throes of life’s storms, emboldened on the faces of the faithful, ensured that the weary will find their way, that the righteous will find their reward, that a simple seed planted long ago will find its way home.

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Hey Login Verifications: Chill out! I live in Saudi Arabia, OK?

Notice to all those places which require me to login:

This is a general announcement for all those online companies and organizations which I have connected with over the years. Yes, I do indeed, in fact, in verifiable truth, on my Scout’s honor, and in the witness of the Almighty Heavens, do actually and in real-life live in Saudi Arabia.

Therefore, when I try to login to your app or website, I may be flagged as being in Saudi Arabia, which in fact, I am.

In case you were wondering, there are many non-residents of Saudi Arabia living in Saudi Arabia. (Did I mention I was one of them?) These non-residents have the need to access their bank accounts, login to their Google apps, or possibly even check on certain government services. Yes, they may need to do that Saudi Arabia, so I would be much obliged that you ALLOW ME TO DO SO!

Stop with the silly twenty-seven step verifications.  I do not have access to my home phone in the United States because, well, I LIVE IN SAUDI ARABIA.

I am not a hacker. I am not a Nigerian 419 scammer. I am not phishing for information, because if I was a hacker of any solid reputation, I wouldn’t route myself through Saudi Arabia because, well, you know – those million step verifications.

So I’m just a normal guy, doing a normal job, who happens to live in the Middle East. I still have to access stuff.

So please just let me. If there’s a problem, I’ll call you. How does that sound?

Thank you for no longer making me a digital hostage because of my geographical location.

Thank you. I’m glad we can agree that all of you need to just CHILL A LITTLE!

I live in Saudi Arabia. Get over it.

Sincerely,

Me.

How to Improve at IMPROV (and Life)

I organized my first official drama event last night here in Jeddah–A Night of IMPROV.

I emceed the event where five members of my new drama group – The Sun & Sand Players – took the floor for a crazy night of improvisation.

A small but enthusiastic group participated, and we pulled in a slight profit to help fund our first real show in January.  Overall, it was a fun night.

The IMPROV performers are knew to the genre. They did a fantastic job – especially when taking into account the few opportunities that they’ve had to perform IMPROV, let alone IMPROV in front of an audience.

There were tense moments when their brains didn’t respond quickly enough, and they were flat-footed, unable to make that leap to the center of the floor to give a response. But that is normal. Natural, really. It’s to be expected no matter what you’re working on. The only way to improve IMPROV is to do it. Try. Jump in. Use the impulses. Feel the nerves in the gut and go for it. Mouth blazing, with little regard for self-censorship or self-consciousness. And as an actor practices, puts herself out there, let’s himself be put into different situations, he or she will improve. It’s a process. Sometimes a slow-moving one. But a process none-the-less.

It’s no different with my writing. It’s no different with life. If you have a goal, if you follow a passion, if you want to get better at something, put yourself out there. Play the fool for once, follow your pride, and jump right back in.

As an IMPROV actor, you might say something that people don’t laugh at. That can be painful. As a writer, I might write a cringe-worthy cliche that unleashes a whole slew of down votes. I won’t improve if I don’t learn to shake it off, learn from the misstep, laugh at myself, and move on.

This is the way life works. You will only attain that which you stubbornly shoot for. You’ll never hit the stars if your standing inside a barn. You’ll never cross the ocean if you don’t get into the vessel. You’ll … yeah, there’s all kinds of other corny saying I could add here, but you know the drill. You only improve at things which you are willing to work at, continuously, religiously, passionately.

That’s the only way you’ll improve at IMPROV, or at life in general.

I’ve got some writing to do.

Living Without Reeses, Corn Chex, and Swedish Fish (no more)

When I lived in Vietnam, back in the meager years after the U.S. lifted its embargo in 1994, I would, on occasion, have my neck snap while doing a double-take as I noticed an orange-colored package at a small shop. It was the Halloween orange, possibly better known as the Reeses’ orange, the type of orange that makes one’s mouth water with chocolate and peanut butter forlorn dreams for the luscious treats I missed so much. Every time, I mean every time, the turn of my neck meant nothing. It was a pumpkin-colored red herring – nothing more than a local treat which included no chocolate and no peanut butter.

I lived in Vietnam for ten years and NEVER once saw a Reeses product, forced to stock up on summer break.

And it wasn’t confined to Reeses. When I arrived in Vietnam is was still B.C. — before Coke. When we had our mid-year trip to Thailand, we would gorge on all the treats we couldn’t get there — McDonald’s, Pizza Hut, Dairy Queen, and the like of which my insides will never forgive me.

When we moved to Malaysia, it all felt so easy. All the fast food that wasn’t in Vietnam was readily available. The amount of available western products rose exponentially, except for those particular items like Reeses, Corn Chex, and Swedish Fish.

In the last couple years of my time in Malaysia, Reeses started showing up in stores on occasion. I remember seeing the orange package one day but scoffed at the idea, not willing to be fooled into believing the impossible. But as I came closer, sure enough, Reeses Peanut Butter cups. I inconspicuously swatted the entire stack into my cart. I had them all! And that became the problem. I think other expats would buy out the stack every time a small shipment would arrive. Of course, the store wouldn’t buy more. Who are they to want to make a bigger profit.

But in all my years in Malaysia, they still never had Corn Chex or Swedish Fish.

Well, now I live in Saudia Arabia, among the Reeses, Corn Chex, and Swedish Fish. All the simple pleasures. All the forgotten delicacies are forgotten no longer. I’m living in the land of milk and honey. The land of plenty. The land of too much. Long gone are the days of scrounging the shelves for any special treats from my childhood.

Now that I can have them, anytime I want, I find that I don’t buy them.  I find the old wisdom to be true: the less you have of something, the more you will appreciate it.

Ohhhh, the good old days, when Reeses, Corn Chex, and Swedish fish guarded the lore-ridden gate of the mythical Xanadu. Now they live on my grocer’s shelves. How mundane!

I Need a Shoehorn for Life

For the past eleven years, my professional dress consisted of sandals, dress shorts, and a button-down, collared shirt with those little slits at the bottom that made it look like it didn’t need to be tucked in. Comfort was the life.

Well, no more. Now, everyday, I’m spiffed up like a Manhattan businessman, minus the jacket.  It was a tragic day when I realized my toes would no longer be free to enjoy the morning air, destined to a daily dark dungeon surrounded by a woven cloth, inside a hard outer shell. If that sounds like my feet are hostage, they are. Literally.

Well, if I had to dress-up, I decided to do it right and bought myself a few nice pairs of shoes. Knowing that mature adults take care of their shoes and do not just force their foot into the heel with a finger used as a wedge. No. I bought a shoehorn. The first one of my life.

I have come to a realization: SHOEHORNS ARE MAGICAL!

Within the course of three blissful seconds, my gargantuan, monstrous morphs into a petite size six for a smooth and effortless slide into my shoe. It’s stupendous. Shoehorn, what spell have you cast upon this land that makes giant plodding steps a mere light jaunt in the park?

Seriously. I had no idea they worked so well. In fact, every engineer in the world should stop what they are doing right now and begin work immediately on a shoehorn for life.

Imagine a device that could movinghorn furniture through a narrow door.

Imagine a device that could shoppinghorn groceries into a bag.

Imagine a device that could learninghorn a college education into your brain with one slick slide.

Imagine a device that could lifehorn your daily routine into a sane and manageable packet.

Why are shoehorns only made for feet?

 

 

 

Are you prepared to go unexpected places?

You know how it goes: “If someone told me 10 years ago that I would be such and such, I wouldn’t have believed them in a million years.”

I know the feeling. Very well. This notion of unexpected outcomes came to the forefront of my mind this week because I found myself saying that above line nearly verbatim. Mine goes like this:

“In 2002, if someone told me that in fifteen years that I would be a drama teacher in Saudi Arabia, I wouldn’t have believed them in a million years. I would have thought they were experiencing severe mental delusions.”

You see, in 2002, I was living in Vietnam, teaching English at the college level to Vietnamese students studying to be English teachers. I was a frustrated, wannabee, writer who never wrote. I was immersed in Vietnamese culture and language, and I had even contemplated (for a few seconds) going on for a PHD in Vietnamese history. I had never acted in my life. I had never been involved in any drama productions. The extent of my dramatic experiences involved writing a play which I read to my mother when I was twelve, and writing a couple small skits which were performed in some low-key settings. Oh, I did act as Forrest Gump in a skit, so I take that acting bit back.

But I had nothing in my background that would have indicated that I was destined to be a drama teacher.

And I had nothing in my background that indicated that I would ever end up in Saudi Arabia.

So therefore, the combination of those two–teaching drama in Saudi Arabia–would have seemed too implausible to even ponder.

However, as I sit in Jeddah on the heels of my first week of teaching theatre at the American school, I am quite taken back at the loops and rabbit-chasing trails my life has gone down in the past fifteen years in order to arrive at this point. And to think it all happened because that frustrated writer sitting in Vietnam became inspired by a group of students in Malaysia.

I’ve told this story before, but I still like it. I moved to Malaysia in 2006 to teach history. (Yes, that’s a whole different story of how I suddenly switched from English to history!) As the drama director at the school was leaving, I volunteered to start a drama-writing group where I would collaborate with a group of students and we would write and produce a play for the next school year.

That was the genesis of it all. The interesting point in my mind is this: what was the impetus for me wanting to write and produce a drama with students? I don’t actually know the answer to this. It’s something that just popped in my mind, and instead of dismissing it, which I can’t believe I didn’t, I embraced and proposed it to the school. That was the crucial moment. For some reason, I stepped in to try something that I had never tried before. If I had not jumped in at that moment, I am fairly certain I wouldn’t be teaching drama in Saudi Arabia. If I had not jumped in, someone else would have eventually filled the drama void at our school and I would have sat in the audience enjoying the shows, never fully understanding how much I loved theatre.

I know now that I wasn’t meant to observe theatre. I was meant to create it, and I wouldn’t trade it for anything.

The only advice I have as I look back on my journey is that if you get an itch or an urge that you should jump in and try something, don’t delay. You never know where it might lead you. It could make you change careers in mid-stream and send you to far off lands to do things you never would have imagined but now couldn’t ever live without.

Where might you be in 15 years? I hope the answer surprises you.

Do you really need that?

I’m the atypical American, I suppose you could say. I’ve spent the majority of the last 23 years living and working overseas. It’s had its perks for sure, mixed with a downside, but overall, I wouldn’t have traded all my experiences in Vietnam and Malaysia for anything. By having such a transient lifestyle, our family has purposefully not accumulated a lot of possessions over the years. Oh sure, we have stuff in storage (maybe too much) and we’ve done our fair share of supporting global capitalism through our many purchases and our Amazon Prime membership, but I must say, compared to the average American, we’ve haven’t accumulated much. That is, perhaps, one of the greatest perks of living overseas.

When we moved to Malaysia in 2006, we bought a bunch of furniture on arrival which we used, loved, wore-out, and then sold dirt cheap when we left. We went with little and left with little. I know some folks who move overseas ship their whole household belongings with them in a shipping container–sometimes cars included. Not for us. Maybe an overweight bag or two. There’s a freedom in being light on your feet and debt free.

What made me start thinking about this topic is that we recently moved to Saudi Arabia. In doing so, we shipped (aghast!) some items from Malaysia directly to our new country. Not a lot–two pallets worth including a bicycle, guitar, household items, souvenirs and knickknacks. As each day passes without the shipment arriving, I’m starting to wonder what we actually shipped after all, and what would happen if for some reason our shipment never arrived?

I do know what would happen. Nothing.

Life would continue. We would work, live, laugh, eat, and enjoy our lives just fine–even if I never saw any of those out of sight items ever again.

What does it mean that I have so little regard for the things I currently don’t have? I think it means that we place far too much emphasis and value on the things in our lives, even if we don’t have a lot. But ultimately, I’m not going to cry over a lost crock pot, pizza pan, or painting. In the grand scheme of things, that shipment, which is now in the Persian Gulf, has no bearing on my life.

Now that doesn’t mean I don’t want it to come. Of course not. The practical side of me doesn’t want to have to buy another crock pot. But I’m also not going to fret about the things I do or don’t have. I think it’s a freeing place to live.

Before your next purchase, let me ask you a question: do you really need that?