Sitting in Public without a Device

You’ve probably seen the meme that goes something like this: I saw this person at a coffee shop, sitting alone, not on his phone, doing nothing but sipping his coffee. Like a mad man.
That is of course funny because it’s not often when you see a person in public doing nothing. Just sitting there. Possibly just thinking, to himself. Crazy stuff, right?
Well, as I was sitting in a delightful little restaurant/pub in Ireland, I realized I didn’t have Internet and I was dining alone, so I thought I would try it – just sit there and do nothing until my food came. Easy, right?
At first I didn’t know how to do nothing. I felt self conscious, I didn’t know where to look. How bizarre. I scratched my head. I rubbed my hand across the table. I tapped my finger. I glanced around slowly to see if anyone was looking at me. I’m sure they were. They had to be There was this lunatic just sitting there doing nothing in public. But there I sat, trying to focus on something. Hey look, a salt shaker. Yeah, it was pathetic.
Then the thinking started. It was slow at first, as my mind wavered back and forth between self-consciousness and being distracted by a thought. But then the old writer’s instinct kicked in. I started forgetting where I was, and I thought about the script I was working on. I thought of this character and this person. I thought of how great it’s been hanging out in Ireland, even though I miss my family. By the time my food arrived, I had survived the passing of time without talking to anyone and without using a digital device, and I didn’t have it devolve into some ominous plot against humanity. One can survive without a device in public.
Ok, so now I proved to myself that it can be done, I better open Evernote and jot all this down for my blog before I forget the experience. Don’t worry. I can write this note while I’m off-line.

Another One to Love

Love is not an exhaustible commodity.

We know this because when a new person enters our lives, and we love them, we don’t have to release love’s pressure valve and let out a little love from our opposite end to compensate.

Love is more akin to the expanding universe. It finds new voids and new spaces which weren’t there, and it doesn’t spread thinner and thinner like a tsunami eventually drying up on land. No. Love is as deep at its origin as it is at its point of expansion.

That’s a marvelous thought, isn’t it?

This topic has been on my mind, mainly because today I became a grandfather. My grandson, whom I will not be able to meet for a few more months, is a new and immediate object of my love. He hasn’t done anything to earn my love. He just has it by the virtue of being born to my daughter.

Love is automatic. It’s not coerced. It’s not purchased. It’s there. Just like that, the number of people in the world that I love has expanded by one.

And this got me thinking.

What would the world look like if we all understood this truth about love and acted on love’s expanding principles? What downcast soul would be brightened? What violent act would be stopped? How many broken hearts would be mended?

What would happen if we each expanded our reach of love by one more person outside of our regular sphere of influence?

We would all be richer for it.

This is my first lesson of being a grandfather.

Out of the Bubble

Out of the Bubble

I currently live in Saudi Arabia, and as an expat, it’s easy to find yourself living in comfortable bubble. My life in Jeddah feels that way in many respects. My main existence is a combination of apartment living on a compound, busing to school and back, all day at an American school that looks and feels like an American school, and then excursions to restaurants where most of the wait staff is from the Philippines. It’s not difficult to forget where it is I live.

Just for an evening, we decided to stroll the new corniche area of Jeddah, which buttresses up against the Red Sea. It was a Friday evening, and people were out and about EVERYWHERE! This is a beautiful and large new water front development complete with public beaches in the pristine water, children’s play parks, outdoor sculptures, and a terrific bike and walking path right in between the Corniche Road. But while here, I was unmistakably reminded of where I live.  Uncountable Saudi families brought their carpets and spread them out on the grassy areas to enjoy the evening air. Boys played soccer, while ladies in abayas and hijabs chatted in groups and strolled slowly through plethora of sidewalks. Children and a few men splashed in the water.

It’s good to get out of one’s bubble from time to time. You get to feel the flow of the culture. You get to question things you thought you understood, and you get a feel for the local people whom you don’t actually meet too often.

It was a pleasant evening strolling by the Red Sea. Here are a few photos.

What I Learned by Attending a Desert Party

A while back, I was invited to a desert party. It was unlike any party I had ever attended, and it was such a unique and interesting cultural event that I ended up learning a lot about living in Saudi Arabia.

  1. There are farms in the desert. I thought of deserts being these endless sandboxes with nothing in them. Well, I was wrong. The party was at a desert farm. The owner owned “about as much land as you can see” – or should I say as much sand as you could see – but the sand and harshness of the climate doesn’t stop the farming. There were large pens of sheep, goats, and camels — all guarded by dogs — and they all seemed perfectly content to live their lives in the middle of the most deserty desert you could ever imagine. Who knew?
  2. There are more than animals in the desert. People live there too. This became evident at dusk when scattered lights could be seen in all directions. Before the giant ball of fire in the sky dipped below the horizon, there was nothing in any direction except for sand. And then suddenly, lights popped up everywhere. Where did all these people come from?
  3. Saudis know how to party. A large section of the desert was sectioned off by high wooden stakes and a thick, hearty fabric. Inside the walls which swayed in the wind were sections of carpet for lounging, bouncy house, sound system, camels and horses for riding, kites, and a huge spread of so many meats that my cholesterol level rose just by looking at it. One especially delectable dish was layers of mutton and beef ribs which were layered on rice and cooked underground. Delicious. The dancing started and men and women alike shared their varied moves on the dance floor. Arabian coffee and tea flowed freely and shisha brought its fragrance to the corners of the comfortable tents. Outside the walled structure were four wheelers to ride and high-end cars that a dealer brought in for test drives. All of this in the middle of the desert. To find it, one had to drive on the tracks in the sand of the vehicle in front of you. It was unlike anything I’ve ever seen.
  4. Your view of Saudi Arabia is probably not accurate. I know mine wasn’t. This party once again ripped apart my pre-conceived notions of life in the kingdom. I’ve been realizing how wrong I was for the past five months and this just helped to seal the deal. Not one thing that happened that night would have been on my list of what Saudi Arabia is like before I came here. And you know what, it’s pretty cool to be wrong.

It’s so cold. How do people live here?

Coldness. How do people live with it?

For the past week, I’ve had my first taste of winter in 12 years, and while there are perks such as enchanting Christmas morning snow, the recent arctic swoon has destroyed all good will I had for the white fluffy stuff. I now know why geese fly south. I know why northerners retire in droves to the Keys. Living in perpetual frigid air is MISERABLE.

There’s a reason for my misery. Out of the past 23 years, I spent only 2.5 of those years in a house where having a heater was required.

For the past 11 years, I was creating away on the tropical paradise known as Penang. In August, I moved to the burning hot desert knows as Jeddah, Saudi Arabia. And then I come home to celebrate Christmas and I’m greeted with this stuff!

I spend most hours of every day covered in blankets, wearing gloves in the house, and realizing that a knit cap is as essential as water for survival. My body’s core has a permanent breezy idling like a car in the winter without a heater. It lives, but just barely.

I’m starting to think fondly of the 105 degree heat which greeted me in Jeddah in August. I know that sounds insane, but it’s true. Because everywhere I go here is cold!

I went to John’s pizzeria in NYC yesterday, and we sat on the other side of the massive place away from the door, near the 800 degree oven, and still, the frigid air swept in and I had to sit the entire time with my winter coat on.

It didn’t help that we moved into a friend’s house where the heat wasn’t working right, and our last night there seeing the temperature dip to 54 degrees in the house.

And then waiting at the train station yesterday.

And stopping at an outlet mall, having to walk across the place to find the Nike store.

And then even at the theatre, watching Anastasia, cold air swept in and distracted me for the entire first half of the show.

What is wrong with this place? It’s freezing out and everywhere I go, even indoors, it’s cold! So cold! I can’t emphasize how cold it is!

But not for long, because I long for the desert, and I’ll soon get it.

Goodbye, America. See you in the summer months!

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.

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?