Friday, April 26, 2013

Adventures and New Things – Bird Shit


On the first day of 2013 I dared myself to live, to take a chance and step outside my comfort zones. I started by enrolling in a creative writing class as an outlet for my boredom. Truth be told, a writing class more hovered on the border of my comfort level and tumbled further into the zone with each session. During my master pursuit, I discovered that I savor learning. I have an insatiable appetite for knowing more. I flourished during my MBA studies. After graduating, I embarked on an endless journey of knowledge acquisition. I have been devouring volume upon volume of books ever since, sampling as many genres as possible. Therefore, a writing course seemed like the natural progression. It gave me the opportunity to return to my beloved class room format, bounce ideas around with my fellow students, and explore the option of phrasing the acquired knowledge in my own words. I admit it was a very enjoyable experience. However, I still wanted to challenge myself to venture further away from my comfort zone. In this attempt, I attended a performance art performance and a literary reading.

As an ardent Franco Fan (i.e. James Franco), I follow him on Twitter (duh!). I must be honest and attest that Franco isn’t a good tweeter. He always tweets pictures, rarely adding captions. His tweets are irregularly spaced, so you never know when you’ll get a post. As a result, his mystery encased pictures have become sort of surprise. They come in a slew of many consecutive tweets, bearing the unknown. Early March, one of his ominous tweets came a chirping. He was advocating a show called “Bird Shit” that was scheduled to show at MoMA PS1 in Long Island City on April 7th. The promotional webpage stated that the project was under Franco’s guidance as the performance was delivered by NYU students. A major sponsor pulled out four weeks prior to the performance. James (yes, we are on first name bases) was helping raise money for the project.”Ahhhhh! How sweat”, was my immediate thought. Bird Shit was inspired by Chekhov’s Seagull and Ginsberg’s Kaddish. It employed a multitude of media, song, dance, images, and live performance. I was intrigued. Knowing nothing about the Seagull and Kaddish, I set out to research both. I was intrigued further. Since the show was scheduled for a Sunday, I resolved to go and see it.

I arrived at MoMA PS1 at 11:53 am and waited in line for the doors to open. I noticed that there were several families in line. I took this to be a sign that I will enjoy the art on display, given that it would appeal to a toddler.  The museum promptly opened at noon as we filed into the admissions structure to purchase tickets. Bird Shit was scheduled to start at 14:00 in the VW Dome. I decided to explore the exhibits during those two superfluous hours. Having visited MoMA in Manhattan, I naïvely assumed I could digest the modern arts. There definitely were too contemporary pieces that I couldn’t understand, such as a large white canvas with small orange dots aligned in vertical and horizontal lines. However, there also were the Monets, Picassos, and Pollocks which I immensely enjoyed. I thought MoMA PS1 was merely a smaller version of MoMA. I was deeply mistaken. It is smaller in terms of square footage, but the art on display is quite different. Each exhibit is snuggly tucked away in its own enclosed space. The exhibits on display that day were engaging with the use of light, sound, and graphics. Yet, they weren’t quite for me. I feel guilty because I’m unable to give the artist their due. I didn’t retain enough details to describe why I wasn’t attracted to the displays. I found myself interested in the building more than the art. I stood at a window sill on a landing along the stairwell, gazing at the post office building across the street. I marveled at the additional details that appeared with each floor I ascended. I was done with exploring MoMA PS1 within 50 minutes, which was sad. I sat outside reading “In Cold Blood” by Truman Capote and brushed gravel induced dust off my face as I waited for Bird Shit to begin.

The VW Dome was in sight from my vantage point on a bench by the entrance to M. Wells Dinette. In case you are wondering why I elected to sit outside, the restaurant was packed with Sunday Brunchers and a long queue of want-to-be diners waiting to be seated. At 13:30 people started to line up for the show. I claimed my place in line, eagerly waiting to flash my hot pink wristband as verification that I purchased a ticket. I felt awkward standing among the eclectic crowd of young hipster, NYU art students, and mature art aficionados. Measured against the hipsters, I amounted to a hobbit, more Bilbo Baggins than Frodo. In contrast to the cool crew, I was short, dumpy and old. Measured against the older audience, I was a fraud. I lacked their maturity and sophistication. Nevertheless, I stood firmly in line, refusing to be intimidated by the experience. I buried my head in my book, willing the doors to open so I can escape the chilling weather. At 13:55 I heard the rusted squeak of a metal door opening ajar. People gasped and proclaimed, “That’s him!” I was too engrossed in my book to care. Moreover, I was standing behind a seven foot giant with my forehead hovering dangerously near his elbow. I could not see who “him” was, even if I wanted to. Over the masses, I heard a familiar voice, a voice I had heard a million times in the YouTube videos I religiously watch. It was James Franco in the flesh. Apparently, he stepped out of the theater to announce, “Guys, we’re really sorry but we’re having some technical issues and the show’s going to be a few minutes late. We’re really sorry about the delay.” He swiftly disappeared back into the dome, leaving us all, or maybe just me, craving for more. My face flushed. Had I known that Franco would be in attendance, I would not have come to the performance. I didn’t want to appear as a James Franco stalker, least of all to myself. But I was there. I had already purchased a ticket. There was nothing I could do at that point. Nevertheless, I felt sheepish, like a groupie following a rock star from one concert to the next.

Evidently, not only was Franco present but he was also part of the performance. He introduced Bird Shit with his signature modest and humble demeanor, thanking the audience for coming, reassuring us that the show wasn’t long, and hoping we’ll enjoy it. The VW dome is a very intimate setting. A small white stage stood erect in the middle, surrounded by five rows of folding chairs arranged in a hexagon and cordoned by the live band and technical stations. Next to this technical station, Franco stood in attention for the entire performance, overlooking his students perform. The light contrast between the dim theater and sunlit outer space was blinding. I could barely see as I entered the dome. I followed the silhouette of the lady in front of me until I found a seat to my liking. I immediately scoped out the space. There was an elaborate mechanical contraption affixed from a scaffold over the stage. Based on the promotional image of a man with white slimy substance covering his face, the show’s title, and the plastic lining the floor I correctly guessed the devise would dispense something during the performance. There were also three large projectors positions as the apexes of an invisible equilateral triangle hovering above the stage.

As promised, Bird Shit incorporated dialogue, dance, song, and prerecorded performances projected on the ceiling. Having done my homework before hand, I was able to recognize the Chekhov and Kaddish references with ease. After my experience with MoMA PS1 art, I was afraid that the performance would escape the grasp of my feeble mind as I intellectually struggled to comprehend the abstract. However, I was able to follow Bird Shit from the very first mega images of Franco projected on the ceiling with him disparaging fame and all the way through until the poor female lead was dragged out into the cold courtyard and drenched with water. I enjoyed every aspect of the performance, including the indecipherable songs. The show stayed with me as I darted from the theater on my way out, purposely avoiding Franco.  It still remains firmly in memory and mind three weeks later.

I had so many questions to ask, but I didn’t have a companion with whom I could ponder. I decided to file away these inquiries until the next time I encounter Franco. However, my take on Bird Shit is that we must endure the consequences of our choices, even when these byproducts are the shit we have to deal with every day. Fame is an unwanted result of living in the spot light. Some artists do not pursue fame, they simply desire the art. Yet, they have to accept the notoriety. I’m not sure if my interpretation of Bird Shit is what Franco had intended. Honestly, I don’t care. I was able to identify with this notion as I strive to deal with my own bird shit.

Monday, April 22, 2013

"Crowd" Writing Practice from Hitrecord.org

The crowd has started to gather. I can barely see ahead of me. It seems that everyone here is at least six feet tall. I hover dangerously close to a million elbows. I keep my head down just in case I get jousted, better on top of the head than the face. It is getting difficult to breath. I keep looking straight up and engulfing as much air as I can before ducking back down into the sea of people. I firmly hold tight to my backpack, confused to whether it helps or hinders my progress. I can feel strangers bumping into the waterproof hump, jolting me left and right but I maintain course. I can see the masses diverting above in a forty five degree upwards angle as they ascend out of the station. I order my heart to calm down, soon enough I too shall step on the escalator to ride out onto thirty fourth street. Penn station is always crowded on weekday evenings. I hate riding into NYC every Friday, having to fight the wave of people rushing to catch their rides at the end of the week as I walk against their tide. But all is well once I step onto the street and into the fresh air. It’s only a three minute journey from the train platform to the seventh avenue exist, but on Friday evenings it seems to take years to emerge from the station. I think about what we are going to do tonight to get my mind to focus on something else then the crowded station. Suddenly I feel the corrugated metal of the escalator, my hand darts to the mechanical handrail to secure my stance as I ride out of Penn station. I smile as my lungs fill with the cool air descending from the street above.

Friday, April 19, 2013

Just Call Me Nostradamus

We never expected a competent president. No. Let me rephrase
We never expected a very competent president. Yet, here we are today

Mr. President, are you sure you got your degree ?
Mr. President, are you sure you got your PhD ?

Dance for me, Sing for me
Entertain me drunk monkey

Oh! But wait
Drunk and dance don't mix

Never to mingle
Morsi and fix

Clueless to see what lies ahead
Clueless to be the truths unsaid

Buffoon, be fooled
Shame on me, shame on you

Do you sleep at night when you close your eyes ?
Do you rest awake anticipating your demise ?

Killer of hopes, Killer of dreams
Be hung, besieged

Will the day come when you wave from a cage ?
Will the day come when you ignite renewed rage ?

Lies, denies the fears in their eyes
Voices muzzled with tears and cries

An illusion of grandeur, an illusion of good
A savior of voices with so much said unheard

A savior to come, but not today
A savior to come, when if he may ?

My heart swells with sadness as I weep
For the lost ones I could not keep

Remember the departed who have withered away
Remember the departed to never flourish another day 


Note: This poem was first published in April 2013. I initially called it "An Untitled Poem" because I  was speechless to summarize my anguish due to the demise of Egypt at the hands of the Brotherhood and their puppet Mohamed Morsi. July 2013, after the Brotherhood fell from grace, I retitled the piece "Just Call Me Nostradamus".

Wednesday, April 17, 2013

An Egyptian Childhood - Heliopolis Summers

I was born in Charlotte, North Carolina, to Egyptian immigrants. When I was seven, my parents decided to move back to Cairo, Egypt. We lived with my maternal grandmother in Heliopolis area. Our apartment was on the third floor in a building sandwiched between a local park, The Merry Land, and the municipal court house. It was also adjacent to the sole supermarket of the nineteen eighties, Supermarket Express. This establishment more resembled a bodega than supermarket, as it occupied the lower two levels of an apartment building. Although small in size, Express was large in stature. It stocked a plethora of imported goods. Every Heliopolis resident knew Supermarket Express. Anyone who was anyone shopped there. My sister and I would save up our allowance money for weeks in anticipation of our scarce shopping sprees. We would waste it all on candy and bubble gum. We couldn't find the familiar Hershey bars, so we satiated our chocolate cravings with exotic European flavors of Lion and Smarties. My family couldn't afford to regularly shop at Supermarket Express, so it was always a treat to roam the store and reminisce about our memories of the US.

Our weekly groceries list was replenished from the local produce vendors who roamed the streets of Heliopolis , pulling wooden carts and singing their daily offerings in a voice so proliferating it radiated to the far realms of tenth story apartments. My mother would stick her head out of the window and shout out her order. The goods were delivered by an ingenious transportation device that comprised of a green nylon rope tied to the handle of a deep round basket. The rope was long enough to allow the basket to gingerly descend three stories to the street where merchants took their payments and placed the goods. Retrieving the basket wasn't always an easy assignment, depending on the size of the order. My mother was tasked with the obligation of fighting gravity and pulling her purchase up the very same three floors the basket had descended earlier. I spent many hours running to and from the local grocery story, Al Gameeya. My mother would send me on hunting expeditions to gather pantry items. We'd often run out of tomato paste, garlic, and onions. I would concede to her demands, often numerous times a day as she discovered missing ingredients with each step of the recipe. I always ran the entire distance, flapping my arms and raising my knees as high as they'd go. My long braids danced around my head and smacked me in the face. The fresh air would enter my lungs as I gasped for breaths through smile-parted lips. To this very day, every time I walk along the familiar path, I dream of running the whole way as I did in the past.

It was customary for the neighborhood kids to congregate during summer afternoons and play along the surrounding back streets. They rood bikes around the block and had impromptu soccer matches with stacked up debris marking the goal posts. Between the hours of two and four PM, mothers scooted their children out the door to play in the street while they enjoyed their afternoon siesta. My sister and I were not allowed to join these daily get-togethers. We spent the afternoons quietly cooped up in our glassed encased terrace, listening to the animated screeches and squeals emanating from the street. We laid on the floor and stared at the ceiling, daydreaming and reading Little House on The Prairie, with brief interruptions from the cable cars passing by at irregular intervals bringing with them the sound of metal chugging on gravel  and the toot of a whistle signaling the station right across our bedroom balcony. I was always amazed that my mother could nap despite all this ruckus, yet the sound of our hushed footsteps would awaken her in fits of angry rage.

Tuesday, April 9, 2013

Pining for Ryan Gosling


I intended to see The Place Beyond The Pines upon viewing the preview for the first time. The image of Ryan Gosling speeding into the tree lined horizon of upper New York was mesmerizing. I was curious to find out what he will bring to the character. Then, mixed reviews came in. Everyone praised Gosling's performance, he never disappoints, yet most found the three part vignettes disjointed and that the movie ran too long. With the film in limited release, I wondered if it was worth venturing out to Manhattan to see it. As my enthusiasm wavered and the film descended to the bottom of my to-see queue, I came across James Franco's review in the Huffington post (http://www.huffingtonpost.com/james-franco/ryan-gosling-place-beyond-the-pines_b_3014853.html). Franco's post about The Place Beyond The Pines is poignant, exhilarating and downright beautiful. He paints a vivid picture of Gosling (The Gos). He masterfully crafts each sentence in appraising the performance both individually and collectively. After reading the review, I too wanted to make love to the movie. Having availability this weekend, I decided to dedicate three hours to the appreciation of the Gos. With every scene, Franco's voice echoed in my head as if he was sitting right there whispering the film's narrative into my ear.

Despite being a bit long, with an over indulgent mid-section, The Place Beyond The Pines is an enjoyable experience. Having read the reviews prior to seeing the movie, I had a feed-forward on the events and the story's progression. This, however, did not diminish from the film's magnificence.   Gosling evokes a magnitude of emotions. I swooned, I smiled, and I cried. Gosling's rendition of the troubled soul but good at heart Luke is so consuming, you crave him in every scene. I wonder how different Bradley Cooper's chapter would have been if Gosling was cast in the role. I was eager to see him spar with Ray Liotta. Not to fault Cooper, for it is refreshing to see him convey other sentiments rather than disdain from behind his Hangover glasses. But how can he follow Gosling's performance - no one can. In large part, this is the reason Cooper's vignette seems over drawn. However, Cooper was successful in getting the audience to dislike Avery despite sympathizing with his character.

The Place Beyond The Pines plays like an inverted sandwich, with the dull stale slice of bread encased between two meat patties. The last portion of the movie is a powerful bookend to Gosling's chapter, bringing together the fate of our antagonistic protagonists. The film's major premises, as Franco so eloquently states, is a Shakespearean Sins of our Fathers. It begs the question, are we destined to follow in the footsteps of our fathers regardless how much or how little influence they had in our lives? As if our destiny is preordained by our genes not our actions. The movie also touches on the dichotomy of good and bad, more of the contrast between what society, and perhaps the viewer, deems as good or bad and the intentions of individuals. We often set out to do good, but in a bad way with the notion of the ends justify the means. However, when is this conflict accepted both publicly and privately. This brings us to another theme, conforming to society. The more we conform and assimilate with the masses, the more forgiving people will be of our sins. As opposed to loner stoners who do what they want as they deem appropriate. Society more readily judges and prosecutes their sins because they are viewed as renegades and outsiders. The Place Beyond The Pines raises the question, which of our two antagonistic heroes will die with a clear conscience.

After reading Franco's post, I was hesitant to publish this review. My writing could never so articulate my sentiment in such a profound manner as Franco's review. Whenever I try to wean myself off this Franco crush, he does something so admiral that elevates him to new heights, so admiral that he would serenade the performance of a fellow actor and pine for the Gos! If The Place Beyond The Pines is not on your must-see list, may I suggest that you read Franco's review and then decide. I guarantee that you'll speed out the door in search for a showing upon reaching the last words - Burn Hard Baby!

Thursday, April 4, 2013

A Letter to President Morsi

Mr. President,

You are all mighty. You have achieved far much more than anyone else before. You've killed hope. You've slaughtered prosperity. You have proven time travel possible with Egypt now resembling that of the early eighties and literally the "dark" ages. You got Egyptians to condemn democracy and crave the security of the authoritative. You have united us in hate. You have divided us with hate. You got us to be thankful for what we have at hand, for we never know what we'll lack tomorrow. You got us to become modest, to covet the basic needs of humanity: safety, shelter, and nourishment. You got us to denounce the basic human right: freedom of thought. You got us to surrender our minds for it has become too tiresome to ponder on all that is happening. You got us to chronicle and long for the past. Yet, you are not satiated with all of this. You also want to takeaway the last thing we have remaining, the last thing that hasn't depreciated with the ailing value of the Egyptian pound. You want to takeaway our Joy. Our ability to scout humor in the darkness of despair, is the very thing that defines us as Egyptians. Have you forgotten that you are the president of Egypt, the birthplace of jokes? Why can't you have the grace and virtue of those who came before you? Why can't you remember the fate of those who came before you? Do you want to tell us that you have never laughed along with Adel Imam in Al Zaeem and Mohamed Sobhy in Takhareef, or have you forgotten.

By prosecuting Bassem Youseef and others, you are defying what it means to be an Egyptian. Voices can be silenced, but not hearts. Save your soul and engage your conscience. How can you be in a position of magnificent power, yet squander in pettiness and deceit. You can have eighty million hearts praising you. How can you refuse to see this? Are you blind? If you are drunk with power, take a moment and think about the not-so-far past, just a few years back. Thank god and think of god. What will be the testimony of your hands, tongue, and heart upon facing your deeds? When life and false glory are gone, all that's left are your deeds and what they feed. Stop harboring hate. Don't hide from your critics, face your actions. The past and present come together to tell a story. What will your story be? Look into the mirror, examine your deeds of the past year and reflect on your future (you are the only Egyptian who can claim to have one). What kind of legacy are you going to leave behind? But keep in mind that man is feeble, he perishes. Egypt has stood the test of time for THOUSANDS of years. Egypt will preserve despite of you. You can either join and make history or become history. Currently, the choice is still yours to make. Seize the opportunity.

Sincerely,
An Egyptian Citizen

The Power of Art

As I read Ginsberg "Kaddish" again, trying to grasp it firmly with my feeble mind, tears come to my eyes. 

I recall my mother and how I'd like to appreciate her in her life and never ever eulogize her death. 

Isn't this the beauty of art, nay the power of art. 
The power to evoke emotions. 

Of course these emotions are conditioned with our conditions (circumstance). 
This is why a piece can make us happy one day and sad the next. 

Maybe art doesn't evoke emotions, but rather shines a spotlight, amplifies our feelings. 

As theater cannot exists without lights, life cannot exists without art. 
For without it, 
we'll no longer be able to distinguish life from death, 
jubilance from despair, 
love from hate. 

Those who want to kill art and silence minds, 
want to kill life, 
want to take away our basic right to feel.

Monday, April 1, 2013

My attempt at Science Fiction and Fantasy (2)

This is a writing exercise, turning a narrative into a dialogue. This is based on the narrative piece titled "My attempt at Science Fiction and Fantasy"

"I've gotta go. I don't want to miss the train."

"You can take a later one"

As I said this she was already out of her chair, getting ready to leave. I just stood there watching as she collected her things and put them away in her bag. I knew my abrupt declaration of love has prompted this sudden need to catch the train home. I didn't want to make matters worse, but I also didn't want her to leave. I started snatching papers and folders from in front of her. She looked up and gave me a daring stare.

"I didn't mean to upset you."

"It's okay. I'm not upset. I just think it'll be best if we leave it at that."

"No, don't go. I won't mention it again. Stay. We have so much work. Please, stay."

She hesitated for a fraction of a second. We looked at each other with eyes screaming of a thousand unspoken words. She shook her head and continued arranging her notes in a neat pile. I stood by quietly watching her stuff the documents into her pink folder. She paused and gestured towards the papers in my hand. As I gave them back, I tried to read her expression. All I could see was a blank stare, a blink here and a blink there, as a crimson flush raised up her face like the evening tides. I reached out and took her hand, a silent plea to get her to stay. She looked at me and sighed loudly, "I don't want to do this now." I didn't let go of her hand, so she continued,

"I can only imagine how difficult it was for you to say that. But you don't actually love me."

 I opened my mouth to protest, but she didn't give me a chance.

"Will, you have to give me enough space to say what I need. And you have to promise not to interrupt and to listen to what I have to say. Not just hear, but listen. Do you promise?"

"Yes."

"You don't love me. You're simply intrigued because I am weird, because I am different. Once the novelty wears off, so will the attraction. My heart is shouting for me to go for it because I have feelings for you too, but my head knows better. I'll be shattered when it ends and I don't have that luxury. I can't afford to break down. I can't."

"Are you done?"

She shook her head in a yes motion.

"Can I speak now?"

She kept shaking her head and mouthed "of course", although the words never came out.

"Bull shit! That's just bull shit! You're afraid. That's it. You are afraid. And what's up with all this I don't love you crap? Did you tear open my heart and look inside to so boldly declare that I do not love you?"

"Why are you shouting?"

"Because I am angry. You know what Ava, I do have a problem. Sometimes I don't listen and I jump to conclusions. But you're even worse. You assume that you are right about everything. You think that you have to be in control. You can't live life like a contingency plan, avoiding risk and mitigating pain. Guess what, life is hard and you're going to get hurt in the process. Stop analyzing and start living. Don't rationalize the reasons why you shouldn't be with me. What is your heart telling you?"

"That you will loose interest. And what's going to happen to me then? I know that I act all tough, strong, and confident. Maybe I am all those things, but not emotionally. My emotional being has been smashed to a million pieces and I'm holding it together with masking tape. One jolt and it'll come tumbling down. Hell, I can barely make it on my own as it is."

"I know that you are afraid but I love you. I promise to never intentionally hurt you. But I can't promise that there'll be no pain. There will be times when it'll get very difficult and we'll have to work hard at our relationship, but I'll always be there. We'll hurt together and we'll heal together."

She leaned in and took me by surprise. Our relation has never transcended the boundaries of our desks. Sure our feet have touched on the rare occasions we'd somehow synchronize a stretch. Our fingers have grazed while exchanging notes and handing out coffee. But never before have we engaged in a deliberate act of physical contact. I was amused that she'd be the one to make the first move. Her body moved in closer to mine. She overtook me with a warm embrace. Standing tippy-toe, Ava wrapped her arms around my neck, nestled her head in the crevasse below my chin, and held on for dear life. I could feel her pressing against me. I could smell her scent. I could feel her breath. I could hear her heart beat in harmony with my own. We stayed there for what seems like a short eternity. Then, she kissed me on the cheek and disappears as if in thin air. I just stood there, trying to permanently edge this memory in my being.