I wrapped up 15 years in New York and moved back to LA. We got engaged and bought our first home. And after decades of dreaming, I finally made it to the Amalfi Coast.
I wrote, directed, produced and released my first studio film, premiered new music videos, edited my first novel, wrote new scripts, created new pitches, worked with several new clients, and other awesome things to share in the new year.
There were milestones and monotony, victory and ennui. Weddings, divorces, funerals and births. Elation, frustration, challenges and growth.
I’m learning to listen more to my body, my gut and my mind. Learning to be gentler with myself, more patient with others. More intentional, more present, more vigilant, more still. Drawing greater boundaries, protecting my peace. Knowing when to give more fucks. Discerning when to give less. Not hiding or hardening from the injustices of the world, but doing my best to make a positive difference. Countering hate with focus, war with creation. Recognizing achievements beyond goal posts and check marks, but as facilitators of ongoing joy and giving. (Buying a home? Cool. Hosting dinner parties? THE BEST!)
Vocalizing my desires worked well for me this year. So here’s what I’m hoping for in the year ahead:
More collaborations: “Partner” was my verb for 2022. I want to continue partnering with people, companies and friends, so we can build greater things and make magic together.
More fieldwork: I want to be in writer’s rooms and on set, directing my own projects, and shadowing directors on episodic TV.
More community: Y’all know me as a connector and facilitator. But with the pandemic and our move, I haven’t felt a consistent sense of community this year. I want to cultivate and strengthen the communities around me, jump in the mud and try new things.
As always, I’m here to amplify, uplift and champion you. I’m here to listen to your wants and dreams and help you manifest them however I can.
That’s all for now. Wishing you and your loved ones joy, warmth and ease this holiday season. ✨💜✨
1. To everyone out there seeing canceled projects or financial hardship ahead due to coronavirus, you are seen and valued. Hang tight. Take care of yourself. Join me for a digital dance party. When the dust settles, know that we will rally around you and lift you up in full force. ♥️
2. A friendly reminder that there is a lot of misinformation on the internet. Unfortunately, the fallout from the 2016 election has yet to cure the uniquely human impulse to click SHARE in half a second flat. Every day I see good, smart people reposting clearly doctored videos of politicians, memes with lies intended to cause aggravated sharing, and secret, alternative or “expert” opinions on coronavirus from sources like “unnamed doctor in Japan.” Before you click SHARE and enjoy that fleeting rush of endorphins, do a little research, fact check, phone a friend if you have to. Your intentions are good. But good intentions don’t save lives. Facts do.
3. I impulsively decided to make vegetarian matzoh ball soup completely from scratch without a recipe for the first time ever at 7 pm this evening. These are the crazy things we can do now. Since this was my first time, I accidentally made, like, 100 servings. I’ll be bringing soup to doctors tomorrow. If anyone in Brooklyn or Manhattan is craving some homemade vegetarian matzoh ball soup, let me know. I’ll leave a container at your door. 🍲
4. This is Dave, five minutes after learning he’ll be starting on COVID service this Monday, three weeks earlier than anticipated, discovering the cheers and applause for essential workers from New Yorkers on their rooftops, their balconies, their windows, and on the street. To Dave and all the essential workers around the world, please know that you are admired and appreciated by us all. #ClapForCarers#ClapBecauseWeCare
Also, this is Dave getting a quarantine haircut.
Also, this is Dave getting wrangled into joining a pop duo.
5. Hey all you cool cats and kittens! 🐯 Home used to be a haven for many of you, the one place where you could shut the world out. Now the world has infiltrated your home, and everyone and everything seems to be vying for your digital attention. This perpetuates anxiety and depression. (Noted by a guy who keeps perfectly calm during emergencies and high-stress situations but gets sweaty palms and heart palpitations when he doesn’t immediately text someone back.) I encourage you, friends, to pivot how you are mindful of your own space and time. Limit screen usage. Make a schedule. Set virtual boundaries. Go easy on yourself. Most of all, take a moment to invent your unique set of rules for living a healthy life at home. 💫
6. I took this photo outside a bar called Mission Dolores in Brooklyn in 2012. It was my first time in Park Slope. I remember feeling like I was so far from home, a world away from the Upper West Side, a galaxy away from the real Mission Dolores in my hometown of San Francisco. A couple months ago, I realized that this bar is on the block where I live now, where I’ve called home for the last two years. And in this moment, there’s nowhere else I’d rather be. I see rainbows on windows during the day. I hear cheers for essential workers at night. I feel the greatest sense of solidarity I’ve ever known. We’re all in this together. And we’ll all get through it together. #NewYorkTough#NewYorkStrong
7. On this #EarthDay, I find myself thinking about the Redwoods. My shelter as a child. My high school mascot. The tallest trees on Earth, nearly as old as the dinosaurs, capturers of CO2, refuge for plants and animals, resistant to fire and wind and rot.
How have these towers of wonder withstood the test of time, the wrath of the elements, and still managed to stand taller and stronger and more majestic than anything else on Earth?
Redwood trees live in communal groves where they extend and intertwine their roots with friends and neighbors. Think about that. What a heart expanding reminder during these days of isolation.
Friends, I’d love to know how you extend your roots to your neighbors. What commitments are you making to treat the world better from this day on? How will you show more respect for the animals, for the air, for the trees?
We are guests here. Let’s leave the world a better place for when new guests arrive.
8. Happy 50th Birthday to the musical Company. I count my lucky stars for the experiences I had with George Furth on a production at USC’s Bing Theatre and with Stephen Sondheim on a production at the NY Philharmonic. Every few years this show manages to rise (rise, rise) to the top of my mind. It will forever play a huge role in my life. Happy 90th birthday to Mr. Sondheim too. And three cheers for his collaborators and interpreters. I love his world of characters, as if they co-exist in one celestial plane. I love how specific yet universal his stories are, granting all kinds of people profound, individual relationships with the shows as if by magic. I love how his shows are never finished, and how generous he is with letting other artists interpret his work. I love how his music burrows itself under your skin, how the lyrics can simultaneously feel like a philosophy class and a scavenger hunt. What a gift we’ve been given. Like last night’s tribute concert, may we all sign off our Zoom calls for the rest of the month with, “Happy Birthday, Steve.”
9. I’m a GIF. I’m a lover. I’m a WASP undercover. Quarantine. So obscene. Going crazy in widescreen.
10. Today would have been the Tony Nominee Luncheon, the first flagship event of the Tony Awards season. Over the last couple months, I’ve seen a number of people say that streaming will be the future of theatre. As someone who has split their entire career between live and digital work, I have to respectfully disagree. The digital space can help theatre makers reach a wider audience, of course. Technology can help elevate and deepen theatre and live events, just as live experiences can help market and broaden the appeal of digital content. Live storytelling and digital storytelling help amplify one another. One medium does not negate the other’s intrinsic value, let alone replace it. If there’s one shared quality that runs through the veins of all theatre makers, it’s adaptability. Play stages have become sound stages. Campfires have become coliseums. But don’t for one second think theatre makers will forfeit the urgency and vitality of gathering in-person to share stories. They’ll do the same thing they’ve always done. They’ll adapt. The future of live storytelling is live storytelling. Anyone who tells you otherwise hasn’t made a piece of theatre. #TonyAwards#Broadway
11. This weekend, I finished a full manuscript of the novel I started writing a year and a half ago, started mapping out five years ago, started researching seven years ago, started dreaming about eighteen years ago. This digital stack of words feels both perversely inconsequential and yet still worthy of a moment’s celebration. It feels like a joke, to finish writing a novel in quarantine, but it’s a joke that stings with laughter, with bruises, with distraction, with purpose. I learned so much. I dug holes inside me and filled them with dirt and flowers. I’ve been editing the book as I go, but now I get to edit the manuscript in full. The fun part, I think. I hope. God I hope. I normally don’t talk about unfinished things, but there’s great value in acknowledging markers, and I wouldn’t have climbed this mountain without a wealth of support. I’m crazy thankful for all the friends and family who have participated in this story’s development, aided me in my research, inspired me to keep going, and encouraged me to serve up proud my wild, bloody mess of a heart. There are more mountains to climb, but for a moment, I’ll stop and enjoy the view.
12. America is not broken or upside down. America was designed this way from the beginning. Accept the discomfort. Lean into it. Don’t wait for others to tell you how to help. Do your research. Read the books. Have the conversations. Sign the petitions. Donate to the funds. Get involved. Make the time. Support black businesses. Amplify black voices. Follow black artists. Write to your city or town government. Vote in new leaders come November. Make sure everyone you know will vote in new leaders come November. Imagine a better life for marginalized people. Now listen to them imagine a better life for themselves. Ask how you can help make that a reality. Take care of yourself. Take care of your loved ones. Do what you can from where you are. Start somewhere. Start anywhere. Keep it going. Take it offline. Be an ally in your actions. That makes you an advocate. #BlackLivesMatter
13. Thank you Malynda Hale for having me on this week’s #WeNeedToTalk. I’m in awe of your art and advocacy, always. Thank you Drexel, Farelle, Jill and Amber for sharing your stories, ideas, and resources. We’ll keep the conversation going. It’s not enough for white people to rest on passive allyship. We must listen, and commit to taking action as advocates.
Also, this Summer will be the first since All Star Code was founded in 2013 without a live Summer Benefit. For the last seven years, working with these young men has been one of the greatest privileges of my life. They inspire, motivate and amaze everyone they meet. All Star Code envisions a country where all young men of color have access to the tools of success. If you’re interested in sponsoring a student or attending this year’s virtual benefit, you can find more information here.
14. In an alternate timeline, I would have been prepping The Tony Awards gala right now. Instead I’m marching in the streets. I hope theatre makers across the country are using this time to reflect and plan a more inclusive industry for the future.
On the first day of quarantine, I planted California poppy seeds on my roof. Every day I watered them, studied them, tended to their roots. Every day I witnessed color and beauty and growth. Every day I watched in amazement at the elements collaborating. Every day I learned new things and refined my commitment.
The work was not for nothing. Today, they bloomed. 🌼
15. I’m excited to share with you all a brand new personal website for the first time in many years.
My favorite part of this streamlined but mighty site is seeing the faces and work of so many other people I’m lucky to love and admire. Every piece of storytelling is forged in communion with others, whether its a team, an audience, or the storytellers who came before us. More than the stories we’ve told, I’m most proud of how we’ve told them. I’m most proud of the collaborators we’ve assembled to join forces in dreaming big.
Thank you to the brilliant actor and web designer Adri for crafting this website with so much talent and skill. If you’re ever in need of a website or pitch deck designer, I can’t recommend her enough. ProximaDesigns.com.
My design inspiration for the site came from the video and electronic stores of my youth, with stacked TV’s in the window beckoning you inside to explore different worlds of magic and wonder. So come in, have a peek around, and let’s continue working together to use storytelling as a catalyst for community building and positive change.
Today is the 19th anniversary of my Bar Mitzvah and please PLEASE no gifts. Okay the only gift I’ll accept is your help in electing Dorothy and Hugh’s daughter as our next President!
PS. My Haftorah portion was about the evolution of Avram’s name into Abraham. Kinda like Mister President into Madam President. So Bible Belters, it was written all along!
PPS. Shout out to volunteer Leticia at Frank McCourt High School on the Upper West Side. She was having a rough morning, though she wore her brave face well. I asked her if I could give her a hug, which she accepted. She held tight. When my ballot scanner said “Error” twice before finally being accepted, I looked to Leticia with concern. She said, “Don’t worry, baby. Your vote counts.” Then SHE asked if she could hug ME.
Obvi, Leticia. Obvi.
PPPS. I read Susan B. Anthony’s biography while I waited in line for my ballot. “Failure is impossible.” This morning, 19 years after my Bar Mitzvah, as I audibly wept in line and conversed with my sweet neighbors and hugged Leticia and bought a cupcake from the children and helped an old man find the disability entrance and thought about all the incredible women in my life and filled out a bubble next to our first female President’s name, I think I finally became a man.
November 9th, 2016
Mexican friends, Muslim friends, LGBT friends, Disabled friends, Immigrant friends, Female friends…The list goes on. Know and trust how many millions of people stand behind you. Who stand with you. Who will fight for you. Tonight. Tomorrow. Always.
I don’t know Trump, but I met him a few times when I first moved to New York. I was his waiter at Ivanka’s wedding. I remember watching him, in his yarmulke, with his arms around his new son-in-law, proud, respectful, curious, chanting with the rabbis for hours into the night. This whole election, I haven’t been able to get that image out of my head. It has simultaneously disgusted and infuriated me, while giving me the single shred of hope I cling to about him.
I encourage everyone to watch Secretary Clinton and President Obama’s speeches this morning. I couldn’t sleep all night. I walked these streets in the rain this morning feeling all sorts of things I’ve never felt before. I tried to sing. I tried to pray. I tried to summon the strength of my ancestors, today, of all days, on the anniversary of Kristallnacht.
But after watching both Clinton and Obama’s speeches, I do feel just a bit better, a bit more hopeful, a bit more galvanized, than I did last night. It’s a start.
My faith lies in all of you – my friends, my allies, my communities. I vow to work every day moving forward to ensure a more vibrant, inclusive, open-hearted America. Join me. Let us mourn. Then let us get back to work.
“This is the end of nothing. This is the beginning of something new and solemn and so important. You must be part of what comes next.” – Neil DeGrasse Tyson
I lost two of my childhood heroes in the last year:
Robin Williams and Gene Wilder.
I met Robin Williams when I was 10 years old.
Robin Williams was the The Pied Piper of my hometown, Marin County.
He was my fellow Redwood Giant.
I used to memorize his stand-up routines in high school and perform them for friends.
He tried teaching me to do a wheelie once on the set of “Jack” down the street from my house. I failed miserably.
He picked me back up and smiled and wheelied away with a cackle, sending me a photo and a note in the mail a few weeks later.
He was always so generous and so kind.
I met Gene Wilder about 5 years ago.
I was the bartender in the Presidential Suite at the US Open. (Never mind that at the time, I had never made a drink in my life – for myself let alone celebrities and international heads of state. But still, with a bit of mischief, I said sure, I can do that.)
It was a loud, boisterous scene. Mr. Wilder, one of my top five childhood idols, approached me. Quietly. Slowly. He walked with a cane, but no surprise tumbles were to come.
I want to say he ordered a soda water.
He kept his eyes on me as I made him his drink. Quietly. Intently. I’m no good at making conversation with my heroes, so I responded in the same manner. Quietly. Intently.
Images flashed across my mind. 7 year old me on stage, playing Grandpa Joe in Willy Wonka. 9 year old me at home, wearing out VHS tapes of Young Frankenstein and Blazing Saddles.
I handed him his beverage. He promptly took his wallet out of his pocket.
I said, “Oh no, sir. That won’t be necessary.” Tips were prohibited.
He paused to smile at me. A Mona Lisa smile. It felt as if he was studying me, discovering me. Or maybe he was letting me discover him.
He slowly turned his wallet upside down, holding it high above the bar. Then, he opened it wide. A few singles fell like feathers. Silence. He paused and smiled a little wider. He maintained eye contact with me. I was locked in his gaze.
Then, a few coins dropped out. Plop, Plop. Plop….Plop.
It was like a clown routine. Grace and perfect timing never eluded him.
He put his wallet back in his pocket, took my hand, then held it in his own.
“Sir, that won’t be necessary,” I repeated.
He glanced down for a moment, but only to look at my name tag. He looked back up.
“Michael. It’s very necessary.”
I could barely breathe. In his hands I felt play, vitality, honor, mischief. Great, lovely, wonderful mischief.
He released my hand, pushed $4.63 across the bar, nodded his head, then walked away.
Thank you, Mr. Wilder.
We are the music makers, and we are the dreamers of dreams.
I approached my Grandmother and sat beside her.
It had been too long since I had seen her last.
She was slowly eating her lunch while a woman played a waltz at the piano nearby.
My grandmother stared at me blankly for a good 20 seconds.
Then she began to cry.
Then I began to cry.
Then through our tears, we had a brief exchange:
Do you know who I am?
Do you know my name?
Michael? Michael, Michael, Michael.
I’m named after your mother, Mamie.
Mamie? Mamie, Mamie, Mamie.
I’m your grandson. You know Madeline?
That’s my mother. You’re my grandmother.
It’s so good to see you.
Thank you. Thank you, Thank you.
You look so beautiful.
Thank you. That makes me feel good.
I don’t want to get lost.
I’m right here with you.
I know you can smile.
I hope I still can.
Here. I’ll smile with you.
Thank you for talking to me for these few minutes.
I don’t know what to say.
You don’t need to say anything. We can just sit here together for a few minutes and enjoy the music.
(And so we did.)
A few years ago, I learned a very important phrase: “Treat yo’self”. Go out and ENJOY your life. Reward yourself for all that hard work. Travel has become my treat, my personal reward, my ice cream sundae. Last year, I had a three-week window snuggled between two of my biggest projects to date. This window happened to coincide with a business trip my parents were planning to South East Asia. So I bought a plane ticket and joined my folks for some much needed adventure.
I wandered the neon backstreets of Hong Kong. I took a boat around the floating villages of Siem Reap, Cambodia. I had one particularly magical day in the mountains outside Chiang Mai, Thailand. In the afternoon, I got into a water fight with four dancing elephants in a river. At sunset, a monk in a golden mountaintop temple blessed my family and me. In the evening, back at our hotel, I set up my first IRA with a (totally false) projected retirement year of 2050. I’m still not sure which of these activities was most surreal, and which had me counting my blessings more.
After a week and half with my family, I flew to Bali to meet Jesse, one of my best friends of more than 25 years. Bali had long been a dream destination of mine. Some artists have their blue period. I just wanted my Taymor period. (Julie Taymor infamously went to Bali on a fellowship after college, and ended up staying for four years. The multi-cultural mask and puppet work she developed during that time was later appropriated for Disney’s multi-billion dollar grossing stage production of The Lion King.)
Jesse and I arrived the afternoon before Nyepi, one of the largest Hindu celebrations and public holidays of the year. Nyepi is like New Years, Thanksgiving, Halloween, Yom Kippur and Burning Man all rolled into one. After our driver failed to show up at the airport, and we couldn’t reach our accommodations at Alam Shanti, Jesse and I gave in to a cab driver who had been trying to negotiate a trip with us for the previous few hours. As we drove through the streets of Denpasar on our way to the jungles of Ubud, all the roads behind us started to close. Villagers were making way for the parade of Ogoh-Ogohs, giant mythological demon statues that are used once a year in purification ceremonies throughout every village on the island. (Like Burning Man, the ritual ends with the Ogoh Ogoh’s burning to the ground. Unlike Burning Man, a grown ass man in a fur vest doesn’t try to sell you disco biscuits. )
That night, Jesse and I set out into the dark, damp jungles of the Monkey Forest, determined to find one of the street celebrations. We trekked and trekked. We were told the celebrations were over. I wouldn’t believe it, so we trekked some more, by this point completely lost in the jungle of a foreign island in the middle of the Indian Ocean. Of course, right at the moment when we were about to give up hope, I spotted a glow up ahead. Jesse and I raced up and around the bend, encountering what I swear to you is the manifestation of all my wildest dreams.
(It’s called the Bhuta Yajna ritual. Go HERE to watch it.)
The first night of any new adventure is always the best. Nothing beats that exhilarating sense of jumping into the complete unknown. Jesse and I found our way back to Alam Shanti with the greatest feelings of excitement, relief, and joy. At our doorstep, we found two boxes and a small note. The note read that the next day, we were not to speak, we were not to leave the property, and if we must eat, enclosed were our only rations to consume. The entire island will essentially be “closed”. I opened up my box and found a slab of dry meat crawling with ants.
It turns out that Nyepi is the Balinese “Day of Silence”. To commemorate the new year, the day is reserved for self-reflection, fasting, and meditation. And as such, anything that might interfere with that purpose is restricted. The roads are empty. The lights are out. Even the airport is closed. While it is officially a Hindu holiday, non-Hindu residents and tourists are not exempt from these restrictions.
The morning of Nyepi, Jesse needed to get a little work done, but the WiFi was down. I was itching to explore, but when I approached the gate to the property to leave, I was stared down by the Pecalang, traditional security men who patrol the streets to ensure that the prohibitions are being followed.
Jesse and I were frustrated for maybe about a minute.
But come on. You don’t get to plan all your adventures. Restrictions can in fact provide structure, discipline, and inspiration. And sometimes, the greatest adventures can be found in not adventuring at all.
So Jesse and I gave in fully to the day. We put away our computers and kicked off our shoes. We pulled flowers from the garden and made color stories on the tables. We read and wrote and played cards by the pool. We soaked in the sun and meditated and had staring contests with frogs. We didn’t explore, well not in the traditional sense. We weren’t productive, well not in the “adult” sense. But rest assured, experiencing Nyepi was one of the greatest treats of our lives.
My hand won’t stop twitching. My feet won’t stop shaking. After more than 8 years living in that bustling metropolis known as New York City, I’ve returned to Los Angeles for an extended stay and my teeth won’t stop chattering, my mind won’t stop racing. Why is everyone on the couch watching Netflix at 2 pm? Why is everyone in bed with a dog by 10 pm? And how is it that every single Angelino qualifies for a medical marijuana prescription? It’s as if the qualifications were A) You’re human, B) You’re alive, and C) Haha. That’s it bro. Here’s your bag of Purple Dinosaur.
After 8 quick years, have I become addicted to the rush of New York City? Can I no longer keep still? Wasn’t the initial point of this blog to acknowledge the extraordinary in the ordinary, the great adventure in everyday life? Perhaps my biggest mistake was self-proclaiming myself The Adventure Addict to begin with. If I had initially decided instead on, say, The Apathetic Vagabond, The Nonchalant Explorer, or heck, even The Folksy Flaneur, maybe the idea of a carefree, casual Tuesday afternoon would not totally terrify the fuck out of me.
In New York, I wrote lists. Every day. List making was MY medical marijuana. I’d make lists in the frigid jail cell I call a bedroom. I’d make lists next to a splatter of vomit while I waited for the train, already packed so air tight that businessmen would have to circular breathe between their mouths, nostrils, AND anuses.
So last night, after enjoying a gluten-free vegan meal and a dip in the backyard hot tub, I decided to make some lists. I wrote down 25 things I love about New York City. And 25 things I hate about New York City. And 5 things I love about Los Angeles. And 5 things I hate about Los Angeles. See, despite living in LA for 5 years prior to moving to New York City, I couldn’t come up with any more things I loved OR hated about LA. This was interesting for me to note. Life in New York is 0 to 100, often in the same hour. In New York, I’ve experienced my highest highs and my lowest lows. Life in LA is generally more consistent. Pleasant, maybe even lovely, if not terribly interesting. A day’s biggest win shouldn’t be progressing a mile in less than an hour on the 405.
If I do 5 things a day in LA, rather than 25 things a day in New York, am I being less productive? Or is the key to productivity in NOT multi-tasking, in NOT running around, in NOT beating the clock? But in working in focused, isolated chunks, allowing my mind the space and pleasure to pause and reflect in between. What does productivity mean anyway? Could a 2 pm Netflix binge provide just the inspiration I was searching for? Will going to sleep before Midnight make for a new, relaxed and genuinely alert day? When did that tree climbing, cloud watching, smoothie making kid grow up to be the personification of a triple soy latté no whip? Gross. At least enjoy the whip, Mikey.
Now this is all just a lesson for me in perception, of both the internal and external sorts. In debating where I could be happiest, and where I am most likely to thrive, the answer really is: anywhere. As long as I do work I care about, and am surrounded by people I care about, I find that I’m a generally happy camper. I believe that’s true of most people.
When I think of New York, I can focus my attention on small apartments and jam packed trains, or I can choose to think about the glow and vibrancy of Lincoln Center, the autumnal park strolls, and all those gems tucked away into hidden corners. “The map is not the territory,” a friend said to me the other day. We all make our own maps. My map of New York is different than your map of New York, and neither is the territory. I can say LA is a place that makes me less productive, or I can just choose to work at being more productive, wherever I may be. (Again, whatever that means.)
“Who is that woman in the mirror with all the wrinkles,” my Mom said to me over the holidays. Talk about perception. She could barely recognize herself, as if time had suddenly catapulted her into the future with weight and responsibility, without care or warning.
Aging is a funny thing. Sometimes I sit across from people I think of as “adults”. I engage in quiet, adult conversation. I nod and scratch my beard. In my mind, I am flying around a track, acting recklessly silly, bouncing off walls and screaming and picking my nose. But you’d never know that. At least not most of the time. Because at a certain age, we’re supposed to “act our age”. We’re supposed to be Adults with a capital A. But the older I get, the more I realize that we’re all just acting at what we think an adult is supposed to be like, my Mother included. In fact, we’re all still children among the stars. None of us got the handbook. Every one of us is just floating weightlessly in space, grasping for solid matter to tether ourselves to.
So I’m going to forget all these neurosis inducing Adult questions for a second. Children work better with YES or NO questions, right? So scratch, “Where in the world will you be most productive?” Also, good-bye, “Where will you be most happy?” As if life shouldn’t warrant or value or necessitate all the other emotions.
“Ask yourself whether you are happy, and you cease to be so.”
Instead, I’m going to get out of my head and try something more tangible:
Wherever you are, are you continuously finding ways to gain pleasure?
Yes or no.
Are you contributing something helpful or meaningful to the world around you?
Yes or no.
These questions require reciprocity in my actions. They require engagement with others and the world around me. They get me out of the floating space in my mind and give me solid matter to tether myself to. It seems the older we get, the more attention we pay to selecting and developing our internal states, rather than our external ones.
Eventually, decisions will need to be made. Work will need to get done. But for now, my hand has stopped twitching. My feet have stopped shaking. My teeth have stopped chattering. And my mind has stopped racing. I may never know the territory, but at least I know which maps I’ll choose to create.
The day before, I met the Queen of Jordan in Amman.
The day after, at Midnight in Aquaba, I reclined deeply in a field of multi-colored beanbags, taking in the Summer breeze and smoking watermelon mint hookah with my giddy Mom and Dad, watching the World Cup in Arabic on a jumbo screen beside disco balls in palm trees, lying under the full moon and a sea of stars, finally at peace with the universe, thinking surely this is what Moses would have wanted for us all.
But that day in between, that day in Wadi Rum, all I wanted was my damn hat back.
Though I had only been with her for about a month, she was unquestionably the best hat I ever had. She was my protection from that giant ball of fire in the sky. She signified that a true adventurer was under her care in the sweltering desert heat. Because true adventurers find their accomplices in the marked down section of J. Crew.
Unfortunately, in an instant, the heavy winds of Arabia snatched her off my head.
My parents and I chased her up and down vertical dunes of red heat. She was too quick. My beloved hat was on jailbreak, weaving in and around desert pillars of shattered rock until she disappeared into the great unknown. After an hour questing across a vast, empty sea of sand, my tweed companion was nowhere to be found. I dropped to my knees, and called out her name to the heavens. Haaaaaaaaaaat.
My head sunk low in despair. My parents put their arms around me as we trudged back to the truck. Our driver Mohammed, seeing frustration and sadness in the curves of my brow, asked me, “Did you not enjoy Wadi Rum?”
“I did. I just. I lost my hat.”
Mohammed opened the door and walked a few paces up the nearest dune. He then stopped and closed his eyes, the back of his keffiyeh swaying ever so slightly in the mild breeze. My parents and I looked at each other with hope and excitement as Mohammed disappeared behind a bend. A few seconds later, he returned, sand cascading like lava from between his fingers, revealing my crumpled hat in his hand.
I jumped out of the vehicle and rushed towards Mohammed, my head down again, only this time with gratitude.
“How did you find it? And so quickly?” I said.
“You know your hat. But I know the wind,” he replied. “You called out to your hat. Hats don’t have ears. They can’t hear you. But if YOU’RE still, and YOU listen, the winds, the Earth, they’ll tell you everything you need to know.”
In that moment, if a tear could have fallen down my cheek without immediately evaporating, know that it would have.
“Or,” Mohammed continued. “I just watched the whole thing happen from the truck and enjoyed watching you chase something you were never going to find. Take whichever answer you prefer.”
Mohammed smiled and pat me on the back. “Now hold on to your hat,” he said. “The real adventure awaits.”