Keeping a Full House

Full House was my first Hollywood experience…At the end of last semester, I found myself doing something I had never done before:  sharing with my students my journey to Hollywood. I told them it began with this show called Full House, which ended before any of them were even born. But they oohed and aahed, a group of students who had grown up all over the world. They had all seen it, connected to it, even though it didn’t represent their worlds in terms of race, gender, social structures or socio economics. I, however, did not ooh and ahh when I was told I’d be on the set up Full House. I had won a comedy writing award from Warner Bros as a student, and prize was to intern on a TV show.

I expected to be put on something edgy, not a show that could hardly be raved about for its writing. But edgy writing doesn’t have as wide of an audience, especially if families and kids are the target market. Jack Gilbert, the internship coordinator told me, Full House is what every studio dreams of: a show that lasts years, remains timeless, and thus can be recycled for royalties for generations to come, and doesn’t cost a fortune to make.  “This show’s biggest expense are the actors,” he said. Hearing about Bob Saget’s passing, so soon after remembering those times with my students, has revived the emotional roller coaster of arriving in LA for the first time. John Stamos had been one of the great crushes of my teen years, and I felt a bit star struck in his presence, so it was easier to focus on Bob Saget’s acting. The thing I remember most is when he wanted to change a line in the script, and one of the producers said to him, “No, this laugh is for John; he’s the star in this scene. You play straight.”  Saget was the only one of them who was a stand-up comedian. But he just nodded agreement. That’s how ensemble, in real life or made for TV, lasts so long, and that warmth is the part viewers craved and could connect to, despite the show’s lack of diversity. It’s how you keep the house full, as they say in the movies. (of course, there are negatives to what I saw at that time in terms of the writer’s room, but I leave that for another time)

Thank you, Steve Jobs, for Letting Me Write

Since I was in college, the one thing that has been in my life nearly everyday—and for better or worse, nearly all day—has

Thank you, Steve Jobs

been my Apple. Along with one of those apples that grow on trees, turning on my Mac has been part of my morning ritual wherever I have been and in whatever state-of-mind I have been in, minus a couple of war zones that have made it impossible. But even in those times, I would sometimes move my hands like they were going over the keyboards writing my thoughts.

I have never been addicted to my Mac, but I’d say we’ve been pretty co-dependent—or let’s say the best of friends, a reliable friend I always cleaned up with only the finest soft cloth, a friend I could count on to help me stay bond to my other friends and family, a friend I never cheated on once, no matter how many times a PC tried to get my attention. A friend who would only abandon me when it was his time to go, like Steve Jobs today. But my Macs always left memories behind, a hard drive that recorded our history together and the history of my life for the time we were together. And I am glad none of them tried to erase me from their memory, at least until we were no longer together .

It hasn’t always been the same Mac, but it has always been the same genius bringing me my new model—as well as smaller ones, ones that were phones, ones that meant I didn’t have to endure the same 10 pop songs on the car radio, ones that are what I now use to read all the books I love, new and old. Some Macs have been better to me than others, but overall, I would be less of a person for not having had them all in my life—even the big, bulky ones that weighed me down, that refused to move with the times, that were serious baggage, but only in the best sense.

I’m old enough to remember life before the various Macs that have lived with me. I would be a different person without them, as we would have all be. The way I stay in touch with people, read, listen to music, watch films, study, figure out my bills—all the paper and machines that would be cluttering up my world if my Macs hadn’t helped me get it together. They have also been fun–playing with my Macs in all their forms is something my nephews and I have bonded over, unlike video games (their choice) or baking cookies (my choice).  Apples are our happy middle.

Most importantly, my Macs helped make me who I am today. I wouldn’t be a writer without my Macs, whether for fiction, nonfiction, for film or television or print. And if I weren’t a writer, I wouldn’t have discovered peace of mind. Whenever my Mac and I have been writing, truly hard as it is everyday, I have felt that I am doing what I’m supposed to be doing. It couldn’t have done it without my Macs: I have weak hands and it is quite painful for me to write with pen or pencil and hard for anyone to read, including myself. It was only when I met my first Mac that I felt free to write.

So if you are wondering why this is posted on this blog dedicated to Middle East culture, it is because I would have never written anything about this part of the world if I hadn’t come here with my Mac. (And of course, because Steve Jobs was part Arab American.)

How Teaching Made Me Japanese

When the earthquake hit Japan, it was as if it had hit one of the many cities I’ve lived in.  The horror of it would have moved even the coldest heart but I also reacted to it–and still react to it– like it had hit so close to home, although I have never lived in Japan.  Well, not really.

I have never lived in Japan.  But during my last six years in Los Angeles, I used to go to Japan and Korea every morning.  That was how my sidekicks, the other English teachers at UCLA, felt at 9 a.m. when we would walk into a classroom that often was 100% Japanese or Korean.  In the afternoon, we left Japan and went back to Los Angeles to direct, write, perform, compose—whatever the teaching gig was helping us fund.

People always say teachers learn as much about life from their students as the other way around, but I didn’t realize how much those mornings in Japan were as much lessons for me as they were for my students until I finally made it to the actual Japan—1001 students later—probably double that—last November for a conference.  Unlike the other foreigners, I didn’t walk into stores with my umbrella open, I didn’t cringe at the texture of the deceptively pretty bean cakes in the Kyoto shops, I didn’t use a spoon to drink my miso soup, I wasn’t shocked by fully grown women dressing like teenagers and teenagers dressing like little girls.

While the other foreigners at the conference were feeling like they had landed in an exotic wonderland, I was completely comfortable with Japan’s odd balance of delicacy and harshness–the elegance of the presentation of food and even credit cards (although they rarely accept credit cards), the careful wrapping of everything, the orderly standing in line for the subway, the pristine washlets, the bowing at every turn juxtaposed against the lack of eye contact and friendly banter, the love hotels, the garish Halloween and Christmas decorations competing with each other in a country where neither holiday has any cultural or religious significance aside from being a reason to celebrate . I even knew how to eat the nato at breakfast (not that I enjoyed it).  I was aware the pork was their lamb, unlike some of the Muslims at the conference who found the ramen noodles had an odd taste. I didn’t think the restaurant didn’t know what time it was when we were served rice and pickles at breakfast. The Osaka octopus balls and cuttlefish pancakes were indeed different then their US imitations.  I was even ready for the separate cars for men and women on some subways, the one thing that reminded me of the Middle East.

I loved being in this country that I had already spent so much time with in LA.  The moment I realized teaching had made me Japanese was when I ordered the food at the Korean restaurant in Osaka for my colleagues and remembered my Korean students born and raised in Japan, many of whom had families that owned such restaurants. While the others couldn’t make sense of the menu, I ordered us a great meal because teaching had also made me Korean.

What my students didn’t prepare me for was the lack of English in much of Japan. Since the one thing I had to do in class every day was teach English, I expected that our students had gone home and multiplied.  Where were those students hiding?  Could it be that they had taught us more than we had taught them? Very likely.

They had certainly taught us that in Japan it is not okay to air your emotions in public, as heartbroken female students would tell me in a torrent of tears they were hiding from their classmates about some guy they had met in LA,  and so the stoic faces masking all the grief of Japan today on TV doesn’t surprise me as it does others here in the Middle East, where emotion is literally spilled onto the street everyday–especially these days.  But grief is grief no matter how you express or don’t express it, and today in Japan and the Middle East there is much grief but also much resolve and determination, just for different reasons and just expressed differently.