Sunday, March 18, 2018

Down the Rabbit Hole

Trying to teach full time while taking online classes is like playing the accordion with no musical training. I thought I might accomplish something on par with the Amelie soundtrack and I ended up with pandemonium, aggravation at my habit of biting off more than I can chew, and a tremendous headache. At least online classes have finished and I can take some life lessons from Elwood P. Dowd, the fictional character in one of my favorite plays/films, Harvey. The theater department at my school recently put on their own production of Harvey. The theater teacher asked me to paint a portrait of the student who plays Elwood P. Dowd and his imaginary friend from whom the play derives its name. A substantial part of the play's humor depends on the portrait. I knew this from having watched the film starring Jimmy Stewart, so the great responsibility of my job was not lost on me. I already had so much going on, but I can't say no to painting one of my favorite characters and his imaginary friend rabbit. I think the painting turned out pretty good and the play turned out even better. As I watched the show, I realized that Elwood P. Dowd possesses the most important character trait: kindness. Even in stressful times, even when his own sister tries to commit him to a mental institution, Elwood P. Dowd remains kind and sees the best in everybody. I have to remember to be more like him.

On a side note, I was watching interviews with David Bowie because he is another person I decided to take life lessons from. In this interview with Ellen DeGeneres, he admits to having a large rabbit follow him around. I noticed as he was talking that the design on the wall behind him looks like two rabbit ears. Coincidence? Maybe hallucinating rabbits is the key to happiness.

Saturday, February 24, 2018

Kuwait National Day

 On Kuwait National Day, people are commemorating driving Saddam Hussein out of Kuwait by driving their big, expensive cars around the city and letting their unruly children squirt pedestrians with water guns. The biggest issue I have with this mode of celebrating Kuwaiti independence is that the only people who walk here are foreigners-like me, and people who are here for interim jobs-also like me. As an American, I am used to displays of idiotic nationalism, but that doesn’t mean I am any less repulsed by these practices. Though nationalistic pride usually comes with the price of people thinking they’re better than others, being aggressive and assaulting foreigners who do nothing but help their host country crosses over into abuse.

It seems like such an odd way of celebrating, to take to the streets and shoot innocent civilians with water guns, but let’s analyze this bizarre custom for a minute. What does this practice tell us about the Kuwaiti psyche? To me, it implies xenophobia is alive and well and that some parents have an ugly and cowardly tendency to channel their own aggression through their children. On nights like these, some evasive parents might give the nannies a break and say to their children, “Go, fill up your water balloons and squirt guns and let’s go shoot poor people who don’t have cars.” Really, this style of parenting leaves me in a state of bleak bewilderment. What kind of life are these children going to have if they grow up thinking because of their wealth, they can treat people however they want? And besides, Americans helped Kuwaitis drive out Saddam Hussein. How about showing a little gratitude?! I was trying to express my disbelief via text message to a friend today and when I wished to include the pensive emoji, I noticed it was no longer available. Perhaps, in honor of Kuwait National Day, the day many parents don’t think before arming their children with water guns, the thinking emoji has been discontinued.

Yesterday, when I was walking home from the gym, a child riding in a car squirted me with a squirt gun, and although it was a light mist, I did not appreciate the prank. Today, yet again, a child squirted me with a squirt gun when I was waiting at a crosswalk. Both he and his mother looked shocked as I extended my middle finger at them. Before the walk signal came on, I saw another child dangling out of the sun roof, holding a couple of water balloons and aiming one at me. In a moment of disgust and anger, I held up my water bottle and acted as if I might throw it, yelling, “Don’t you dare!” With my other hand, I gave him and his mother the middle finger. This boy was so shocked, he shouted at some nearby police officers to arrest me. A police officer casually approached me, smiled, and said, “I understand. I’m sorry.” As I continued my walk home, trying to stay as far from the road as I could, I remembered, back when I lived in Qatar, flipping off a Qatari person could land you in jail. I even had a friend who went to jail for losing his temper at a Qatari man after watching him verbally abusing a fast food worker. The fact that Kuwaiti police let my offensive, but well-deserved, hand gesture go unpunished, tells me that Kuwaiti people are much kinder and more tolerant than Qatari people. I already knew that, and besides, it doesn’t take much to be kinder and more tolerant than Qatari people. If I could offer a suggestion, it would be to appreciate the foreigners who come to Kuwait to do jobs Kuwaitis don’t want, not to see them as target practice for their children. Everybody deserves dignity.

I'm trying to become more positive through inspirational throw pillows. 
Despite my irritation at irresponsible, nationalistic parents, I felt a wave of calm and clarity come over me today. My writing was interrupted by a blackout. My laptop needed to be charged and my candles didn’t offer enough light. I opened the curtains, but the stormy sky had no light to offer. Finally, I resigned myself to the darkness and decided to just sit and think. With no distractions and no feeling of urgency, I was able to calmly construct an idea for a new story. I think I’m going to make a habit of turning off the lights and giving my thoughts the environment they need to formulate. Perhaps my creative process, like a patch of mushrooms, prefers the dark.

I also achieved some peace of mind recalling a Gwen Ifill quote that means a lot to me. I like it so much that I decided to write it on the chalk board in my apartment. “Don’t wait for someone to give you flowers. Plant your own garden.” In other words, don’t get angry if others mistreat you or wait for people to be nice to you. Be so abundantly kind to yourself, that your life will be overflowing with fortune and kindness, like a lavish garden, complete with gnomes and flamingos. That’s an especially important message to remember on a day like today, after being assaulted by children, who are assisted by unthinking parents.

In the gym parking lot today, I spotted this adorable car. Let this car be an example to the people indulging in bigger, more obnoxious displays of nationalism. Subtle is better.

Friday, December 8, 2017

Do you have a life?

I took one look at the Egyptian flag and pyramid souvenir dangling from the rear-view mirror and with a hint of sarcasm I asked the cab driver where he was from. As he passionately replied, “I’m from Egypt!” I remembered sarcasm doesn’t translate in this part of the world. I let my eyes take in the eclectic taxi d├ęcor: the orange shag seat covers, the plastic mats on the floor with colorful flashing lights. Prior to getting into the cab, I had felt a bit woozy and worried I might be carsick. Now the flashing lights added to that anxiety. Everyone all around me seems to be getting sick: students, co-workers, friends, neighbors. So far, I’ve been young and healthy enough to only become briefly and sporadically infected. The taxi driver asked me where I was from and when I answered, “America,” he cheered, perhaps thinking an American woman in the backseat would perk up the atmosphere of his already pimpin’ ride. “Las Vegas!” he added. “I’m not that kind of American,” I told him.

He asked me if I liked music and handed me a thin cable, which I gathered I was supposed to plug into my phone. “I need to listen to your music,” he said intensely, which made me laugh.  I clicked on my “Chill” playlist and Simon and Garfunkel’s “America” came on. The driver managed to politely veil his disappointment. I closed my eyes and leaned my head back, trying to ignore the flashing lights that were clashing with my chill vibe. When that song finished, Barbara Lewis’ “Hello Stranger” came on. “So romantic,” the taxi driver commented.

Then he asked me something profound and personal: “Do you have a life?” I laughed again, thinking it was my slow, sentimental taste in music that inspired this question. “I have a small life,” I responded. For the rest of the ride, I pondered if the life I’m currently living truly qualifies as “a life.” I’m working harder than ever. I’m learning a lot. I have sparse time to work on my own creative projects. I ran a 10k last month. Is that a life? Maybe I should invest in some flashing lights and shag carpets.

I went home to put on makeup. I was going to hang out with a male friend. Knowing I had a social engagement made me feel that I did indeed have some semblance of a life. But then he cancelled. He’s sick. Before experiencing my small fleeting flu symptoms, I had been privately mocking all the people whining that they were “sick.” But apparently, there’s a serious bug going around. Let’s hope some other bugs make the rounds, like the “Not working so hard” bug, the “Sleeping through the night” bug, or the “Time to read and write for pleasure” bug. Then I could answer the question, “Do you have a life?” with an emphatic “Abso-(explitive)-lutely.”

Saturday, October 28, 2017

If You Build It . . .

I have a running buddy! Getting a running buddy, someone to huff and puff and plod alongside me, seems like just as much of an achievement as the actual running. My running buddy and I ran along the Arabian Gulf today. Her stopwatch beeped every five minutes and then one minute after that, our signal to run and then walk. While running, she told me about something interesting her driver told her. He speculated that the reason Kuwait hasn’t developed its infrastructure as much as Doha, Dubai, or Abu Dhabi is because, until Saddam Hussein was killed, Kuwaitis were always afraid that Iraq might invade again and destroy everything they had built. I’ll have to ask a Kuwaiti if this is true, if that fear of impending doom and having their work erased is etched onto the Kuwaiti psyche. After our lovely run on the waterfront, I walked home and gazed at all the old buildings--buildings that maybe existed before Iraq invaded in 1990. I suddenly felt a connection with Kuwait that I hadn’t felt before, as if deep down we shared some vulnerability.

I’m in a constant state of development, as a teacher, writer, and human being. But I came to Kuwait for a specific kind of development--professional development. I came to receive training and experience teaching the International Baccalaureate Curriculum, also known as IB. Developing ourselves can be daunting, especially if we have or have ever had unsupportive people in our lives. I can say with certainty that there have been people who would take sheer pleasure in toppling any sand castle I created. I’m going to venture a guess that most of us have some version of Saddam Hussein in our heads, something from our past that casts doubt on the durability of whatever we are trying to achieve. It could be some discouraging words heard once that somehow turned into a recording that our brain just decides to play every now and then. It could be a jealous person who tried to sabotage your success, so they could look superior. Whatever the Saddam Hussein demon in our closet is, we need to shoo it away and build. We need to better ourselves. (I’m thinking of Mr. Mushnik in Little Shop of Horrors telling some girls loitering outside his plant shop to better themselves. Their response: “Better ourselves? Mister, when you from Skid Row, ain’t no such thing.” Sometimes we get in these Skid Row mindsets where bettering ourselves seems futile. (In any case, I think we can all agree that Little Shop of Horrors is a great film.) 

I would love it if Kuwait built some overpasses, so I didn’t have to fear for my life while crossing the street. Oh, and a big, used bookstore would be great. That’s all I need. I am happy in my apartment and my school. I’ve decorated my apartment with my framed art, Turkish lamps, Turkish carpets and pillows. I’m currently writing this while sitting on my comfy couch and sipping hot chocolate. I don’t know how long I will stay in Kuwait, at least two years, maybe three, maybe four. That depends on my level of fulfillment, which is still yet to be determined. Even if I don’t stay beyond my two-year contract, I am glad I invested in decorating my apartment and making myself at home. I’ll just go ahead building everything to last, as if everything is durable and nothing can destroy my work. I’ll build my career with new challenges. I’ll build my writing life with ambitious projects that I finish before the nagging voices keep me from reaching the end. My apartment is already complete, and I should probably stop decorating, lest I end up living in a cluttered apartment. But my life can be prolonged with exercise, which I did today. Nothing lasts forever, but let’s not let a fear of an outsider tearing us down keep us from doing what we love to do. 
My cozy living room

Wednesday, July 26, 2017

Defenestration of the Administration

Even when we try to follow traditions, my family ends up breaking away and reaffirming to the world how weird we are. As a child, I thought we must have been the inspiration for the children's book series, The Stupids. If my mom could have worn a dress made out of chickens like Mrs. Stupid, she would have, but I don't think that outfit would have gone over well with the animal rights activists in Portland, Oregon.

One Christmas our friend Richard visited from Alabama and he was flabbergasted that my mom made a pot roast for Christmas dinner. (Apparently, the traditional Christmas dinner is a ham.) I was flabbergasted that she cooked at all. This is a woman who used to throw blankets on our Christmas presents instead of wrapping them. If Richard were still with us, (R.I.P.) he would have laughed at yet another one of our deviations from tradition. Today we celebrated Christmas and we ate Korean food for dinner. (We went to a restaurant for dinner, of course. I mean, who cooks dinner on Christmas? Am I right?)

Maybe it's my affection for the Alabama accent, but I have a soft spot for Jeff Sessions now that he's being bullied publicly by our fake president. In one of my most cherished memories of Richard, he threatened to throw one of my mom's friends out the window if she said one more critical thing about Alabama. My mom and I frequently joke that we are going to throw each other out the window. We also regularly joke about throwing people we dislike out the window, and tonight we both agreed that the appropriate thing for a Southern gentleman to do in this situation was to throw the POTUS out the window. 

Although Jeff Sessions is a liar with a dismal civil rights record, he doesn't seem nearly as bad as all the other disgusting people contaminating the White House. The same goes for Sean Spicer, who seems so infantile it's impossible to be upset with him. The headline of the last article I read was "The Strange, Slow-Motion Defenestration of Jeff Sessions." To sum up the article, our fake president is between a rock and a hard place. If he fires Sessions, everyone hates him. If he doesn't fire Sessions, everyone hates him. And one thing I know for sure: Our fake president is the one who desperately needs to be thrown out the window.