Surviving The Red Carpet

  After Cannes, I am lying floppy-limbed on my aunt’s sofa in Jeddah. I don’t want to move or think and I am craving all sorts of sugary things that I shouldn’t be eating.   

It took me a while to understand what this trip was about. It was many things. First it was Cannes. The festival is a gigantic wonderland for filmmakers, cinema buffs and celebrities. It’s also the pinnacle of prestige and glory. Climbing the red staircase at the red carpet is a big deal, people! And historical things happened on the red carpet this year. Second, it was a tour to represent Saudi Arabia as a newcomer into the cinematic arena, I being one of the filmmakers. Third, it was an attempt to experience the French Riviera in a fully sensual way under a big golden sun by a big blue sea. This didn’t pan out, though, I should say at the outset, because the first two things stole all of my energy and left me somewhat depleted.

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  There was a Hollywood party in honor of John Travolta and his extensive career. I was invited. I received a lottery ticket to a gala premiere of an Iranian film on the red carpet. I went in full gala attire and had a beehive of paparazzi in my face (apparently you don’t have to be a celebrity to have the paparazzi in your face). There were reporters and journalists from all over the world lining up to speak to us, the filmmakers, who were once obscure to the rest of the world. Most importantly, the government wanted to display Saudi talents to the international film market and we were the faces of the new cinema wave. I was getting considerable exposure.

  I will pause here. In film language, imagine the film strip squeaking to a halt. All of this, as exciting and new as it was, brought with it a myriad of struggles. The inner world VS. the outer world. Speaking your truth VS. saying what they want to hear (or not saying anything at all). Self-care and boundaries VS. losing yourself in the program and in how the crowd wants you to be.  

 Speaking for the Saudi Film Council

Speaking for the Saudi Film Council

  Every morning, the regime was: tinted moisturizer, bronze powder, crème blush, eyeliner, mascara, nude lipstick and the business chic outfit of the day. Every morning, there was the debate between meditating in stillness or rushing off to breakfast, the debate between comfortable shoes or heels, the debate between relaxing into the pleasurable feminine or standing on top of the tower of the masculine go-getter. Every morning and evening for a week, I built my façade and walled in my inner world. While that might have been what was needed for that short period of time, it was truly exhausting because I was very aware of preparing myself for some kind of voyuer whether it was a reporter, my peers, producers, government reps, or the paparazzi at the red carpet.

  I realized that I am generally slow, like the tide. I follow the ebb and flow of my creativity and have been doing so for the past few years. While this support from the government was wonderful, especially since we've been working mostly in the dark, the pressure to make THE NEXT BIG THING NOW was mounting. I found myself sharing tentative film projects with reporters because they needed to hear something. There it was again, the façade.

  “What is your next project?” they asked.

  The answer is: I don’t know. I have ideas but I don’t know. I'm having a hard time being who you want me to be right now, which is a film-producing steam engine that never runs out of energy and has all its projects lined up and scheduled for the next five years. Even though I had just completed a film, I found myself giving in to this demand, yielding just a little here and there to the pressure.

  My film had a major glitch when it screened. A big chunk of the music was dropped which made the sound experience in the film awkward and clunky (something I'm still investigating). I put my head between my knees in the middle of the screening and cried. When I came out of the screening and people asked me how it went. I had already dried my tears. With a big smile _

  “It went great!” Another façade.

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  As we near the end of this post, I’m looping you back to the John Travolta party, a cinematic trick. I watched this seasoned actor standing on stage with a ruffled tuxedo, thanking everyone for being there to honor his career. His hair had grayed considerably but his voice remained as soft and coaxing as we know it. The face that was once innocent and blooming like a blue-eyed peony was now dusted and hardened with age. After having seen a reel of his life’s work, I watched Mr. Travolta as he thanked his wife and kids for being by his side on his new film Gotti. I drifted off in the middle of this speech. How many facades has this man had to put up in his life? For the media? For Hollywood? For the camera? Has he had to put them up for his family and friends? Has he had to put them up for himself? Because there might have been many layers, many facades, I wanted to know him better. Not because he was John Travolta, per se, but because the truth of this man must have been cloistered within himself where only few eyes could see it, in certain conditions, in certain qualities of silence.

 This was a signal for me to return home and find the truth of myself again beneath all the facades I had been busy putting up furiously all week. I missed myself! I missed being barefoot and make-up free. I missed being a tenant in my own creative estate where there are no reporters, or producers, or buyers, or hecklers or voyeurs of any kind.

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  While I had not seen much of Cannes, I was glad to return home, hoping that the French Riviera would invite me again for a different sort of experience: the pleasure of food and sunlight and joi de vivre. And maybe in my next round of festivals, I can better balance my inner and outer world, apply self-care even in a busy schedule, and learn to walk the tight-rope of truth-telling and remaining graceful when exposed to a crowd.    

 

Have you ever had a tough time balancing between your inner world and outer world? Share your thoughts! 

The Best and Worst Massage!

My experience in Cannes has been so tangled that I need a hair detangler in order to work through it and share it with you! In the meantime, I’m going to tell you a funny story that happened to me here because I want to demonstrate to you guys how meeting random people in your daily life can help you in character building. In episode 2 of Writer Tips “How to Write Memorable Characters”, we talked about how observing details about the people that you mean can enrich your fictional characters of the real characters in your memoir/blog. (If you haven’t joined my FREE live web series, Writer Tips, click here to sign up).

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Three days into my Cannes experience, the stress of the festival and of being part of the Saudi delegation representing Saudi Cinema became overwhelming. So I asked the hotel to book a masseuse that can come to my room so I could fall asleep right after the massage. Here’s what I shared on my personal facebook page right after the masseuse left:

I just had the funniest massage. At my hotel room in Cannes, a middle-aged French lady shows up with red hair piled haphazardly on top of her head, wearing a cute little black dress that falls just above her knees. She has no foldable bed with her. The first sign that this massage is going to be...different. I figure she must have mastered some way to massage people on the hotel bed. She starts preparing the bed for the massage and asks if she might wash her hands first. She babbles loudly all the while to herself, including me occasionally in the dialogue.

She asks me to lie down after I tell her that my back and shoulders are tense. She pulls out a bottle of cream. Oh, so this is a pull-out-your-lotion kind of massage, I think to myself. I know this is going to be interesting.

She sits beside me on the bed, bringing the mattress down. She nudges me with her hips so that I crawl further inwards and give her room. She thanks me and nudges me some more. My relaxed arm ends up under her butt. She slathers my back with the cold cold cream and treats it like a kitchen counter where she's spreading her pizza dough. I soon realize that she only knows one "move" and if I don't intervene, She'll stay at the same spot, kneading it forever. You know how there are guided meditations? This lady expects this to be a guided massage in which I tell her where and when to move with her hands and in which direction. So much for the relaxing music I selected.
"You tell me where and I will do you!" she keeps saying.
And every time I direct her to a new spot_
"Sank you for telling me! Now I know! You see, when you tell me, you are 'elping me!"
She has a big robust voice that should be intimidating but is really fragile and wants desperately to please.
When I point at my right shoulder, she climbs onto the bed and lies down next to me. She rubs my shoulder the wrong way and I feel like a disgruntled cat.
"Here?" she asks.
"Yes!"
Yes here, but not like that! Then, she proceeds to make the massage/sex sounds on my behalf. Like in some fantasy world of hers, this massage feels good.
When her hands dry out and the cream becomes sludgy, she reaches for the cream bottle, jostling me on the way, and then props the thing on my back and pumps out the cream. I keep my lips pursed tightly so that I don't shriek with laughter.

Oh and get this! Her phone rings in the middle of the horrible cat-rubbing. Not only that but it sounds like a terrified version of the pink panther tune. And with disco lights! I'm not even kidding! She gets up from the massage, fishes her phone out of her bag, and there it is throwing flashing lights across the walls.
And she actually answers it.
When she's done talking to Emile, she comes back and lies down again like nothing happened and continues rubbing me.
Finally it's time for the feet (because that's where all massages end). With me lying on my stomach (no she doesn't flip me over for the other side), she spreads my legs. That feels right, I think to myself. They do spread the legs at a regular spa so that they're at an angle before they begin to massage the feet. But then this lady sits between my legs on the edge of the bed, filling up the entire space. She puts my feet, with the soles up, in her lap and massages both feet at the same time! I'm shaking with laughter here but I don't think she noticed!
Why did I even agree to pay this lady, you ask? Because in her mind, she did a HELL OF A JOB! On my end, I paid not for the massage but for the comedy! When she left, I thanked the Universe for providing me with a delicious character sketch that will DEFINITELY show up in some story or other that I'll be writing!

 

 

 

3 Joys of Independent Living

 

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I forgot what it was like to know exactly what my day was going to look like. It was such a burden, the knowing. Being part of the giant machine that was the corporate life, I was very much run by time. I would wake up at 7:30am and, without time to flow into my day and into myself, I would be in the car by 8:00 and at work at 8:20. By 8:25 my fingerprint would be registered into the system: employee number 4371 is in the building. Work will be done today.

By 11:30 my stomach would start to grumble and, as I would do everyday, I would hold out until 12:00pm before I thought about lunch because – you know – 11:30 is not lunchtime yet. At 12:00pm I would begin the hungry scramble for some fast food chain or some obscure ethnic restaurant to deliver ANYTHING to the office. Food would arrive at around 12:45. By 1:00 I was fed. A daily meeting at 2:30. By 3:30 my brain would have already started to jam, like paper in a printer. I would have little mental energy left but I would need to push through until at least 4:30.

I arrive home feeling completely depleted and 100% a victim of Netflix. Until about 7:00pm. Dinnertime would come but I would be too tired to get up and cook something. Besides there wouldn’t be much in the fridge. In order to acquire food for the fridge, I would naturally have to go grocery shopping. A detestable feat in Dubai. By the time another meal is delivered, I would have given up on any work I was planning to do on a passion project because my brain would feel like a block of butter that just wants to go to sleep. By 9:30 I would be close to dead. At 10:00 I would be dead.

Rinse. Repeat.

I’m creating a different life now. I quite my job to work as a freelance writer and travel blogger. These days, I get out of bed feeling like a bud that opens up to the day. I have the time and the breath to stretch my body and feel all the tight spaces that somehow worked themselves into weird knots throughout the night. I have breakfast, usually a simple one, and go outside to do a little bit of earthing. It wakes up the feet, the blood, and quite potently, the heart. I only start working when I’m mentally ready and stop when I’m ready to surrender the work until tomorrow.

As I go about the day, I observe the recurring waves of gratitude. I will tell you what I’m grateful about. I will not be calling them the “benefits” of independent living. They are more like anchors that open me up to gratitude and a sense of alignment with my higher path. There are many anchors for me but I chose the ones that stick out for me the most. You’re welcome to start a conversation below, if you feel I missed something.

1. Room for Flow

As I get acquainted with the feminine rhythm inside me, I grow into the flow of how my body, mind, heart and spirit want to work together. I am no longer on someone’s clock and can, therefore, feel my day. I can reach out the tendrils of myself to wherever they feel guided to go while, at the same time, I work with the masculine in me to put a structure for myself. This structure is gentle, realistic and based purely on intuition for what needs to be done to bring my best into the world.

Also, my flow allows me to take ample breaks to be present in my body and to connect with nature, which, to me, is an immeasurable treasure.

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2. Freedom of Mobility

The way that I currently work does not require me to be at a certain place at a certain time. If I am to commit to a place then it is a place of my own choosing and that provides the right energy and keeps me in flow and harmony. I choose who I work with. I choose the vibe, the setting, the environment.

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This does not come from a place of bias but from a place of self-care. It allows me to set my boundaries so that I can ensure that more often than not, I am taking care of how I’m vibrating and who I’m vibrating with. Also, I personally become quickly saturated with places. I thoroughly enjoy not being bound by a place and having the freedom to create renewal by changing where I spend my day and where I work.

3. Surrender

This is a tough one. It took a long time for me to arrive at the seaport of surrender. An even longer time to board the ship. I had to be buried under a mountainous pile of scissors, chainsaws and knives - stressors that were mostly of my own creation -  until I gave up. Note: if you would like me to tell you about the ritual that helped me make the final step toward surrender you contact me through the contact form.

I still fall back into fearful patterns but I am being taught day in and day out by this lifestyle to breathe. And the leap between fearfulness and breath is always a fascinating moment. You grow just a little larger every time, like Mario after he eats that rather questionable mushroom! And you realize that you are being taken care of. Even if it does not look like the ideal you had in mind…at least not for now. But even that ideal you are learning to surrender as you go along so you can open up to surprises. The Universe does love to surprise. If you let it.

I can’t say that I am the expert on independent living yet. It’s a process of opening up every single day to receive a new morsel of enlightenment, creativity or courage. Those morsels come in perfect timing once you’re present, once you do life one moment at a time. It’s blissful because you allow yourself to exist here, now, and it’s delicious.

Independent living is new to a lot of people. We’re so used to being part of establishments. We’re used to finding our worth there. For a lot of people, it’s also the means by which they find stability. I am not condemning establishments or the valuable work that people offer to the world through them. But I wonder if many of us have been too afraid to make a decision that we just know in the quietest part of ourselves is what our soul really wants. If you feel that is so, then maybe it’s time to gently pave the path toward a life that is more authentic to your heart.

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Eating Out In Dubai...Satwa Style

  It came as a longing for cheap food, the kind you find in Saudi Arabia in every corner. Foul. Tamees, Shawerma. Roz Bukhari. It’s oddly uncommon here in the UAE. But then maybe that is due to the fact that Dubai is levels more organized than, say, Jeddah.
  City life, run by frigid corporate systems, has been getting to me. I was starting to feel desensitized and isolated in a shell of routine and pretenses. I wanted to come alive again even if only for a few hours. Eating out in Dubai, I am often presented with dazzling options. But I needed more. Perhaps the better word is less.
So I sent a shoutout to my friends on Facebook. Who knows where I can find cheap food places in Dubai? By cheap I did not mean 30 dhs cheap, or even 20 dhs cheap. By cheap I meant developing country cheap where you not only sample the flavor of the food but also the flavor of the person who made it.
  Osama responded to me right away. A Saudi entrepreneur who lives in Dubai and a friend of mine. Satwa, he said. In a big dazzle ‘em city, it’s the part that reminds me of Jeddah the most. So off we went in search of the drippiest, greasiest food the price of birdseed.
  Cheap food we did find and so much of it. But what we did not except to find were two things that we could not acquire when eating out in Dubai: simplicity and pure childlike fun.
  Here are three places we visited:
  It promised tea under a blue metal canopy surrounded by a hedge. It was a an inviting enclosure that, in the dying of the daylight, glowed in all of its green-tinged fluorescent glory. It was hot and humid and absolutely perfect for Indian food.

We sat on hard metal chairs and laughed our hearts out it was simple and silly. All the cosmopolitan pretenses fell apart to let our inner Jeddawi children through. This was all very familiar…Indian food came at last along with sweet lassi and not a drop of tea.

The conversation came faster: The meaning of life. The masks we put on in our lives in Saudi Arabia. Spiritual ascension. The real meaning of depression. Intuition…and all those gorgeous topics.

The waiter, we tried to engage but he very little English and was as shy as a moth so we left him alone. He was not a part of our quest this evening. But I knew someone would be.

Second: The hardware store. The two Indian men must have thought I was a loon because of the way I was cooing at how the PVC pipes were stacked. To them, the pipes were simply items to be used in menial jobs. I saw lines and shapes, art tumbling around the store. For some reason I’ve always been fascinated by hardware stores. Never used anything, mind you, but tools present to me possibilities of all the things you could do. And nothing is more seductive than that.


  This store was not the only spot where I could see lines and shapes. I saw lines and shapes everywhere, in the light breaking the shadows and in the people in their small moments and almost imperceptible expressions that gave away everything about them. In Satwa, in contrast with the rest of Dubai, life was revelational and revealing. Osama and I felt it in ourselves. No pretenses. More wonder. A sort of melding with the weather so that we ourselves became the humid breath of the world.

Third: We found our guy. The character of the evening. 3ammo Al Irani, I called him. You know how you can get into a deep conversation with a stranger and then realize hours after you’ve parted that you never asked them their name?

Osama and I walked into an apothecary, quite by mistake. My impression, by the straw hats hung outside the door was that it was a handwoven goods store. As soon as you walk in, however, you are overpowered by all those spices and perfumes that, when stored up together for too long begin to weave a thick magic of their own.

  Some of the ingredients were used for magic too. The Iranian man told me that Morroccan ladies often come to him to buy raw pearls in a jar to cast love spells with.
  The guy must have been in his sixties or above. As sweet and shrewd as Saffron. We talked with him about the ingredients in his store, his life of forty years in Dubai, the Arab world. He spoke to us with an acquired Arabic that often tripped and fell and quite endearingly. Finally, I got to ask him the question I’ve been meaning to ask someone in Satwa who had something of meaning to offer.
  “What is happiness to you?”
  He smiled like he’d been waiting to be asked. He immediately told us with the confidence of a man who has lived long enough to exclude all the wrong answers: “My health. If you have your health then you don’t need anything else. And gratitude. Everything else comes when you have these two.”
  I was humbled. Could I ever come to this conclusion myself in my own path? Or something similarly bare and stripped of excess?
  “Your shop is all about health, isn’t it?”
  “Yes! Yes it is!” he said, laughing.


  There are pockets of genuine experiences in Dubai, opposite to what I thought. Ever since I moved here, I felt the pretenses that people wore, like chain mail but transparent. They were different from the pretenses that people in Saudi wore. In Saudi, it was often fear and shame that caused people to wear masks to hide who they were and what they thought. While here, in Dubai, my hunch was that what drove these pretenses was survival, fear of failure, ambition, competitiveness and the constant race with time. I can feel myself wearing these pretenses as I head off to work in that big glass building that I am currently bound to. I become hard and efficient and mindful of all my mistakes - because there can’t be any! In Satwa, where money is not the friend or the enemy, and only health is happiness - as the Iranian man would put it - I stopped feeling like a machine and the juices of the human fruit that I was, spilled out.
  I miss this, I thought to myself. The corporate world teaches us to count our fun by the minute, by the day and put it all in the system. You watch the clock. You time your meals. You have two days at the end of the week to begin to find yourself again and by the time you’ve found yourself, it’s the first day of the week all over again.
  So where am I going with all this….? It’s a question I ask myself everyday. But I do know, that I was want more evenings like this in places like this, Satwa style, where you peel yourself and operate in the world in complete abandon.

  So next time when you think of eating out in Dubai, how about you drop the glam for an hour or two? You might find yourself.