I'm not sure if my current sense of urgency around what I'm about to say can act as a compass for its truth, or if I will make sense, but this morning I have something to say. I've just written a draft for another podcast installment, after feeling as though there would be nothing left in me when I released Love And Dog Shit In The Theatre Lobby. So I'm starting to learn that you just have to trust the need for expression as it arises in you and not expect any result out of it. FYI, also, it's very possible I will be releasing a full length interview with my sister, the inimitable Maryam Shehata, who has been hesitant to come on my podcast for more than tiny snippets of time because she feels she always says things she "regrets later," which only makes me more curious, because I can't be the only one in the family who does that! She doesn't listen to my podcast because she's too busy helping fashion designers make money, so she has no idea hahaha! Anyway, I've started writing this next installment so I'm feeling rather lost and garbled in myself. A bit tone deaf and unformed. But for one reason or another I think this post is necessary.
There are not that many people on this mailing list, but maybe if one of you hears it from me, and is moved by it, this will ripple into other circles. NFTs are an enemy to art. I don't say that lightly because I think the whole concept of an abstract discipline or entity having an "enemy" is really stuffy and over-important and just plain wrong, but let's just say NFTs will slowly suck the soul out of the art world. It seems as though any acronym with the letter "F" in the middle of it is an enemy to art. Like, MFA for example. Look, I know many brilliant people who have an MFA, but 99% of the problems in our "industry" would be solved if artists just stopped applying to them. The fact that we even call it an "industry" is telling. But that's not what I'm here to talk about.
The writer and professional/impeccable pay-attention-er, Seth Godin, has now written his second blog post addressing NFTs. I have to thank my elder artist brother, Greg Taber, not the Greg who produces my podcast, Greg Fredle, but the Greg who was artistic director of the Woodward Shakespeare Festival, where I played my first Shakespeare roles, and actually the first person to sign onto this mailing list, for turning me on to the work of Seth Godin. Especially his book, The Practice, which I recommend to anyone who finds themselves in unsure footing through their artistic journey in literally anything. Seth Godin comes as close to anyone to knowing everything, seriously, but he makes you feel like the smart one for reading him. Not like Chomsky, who actually does know everything and makes you understand that he does. Don't go around saying I don't like Chomsky, I love him he's one of my earliest heroes! But I know that if on the off chance I ever meet him in person his brain will eat me!
I don't need to go into details about why NFTs are no good, because Godin has already done that, here's the first blog post where he addresses them:
NFTs are a dangerous trap | Seth's Blog
There is a link to an article on the post that goes deeper into the alarming economic/environmental issues around NFTs as well.
And here's the second blog post, from this morning, and the spur to my own post, that Godin wrote:
Celebrity Art (priceless/worthless) | Seth's Blog
So, what can I possibly have to say about this? Why am I speaking up? Whispering up, even? Will it change anything? We all need money, I get it. Pretty soon all three of you who still keep up with my podcast will start hearing ads in the middle of installments because I need money. Artists aren't special people, we work for pay. Though just because we're not special doesn't mean we don't have a unique place in the world.
In many ways we act as a litmus test for the health of our society. An artist must look inward in order to demonstrate to society the truth about it everyone else would rather ignore. And though as humans we have no choice (besides suicide) but to negotiate the compromises with our own values, there are times when we just have to say, "fuck it, I'll do the right thing."
Dave Chappelle's most recent Netflix specials aren't the most well-received stand-ups, by critics or audiences. Frankly, I love them. His shtick these days is to walk on with a vape and go "look how rich and talented I am," but there is a profound humility to his acts, especially when he sits down and starts just talking to us about what he's feeling in the moment. His discussions about race aside, what he confesses about most men being "imperfect allies" is one of the most truthful and hopeful messages of our moment that I have come to hear. But the moment he talks about himself, and why he ended Chappelle Show, acting in his words as a "Paul Revere," this guy who's not a hero by any means but who, symbolically at least, did one good thing in his life that meant reverberations of freedom for all posterity, that to me was sublime.
We cannot control how we're remembered as artists, even though being remembered is precisely the reason we make art. But we can control those moments when we allow our moral compass to take over, if only for a day, or a moment.
I'm a little shit and I like it that way. I take advantage of people's kindness and I ghost and I lie and cheat and I steal. But I also know that while it looks amazing, this digital token stuff, in its current form, is just not right and it's not a compromise it's the complete antithesis of courage and meaning. Two things every piece of art must have.
Will I be remembered for my art or will I be remembered for this one post? Which will maybe help another artist, a better artist, steer clear of the wrong path? I don't know, all I have is my best.
Maybe you never heard of NFTs (all the better for you) and maybe this doesn't matter but clearly I had a need to speak up today. So there. Take my word for it or don't. Please don't make decisions based on what I or anyone else says but base them on your own set of needs and principles. Please don't betray me by doing anything less than that.
But here's my word: stay away.
We have to look out for one another, us artists, god knows we're surrounded by the depravity of competitive commerce enough as it is. And admittedly, I have been so in my own world, learning and working furiously and recklessly trying to make as much I can before my stimulus money runs completely dry, so I don't really have my finger on any pulse of anything. As if I ever did. But I don't know, trust your instincts, right?
If this NFT stuff gets any bigger, it just might be the end of us.
I know you need the money, but you don't. You don't need it that much.
Love And Dog Shit In The Theatre Lobby: An Audio Play In Four Acts
Installment 15 of my podcast, Speaking Into The Fog, is it's own audio play, called Love And Dog Shit In The Theatre Lobby, to be enjoyed for an hour and twenty minutes of free, uninterrupted space. You can listen on my website, here:
Mohammad Shehata - SPEAKING INTO THE FOG
Speaking Into The Fog | Podcast on Spotify
Or Apple Podcasts:
Speaking Into The Fog on Apple Podcasts
Don't forget to follow Speaking Into The Fog, on Spotify or Apple Podcasts.
I repost my work to Twitter, my Facebook and Instagram have been guillotined:
Mohammad Shehata (@MohammadShehat5) / Twitter
If you love Love And Dog Shit In The Theatre Lobby, or any of my work, share it with someone you love. All of my material (so far) is public and unguarded by a paywall. You have the opportunity to support the work here:
Mohammad Shehata is creating Podcasts, Stories, Blog | Patreon
God, I hate sounding so formal. Can I just say I miss you motherfuckers? You know you can reply to this email right? Tell me how you're doing, I love every last one of you.
Here's a completely irrelevant but fun promo video I shot for this piece. I want you all to see my face:
I am taking a pause. That doesn't mean I am going to stop working, it just means you aren't going to be receiving emails from me every day anymore. Thank you for reading this perfectly imperfect vomit rainbow of a blog, which may resume at any time.
Of course I will still be working on my stories and my podcast and whatever emerges and anyone currently on this list will still be receiving whatever comes up.
I know some of you like to follow my repostings on social media. There is a very good chance my facebook will be completely deleted, but I will still be reposting whatever on Twitter. So look me up there if you really want to. I have pictures of naked gnomes on there so you might find that fun.
Of course, many of you have a lot to catch up on! There are currently seven short stories and fourteen podcast instalments along with the litany of blog posts to enjoy. It's all a million times better than much of the horseshit out there. And if you enjoy the stuff, please spread the word so that I can conquer the world. Because all I really want is power.
I shouldn't make jokes about suicide, I know. Maybe if I was on stage like a stand up comic you all would laugh at my suicide jokes. I mean whatever, if I had good ones I would make them. But with text we only receive about twenty percent of what actual human communication is. I did not make up that statistic, I read it somewhere, but that doesn't mean it's right. It makes sense though. But then, why do we read? Great language allows the recipient to fill in more gaps than might be filled by another idiot who talks it. James Carse is a scholar who pointed out that listening might be the sound of god speaking. Or he pointed out that certain traditions saw it that way. And when we read, we are not speaking, no one is speaking, but everyone is listening, the reader and the author, even as the author writes, they are listening, not speaking. We're all listening to the sound of god, which is really just us listening. But it's implied that it is the sound of god. When it's just dumb words on a dumb page. Or some idiot talking.
We are all in the womb of god. And the universe is putting it's ear against god's belly and listening to the sound of us kicking. At some point, our little legs and our little heads will have to burst forth out of gods' womb, and we'll have to shriek like mandrakes under the cold dim light, and face a world that could not have been previously imagined until we ourselves came into being.
Just let yourself die. Don't force it. It's as awful as an actor trying to force emotions. Death and emotion. They're both just a passing thing. Trivial. And inevitable. You have to just let the inevitable happen, or else everyone will hate you.
All that matters is what people think about you, after all.
The earth is under no threat whatsoever. I used to think that nature had reached a kind of state of narcissism. If I consider nature to be an artist, I would say, well, an artist must only see. Once the artist gives in to the temptation to see themselves seeing, they do what Narcissus did, and they kill themselves. These are not my thoughts, I read them in a book, but I like them so I made them my own. How does one own a thought, anyway?
So I used to think that through humans, nature had reached a state of being able to see itself seeing. Nature continues, and we humans, who are a part of nature, point out all the things nature is doing. I thought this for a while, and I thought that is why nature is destroying itself.
But nature is not destroying itself at all. We like to imply that nature is this compassionate thing. It's not, it's explosive, literally. Nature is terrifying. And humans... we do not see nature at all. It only seems as though we see it. And so nature is under no threat at all, because it does not see itself seeing through us. We just think we're special, and we're not. Among our selves, we might be special. But among the rest of nature, we are not. Nature is under no threat.
We are blinded by the impression that we see. Blinded by the sight of us attempting to actually see. And because of this, we, certainly, are under threat.
Seeing is an expression. Not a state. I don't see a tree until I actually tell you the impression I make of it. "Hey look at the dumb looking tree. It's so crooked and ugly. It's dumb." Seeing, in other words, is just being honest. And I don't know a better way of putting it.
I want to only see. As much as I can. Not because it will help us survive, but because it is just more fun after all.
I've never looked at a plate without wanting to smash it. It terrifies me how quickly water boils. I never understood why. The men who understand women are the most like women and that's why women want to stone them. This may have been more true in the fifties. That's it! That's my problem! I'm stuck in the damn fifties! Everyone has already trivialized the conclusions that drop into my skull with the bolt of epiphany. Epiphany--remind my self never to use that word again.
Why do people talk about music? I've always felt that the music one listens to is a matter of which the utmost privacy is called for. People should only share what they masturbate to. We're ok with people sharing their private parts on the internet, but not their private thoughts? Ha! No such thing as private parts! No such thing as private thoughts! What is even exciting anymore? Why do I always get this raging urge to send a random person a facebook message or email when I am writing in my notebook?
I don't want to read books about colonialism and genocide anymore. I almost slipped on black ice yesterday. Zion. The Ummah. A classless society. None will shake the shackles off without replacing them anew. But is that so bad? To make a hell out of trying to make a heaven? Is that so different from eating ourselves? I mean this in that eating ourselves is the most natural thing. The earth eats itself. We're all just part of the earth's self-regulating system. The killer and the killed are both honorable. Honor! Ha! Now that's a word. What does it mean? Should I google? Ok. No, no no, I keep doing that. Ok, what does that word, honor, imply?
Nine-year-olds are being disemboweled in Gaza. My neighbor is hungry. If nothing has been solved, how can you say there can be no more new ideas? I mean for one to simply say something original! My mind is just parts of other minds. I've stolen their parts, public and private, and made them mine. Who was it that took my parts so early on? So that I would feel like I have to do that? Best to avoid politics in your writing because no matter what direction you're coming from, it's all propaganda anyway. Personal is political. I am thinking about two people I know have used this term. Three now. One I want to be, another I want to avoid, and a third I want to fuck. I've thought about what it might be like if all of them fucked me out of hatred or disgust or desire or compassion. Well then, ok, must we get so personal? Well, ok, I won't get personal! I won't get political! What's even the point, then? I'm not bemoaning this, it's just an interesting problem.
I hate the idea that anyone would say, "there should be a moratorium on books." People think they are smart when they say this. "Oh so many books already we need to pause and really understand what we have." They think they are sensible. So what if books keep being made even though there are already so many? There isn't any less chance you aren't going to read the books you already want to. And why would you think there is anything to understand? One more book! Oh there! One more mystery I will never comprehend! How is that not exciting to you? When the sun is overthrown, and when the stars fall, and when the hills are moved, and when the camels big with young are abandoned, and when the wild beasts are herded together, and when the sees rise, and when souls are reunited, and when the girl child that was buried alive is asked for what sin was she slain, just because you are quoting verses doesn't mean your writing is more dramatic! Are you quoting the Qur'an? Or are you quoting Marmaduke Pickthall? What kind of name is Marmaduke?! and when the girl child that was buried alive is asked for what sin was she slain... I wonder how many Uighur Muslims think of this verse as they labor in camps in China, a place where I am told a girl child gets slain. A place that has brought us perhaps the world's most impeccable and disciplined technical and spiritual traditions. A place that may be the only legitimate threat to the enslaving capitalist hordes. But I have only been told these things. Does anyone tell me the truth?
And when the girl child that was buried alive is asked for what sin was she slain... are we going to bury all the girl books because we prefer the boy ones? Are we going to bury all the boy books before we bury the girl ones? Why don't we send boys off to war anymore? Oh that's right, it happens right in their living rooms now, where the girls are at too. I know why women know more male authors than the men themselves do. Language is a drug, but the author can't rape you while you're on it; you have to be the one to let him inside.
No one is asked to do more than what they're capable of.
If you don't believe me remember this:
Moses was never asked to deliver an entire community,
Moses was asked to go and speak to one person.
We forget that it was Pharaoh who needed deliverance;
We forget that Pharaoh is the only slave in the entire story.
Of course, Pharaoh drowned himself,
and that's tragic,
but look at the moral landscape of the world today,
and tell me--did Moses actually fail?
His was an infinite game,
and his journey allows us to continue playing;
We still have to work to deliver Pharaoh,
the Pharaohs of the world;
forget about "my people,"
it's a made up concept.
Those violating the earth
are not to be condemned (by us),
but simply invited to the truth;
They hinder our task,
because they are our task.
To put it to you straight:
Stop with this "I don't have the time or inclination to educate your 'unwoke' ass" bullshit.
Are you not up to the task of speaking to one person?
I get it,
so many gaps to fill,
and we're all tongue tied by history,
like Moses was,
so where do we start?
I did not set out to answer that question,
nor did I create it;
it's as old as our ability to question things is,
and we've all been given this impossible task,
of answering it.
But I think we're capable.
I forget, art and literature is not a moral task,
so why don't all of you go screw yourselves
and eat some cum laden shit
because I have nothing to teach you.
I am one of the Sorcerers in Moses
and Pharaoh's story;
in some versions, the sorcerers repent
But I might be a little too bad for that,
and don't try to convince me you
'Writing angry is impossible for me. Anger gives me no courage, only paralysis. I need silence. An inner silence. And peace. Alcohol does absolutely nothing for me except turn me into an idiot. I have to write that down until it sinks in. I don't need so many cups of coffee. My prophet tells me to be sober. I came up with the most amazing idea while I was drunk. And high. I've forgotten the idea now that I am sober. Maybe that's why the prophet said to be sober. So that I could forget about all of my "good" ideas; my "brilliant" ideas. And just do the work I was called to do. Not to romanticize, not to embellish. Not to question the instincts that come in the lonely cold calm of morning. To endure with patience the moments where it seems like I may never move forward again. Never set down another word or even bother to reply to my emails. I can't reply to emails now. Anyone who has ever ignored an email from me, I get you. I get you. This coffee is good. The lingering toothpaste in my mouth gives the coffee a minty taste.
All the slogans I see walking around in New York about the poor and about black lives is the definition of hypocrisy. I am at the center of the problem here! This sacred point of pilgrimage has been warped into a cesspool of greed and lust. Just like all the sacred points of pilgrimage of old. I say this because. I. Am. An. American. I see my home filled with false idols. Who will be the one to come and smash them all? What the fuck is an American? "American." It means nothing. I am a human. A member of the ins, as they say in Arabic. Turn away from being an American just as your spiritual forefathers and mothers turned away from being arab. That is, literally, linguistically, what they did. It doesn't matter if no one reading this knows it. You know it.
What is revolution? What is revolutionary?
A revolutionary scientist--Copernicus, Galileo, Einstein--is not one who changes facts or even necessarily proves anyone else wrong. They are someone who changes the way the entire community of scientists goes about their work. And the new paradigm they introduce always needs a few courageous stragelers to embrace it on faith before credence. And convert the skeptical. Before the new paradigm becomes the tradition. This might take a week or it might take one hundred years. But that doesn't matter because the old paradigm isn't wrong or less accurate, it's just older. The world is as it is. A revolution only changes the way we see it. It doesn't change what we can see.
And what we see is always there before we need it. Like the target for the actor. Actors can't work alone. They need a community. They need the way they see to be guided by a paradigm agreed upon by specialists in the field. But no actor can call themselves an actor or an actress or whatever if they aren't bringing forth a new paradigm.
Yes. I've been reading Kuhn. And now I am pretending to understand what he wrote. And now all of you reading this must suffer for it.
I think about 9/11 every day. Every. Single. Day.
Periodically, I will re-read only three responses to 9/11. Noam Chomsky's. Susan Sontag's. And Toni Morrison's.
Toni Morrison called her essay (is that what it is?) The Dead Of September 11th. She does not say who these dead are. She simply addresses the dead. She says she wants to hold them in her arms, these dead. I find this interesting.
The eleven hijackers were among the dead too. I want to hold them in my arms too. And what about all those who died that day in a way not remotely connected to the event? I want to hold them in my arms too. There were actually nineteen hijackers. I looked this up to make sure. But I keep remembering them as eleven. I make this mistake on a consistent basis. I want to hold them in my arms, too.
I want to hold all the dead in my arms.
I think about 9/11 everyday. It seems like it's no one else's burden to bear but my own. Not because one of the hijackers, the most famous one, shares my namesake. Not because of what I look like, or where I'm "from." Or because I know anyone who died that day (I know all of those who died that day, and none of them at all).
I think about it because when it happened, I was seven. My brain was in its stage of primary and explosive learning. And 9/11 happened right in front of me. It happened in my living room, in fact. It literally happened in my living room. I was there.
At the age of seven, muslim children are taught how to pray. But it's still ok, at this age, for them to play around and laugh and not take it seriously while all the giant adults are being so somber. That's why there are no chairs in a mosque, so that the kids can run around and play. Age ten is when things get serious.
On 9/11 our school gathered around some dumb tree to do some dumb crying about this dumb thing--9/11. And I remember my friend did something that made me laugh. I don't remember what it was, and I don't know who that friend is or where they are now. But I laughed because I was seven. And I was still allowed to play during prayer.
Want to know my favorite joke about 9/11? It's in the movie, The Big Sick:
--"So, uh, 9/11. No, I mean, I've always wanted to have a conversation about it. With... people."
--"You've never talked to people about 9/11?"
--"No, what's you're... what's your status?"
--"What's my status on 9/11? Oh, um. Anti. It was a tragedy. I mean, we lost nineteen of our best guys."
I'm sure there are better jokes out there, though.
One in every three slaves brought to America from the coast of Africa called themselves muslim. And said la ilaha ilalah muhammadun abadu warasulallah. There is no god but god and muhammad is the slave and messenger of god.
You fools who read a statement like 9/11 "seems like it's no one else's burden to bear but my own" and immediately think "oh poor guy, he's being discriminated against." That's not it at all. Do not misunderstand me. I write about bigger things. About deeper things. Things I haven't even found yet. I don't know what I'm writing about. Don't you understand?
I'm talking about an artist's burden. 9/11 (for lack of a better name for it, because it's really not about that day or that event), 9/11 is still this raging question in my mind.
A question I can't answer because I haven't even figured out how to ask it. Others have figured out there way, but I haven't figured out mine. When I try, I become angry or afraid. Blocked. My tongue becomes tied. And unlike Moses, I have no brother to speak for me.
I have too many brothers, in fact, who will never speak for me. I must find my own means of making my message clear.
Being clear is not the same as being understood. I doubt I will ever be understood. But I can work to be clear. To be brave. To be uncompromising in my message. Despite my weakness and inability to speak Pharaoh's language with true fluency. Like Moses. Who is my prophet. My law-giver. My forefather and king.
I keep checking the clock even though I've set a timer for my writing this morning. I set the timer so that I wouldn't have to keep checking the clock. But I keep checking the clock. What's going to happen when I have to stop writing? Something crazy, apparently. Something I'm afraid of.
Uncle is awake now, "Good thing we went shopping yesterday because we're going to have seven inches of snow tomorrow," he says.
Shut the fuck up! I can't say this, because he is my uncle. And this is his apartment. He is so generous to me. Taking care of me. He thinks I am taking care of him. He thinks I'm the only one who truly cares.
My grandma thought I was taking care of her while she was taking care of me too.
Just being around. Is that all some people need? Just for someone to be around? Is that all we can do for one another in this life? Just be around?
And suddenly, when we're not, who is the one who dies? The gone person, or the person who notices that they are gone?
Are we the world of the dead? The world the living must keep at bay?
When that great king of old sealed the gate of molten iron upon the race of grog and magog, with the assurance that in time, that race would break free again, and tear the earth apart, was he looking at a destructive race? Or a liberating one?
The germination of the working class. Is that what we are waiting for? Are we waiting for them to finally tear the earth apart?
Muhammad is my arbiter. My prophet. My teacher. My commander. My lover. My namesake. Insult him--insult my namesake--and you insult my very being.
Muhammad is dead. Insult him all you want.
Muhammad would tell me not to lash out against mockery or insult. To turn the other cheek like our brother Jesus. Or to get up and leave. Without a word. Reserve your anger for injustice, not mockery. Love your enemy. They are in fact, the recipients of your message. The ones being called to god, they are the most deserving of love.
Twelve years of persecution, patiently withstood. And then the hijra. And then war.
When everyone wants to beat the shit out of you, you know you're on to something.
Back then they'd crucify you.
So we have no excuse.
Maybe they'll still crucify us. In guantanamo or wherever. Global prison industrial complex. A mass and perpetual crucifixtion.
I know god is not real.
But the prophets are. The old and the new.
And god is the only absolute truth.
And there is no absolute truth.
Stop dwelling on god! And truth! It matters not! Any concern with god is a concern with absolutely nothing at all. It is a non-concern. A waste. If you can talk in and out about it endlessly and use contradictory facts to affirm your own position you know precisely already what you need to know. That what you're talking about doesn't matter.
What matters is that you chose to talk at all.
Find out why.
Why am I writing this very morning?
That's what I'm trying to get to the bottom of.
I don't think I will get to the bottom of it. I will just keep writing, keep checking the clock, keep drinking coffee, keep shitting, keep pacing aimlessly, until the timer goes off.
And when it does, what happens then? I will have to go back into the world. But I am already in the world. Maybe I will die. I hope to stay alive. I want to get to the bottom of this. This... what! What! What!
I cannot be a poet. I do not know the rules. I cannot find the masters. All the masters are gone. There have never been any masters. All poets are non-masters who became masters looking for a master and never finding one.
"What you really ought to be is a poet,"
Do you even know the meaning of the word? Poet?
One among a community of isolated souls. That's what a poet is.
There it is again. That damned word, soul. That word I keep using. If I were a poet I'd be able to find a different word. Not be such a simp for my soul.
If that were an honest word it wouldn't be such a slut for poets.
I just want to write one honest sentence in my life.
Deliver one honestly spoken line.
Is that too much?
Or will that require a little more anger?
A little more play during prayer?
Everywhere I go I am surrounded by the internet. The internet is every centry in this prison camp of a life. Assaulting my capacity to think. I go to one room and there it is; I go to another room and there it is. I can't read or write without having half my brain in its clutches, even while all the computers are off. The internet has us all by the genitals and it won't let go. There will be no presence in this life so long as the internet is here. Like a nuclear weapon, its lethalness is not in its use alone, but in the fact that it exists at all. Because so much else becomes lethal now that it exists. Sex, friendship, vulnerability. Mistakes. Mistakes are lethal because of the internet. Like nuclear power, it could give us so much joy. But it doesn't.
Even what I write goes straight to the internet. I mean, no one would read me or listen to me if it wasn't for the internet! Not that many people read or listen to me anyway, only like two people, so the internet is basically useless to me. Just let me be with those two people. The internet never existed for me, I have only ever existed for it.
Might be arrogant to say that anything exists for me, but it's ok to say that I don't want to exist for anything else.
Why do we keep little computers in thin little pockets so close to our genitals? Is the internet's lust for us so insatiable it must have this constant, no boundary access? Why do I allow myself to be lusted after so casually? Do I enjoy it? Of course, a part of me enjoys it. Many parts of me enjoy it. This being lusted after. In parts. The internet only wants me in parts. I will give all the parts the internet wants of me.
Monsters are not born, they are made. And the internet has been made into a monster. We have yet to see the monsters it will make of us.
If those sentences were written thirty years ago, they may have been prescient. Now they are just bland. I've so casually accepted my own monstrosity that any reference to it has no cultural relevance beyond a scrolled over meme. An internet meme of course. I did not know that a meme is something that could exist outside of the internet. That's something I learned on the internet.
My contemporaries are embarrassed to write or make stuff with any true earnestness because the internet overwhelms them. They think they have nothing to offer and that everything has already been said or done. So? That was the case one thousand years ago too. Are you so sure time works the way you imagine it in your head? Just a steady stream to the cold and quiet intersection of advancement and destruction? Or does it work like an explosion? Where disparate parts are connected through a continuum unfathomable by our tiny yet courageously reaching imaginations?
Hesitance is arrogance. Nothing has ever been new. Only discovered and buried and rediscovered a new.
Flightiness is the prerogative of the gods. Our power is in repetition. The ability to go back to the same thing over and over not to change it but to change ourselves. That is what courage is, to change yourself despite fear of the old. Nothing is as old as darkness. The primary source of fear. Let the darkness fuel your courage. Embrace it with the love it is owed.
Novelty is the currency of internet pornography.
Stop trying to be novel.
Be brave instead.
That is one thing the internet will never take. That is one thing time will never take, though we may all be gone very soon.
Nothing will ever take our capacity for bravery. So get off the internet and be brave already.
I sometimes feel like the last bullet shot in a massacre. All isolated and delayed and useless. Or I feel like an empty space shuttle floating sideways through the darkness, lost forever. I don't know. I think people misjudge me, but who am I to tell? Maybe I'm paranoid. Or maybe I truly have some unprocessed trauma.
I went to a local Bookstore in Brooklyn, now called Greenlight; I saw the interior, and I don't think there is another place more beautiful on this earth. The book I'm reading, Two Serious Ladies, is very funny and I enjoy the rudimentary style. I did not know about Jane Bowles (or her prolific husband for that matter) before, and it's a shame her life was so short. A shame that there could not be more of her. And yet, we've gotten just enough. When I'm finished with her book, I will read her play, and maybe her stories too. Unless I get tired and forget. We'll see.
Books might be the only things holding me up in this time. Not all of them are as enjoyable or inspiring as I would like them to be, but even just the occupation of reading--it's certainly what's keeping me alive. If I feel like having a drink I can't afford or like being lost in the darkness like that empty space shuttle I will simply pick up a book and read. That's all I can do. That's all I need. No one can take that from me. Not yet, anyway.
My life is full of distractions, within and without. What is the bottom most part of the deepest well in my soul trying to tell me? It's hard to hear the screaming echoes from below.
I wrote the first line of a possible short story. The line is "Who would I be if I did not kill her then?" I don't know who I want to kill or why. I don't know why it's a her. Why do I want to kill her? Most of the hers in my life have been lights. Lights of my life. That is just like a man. To want to dim, even put out, every glowing light of his life.
But am I even a man? I often don't feel like one. Am I even considered one? I very often don't want to be one!
My uncle asked me why I always seem to be writing with a pencil and not a pen. He's like "I know that is a specific choice." I didn't have the courage to tell him that actually I had never really thought about why I write with a pencil and not a pen. And so I made up some bullshit about how I like to make sure I can erase things, and I always like to work out ideas or rough drafts in a notebook first before typing it up. He told me I should be sure to keep all my notebooks so that when I have kids or possibly become famous people can read them and feel cool about reading all my notebooks. I felt like that was kind of dumb. Also I am just not organized enough. And I keep things in different places and I don't label anything. I don't particularly like to write about my actual days because my actual days are so boring!
What am I going to do today? Write some. Read some. Clean the apartment. Call mom. That's about it.
So, I have a line about someone who wants to kill. But I have a few sentences for another story that is totally different. I am looking at those sentences now, and I will probably not finish any story at all! Looking at these sentences makes me think I am becoming a freak ever so slowly. I look at what is coming out of my heart and I think, this is not what I set out to write at all. These sentences make me feel like I should be in prison or a psychiatry ward.
I don't care what comes out. Anything I put to the page, including this lonely blog post, is just a tribute to all the authors I have read and will read, all the authors of the world. I just want to be part of the club.
When I called the local bookstore to see if they had Two Serious Ladies, the person who answered the phone sounded really exuberant and breathless. I asked them why they sounded that way and they told me "sorry, I ran to answer your call!" And I swear I almost cried. I almost cried at the fact that this stranger ran just to pick up the phone, so that I could have the book that I wanted.
I went to the bookstore to pick up the book, and I swear the inside of it was the most beautiful thing I've ever seen. But I already told you this. I don't know if it was the way the shelves were organized or the color of the floor or the ceiling, none of which I really remember, it was just gorgeous and small. Like a little teapot of a home. A teapot filled with books.
I am doing some "private podcast instalments" with my friend Bernard. Who is a great actor with a small g. And is damn crazy. And watches too much cable news. I'm grateful for him.
The only thing I long for besides these books is for the theatres to open back up. I know all the good stuff is "streaming" on our screens now, but honestly when I've been in a live theatre I never really cared if the play was any "good." I just loved the crackle of the actors' beautiful voices bouncing off of each other. It's always been like watching sport to me. I don't want to think. I just want to enjoy these beautiful voices--speaking, not singing--usually accompanied by beautiful bodies; beautiful eyes. I love it when these beautiful voices and beautiful bodies move fast and crash into and away from each other making like a symphony of things.
I feel like my writing is supposed to be more specific. But I also feel like when writers fill up entire pages with just descriptions of a room or something all they're doing is... filling up pages. Just as I'm doing now with all of this painfully non-specific writing.
Writing is not just filling up pages with words.
If only I could fill up pages upon pages! I need to get my hands on some speed. That might help. Humans aren't meant to be alone. That's why all the lonely artists are on drugs all the time. I know Dickens wrote all his stuff on opium. That's why I can't endure his books. I'm usually just on coffee. I try not to drink alcohol but sometimes I do.
But beautiful language or beautiful voices in a protected space speaking it is like a drug too. One that leaves you fuller and not just empty once the effects of it wear off.
Every play is a miracle. It pays someone's bills after all. Maybe two people working on it will meet and get married.
Every tv show, film, every dramatic work is a miracle. It's a job. It's people doing their job. And making friends.
But I'm wrong. My idealism means everything. Nothing is more practical than this idealism. It takes just one, after a period of the necessary enragement, to stop and go--there is a world elsewhere. I am going to elect to not participate in this culture, and create my own. I can chase the raging fire of my own soul and it doesn't matter if no one else can feel its heat. Yet. Or ever.
The universe is all encompassing and it sees, experiences, holds all. It may feel like it is deepthroating us all into submission. But don't lie and tell yourself that doesn't feel just a little good. A lotta good.
And maybe for a while, you need to be protected, so that no one else can put that raging fire out.
I hold this to be the truth. There are things that shift the course of the universe. Things humans are capable of doing. I like to think they are these huge dramatic gestures. And maybe, mostly, they are. And maybe they are just the smallest tiniest acts.
The only truly generous act I may have done in the theatre is answer my stage manager's daily calls. I was in the middle of a developmental workshop and whenever I received the call I responded with a quick thanks or got it. The stage manager wrote back to me just to say thank you for confirming I got the email. And I said, "you're welcome... doesn't everyone do that?" They said that, surprisingly, I am the first actor (they know) to respond to daily calls.
That's all it took for a moment of grace to happen. And every moment of grace shifts the course of the universe. It doesn't matter what you believe. You don't have to settle for blindness. Look up and around and you see the potential for grace everywhere, even while you are alone, peering down into the raging fire of the forest of your own soul, with a fear so great you may not want to look down again, but just know that the forest needs to burn itself in order to continue on, and if the fire is natural you need do nothing at all. Watch it all burn.
So yeah, I am cool because I answer my daily calls. Yes, I am tooting my own horn. I am not going to disclaimer this anecdote with an attempt to hide from my own divinity behind a false modesty by saying... "oh, please master don't think I am full of myself or anything I have nothing to contribute at all to you ever. I am just this lousy fool who is impeding on your majesty with this attempt to illustrate a moment of grace that I was surprisingly a part of. In fact, this moment only confirms how terrible I am. Please don't think I am good... or worse, don't think I am trying to make you think I am good. I am bad master, I am bad... so bad... so so bad... oh punish me master, punish me so good!"
Scroll through any long social media post these days and you see so many examples of this attitude. Particularly from men. I guess I am just sick of my excessively self-conscious "liberal" social media circles. I only ask... what do you have to prove? Get over yourself! What is with this putrid confessional attitude?
When it comes time to talk about my own shitbaggery I will talk about it. I've done much of this already. Why is our age so ashamed of itself? Honoring yourself is not the same as talking yourself up. Just get on with the thing. My elder sister/mother, Golda Meir has been said to have said Don't be humble you're not that important. But I only read this in a New York Times article, and what do they know (that is a serious question)?
I am losing the thread of this post.
Oh yes, my idealism is entirely practical. We cannot sustain a world where artists are not peering into the fire of their own souls and taking full responsibility for their own work and making their daily bread. People will get bored or angry with us. That might be a good thing at first, when we're first starting out, but eventually we're going to have to provide some pleasure. We can't do our actual work if we only learn from chasing what a small sector of people want from us instead of finding and building our own unique (and loyal) audience.
But idealism should never feel like a cloud of shame. Humans have been chasing the stars since they first could tell they were there.
You finished that script? You got cast in that role? You mastered that beat? Bravo. No joke.
I don't care what it is or who or what it was for. Unless it was for a Nazi. But even then... ok I will shut up. No actually, I'd imagine if the actual Nazis let me perform for them instead of killing me I would do it. I totally would. I mean we already do it for the "Nazis" of today, yes? The ones sitting in the Pentagon and our corporate sectors? Ourselves. Us little Eichmanns running around thinking we are the exemplars of chaotic good. We're all forgiven. God loves all her children. Keep doing your work, your work is for her alone. It doesn't matter who gets to enjoy it too. But changing gods' pronoun doesn't mean they exist. So maybe all we have is performing for our audience of Nazis. And if that's what we have, then that's beautiful nonetheless.
Sometimes work is just work, and play is just play. Actually that is always the case. Idealism just makes it more the case. And I don't care how much yoga you are doing, more is always better. Except when less is better. Less is usually better. So I am really saying idealism gives us less in general but it makes our work and play more. Better.
But today or tomorrow, with or without my idealism, which I will hold fast to like the one invisible rope from god that ties us all together, work is just work and play is just play.
And blow my brains out if that's not a miracle.
Don't take that literally. Or do, it might make for a great tv show. Someone putting a hit on a lonely, pretentious blogger. One who actually has a deep well of care for the world but opens his mouth without the proper timing. A kind of careful what you wish for when it comes to "recognition" thing.
I bet the Nazis would really enjoy that one.
I change my mind every single day.
I preface this blog by saying I'm going to tell you a bunch of lies.
The first name I gave this blog before it just became a "blog" was private notes made public. But then I thought I don't really want to get too personal.
But what else do I have?
I don't want to be an exhibitionist
I'm just trying to do a service
What can I do to make your day a little more bearable?
It's funny just put your sentences in a format like this and all of a sudden
They become a poem
I know that's not how poems work
Some things I say may aggravate you
Even my use of you might aggravate you
Some of it might make you cheer
I don't care.
Most of my hours are spent in putrid waste and disgrace
I do not live in the way I was raised to live
I do not treat people the way I know
I would like to be known for treating them
I want recognition for my work
I know I only deserve my labor
And not my labor's fruits
I want to be shiny and at some point
In my life I have betrayed
Every core principle I hold dear.
But each day is about
Reminding myself of the basics.
It takes renewed practice and attention.
I am by all accounts
A dirty sleazy motherfucker.
I am also your lord and savior
So listen up
I just hope you enjoy
But I don't give a fuck.
But I do.
I am so desperate for your approval master
I'll do anything
I don't know what I'm supposed to be
What a privilege to know you're reading this
I change my mind everyday
So don't trust me
But take my word as gospel
I am but a messenger
Not a devil
Not a savior
So you testify against yourselves that you are the descendants of those who murdered the prophets
They killed your prophets who had warned them in order to turn them back to you
You disbelieved our revelations and slew your prophets wrongfully
Don't go crazy on me and think I've lost my mind. I am perfectly sane.
You understand? This is the story. We slay our prophets. Those who warn us of our transgressions against the earth and our own kind.
Noam Chomsky speaks of the responsibility of intellectuals.
Angela Davis says that freedom is a constant struggle
I am trying to find out what it means to be a responsible artist. What is the constant struggle for the artist? "Artist" that pretentious fucking word.
In the British tradition, I think perhaps of Sarah Kane. Who was a prophet her culture slew wrongfully. And yet, we have the privilege of looking back and discovering her work anew.
The first sign of a remarkable artist is not the prizes and commissions and grants and recognition and accolades.
The first sign is that the work makes us fear so much for our soul we are just about ready to burn the artist at the stake.
The responsible artist risks being slain by the culture they have been elected to reflect.
How does one do this?
That's all I'm after.
Something tells me you are too.
I love you.
Get to work already.
1) Are you getting depressed on me?
1) I just want to know how you're doing.
2) I feel sad sometimes.
1) For what? The state of the world? Your life?
2) A few things.
1) Want some coffee? I'm not cheap you know.
2) I'd still love you if you were cheap.
1) (Laughs) Oh really.
2) You could be a deadbeat and I'd still love you.
1) Can I record that? Because I'm not sure it'll ever come out again.
A good story reminds you that things matter. This idea is no more clear than when you go out for a drink with the cast after the show. It's a little fun, but then you remember just how boring everyone's lives are. The excitement of relevance to the rest of the universe, the direct line to the world of the gods, that we all pretend to shun as "realists" but we all hunger for like little bitches, disappears at the curtain call.
More than once, I've had a friend tell me how "impressed" they are with the amount of "content" I've been putting out.
Do you think I do this to impress you? I am not being combative. It's just a strange compliment to me. Do you think the amount matters? I want to remind you that things do matter. Not in a pedagogic way but... I don't know, what gets your ass up in the morning for goodnessake?
In a blog post from a while back, I compared a blog post to the remains of an aborted child. Something that could be more but the world is not ready for it. And everything must be let go as it is. A blog post is piece of ugly writing no one is ready (or even perhaps willing) to see.
Technically everything has to be let go before it's ready though. That is nature. But some things are more ready than others.
That is to say...
If you little shits read this dumbass blog, and have no problem shooting off your mouth to me about what you think (something I always appreciate... thank you very much) then read my short stories and listen to my podcast.
That's the good stuff. That's the gold. This blog is always gold too, I guess. I mean, I'm amazing. You assholes don't deserve me.
Everything is all in one place. Click the link below. Let me know what you think?
Mohammad Shehata - HOME
My current roommate is from Egypt. He was the top ranking wrestler in Africa six times. He had to leave his country because of the draconian politics there. Politics enabled by our (the U.S.) government. Enabled by the sleeping population there. Enabled by the sleeping population here. This guy should be world famous. He stalks the vegetables at a grocery store and has to bunk with a pretentious mid twenties "artist" (me). He never complains. I'm the one complaining about it.
But why America? Why a place that doesn't care about its own people either? Pretends it can't afford to keep them alive in the midst of a pandemic? Keeps people blind to the horrors of the world by forcing them to focus on nothing more than "getting by?"
My prophets say to not get angry. Entitlement is a sin.
But who are we to not demand of others what we know they are capable of? I don't think that's the same as entitlement.
And what I'm saying isn't new or unpopular.
It's just what I woke up thinking about today. It is not about whoever is reading this. It is about me. But it is about whoever is reading it too.
I am so grateful to be alive. Rage is death. But that doesn't mean I can put my head in the sand (or snow).
The snow is beautiful here in New York.
Maybe I will go out and suck on it a bit. And feel the grace of the sky falling to kiss the earth.
More political stuff which I do not find fun to write but sometimes that's just what the morning calls for.
I am not an activist, and I do not engage with the political world beyond an intermittent and intellectual way. I don't think I ever will go beyond that. Some people are born for the political world, and for a while I thought I might be too, but I don't think I am. I am an aesthetic person at heart. And this is not wrong. Better to stick to your lane without shame, so that you don't get in the way of people who are serious about their own lanes.
What I'm about to say is wholly popular and non-threatening, at least in the circles that read my blog. But trust me here, you're going to get something out of this.
The point I eventually make about art may very well be something you haven't actually thought about.
Emotional Truth: "Denmark's a prison," Hamlet Act 2 Scene 2
Literal Truth: Gaza is a prison.
Hamlet must change himself in order to change his situation. Shakespeare takes the context of a sully-fleshed Danish prince in order to express an emotional truth around one person's inability to cope with the death of their father. Which is a literal truth (or will be) for almost every human being. Hamlet is a pinnacle example of "write what you know." Who knows what it's like being a Danish prince in the 16th century? But who can't relate to the death of a father?
The people of Gaza do not hold their destiny in their hands. They are victims. Acts of violence on their part come from a desperation that could only occur in those totally stripped of their humanity.
If the Israeli Knesset wants peace it will have peace, as evidenced by the history of the region. The 1973 peace treaty (still holding strong) between Egypt and Israel is the only successful negotiation in the history of the saga, and it came because Israel wanted it--seeing Egypt as its only true military threat (despite the David v. Goliath mythology its mythmakers purport as being "surrounded" by enemies; every war Israel has fought, like its benefactor the United States, has been a guaranteed win from the outset... we count the number of countries that go against them as if that is the only factor; it in fact is not a factor at all, because lines we see on a map do not represent anything beyond a political reality, which is the whole message of anti-colonialism anyway, and the factor that makes a true difference is power). And ironically that "peace" only spelled more disaster for the Palestinians, who are abandoned from all sides. And currently the power plays of state craft between Israel and the surrounding gulf states (all whom have their own atrocious human rights records, sanctioned and enabled by the United States government) are sealing what can only be short of the massive and slow execution of the millions of people who live in the world's largest concentration camp--not to mention their siblings across in the West Bank, who's own conditions make 20th century South African apartheid look liberal by comparison. As the only true mini super power in the region (the only one with nuclear weaponry), it is within Israeli's every power to put an end to this.
Just like it is within the United States' power to stop enabling terrible human rights abuses there or anywhere else (or in its own territory) by supporting the power players that guarantee our country's corporate interests. Our country still tortures people maniacally, literally and figuratively. I know that what I'm saying here is not unpopular, at least in the circles that read this blog, but the reality on the ground, for the Palestinians and many others, is the situation has always been and still is GETTING WORSE. So clearly there is a discrepancy between what we are beginning to acknowledge and the way we allow state powers to pull the wool over our eyes.
I am almost finished with the first season of an Israeli tv show called Shtisel, which I am really enjoying. I live in the United States and enjoy its art and culture and am an active participant in it. I imagine I would have the same ambivalence in that if I lived in England, say. My point in bringing this up is because human rights abuses are a collective responsibility of all state powers (and not just the "white" ones either). And it is possible to acknowledge that reality while also staying seriously active in a privileged state's artistic culture.
The reality of Israel and Palestinians is unique to me because... Gaza might be the worst humanitarian crises in the world. What is happening in Yemen is terrible, but people in Gaza literally cannot escape or gain the means of fighting back in a collective way. I don't want to compare the two (or any humanitarian crises) because really they go back to the same issue. State powers looking after their own interests while assuming that the lives of normal people don't matter. But isn't it strange how our culture almost immediately began to acknowledge the reality in Yemen (though still perpetuate it), or say Iraq (post ISIS only though, never mind the three decades of American genocidal activity) and yet it has (and is) taking so long for public opinion in regard to the advancement of Palestinian people to shape into a concrete acknowledgment of their victimhood at the hands of others and not "their own leadership"-- that tired and aggravating and frankly racist excuse? When arabs are being killed by whites, its a "complicated issue," but when arabs are being killed by other arabs (because of what the white people are doing) we know very clearly who the victims are.
It goes back to a misunderstanding of how public opinion and political action actually work in the United States. With enough money, the interest of any small group of people... rapture obsessed evangelicals say, or greedy corporate executives who may or may not believe in "god"... can become the culture's dominant narrative. "Protect Israel at all costs" the only "true democracy" in the region. Never mind that the Palestinians have no democratic rights. And never mind that over the last century, Arab peoples' determination to create the conditions for democracy, from Ramallah to Beirut to Cairo to Khartoum to Ma'rib to the Western Sahara, have been thwarted by the efforts of greater state powers (like the United States) to preserve their interests in the region.
In Israel there are organizations created by Israeli citizens committed to the advancement of the Palestinian people. There are Israeli ex-military who dedicate their lives to building Palestinian homes. They are acting despite the aggression of their own government. Just as Jews were acting despite the aggression of the United States government in the 20th century Humanitarian movements in our country. Just like activist communities in our country today act despite the aggression of our government. But in the United States we still hesitate in acknowledging the reality of the Palestinian people because it is clouded with the assumption that we are criticizing all Israelis, or calling for the destruction of an entire country, even an entire people. What an atrocious assumption. Even organizations like the PLO or Hamas or Hezbollah or the Muslim Brotherhood who get branded "terrorists" because they do not have the "legitimacy" of a state power, despite not even coming close to the terrorism of their surrounding state powers, are made up of human beings who have never actually had a problem with "sitting at the table" with state powers that routinely brand them as bloodthirsty, uncompromising monsters. Many of these monsters possess impeccable educations and records of serious humanitarian involvement (why do you think all three organizations were democratically elected? No other reason than arabs' insatiable thirst for Jewish blood, I presume). I am not condoning any violence these organizations perpetuate, much of which is horrific (like for any entity that possess the will to employ violence) I am just telling the truth--one so many people are blind to because we live in a racist culture. The state powers these organizations hold in enmity routinely refuse to compromise, routinely break their treaties and agreements, and routinely work to infiltrate and suppress the self-determination and livelihood these organizations sometimes represent. That is not to deny much of the bumbling self-sabotage routinely displayed by these organizations as well (a characteristic of many "99%" movements, including this country--and that might be the most "unpopular" thing I say in this post, but it is absolutely true).
Israeli citizens have more diversity in their activist community than we could ever see, because our racist culture see the "Jews" and the "Arabs" as monoliths. And when I reflect on a place like Turkey for example, a state power with a terrible human rights record, and yet a community of people with a genuine and culturally systemic desire to help others, the reality that we all live in the same story... real people fighting the mythology and the falseness of the "state" ("Jewish" or otherwise) becomes all too clear.
And we assume that Palestinians have always had strong vocal support from activist communities, we go so far to say they get some sort of special treatment. Again the facts of the matter, the reality that the situation of the Palestinians continues to get worse, shows completely otherwise.
We exploit the narrative of the Holocaust and general persecution of Jews in Europe as if it is a burden that Palestinians must bear (some of whom were Jews living in Palestine before there needed to be a "state" for them there anyway). Their plight is a dagger slowly penetrating its way through the heart of all Arab peoples, from Ramallah to Beirut to Cairo to Khartoum to Ma'rib to the Western Sahara.
I could be talking about the plight of so many people. Not the least to say the history and plight of indigenous peoples in this country. But these are my people, and excuse me if my vocal (if not physical) support for them comes from a place of emotional priority. And anyway, I am just using them as an example for what I see as a general truth about our art making in this country... a reality which is already "popular" to see I guess, but this morning I felt like articulating it in my own way--and I will articulate it, eventually.
I grew up with the narrative that Palestinians were people who were supposed to be abandoned, incarcerated, tortured, and slaughtered, and no one was supposed to care because the better people were "ensuring their security," which is a guaranteed euphemism for any state power wishing to abuse innocent people for their own interests. When we hear that word "security" tossed around, our ears should perk up seeking out what atrocity the state using it is about to pull--and literally every state power uses that blasted term. This narrative gave me an idea of my own place in the world. That I was a threat to all the people who were more utopian than I could eve be. I identify, as an Egyptian through my mother's line, with the collective colonial turmoil of the African continent as well. It is not a denial of my own agency and privilege in having been granted this American life to say so. And I am grateful for that agency and that privilege. Again, I'm about to make a point about this as it regards to art and not to myself.
I bring all of this up, though, because it affects our art in a serious way as well.
My point is not to make you feel sorry for me. My point, in all of this, is to say that we still have not allowed the literal truth of colonial holocausts to infiltrate the emotional truth of our storytelling with the same depth that the narrative of the terrible suffering endured by those who went through the Holocaust(s) in Europe. That narrative produced, and continues to produce, an amazing cultural landscape of art. A cultural landscape I grew up in. And one that I love. One that informs my own approach to art and has been the source of much excitement in my life. It must exist. There are no demands for "the other side" or calls against a "victim narrative" or a need for "complexity" (in arts communities at least) when we appreciate this art. We all accept its given circumstances; its reality. But we are still maddeningly hesitant to delve artistically into the emotional depths of colonial history because we, even among the most well-meaning, intelligent and talented people, are not on the same page when it comes to the literal truth of the matter.
We are an ensemble in a play all acting in response to a different set of given circumstances. And when we don't know what play we are all in, the play dies.
The first impressions we make of emerging talent can be harsh and cruelly dismissive. This has always been the case and may be the only necessary obstacle in the path of that emerging talent. The only necessary teacher. I don't bemoan it.
But with the kind of permanence the internet maintains (and the monopolies of certain private entities that filter what passes through), along with the precariousness of an artistic culture that lives in a society which beams a lack of respect on any work that is not in obvious relationship to the elected homogony of what is going on in "current affairs," that cruel dismissiveness becomes that much more destructive.
Storytelling communities aren't going to thrive just because they've re-written the woke script. And yes I am referring specifically (though not exclusively) to the current trend of theatre companies opening their virtual readings with tediously long introductions that include all of the politically correct jargon (I am not against this jargon, I am against introductions all together. Just start the thing). That, coupled with the featured artists' predictable (though, of course, deft) weight on the scale of the current national "conversation" is a signal that we are all doing things that are well and good but ultimately avoiding what is truly necessary to maintain a vital artistic culture.
The only thing that really matters is how resilient the "kids coming up these days" are in making utter crap, getting trashed and ridiculed, and getting back up again to dig a little deeper to find the truth of their hearts so that they may offer their unique gift to the world. And how resilient and candid audiences are in continuing to show up, and, when the work is good, acknowledging that generously, and spreading the word about it relentlessly, even if, and most likely especially if, that work is not associated with an already established institution however large or small.
Those kids need to be seen. And fed.
Those kids coming up can be eighteen or eighty, they can be on the fringes or right at the center of the establishment. By "kid" I don't mean age or relevance and I don't mean a baby goat.
By "kid" I mean anyone who is interested in something completely new and thrilling. Anyone who plays in the sandbox without looking up to see if the adults are beaming their approval.
For actors and writers, whom I am always surprised and grateful to count myself among, the kids are the ones who know they are enough as they are. And all that matters is the honest play they put in, not the flimsy standards of seemingly powerful though clearly desperate gatekeepers and institutions.
Keep your head down long enough and you'll know every time you look up things will change. By "things" I mean institutional standards. Why depend on something so unreliable, when your work has been there for you since day one and will continue to be there until you yourself abandon it?
I have a new short story coming out this week, titled Sketch Girl (that is unless I change the title last minute). Excited to share.
If you haven't already had the chance to read my other stories, including Joseph's dream, they are all available here:
Mohammad Shehata - Short Stories
And of course, listen to instalment 13 and 14 of Speaking Into The Fog. You don't need to be "caught up."
Mohammad Shehata - SPEAKING INTO THE FOG
I read Rilke's Letters to a Young Poet a little too late. Rilke says to avoid "love" poems for as long as possible when one begins to write, because love presents the greatest challenge for a writer. Love poems were the first things I wrote. But that's everyone, I know.
My love poems were sonnets. Perfectly metered. I may have already told you this but it's something I can't let go of. This idea that I as some quiet, slightly know-it-all, people-pleasing, quivering little raggedy haired boy, who never broke the rules, was unwittingly breaking perhaps the only concrete rule of poetry set down by one of the most lasting writers of the last two hundred years.
I loved writing these poems more than I loved the girl I was writing them for. And I was so unassuming about them that I never kept any extra copies for myself. I just took joy (and agony) in the making. When I finally stitched them up--all twelve (or was it twenty-five? Fifty?) of them into a little paper book, and handed them to my supposed beloved, neither she nor I ever spoke of it again; even in that moment, we barely acknowledged what was happening. It was a screaming ejaculation of teenage cringe-worthiness. And the fluid was coming from a skene's gland; so the process seemed to take an eternity and was that much more intense for it. I cannot overstate how absolutely devastatingly awkward this moment was. I was standing on the lower end of a dry-grassed hill when it happened, next to a stable of horses, watching the sun bleed into the earth and turn my beloved's dark hair into a dimming crimson.
I'm not kidding. We were at a party for one of the kids on our improv team, who's family owned a ranch in town. It could have easily gone a different direction given the setting... but I would have been ok had, after that moment, a horse broken out of the stable and trampled me to death. Luckily for us both, we were alone.
In retrospect, all of that was truly enough. Perfect.
I don't remember what those poems say and I don't even know if they still exist. My best work is probably lost forever.
These days I'm a little naughtier; a little more aggressive towards authority, and I have an overly conceited concern with my place in posterity. I try to save multiple copies of all my work, if I can. And this is good; necessary even. I guess.
But I don't want to lose that kid who, on his worst days, took to a simple act of innocence (or was it pure arrogance?) in expressing what he knew was beyond his capacity for expression. And so nothing for him, in the moment of this expressing, existed beyond his attempt to express it.
I do not bemoan the loss of these poems (is "loss" the right word? She, after all, was always the rightful owner; not me). Writing them is one of the few things I can look back on in my years as a messed-up teen and say, "I don't regret that at all. Not one bit." That and turning in half-finished novellas two weeks late instead of the three pages that were asked to be completed on time. That is, if I turned anything in at all. I probably should have been more up front with my teachers with where I was in life; I get the sense in retrospect that they did truly want to help me. I was doing my best. Trying so hard to please I ended up insulting instead. But I don't regret all the writing I did in the process. And doing plays. At school. In the park.
I do wish I could remember just a little of what I was actually writing about, so that I can replicate that kind of innocence. Or supreme confidence.
But it is enough to know that if I could go back to my early days and my teens, I would change everything. Except the time I spent writing and acting; playing in general; I'd only do it more.
I'd break all those dumb rules that ended up ensuring nothing for me but a now desperate desire to make up for lost time. And I'd take a little more care to study what I did not know about the crafts that were there to impart meaning onto a youth all too squandered by timidness.
No, if I went back, I wouldn't do it all the same. Not at all.
I think I’m done with eating. Yeah, I’m pretty much done with eating. I don’t want to eat anymore. It doesn’t give me meaning, this eating. This eating thing is bullshit. It makes no sense. Why do we do it? How did we even find out that if we don’t eat we die? How did people find out about this? Or did they just start following their salivated impulses without questioning the necessity of the act? Or is it because we saw other animals do it and we wanted to just go along with the crowd? But eventually we wanted to do it more and better?
We’re just eating everything us humans. We’re like this giant gluttonous brain devouring the earth. Or... We’re all just prisoners of the same tired old story. We’re not monsters. We’re surrounded by the monsters. If only we could see these monsters under our beds and rip their pearly fangs out of their smirking little bitch mouths.
I never preempt with "full disclosure" because that should just be a given... though, full disclosure, I am still fearful of being fully transparent. I do not restrict my work to those who pay (no one is paying yet) because I want people to enjoy the work.
Witches demand sheep's blood and the shin bone of your firstborn child. I offer you the opportunity to support me monetarily through Patreon. This might be a mistake but I'm still rumbling out of the launch pad. And auditions are picking up again so this is also another way to have fun. I also think honest attention has its own cost. You don't have to have money to actually pay. I am probably doing this all wrong... but I'm just a kid in the Lego room right now.
For those who put in the time and attention to read this blog, listen to my podcast, and read my short stories, know that you have my immense gratitude... even if I may not react so humbly to your occasional criticism (at first).
I never understood the term "learning curve;" I just think the more you approach something genuinely, the better chance you have of being struck by an agent of that world of genius daemons that haunts and inspires us all. You people of science on this mailing list, please know I love you too but you are wrong about everything. Except the way disease works, and the planet, and our bodies, and physics, and a lot of things.
The Pay Me page is there on my site but just listen to and read the shit anyway, ok? You might be struggling in the midst of this pandemic... you might not be... who am I to say? Don't feel bad if you are not giving money... again, I do this for fun... your time and attention are what really add to the fun at this point. That other stuff will come later. You all are at the beginning of something here with me. And that is what really matters.
So, in case you missed it...
My newest podcast instalments, Instalment 13: A Brown Brute Shaves Their Balls (an hour long stand alone feature) and Instalment 14: Stupid Deaths (a twenty-five second miracle) are available now. Listen to them and then listen to Instalment 12: I Think Therefore I Am... A Man? And then go back and listen to the rest of the podcast in order.
All instalments are available here:
Mohammad Shehata - SPEAKING INTO THE FOG
I also have two new short stories up. Joseph's Dream and A Torn Hearted Boy. Read them, along with all my other stories, here:
Mohammad Shehata - Short Stories
And, as always, every blog post I've written so far is available too. There's inspirational shit, political shit, dumb shit, ponderous shit, all kinds of shit... it's an amazing fucking blog. When I'm famous this will be the thing that will always be free.
Mohammad Shehata - BLOG
I am sad all of the time. Obviously, not all of the time, but when I am sad it always feels like this is the only thing I have ever felt. Sometimes I pour that sadness into a bottle while pouring its poison into me. Sometimes I project that sadness onto a virtual stranger's erect penis. And every once in a while I will write through it.
I know writing isn't supposed to be therapy. But can it be escape? Can it be anything but that? Every word I've ever written, and every moment I've spent on stage, fills me with shame. Because it has never felt like work.
In college I worked at a cafeteria. And whenever I was on sandwich duty, I would make little smiley faces with the condiments because I was sure that some customers would find it cute enough to want to have sex with me. But none of them ever did.
While I worked there I was also allowed one free meal valued at $15. The cost of each meal was measured by weight at check out. And I calculated that three heaping plates of pasta were valued at $15. So one day I tried eating all three plates during the thirty minutes allotted to me for lunch. So that I could get all my calories for the day without having to spend any money or time on food. And when I went back to work the sandwich station... imagine the most attractive person you can think of... they were next line.
I made a little horseradish smiley face for them. They actually asked for mayonnaise but I was already too nauseous from all the food I just ate to know the difference.
I looked up at their giggling, charmed face, knowing that finally, this was the one.
And I vomited all over the sandwich station.
That only happened so that I could write today's post.
I gave today's post the title Desperate and Selfish. Desperate is what suits the above story. And Selfish because a part of me has always questioned... why a so-called "blog" where I am invading people's inboxes? And (almost) everyday? Why not just focus on my podcast and my stories? And just Tweet or Facebook when I feel like it? The truth is... I want you all to myself. Sure, I might get likes and retweets (and this is by no means a criticism of those things) but what I really want is an exclusive relationship with you. If you read this on social media, you are still, in the most basic sense, in relationship to the platform. Which, again, is fine.
But when you sluts read me I don't want you sucking off the rest of the internet too. When your ass is mine, it's mine.
The blush on your face is a generic brand called death,
And no one's eyes speak here.
I look and see emptiness.
Haha! Everything they say about you is a lie!
Maybe I should be more specific; less metaphorical; give it to you straight; not waste your time; because in New York, it is possible to own time. To own god.
I lied. Well, not really, I just skipped a part. There was some wonder in the beginning. That part where you look out from the window seat on the plane and see the face of god in all those lights from the buildings. And I know it's in all the movies. But the movies got it right that time.
I would name all the places you own, but that would be a little tedious. And I don't really care about them. I am ok with sitting on the bench and watching all those people staring at their hands miraculously cheating death day by day. Whose hands are we all in, that we can do that? God loves New York. Her most sinful and wretched child. This big apple of god's eye. Ha!
An abusive lover told me once that you were like everyone's abusive lover. When it's good it's gooood, and when it's bad it's baaaad. They weren't wrong about this.
Why am I writing about you, when I know nothing about you? I try to write about people too. People hate how crowded you are and the way you smell. And they love how crowded you are and the way you smell. These people have never been to Cairo. But I don't know that place at all either.
But the cold... that got me. I am a wimp when it comes to the cold. Not a lot of iron in my blood. What you think I'm a fucking viking?
What is there to actually say about you? From my point of view? Since so much has been said before? And continues to be said? People joke about you like you're a crazy ex. And the jokes stay funny. I still need to watch that documentary about you.
Sleeping on my hippie yogie uncle's coach... sneaking peaks into his library of half-read books.
Lovers get mad at me for leaving underwear on the floor. But you never judge me for littering. That is why I love you most, New York.
Catering while hung over for all those angry chefs at glorious bar mitzvahs to make a quick buck; wondering if the trapeze artists will fall onto those below. They never do.
Wandering sober through the free museums and finding it a little boring.
Leaving the too long lines at the jazz clubs and trolling plays at all those "little" theatres that seem so big to me.
Practicing my Shakespeare with all those actors shuffling in from Broadway matinees. "Well say there is no kingdom then for Richard?" I knew I would torment myself to catch the American crown. Or hew my way out with a bloody axe. Because I am a son of desert poets with the blood of an American salesman. And all of this will be mine.
And all of it will leave me in the gutter, blue and bloodied. Last man standing. I'll just hang among the women, then. If they'll have me.
When I was seven I saw the towers burn on a little tv in a little house from across the country. Before I knew there was a place called New York.
When I saw ground zero as it is now, I was sure that it looked better this way. And it is beautiful. I know all those people died just so I can appreciate this honest monument. And I went to the museum next door and it kind of spoiled it for me... but I did laugh out loud when I heard the French guy on the tv say in that funny accent "nobody cared about those towers until I walked between them."
All of you got mad at Susan Sontag for telling you the truth. But I only read about this.
I came to you once. And never wanted to leave. I wanted to hold on to you, abusive lover that I am, so that some history book could count me among the millions who came to you to find the best of what they could find in life. But I know that I wasn't seeing the real you that older men and women saw. But I was seeing the real you. When I am old I will tell the young they never saw the real you, too.
I love you as you are. You are perfect.
What would I change about you, first? The subway system. But that's everyone, I know.
I had to leave because a plague came. I had to go and protect ones that I loved. I had to go and be protected by them. And now I know they are safe. Er. And now I have returned and the plague is still here. We'll see who lasts longer. The place I went back to, no one respected the plague. And here, no one is respecting the plague. I am not respecting the plague. But I am playing it safer than most... which is frightening.
I often insult the dead. I forget to mention them when they leave. I know people will do this to me when I die, too.
I will walk your streets, with face covered. Or I will wait when the plague is gone; when the cold is gone. Will they ever be gone? Over the bridges, I will go. It's the walking that means something to me. Not you, New York, you mean nothing to me. I know you are nothing but an idea.
Such a beautiful idea, though.
You are real. I am the idea. And you are really beautiful.
There is a world elsewhere.
But here, you are the world.
Will you be remembered for your beauty and the slaves that built you? Like all those great cities of antiquity? Or will you fade like all those dying stars in the sky who's names we do not know?
I was born for you, because I want to be immortal too.
Death will show us both, the error of our ways.
Till then, let's have as much fun as we can.
The terror and the pain and the cold will handle itself.
Ah, fuck you New York.
I will go into your sacred monuments. And I will destroy all the idols there and remind you of the one true god you once knew and have since forgotten. A, fuck off! you say. Yes. This is your declaration of faith. Your sign that you are part of the club. This is how we humans do. I worship your idols and your gods too. Because I am a dirty, bloody pagan. I am you. I belong to you. I serve you. I am yours. You are the truth.
I am among the hypocrites your elders must snuff out before I destroy the integrity of your beloved community.
I love you. I love you. I love you. I barely know you.
I need to get serious for a minute.
If your aim is to be an entertainer in America, intense political consciousness is part of your job description. And the quality of your work is always a reflection of those who you allow to hold power.
America is a financial empire. "Foreign" policy is domestic policy.
Shakespeare's plays were so human because he wrote them for a Queen. A woman who traded openly with the North Africans whom her male counterparts routinely saw as barbarians. And who's current day autocrats are paid off by our government. Othello may have been based on Abd el-Ouahed Ben Messaoud... ambassador to Queen Elizabeth I who negotiated for an Anglo-Moroccan alliance to thwart the Spanish Inquisition--the three hundred and fifty year long purging of Muslims and Jews from the Kingdom established by Ferdinand and Isabella. These talks culminated in arms deals and on and off talks of mounting a joint operation against Spain, but the Queen and Morocco's ruler at the time both died within two years of the embassy.
Neither Othello in his tragedy nor Shylock in the Merchant of Venice are perfect reflections of the complex collectives they stood to represent in what seemed like the most fully fleshed form for the time. But it matters that they exist at all. And though there are complex women in Shakespeare's plays, there just aren't enough of them. But it matters that they exist at all. What matters is that the attempt to flesh out these characters genuinely is notable and due in large part to the heroic behavior of those in power.
America is a cultural backwater. We do not experience the capacity for genuine artistic abandon that much more socially progressive countries do.
The increasing numbness you feel in your Netflix binges is only compounded by the performative wokeness the platform tries to project. And it is a deadening lie.
Entertainment is not human if its makers are not conscious of the corruption of the state. And even if they are, their entertainment is still not human if it only exists in antithesis to that corruption. But how can conscious entertainment not exist in antithesis to a corrupt state? It is impossible in this case for our entertainment to reach a level in which we may regard this entertainment as art.
Justice is the parameter in which art can thrive. And the only one. And so it goes without saying that a concern for art is a concern for justice. And a concern for justice is a concern for art.
The popularity of "performance art" is a reflection of our inability to face the corruption of our state and our culture with any real courage. These performances are in precise submission to the kind of censorship they supposedly aim to denounce. And they are boring. Just say what you mean.
In this country theatre is dead, television and films are malaise-inducing, hack paintings are overvalued, and books are unreadable past the preface because we pay our taxes to an organization more deadly than any mob or terrorist group. And that organization is still in power.
It is understandable if this is all too unbearable. The best thing to do for your art, in this case, is leave the country.
It could all be so much better.
Someone who is very talented and who I respect a lot told me that my last blog post read like their horoscope and now I want to drown in self-pity.
I'm being dramatic. They didn't mean what they said in a negative (or positive) way it just shattered me with self-consciousness because I know I am above horoscopes. I know people like horoscopes but I am too good for astrology. It's not like I compulsively scan my Co-Star app every morning and spiral inwardly whenever it suggests I connect with someone I have a crush on. No... that's not me at all.
But I got thinking about "feedback." Does it really matter if it is a compliment or not? Lately people who think they are cool and respectable have been calling their responses to work "observations." As though posturing like they are some objective alien come to show humans the error of their subjective ways.
Also, let's stop calling "feedback" feedback. It's sounds too much like that screeching noise I don't want my microphone to make whenever I am recording my podcast. Let's start calling it "response," now. If you call it "feedback" I will disown you.
And when it comes to response... "positive" or "negative" or some vaguely neutral (though obviously loaded) "observation" doesn't really matter. What matters is that the person is responding and it always deserves your appreciation. You will know intuitively how to respond or not respond to the response. You will know whether or not it informs your work moving forward. But a response is always to be honored... like the time or money someone spends to actually enjoy your work.
Speaking of my podcast... based on responses to my latest instalments... I'm starting to realize something. People don't give a crap how smart I am, they just want the truth.
So fuck it. I'm just going to tell you the truth. I will make your horoscopes eat their own asses out of jealousy for my truth telling.
Worse than empty outrage is the beaming of gratitude onto the unacceptable.
Why celebrate the status quo?
Be relentless with yourself and others.
Gentleness towards the given circumstances is no virtue if it is a privilege.
The reality is that, right (or left) side of the issues or not, your thoughts and righteous ideals are mostly governed by the influence of the interest lobbies that back them.
That means the ideas with the most money are the ones that are probably going to steer most of your thinking.
It doesn't mean these ideas are wrong, it just means you need to take in other variables before jumping to conclusions. Having your mind made up is probably a more dangerous sign than you think.
Just because everyone says it, and it seems bad to not say it, doesn't mean it's true.
It's harder than ever to call it as you see it and say to hell with it all.
You have to expose yourself before you know what it is you are exposing. You might not like what you find out about yourself or what others see. But what matters is that they do see. If your attention is on your own fear of what is inside you as opposed to a genuine wave of responses to what is outside of you, no one ever sees who you actually are. And that is a spiritual death before the physical one. And when people see who you are, they might see the potential for a prophet king or potential for a complete monster. Or something in between... what does it matter? Now you know. And now you have information to act on. As opposed to going through life with this vague grasp of what it means to be alive, or worse, being exposed for something or someone terrible before you had the means to control the impulses that could lead to actions which cause harm.
Aristotle thought that the purpose of drama was to allow the audience to purge its uncivilized impulses so that the harmonious state may remain unthreatened by them. In a way, an artist is meant to keep everyone from eating each other. The audience can experience the work... laugh, gasp, cry, whatever it is... and afterwards take a quick glimpse into the mirror before heading off to bed a bit more aware of their true nature. And that they and the rest of the world are a little safer from it, and all it took was the price of admission or the forms they had to fill out for their library card. And the benefit is achieved when no one else had to see who they were except themselves. They don't realize this is what is happening but it is what happens by virtue of their being entertained. That is their prerogative as the audience.
But the artist has no mirror. There is nothing out there to tell them who they are before everyone else can see it. But everyone else must see it if the artist is to be of any service. An artist is a sacrifice.
All you're risking is a little bit of embarrassment.
No one is going to cut your head off. Not yet anyway. So don't be so humble, you're not that important. But you are necessary... and if artists stop doing what they do, and doing it honestly, for long enough that they suddenly become "important," that's when we're all in real trouble. Because the sacrifice holds status with the gods, and not with the living. And "importance" is about holding status with the living. Necessity is about holding status with the gods.
We can, and must, aim to place ourselves at the center of events. Aim to be seen. Half our work is about removing barriers between us and our audience. And that entails some imperfect decisions. But it's not our business to line up for medals or awards or grants or a place at the shiny institution. All that stuff is important. It is not necessary. It has no status among the gods. And if we find ourselves to be a generation aiming to be important as opposed to necessary we're going to start seeing a whole lot of our contemporaries cannibalize one another. We might already be seeing it. And when we do see it we'll know all that blood is on our hands. Because we were so greedy for our own blood. That blood that was meant as sacrifice to the gods.
And now the gods are angry.