The Adventures of a 21st Century Expat in a Tinderbox

This entry was posted on Saturday, September 15th, 20122012-09-15T12:13:26Zl, F jS, Y at 5:13 am2012-09-15T12:13:26Zg:i a

I say little about it on this blog, but in the background of Just Effing Entertain Me is me – and I am living in the Middle East. As many of you know, I moved to Tel Aviv six months ago. For a bevy of reasons. While I am blogging about screenwriting, while I am judging the Just Effing Screenwriting Competition, I am living in a war zone. I blog about it in other places – The Huffington Post and the Times of Israel. I figure this blog is focused on screenwriting. But once in awhile, particularly right now, with the Middle East being inarguably a tinderbox, I think it makes sense to share a little bit about what it is like to live here. You are a writer, you read this blog for inspiration about ideas, staying motivated, getting repped and a lot of other aspects of being a writer. One of the aspects of being a writer, I think we can all agree, is that you have an insatiable curiosity about life. So do I.

I am of course also inspired to write about my life in Israel at this juncture because several events are happening at the same time. A few days ago marked the six month anniversary of living here. I am beyond the status of being a tourist, I am beyond the status of a dabbler. I am an Israeli citizen. I am here. And I need to government issue gas mask. Also, this Sukkot marks the 26th anniversary of my conversion to Judaism. More than half of my life has gone by since that special day.

And then there is that darn movie. I won’t link to the Innocence of Islam because honestly, it’s a pretty terrible little movie. Not only for what it has sparked but for the cowardice of its maker its shabby message, not to mention terrible production values. What on earth was going on with that film? And what on earth is going on with the incensed reaction to it?

I live in a place which is in the midst of a very long and very painful paroxysm. I feel the weight and the power of the tide of history – this paroxysm is like a tsunami – it is powerful and unstoppable. I think it is like a forest fire, this conflict in the Middle East. It has to just burn itself out. But that is a scary thought. What can you or I or anybody do until it’s just burnt itself out? Wait. Can you do anything to contribute to peace and understanding, in the face of such a wall of flame? Not really. The ONLY thing you can definitely do is try to see this in the context of history and to stubbornly hang onto the knowledge that Arabs are not BAD and Islam is not BAD and that people are human beings. We have to maintain our humanity in the face of this fire. We have to information gather and contextualize and be patient.

For me, women are a significant key to the solution here in the Middle East. The Arab world is ruled by men exclusively. EXCLUSIVELY. So fully 50% of their population is helpless and in many cases, terribly abused. Female circumcision, stonings, pride killings, rapes, burqas. If the women in Arab countries could have a voice, I think things would change, I really do. Because we are mothers and sisters and daughters. That is the piece of the puzzle that interests me the most, from where I am. To give Arab/Muslim women some way of communicating with the world that they do not stand with their husbands, clerics and leaders. But it’s almost impossible to work with them because they are shielded from outside contact. I continue to wrestle with and wonder about how I can be any small part of facilitating the expression and freedom of speech of Arab women. I have not yet been struck by just how I can be a part of that. I wait patiently, for inspiration and opportunity to strike.

It won’t always be like this in the Middle East, but I don’t think the end is anywhere near, either. I definitely won’t always live here, I miss my home, of course. But it is painful for me to think that a place that I love, and the people in it, will suffer on and on. When you live in the US, the problems over here are an intellectual exercise and something blessedly far away. We get empathy fatigue in the US. Oh for god SAKE why can’t they work it out?! Why are they so backwards?! Oh well, let’s just live our lives and vote for whomever, and put it out of our minds. You just have to cope. Here, the situation is impossible to ignore.

So what am I doing here? Who would choose to live in a tinderbox? That is a question my family asks me regularly and that I sometimes ask myself.

I can only answer thusly:

As a human pedestrian on this blue marble, for a limited time only, I think it an exciting privilege to live a life that is much larger than the life I was served up, and to explore far, far outside of my comfort zone. Very few people get the chance to do that, and even fewer take that chance. I am having an extraordinary experience that will change me forever. Someday, I’ll come back to the US and live in a quieter, more peaceful place and knit more and have some goats and make jam. But that time is not now and I guarantee you that when that time does come, it will not come with complacence and quiet. I will always write about my experiences and I will always thirst for more. And I will use my experiences to write about and share, so that others who have not been so fortunate as to actually go and experience adventures like this will be able to, through what I write. That is the legacy I can leave; honest insights and, I hope, inspiration for others to live a life less ordinary.

I love the US with a passion, of course, I love our history and our culture and our people. I have never felt so American in my entire life. I see how American culture has soaked into my very DNA.

But there is more to this world – much, much more. I was always so curious to get outside of my little village, my little world, and to partake in the bigger picture of this life. That is why reading and later movies were (and remain) such a passion for me. But I took it one step further. I came here to really be a part of the big picture and of the wave of history, not just an observer of it.

Will I put my own life on the line to be a part of it all? Well, that remains to be seen. I like to say that no, if missiles start to fall on Tel Aviv, I will not up and leave. But that has not yet happened and I can’t really know how that would feel. I cannot pretend to be brave or principled or somehow larger than life when I have not yet been faced with that choice – my hide or my principles. Do I owe it to my family – to my kids – to stay alive no matter what? I don’t think so, actually. From the bottom of my soul, from the essence of who I am, I think it a far, far worse fate to have a mother who is unrealized and unfulfilled, slumbering in a life of quiet regret, than to have a mother who is passionately awake, alive, curious and engaged in her world. A mother who sees herself as a part of something very big and very wonderful and who is hungry to experience it and write about it. I am here because I am writing a book about being here. I am here because I have an insatiable curiosity and hunger for life. I can think of no greater legacy for my kids than a mother who truly lived.

I turn to my great love, Jack Kerouac, who once said:

…the only people for me are the mad ones, the ones who are mad to live, mad to talk, mad to be saved, desirous of everything at the same time, the ones who never yawn or say a commonplace thing, but burn, burn, burn like fabulous yellow roman candles exploding like spiders across the stars.

So, with that, I wish all my JFEME readers a shana tova – a happy new year, from the land of Israel. I hope that in your new year, you continue to write with passion, to share your vision from wherever you are, from the seat of your soul. Be an example of the examined life and of the life less ordinary, whatever that means for you. Do what you can, from where you are, with what you have – and write about it.

And now we return to our regular programming. :)


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