Posts tagged USA
Life is a Domino Effect
Estimated reading time: 2'30

Estimated reading time: 2'30

As I was visiting LA for interviews, I caught up with a friend who had just directed his own short film.

We chatted about his passion for movies.  

- "I have always been interested in the movie industry, but originally on a superficial level. I did a couple plays in high school, and one day a friend introduced to a photographer who took some model shots of me, which led me to job opportunities. He was showing the pictures to agents who would say "Who's that guy?'. It was a snowball effect, that contact led me to participating in dating shows, commercials, a telenovela... Until I acted in a movie. I realised this was what I wanted to do with my life.

At that time, I was 29, about to turn 30, and felt that I was drowning, back in Miami. When I decided to leave for good, my girlfriend wouldn't believe it because I was talking about it for so long, and she had been holding me back. But I did not have the patience to wait for her to follow me anymore, so I packed everything and drove away.

At first I was naive, shy and not acclimated to the Californian culture. I did not have this laid-back mentality as I came from Miami where people have the latino blood. I did not know anyone and did not know about the bar diving culture as a way to meet people. One friend introduced me to it, and from then on, I created my network, which led me to more opportunities, by word-of-mouth.

I started to take things more seriously and work towards my goal: I took acting classes, got myself an agent and decided to move to Hollywood. But it wasn't it. I did commercials for 10 years, and nothing major happened,

I wasn't focused. I wasn't trying hard enough.

So as things evolved and as I started to believe in myself more and try harder, I got into a couple more movies and music videos, first as an extra, and then as small parts. Now, just like Ben Affleck and Matt Damond did, I've decided to take it to another level and show Casting Directors a product. So I drafted my own script, and teamed-up with friends to do a short film, in which I could display different facettes of my acting skills.

I truly believe that everything in life happens when it is supposed to. There is a domino effect. I worked in a certain bar, met certain people etc, which led me to where I am now. I still have a long way to go, but if you had told me that I would be an actor in Hollywood when I was 18, I would have thought you were crazy.

There is an expression saying that if you keep looking at the sky, you won't see obstacles. My dream is to have an Oscar, and that's what I keep in mind everyday. I won't give up, no matter difficulties, and no matter the time it will take, until I finally hold it in my hands".

Curiosity Doesn't Kill the Cat
Estimated reading time: 6'

Estimated reading time: 6'

I met Ruhana at a concert organized by common friends.

One of the biggest secrets she rarely discloses to anyone is her age. And when we became close enough, she told me she was 18. You could not tell by the way she speaks.

She can talk about any topic for hours.

She has this talent for connecting with people and connecting people: you put her alone in a room and she will leave with five friends.

She studies, has two jobs and multiple side-projects, and is part of various ethnic, feminist, spiritual and artistic communities.

As we were chatting about her involvement with minorities, I asked her where it all started.

"Far back. I come from a highly disciplined and traditional family in New Jersey. I studied at a preppy private school. Money was never an issue. People's family name and size house represented their status. One of my friends owned a jet, another one had a monthly $500 allowance; that was normal. Naturally, my friends and I selected people to hang out with based on level of intellect and status. Kids from public school were considered 'improper and unsheltered'. We also would select friends according to their ethnicity. There was only one African American in my school and no Hispanic students. Even as a first generation Bengali American, possessing fair skin was the standard. I always made sure to hide my darker hands under the table, or in my pockets. 

One of the core values that was instilled in me since attending that school was practicing discipline to earn respect.

At home, my parents were expecting me to know everything about all sorts of topics (physics, politics, conspiracy, etc) from a very young age. And at school, I'd get a fine if I wore grey socks instead of white, for instance. We were all expected to go to Ivy leagues and land a 6-figure salary job. The GPA determined my entire life and my worth to society. The "A" defined confidence, and I would beat myself up for anything less than that".

I tease her about her current 4.7 grade on Uber.

"Yeah I don’t understand why Uber drivers are judging me so hard...!" We laugh.

"On the other hand, everything was granted, including the teacher's behaviour. Students would have their parents make appointments with the principle if they were unsatisfied with their fixed grades. To be honest, I never realized I was entitled to good treatment until I went out of that situation. I never even learned how to register for my own classes or find classrooms on my own since we were given designated point of contacts to find classes for us on the first day of school. 

When I turned 13 years old, I went on a trip to a spiritual Islamic retreat in Tarim, Yemen, for 40 days. In that specific city, it is said that the sun purifies the dirt of your soul.

We spent the days praying in a sacred atmosphere, which opened up the doors to a spirituality that I had never been exposed to before. I understood that life was more than the materialistic things I was exposed to back home. Through a new perspective of religion, I discovered a deeper relationship with a higher being, and gained a new outlook on life and people.

Each Friday evening, a spiritual celebration was taking place where a congregation of women would be gathering, singing, dancing and playing instruments. Each person would play their own music, though somehow manage to all sync together. They were all living fully in the present, enjoying with what little they had. Their inner beauty and independence was glowing.

There were people from all parts of the world; Germany, France, Russia, Malaysia and so on. They had different ideologies, different upbringings. I figured that everybody's life is customized to bring up the best of themselves.

What happens in their lives defines their personality and crafts their motives for doing things.

 Once, a clerk at a store, a complete stranger, invited my family and I over for dinner during the stay. She hosted us in such a grand manner with a huge feast of kafsa, an enticing Arabian dish of perfectly seasoned meat and rice. The rest of her family members sat down to put henna on our hands. It seemed so unreal I got skeptical. I supposed she would be asking us for help after she hosted us. It was hard to fathom that she hosted us purely out of kindness. I asked her why she was feeding us in Arabic. And she responded with one word as if the answer was obvious, “Ya’ani adaab.” “I mean...it’s etiquette.” A sense of morality came to thin air and I wondered, “Why aren’t we this nice in America?”.

Again, this made me embrace and respect each individualities more, differences and viewpoints, as well as taking pride in my own views and values and learned to differentiate between the real and the fake. I became interested in understanding behaviours and people.

I redefined knowledge: I was not learning for the sake of learning anymore, because of peer pressure or for the best GPA, rather, I wanted to learn out of genuine curiosity. 

Obtaining supplementary knowledge rather than studying the American education system's redundant core curriculum seemed more important to me. So I decided to homeschool for the next 5 months upon my move to California at 15, unaware of the detrimental social consequences. Although the silently killing isolation drove me insane, I was able to learn more about myself and internalize everything around me.

In California, the state of liberalism to the max, I referred to myself as a FOE, fresh off the East. We’re pretty ignorant about racial diversity there. I re-evaluated how I saw people of color; taught myself how to humanize people based on John Locke’s principles of natural rights. I unlearned racist behavior and mentality.

After I switched over to public school, I also began to understand the importance of sisterhood, tied with female empowerment. Insecure but “popular” girls at Santa Clara High swooned over immature foolish boys. Subtle sexism was everywhere from high school to corporate employment.

From body gestures to language, gender discrimination became more prevalent as I started college. I decided to experiment with men; 21 men in the span of three months to be exact. I kept a mental report of my dates' different characteristics associated with races, occupations, ethnicity, their views of women and expectations. Getting hugged rather than having my hand shook in a group full of men; being called an attention seeker for dressing too “provocatively”; being asked why I come home late on the weekends; encountering mansplaining on a daily basis by bosses, colleagues, and friends; my 40 year old male roommate denying that sexual assault is even a real thing; being asked why I go to the gym because my figure didn’t imply it was necessary; friends not believing things happening to me non-consensually. Getting mistreated as a women subtly was something I could no longer tolerate. The values of self respect I learned at school were put in place in my childhood for this reason. Self respect implies the intolerance of bullshit. And in hopes of ending such patriarchal bullshit, I’m planning to start a nonprofit to empower young women in a few years down the line. I embrace my own self. I know who I am, what I like and what I want.”

By switching her focus from "having the best grades" to "real-life experience" through being confronted to different social, spiritual, artistic and ethnic environments, she has become exponentially more curious, open-minded and comfortable networking, and so can anybody,

 

Can You See the Signs?
Estimated reading time: 1'

Estimated reading time: 1'

I lost my job due to a change in strategy.

30 days to pack my bags & leave the USA.

I had left my country, my boyfriend & my job for this opportunity, all to end in a snap.

With no plan in mind, I took a soul-searching trip to Mexico.

Never in my life have I come across so many signs from the Universe.

I discovered that, when most vulnerable, you become fully aware of your surroundings.

You hang on to anything and everything that will give you strength.

The encouragement of a stranger.

Lyrics of a song on the radio.

The quote in a fortune cookie.

Someone’s tattoo.

The name of a bar.

Timing.

Dreams.

And you start to trust them.

As my roomie said: “You’re lucky, few people get to start on a blank page” Reboot.

I had to decide of the next step.

What is my value? 

What do I want? 

Where to next?

I burned through my savings.

Reached out to all my friends.

Traveled hours for interviews.

Showed up to companies unannounced. Moved from one couch to another.

Started a blog.

Created a portfolio.

I go after my dreams. I am surrounded by opportunities.

Visa deadline, what-ifs? Forgotten.

Every step I take leads me closer to my goal.

I am confident that it is a matter of days before I sign my dream job.

When you are facing tough times, are you the victim or the risk-taker?
Invest In Yourself
Estimated reading time: 4'

Estimated reading time: 4'

The night I met my new roommate, I had just lost my job and was overly anxious.

After exchanging a few introductions, he told me that he had a lot of energy and could share some with me, preparing a “ball of energy” between his hands — if you can picture that. He approached me and asked to put his hand on my chest. Caught unaware, I accepted. 

After 3 or 4 deep breaths though, and without completely understanding how, I suddenly felt much better, like relieved of a weight...

Intrigued, I asked him if this “energy thing” was magical.

"- I did not believe in this either at first!

- So how did you get introduced to it?

- A few years ago, I started a pursuit of enlightment. I wasn’t a cool kid growing up. I was shy, not good at dating or with friends. I thought I’d have to live with that, that this was engrained in me. Until I learnt that it was possible to master social dynamics, and alter my own energy and vibration. I have learnt certain tricks: eye contact, charisma, confidence, body energy… Those are skills that you can train, like leadership.

In 2014, I had a depression, I felt that I was trapped, hiding behind a mask so friend recommended that I'd go to a landmark farm. It is a transformational workshop consisting in deep psychological work, that helps people break out of their limited beliefs in a group.

This was succesful so I tried other things. I've learned about chakras, I've participated in "Interchange", a counseling program, and the "Authentic Man Program", which teaches you the masculine/feminine dynamics. I've been to naked camps, where everybody opens up and gives love to each other, freely, without the constraint of clothes. I also do daily meditation and yoga for body awareness and have a Tantra lifestyle, which helps being conscious of my energy and the ones of my partners.

There's also the orgasmic meditation. It is another group experience during which you meditate and stroke other people while focusing on body awareness, rather than seeing it as a sexual experience. I used to not be attuned to my "energy body" so this was a vulnerable experience that unlocked emotions the first time: I cried for the first time in 20 years. In other words, you can compare this experience to the healing of your inner child. It also improves your relationships to others. The male gives, and the female receives. Once you do this, you break a lot of fears when it comes to approaching women...

Another impactful experience I've had was with psychedelics: LSD, mushrooms, Ayahuasca. Ayahuasca is made from a vine in the Amazon forest — it's cooked and you drink its sludgy liquid, while a shaman calls in the spirit. You feel that "Loving Mother Earth Spirit" enters your body, to heal you psychologically, spiritually and emotionally. You start having visions and puke out energetic patterns. It shows you what you need to see, for example, the next steps you need to take for your company. That's why Ayahuasca is known as the "CEO drug".

I personally had visions of my dad, whom I hadn't seen in 3 years. I bought a plane ticket to meet him and resolve our issues and forgive him. He passed away the following week.

- How can this be explained?

- All those experiences are created by you, your brain in the end, but set up by those activities. You cannot "pretend". Especially the ahayuaska that really gives you very strong body reactions, it is difficult to imagine that it is only the brain making things up.

Also I've once been asked to hold a kryptonite, not knowing the effect it would have on my body. And suddenly I started to feel extremely warm and had to undress, to then learn that kryptonites are full of energy, which spreads into you as you touch them.

- So do you feel like you are done with all those experiences, or are you still in quest for spirituality?

- There are no limits to human capacities, I've grown faster than I ever had, I am on an accelerating ramp. There's always the next workshop to attend, the next article or book to read.

- What have you learned so far?

- That the number one priority as as human is spiritual awakening, not money. I used to be cheap — now I'd rather invest in myself and it is paying off, I am much happier, self confident and can have intimate connections and experiences. The Universe is not random, there is a master plan, and everything is happening FOR us not TO us, so we have to listen to the signs, listen to our bodies and be present, in order to achieve enlightment".

It's not your Fault
Estimated reading time: 3'

Estimated reading time: 3'

I was having my housewarming party when I met "Philip from the Philippines". We were having drinks, listening to loud music and discussing how he had ended up in California. He had come to America with his mom and sister when he was three years-old to grow up on the West Coast, but he was not aware of the reason for the move until recently.

One day, while he was at college doing his homework when he received a notification on Linkedin:

"- This strange man was saying that he had been looking for me forever and that he was my dad. At first, I was skeptical and thought it was a scam... So I tested him and asked for proofs. He suggested that I’d send him my email address so he’d tell me everything I needed to know. Still suspicious, I gave him my spam address. 

15 minutes later, I received his email, so curious, I opened it. In there, in poor English, he was telling stories about my childhood. I read on. It’s when I opened the attachments that my heart dropped: There were a birth certificate and pictures of me and my family… I recognized my mother and my grandmother.

It felt like a dream or a movie. I was thinking “This isn’t real". 

My parents had met young, at school, and they loved each other. My mum was 16 and she had started her own business, after having learned to design clothes for Louis Vuitton, and my dad was an engineer. When my mother got pregnant with me, they decided to start a new life in the States, to offer me a better future. The plan was for my mum to establish herself first, marry an American citizen, get a house, and my dad would join us after he would finish his studies".

His mother and the American citizen fell in love, so she cut all contacts with his dad, and changed her and Phil’s names. Later on, she would give birth to his sister.

"- My dad told me about my original name, Abdelkarim, a Middle-Eastern name. Now my nickname is Abe. When he told me about my mother’s name, originally Edna (now renamed Edesna), that’s when I began putting the pieces together. It was the name that my auntie used when she and my mum used to fight... 

Growing up, all my friends at school said that my sister and I looked nothing alike. My step-father was abusive to me, but not her. After they got divorced, only my sister got to spend the weekends at his house. I had lost a father figure. My older cousin was the one who taught me everything, from playing basketball to dating girls. I thought that my (step) dad hated me.

Now I know why: I reminded him of my mother’s past. Right now, I am saving to pay back my student loans, but soon, I’ll get a ticket to visit my real dad, who now lives in Germany.

- What’s your conclusion of all of this?

- Well, this was painful, but it was a big eye opener. I have become stronger, a better person, I stopped hanging out with the wrong people.

I stopped feeling guilty, not good enough. And I have forgiven. I tattooed a Phoenix on my arm, the Phoenix rising from the ashes, symbolizing second chances, and a dragon, symbol of strength and wisdom".