My Name Is Bilal

Mr. Donald John Trump
1600 Pennsylvania Avenue NW
Washington, DC 20500

Mr. Donald John Trump
721 Fifth Avenue, 26th Floor
New York City, NY 10022

Mr. Trump:

My name is Bilal. I am American.

I was born in the City of Williamsburg, in the Commonwealth of Virginia, to a woman whose ancestry extends as far back as the settlers of that colony almost four hundred years ago. My mother’s blood is the blood of the English and the Irish, the German and the French, all of whom came to this nation when it was a disjointed mass of Colonies, who sought better days in this Land of Opportunity.

My name is Bilal. I am Muslim.

I was born to a Lebanese man who left his home as a teenager in the middle of a war that threatened his life more than once, with barely a nickel in his pocket and not a lick of English on his tongue, praying he would earn that great American dream, that he could build a family, a career, a life for himself in this nation, whose Lady Liberty beckoned him with the promise of a better life.

My name is Bilal. I am condemned in my own home.

One month before my 10th birthday, the actions of the radical few, acting by order of a man so violent that his own family cast him out of their house, and in the name of a Prophet who would condemn their actions outright, brought your hometown and my home country to its knees and painted a target on my back. From that day onward, I was marked: I was and am a terrorist, because it is absolutely reasonable to blame a nine-year old boy from small-town America for being the mastermind behind such evil. I was and am a terrorist, because it is totally sound to take an entire faith and beat them into submission for daring to call God by a different name.

My name is Bilal. I am a Millennial.

I was born in 1991 and have witnessed the miracle that was the start of the Information Age. I am the one that older anchors on your favorite newscasts refer to with daggers in their eyes and spite on their tongues. I am the one dismissed as a spoiled brat who has it too good nowadays, while my colleagues struggle to build their lives out of the nothing that has been left to them. I am the one dissatisfied with recycled sitcoms and disgusted with the status quo you call God.

My name is Bilal. Your friends do not like me.

I belong to a number of different groups who have been told that in the grander scheme of the ideal America, our lives, our issues, our problems do not matter. I am a friend to far too many people who belong to groups even more diverse, who have been told that their lives somehow matter even less than mine. At some point, the powers that be decided as a collective that the assortment of non-Caucasian, non-Evangelical, non-heterosexual, non-biologically male individuals that make up more than half of this nation’s population simply do not matter to the success of this nation, that these individuals and their issues do not contribute to the ideal American Dream.

My name is Bilal. I was named for a man renowned for his voice.

Bilal ibn Rabah was an Ethiopian man born into slavery in Mecca. He was considered a “good” slave, with a rich, resonant voice and a confidant air about him. Drawn to the preaching of the Prophet Muhammad, Bilal was one of the first individuals to convert to Islam, and his master very nearly killed him because of this. As he drew what would have been his final breaths under the weight of a massive boulder in the heat of the Arabian sun, the Prophet’s family bought Bilal’s freedom, and the Prophet Muhammad asked that Bilal use the gift that was his voice to call other Muslims to prayer. To this day, every voice that echoes from the minarets of every mosque around the world emulates the call to worship first made by Bilal.

My name is Bilal. Contrary to popular belief, it is not you I fear: it is the deranged attitude that you encourage with your venomous tongue.

I am not black. I am not a woman. I will never experience the struggles faced by Africans in America, made to build a nation they did not want, whose heads, despite the weight of the polished shoes that have stood upon their shoulders for decades, are still held high as they continue the good fight for the right to be treated like any other American; nor will I ever experience the struggles faced by women in America, who have historically been silenced by their patriarchs, who have been told to their faces that their bodies do not belong to them, who are more easily regarded by men as mere playthings than they are as living, breathing people.

My name is Bilal. I have been told to sit down and shut up.

Your supporters would like me to get over myself. I have been told that the fate of this nation and of my people has been sealed with your Presidency. I have overheard the hoots and hollers of the working white man who praises your reign as a triumphant return to good old-fashioned values, a foundation for a new America built on the bones and sealed with the blood of my family and my friends. Every day since your inauguration, it seems, I awaken to news that if my people aren’t being beaten in restaurants or detained in airports, then my friends are coming home to shattered windows and spray-painted doors, to nooses in their trees and rainbow flags burned black on their lawns. But I am the one who is told to get over myself.

My name is Bilal. I am done putting up with you.

I do not know the struggle of the black community. I do not know the struggle of the female community. I do not know the struggle of the queer community, those individuals tortured and ostracized because their love is offensive under a bastardized translation of the word of the Lord, or because their gender may not conform to the strict dichotomy that color-codes children’s toys.

But, my name is Bilal, and I know hate.

I have been hated for existing. I have been randomly selected at the terminal and pummeled into the dirt because my father’s heritage makes me an enemy of the State. I am a terrorist because at the dinner table, my family’s Grace begins with Bismillah. As I grew older, I heard the stories of my friends, whose families have barred them from their homes because their love was deemed wrong, whose great-grandfathers tilled Dixie dirt at the end of rusted chains in the antebellum sun, whose grandmothers fled across stormy gray seas with numbers burned into their skin and unspeakable horrors burned into their eyes, who to this day are made to feel less than human because of who they are.

My name is Bilal. I am calling you out.

Because I am, for all intents and purposes, a Caucasian man, I have been granted a voice to which most people in this country may actually listen. Like the Bilal who walked with the Prophet, so too will I use my voice to unite those to whom you remain deaf. For my friends who are not white, whose skin is enough of a reason for your proud champions to beat them in the streets, my voice is theirs. For my friends who are women, who have been told countless times that they have no right to their own body, who are paid peanuts when men who have done less are somehow awarded more, my voice is theirs. For my friends in the queer community: whether they have come out and have been subsequently abused for daring to be, or their identity remains secret because your advocates would deliver unto them their despicable brand of divine retribution, my voice is theirs. For my friends of all faiths, whether Muhammad is their Prophet or Jesus is their Lord and Savior, whether they observe Shabbat or worship nothing and no one at all, my voice is theirs.

My name is Bilal.

I have watched too long as my friends and family suffered at the hands of the powers that be. Your behavior over the course of your lifetime has been nothing short of vile, and the attitude that you have encouraged in this country, this attitude of contempt for anyone and anything that doesn’t fit in your delicate definition of America, is disgusting. We are a nation of immigrants, united by our collective differences. There is nothing in this world like the United States of America, which is defined by its diversity. To denounce difference, to spit in the face of that which makes America truly great, is, in a word, wrong.

My name is Bilal. I have a voice, and I refuse to get over myself.

My name is Bilal. I will not sit down.

My name is Bilal. I am American.

I will not shut up.

Review – Star Wars: The Force Awakens

There has been an awakening. Have you felt it?

Confession: I have never been into Star Wars.

The series that so many people grew up with was never something in which I took interest. I wasn’t one of the children who begged their parents to take me to see the movies that came out as I was growing up. I didn’t collect the merchandise, the shirts and jackets emblazoned with Rebel logos or Empire insignias, the replica blasters and toy ships that populated the halls of the toy stores. Luke Skywalker didn’t inspire me. I wasn’t star-struck by Han Solo. I wasn’t awed or intimidated by Darth Vader.

I never even wanted a lightsaber. That swishing beam, that glowing blade that so many children thought was the coolest thing they had ever seen, never interested me. I didn’t want to be a Jedi like the other kids. I simply didn’t care for Star Wars.

But, I was invited to see The Force Awakens. I was asked to give the series a chance. I sat down and watched the six movies that came before this one, preparing myself for…really, for what, I don’t know.

Tonight, I was excited. Maybe this movie would be what Episode IV (the first movie; it’s complicated, I’ll explain later, maybe) was to so many others. Maybe I’d finally see what so many others saw in this series.

As someone who has never been a fan of Star Wars, I can honestly say that I was not disappointed.

I was thrilled.

I was captured, pulled to the edge of my seat, not just by the grandeur of it all—the sweeping vistas, the grand set pieces, the impossible ships that dominated the screen—but by characters that, so many light years away, in galaxies we may never know, reached into the audience and pulled me into their star systems.

Putting everything else aside, putting away the idea that this movie is just part one of a larger set, or part seven of an even greater series, or just one chapter in a collection of stories, Star Wars: The Force Awakens is, by itself, a fantastic film.

The characters resonate with a depth unseen, at least by me, in the original trilogy. These are not the wooden performances of an uncertain troupe set to dialogue that chews more scenery than Godzilla on Broadway. These are people, living, breathing people, well aware of the history that lies behind them, and they feel real. Yes, there are characters who return from the older films, and maybe I would’ve cared more about them had I been invested in their original stories.

The new ones, however, the ones without history, the ones whose stories had yet to be told, burst through the screen with an unrelenting believability. I cared about these people, and, more importantly, I wanted to know more. This was not something I felt in the original trilogy, nor did I particularly care about the fates of anyone in the prequels. Yet these characters, with their dimensions, their conflicts their desires, made me care.

I watched, breathless, as the lone scavenger with dreams of greater things clashed relentlessly with forces far greater than she could have possibly imagined, as she refused to be rescued by anyone other than herself, as she proved to doubting masses that she could be her own hero.

I cheered for the Stormtrooper who chose to think differently, who turned away from the path that had been laid for him and bonded with a boisterous and boyish pilot and his bouncing ball droid.

I was even enthralled by the galaxy’s latest antagonist, not the stoic Lord of an era long before him, but a figure brimming with emotion, with fire and fury and fear, but also pain and torment and uncertainty and, yes, even doubt, a dark lord with dynamicity not typically reserved for figures meant to be imposing.

My heart was broken, and my mind was blown, not just by the stellar performances, but also by the remarkable writing underneath it. Even in its most serious moments, there was laughter to be found in the awkward friendship that united these brave heroes against a threat the galaxy had never known. Unlike the bland language of the original trilogy, and unlike the unbelievably corny “dialogue” of the prequels (it was so bad, it was so, so bad), I believed every word that was said on the screen.

Nothing in the movie felt unnatural or out-of-place. These were not the cheap sets and scavenged costumes of the original series, nor were these the great but gaudy and almost too clean locales from the prequels. The places and the faces in every scene, and the cinematography that was nothing short of stunning, made me feel like I had truly been transported to a galaxy far, far away, and I have nobody but J.J. Abrams to thank for bringing all of these elements together.

There are those reviewers who have said that a lot of the elements of this film were simply borrowed from the original trilogy, rehashed and enhanced for the 21st Century. I will admit, there were scenes that felt remarkably familiar, like we’ve been here before. But that is exactly what Abrams is doing: he is inviting us back to that galaxy we think we know, and he is also showing us how far that galaxy has come in the many decades since its inception. Though it may feel familiar, Abrams manages to keep the film fresh, exciting, and new.

Whatever George Lucas envisioned a long time ago, Abrams has finally managed to achieve those impossible ideals, if not surpass them entirely. I can confidently say that, as someone who had never been a fan of this series, Abrams and Disney managed to exceed my expectations.

There has been an awakening, and I have felt it. Through the tireless efforts of everyone over at Lucasfilm and Disney, this latest entry into the storied Star Wars saga has managed to inspire in me a new hope. After what will only be the rousing success of this picture, I can’t wait to see how J.J. Abrams plans to strike back. I can’t wait for the return of the Jedi.

The Season of Fear

The scent of cinnamon and gingerbread wraps me in a warm embrace as I sit at a tiny table tucked away in the corner of the café. Michael Bublé serenades me through the speakers, dreaming of a white Christmas over the bubbly babble of shoppers and the regular hiss of the espresso machine.

Though steam wafts from the tea in the china mug in front of me, my heart has been chilled to match the frost forming on the window. An hour ago, the idea that my family would never be able to come home for the holidays would never have crossed my mind.

That’s when I was splashed with the most recent batch of venom to spill out of Donald J. Trump’s gaping maw.

To anyone who has been following the meandering mess that is this maniac, his comments should come as no surprise. The ultraconservative and grossly prejudiced Republican presidential hopeful, on top of every other rampant racist remark that occupies his regular rhetoric, has, according to an article from the New York Times, called for the United States to bar all Muslims from entering the country until the nation’s leaders “can figure out what’s going on.”

“Without looking at the various polling data,” Mister Trump has said in a statement issued by his campaign, “it is obvious to anyone the hatred is beyond comprehension. Where this hatred comes from and why we will have to determine. Until we are able to determine and understand this problem and the dangerous threat it poses, our country cannot be the victims of horrendous attacks by people that believe only in jihad, and have no sense of reason or respect for human life.”

Typically, these words would not faze me. I would dismiss this comment as yet another cheap shot at Islam by a person who chooses not to understand it.

Yet these words come on the heels of a statement made only yesterday by one Mister Jerry Falwell, Jr., the president of Liberty University, a Christian university in Lynchburg, Virginia, only a couple of hours from where I live. He urged his students to carry guns on their person “so we could end those Muslims before they walked in and killed us. Let’s teach them a lesson if they ever showed up here.” This statement was met with roars of applause and admiration, and this statement, combined with the repeated racist rhetoric of Mister Trump, continues to underline one very clear idea:

My family is not welcome here.

My father, who fled a nation decimated by repeated war and invasion in order to seek an education, who was determined to build a better life for himself, who was never handed anything but worked for everything, who would give the shirt off his back even when he had none to give, is not welcome here.

My mother, born in America to Americans, who chose to convert and learn a whole new culture, who defies every attempt made to tell her what she cannot do and refuses to let anyone step on her independence, who supports her children when nobody else will, is not welcome here.

My sisters and my brother, my beautiful siblings who possess gifts I will never have, whose time I value more than all the money in the world, who make me proud to be their big brother, are not welcome here.

I am not welcome here.

What angers me most, what makes my heart rage against my ribs, boiling my blood and stinging my eyes with fury, is the sheer irony that these comments, these hate-filled, xenophobic remarks, are being made during this, the season of Christmas.

These “good Christians,” these “holy men,” these figures who reportedly sleep with the Bible by their bed and their Lord and Savior watching over them, would make their Prophet cringe. This is the season during which the Messiah was born, the season that ushered in your holiest of holy figures. Would He approve of your words? Would He condone your behavior? Would He sit solemnly by and nod as you spat your hate at people who have done nothing to earn your misplaced ire?

This is the season for giving, for caring, for love. What love have you in your heart other than love for your own self?

Your words have corrupted this happy season. The snow that dances in the night air, glistening in the strings of cheery lights, has been stained by the noxious fumes that flow from your mouths. The joyous songs that praise the Lord and wish you a Merry Christmas have been drowned out by the hatred that you bellow from your rotten podium.

What do you know of Islam? What do you know of my people, who believe in Jesus just as much as you do, who also regard Him as the Messiah? What do you know of my father’s people, who did not celebrate on 9/11, as Mister Trump would want us to believe, but cowered in fear from 9/12 onward, knowing full well the fury that would be rained down upon them, the blame that would be laid upon them in response to the actions of the radical few, those monsters who we condemned then just as much as we now condemn the poorly-named ISIS, a group that bears more similarity to the Antichrist than it does Islam?

You have turned this most joyous of seasons into a season of fear.

For the longest time, this period of the year has always been my favorite. Whether we were on the cool beaches of Beirut with my father’s family, or gathered around the tree in Richmond with my mother’s family, this season has always been the happiest season for me. Christmas has always been my favorite holiday because, for the longest time, I believed that no matter what wars raged outside our windows, no matter what difficulties we were facing on our own, when our family gathered together, nothing could harm us. For one day out of the year, we were together. We were happy. We were safe.

When one man does not want my family in this country, and when another man threatens to end my family before they even arrive, I can comfortably say that I cannot feel safe anymore.

This is an open invitation to Misters Trump and Falwell:

I want you to tell me why you hate me.

I want to sit down with you and give you the opportunity to tell me, to my face, why you hate my family, why you hate my people.

I want you to tell me what Islam, true Islam, a religion of peace whose people gave your people charts of numbers and maps of stars, stockpiles of medicines and temples dedicated to education and the arts, did to make you hate us so.

I want you to understand that ISIS is not Islam and should not be referred to as “the Islamic State.” Their actions are as un-Islamic as your words are un-Christian. In fact, I’d appreciate it if you started referring to it as “Daesh,” which is their Arabic acronym and which loosely translates to a derogatory term in Arabic. This is also the phrase that almost every nation except the United States uses to refer to this heinous group. Maybe you two can start a trend. Maybe you can redeem yourselves.

I would love to give you that chance. I would love to have the opportunity to sit and talk with both of you, were I not convinced you would shoot me on sight.

Remember this as you kneel before the Cross on your Lord and Savior’s birthday, as you pledge your souls to the man from Nazareth who looks more like my family than he does your stained glass portraits, who died so you may stand before Him and spit your hate:

I hope, if nothing else, that you have a very Merry Christmas. As long as you ensure that my family will never be welcome in their own home, I know that I won’t.

Half My Age

I am in a plane.

The sky outside is a black pool of spilled ink. We coast silently along the current, adrift high above the endless abyss. We’re passing over England now. In Arabia, where I’ll be staying for a few short days, it’s almost seven in the morning. The sun breaks over the mountains that separate the port city of Jeddah from the holy city of Mecca; the first pink hues of dawn paint the sands a burning crimson. In Virginia, the place I just left, it’s only minutes to midnight. For a few short moments, it’s still my birthday.

It’s been twenty-four years since my parents became parents, twenty-four years since a child born of emerald hills and cedar mountains, of lavender fields and a sea in the middle of the earth, was given a name. I have been alive now for twenty-four years; yet, for the past few days, I have been preoccupied with who I was when I was half this age.

When I turned twelve, my father had found work in Arabia. After years spent building a family in a foreign land, he could finally be closer to Lebanon, to his parents, to his brothers, to his culture. What would this mean for the rest of us? This, we would have to wait and see.

My sister and brother went with him for that first year. My sister was nine years old and well aware of the world being pulled out from under her feet, but my brother was on the cusp of three and only knew what was put in front of him.

My mother and I stayed behind. For one year, the family would endure a separation.

That was the year I turned twelve, half the age that I am now. That year is, by far, my least favorite year of my young life.

When I was half my age, the bullies got worse. The vile actions of the radical few only a couple of years prior had made my father’s people an unwilling target for the frightened and the angry. My tormentors, clearly not done marking me the “tubby terrorist,” grew more despicable than they ever had before. They physically assaulted me. They locked me in dark places. They sent government agents to my house. They thought they were being “funny.”

When I was half my age, I thought I could make friends. I made vague attempts at displays of friendship, but what did I know about expressing my feelings? For years, doctors argued about what was wrong with my brain, how someone so intelligent could be so socially stunted. While they argued, I tried to make friends, I tried to love, tried to open my heart without knowing how. None of what I did worked, of course. If I had any friends that year, my enemies far outnumbered them.

When I was half my age, the doctors came to a conclusion. They told me that I was autistic. Big deal. My brain was wired differently. I was remarkably intelligent and intuitive, but I had zero capacity for socialization. That wasn’t what upset me. What upset me was when the doctors, when asked what could be done for me, responded with a shrug. I was a “unique case,” they told me. Not much data had been collected on kids with Asperger’s Syndrome, and cases like me needed to be studied. The way I took it, they gave me an answer that just left me with a thousand questions, none of which they had answers for.

When I was half my age, I was angry. I was always inconsolably angry. The smallest thing would set me off. I was bitter, and I was distant. If nothing else, I do believe I tormented my mother. I was an angry child, and despite our constant arguing the year we spent alone, she did everything in her power to make sure I was okay. Even when we had nothing, she made sure I would want for nothing. Though I didn’t know it then, I know now just how grateful I am that of all the mothers in the world, I got mine.

When I was half my age, I was told that I would not amount to much. Somehow, this was worse than being told I would amount to nothing. “Nothing” can be defined, “nothing” can be quantified, but what does a person mean when they say “much?” I was told that I would never be able to work, much less find a passion I could turn into a career. I was told I would never be able to make friends. I was told I would never have any sort of meaningful relationship with anybody.

But here I am now. Twelve years on from twelve years old, I know that my younger self would never think he’d be capable of the things I have done, the places I’ve been, the people I’ve met. He would never believe that he had found a passion, a passion not only for story, but for giving back to the world. He would never believe the flurry of ideas bursting in his head now like an endless shower of fireworks day in, day out. He would never believe that he would one day come out of his shell, that he would find his calling in the spotlight.

More than that, he would never believe that he’s made friends. Forget the kinds of friends he’s made, and forget even the sheer number: the fact that he’s made a single friend would strike him dumb with disbelief. Pigs would fly, the sun would rise in the west, and the deserts of Arabia would be graced with snow before he’d ever make friends. Yet, here they are: just about the most eclectic and diverse cast of characters one could possibly imagine came not from his stories, but from real life.

When I was half my age, I would never dream of having so many people on my side, people who support my wild ambitions, my crazy schemes, my impossible dreams.

When I was half my age, I never thought I’d have such dreams, dreams of telling stories, dreams of making the world that much better for everyone in it, dreams of doing so much more than I ever could’ve believed.

But here I am, and I wanted to talk to you. You, when you were half my age. I know you’re reading this miles above Europe–where am I? Monaco? The map says Monaco–and I know you still don’t believe it. I know you still wake up some mornings wondering if this is all some elaborate scheme, wondering if the world is faking it, if this is just your episode of The Truman Show.

So, let me reassure you:

You are twenty-four years old.

You are pursuing higher education because you want to change the world. You not only want to tell your stories, but you want to help people like you tell their stories because you know they deserve that chance, because you believe in them the way you’ve always wanted to be believed in.

And you know what? People believe in you. They really, truly believe in you, with every fiber of their being, with every ounce of love in their heart. They believe you will go far, but you can’t get there without them.

So, this is for the friends I’ve made since I was half my age: thank you for making the last twelve years worth every single moment. Whether we’re swapping stories or plotting to take over the world or watching the sunrise, you have made everything we do that much better by virtue of your existence. When I can’t glow with that brightness and unyielding hope that you’ve all come to know me for, you remind me of the things that are really important. You pick me up when I need to be picked up, and you also keep me grounded when I threaten to leap just a bit too far. Thank you for sticking by this mad man and his mad plans, and I promise you, they will pay off for all of us.

This is for Mom: I wouldn’t have a birthday if you had not given birth to me, and I wouldn’t have pursued the things I loved if you hadn’t been my biggest fan. I will never, ever be able to thank you enough. You gave me life so that I could live it the best I can, and that’s the best gift anyone could ask for. You are, of course, invited to all of the big Hollywood events, and I swear to you, I will get Mark Wahlberg to sign your poster.

And this is for you, the boy in my heart who is half my age, who’s reading this now and choking on his own words because he knows how much he needs to hear them: you’ve come a long way, so quit beating yourself up. You may not be where you want to be yet, but you’re a lot further along than you ever dreamed you’d be. There’s a lot more that needs to be done, and you’re gonna carry that weight, but never forget: you’ve got people who love you, and they will help you as long as you keep helping them. Carry each other, believe in that person–that you–that they believe in, and together, you will go far.

Good luck out there, man. Let’s see where the next twelve years takes us, okay? I’ll write you again in 2027.

Best of luck,

Me, Twice Your Age
October 16, 2015
To Me, October 16, 2003


There are people out there who believe that the arts are unimportant.

They believe that these forms of expression are worthless, pointless, a waste of time and resources.

They insist that people who pursue careers in expression are useless individuals who believe that their short and precious lives are being burned away on trivial pursuits when they could be devoting their energy to more worthwhile professions.

These are people who do not understand the power of Story.

Story, you see, is important. Story is the foundation of every society known to us and even those yet undiscovered. Story makes us conscious, makes us human. Story builds our history, defines our culture.

Painting, sculpture, theatre, dance, music, literature, film, television, videogames—each and every one of these forms of expression is founded on Story, based in Story, actively tells a Story.

Anyone who dares to believe that these forms of expression are irrelevant to us, to a community, to a society, simply does not understand the power, the importance, of Story.

Before the written word, before text was invented, before scribblings made sounds, before chisel met clay, before ink met parchment, we had the spoken word, oral tradition. These early tales laid the groundwork for language, music, narration, oration, performance, all of which came together to create the world’s first Stories. These Stories invented entire cultures, societies, theologies, beliefs, practices, all stemmed from tales uprooted from bright minds and displayed for the world to see, to hear, to believe in.

Story created society, created culture. Story, to this day, has made cultures far removed from our native ones accessible, understandable. Story makes learning easy and fun. Story is the most important thing that we, as humans, as living, breathing, sentient beings, have.

We owe our existence to the power of Story.

Memories you share of loved ones and good times? Story.

Religious parables that help you understand and learn goodness and morality as preached by your doctrine? Story.

Legends of heroes of ancient times, whose actions defined the history that put your two feet on this Earth? STORY.


Story makes us what we are, who we are. When civilization crumbles, when our lives are uprooted and we are shoved face-first into a cruel and unforgiving world, how do we carry on?

We tell Stories. Stories that comfort us, help us hold on to hope. Stories that inspire us, make us want to make a change, and when we make these changes, when we rebuild, when we come together as people, the first thing that we will create is a new Story, about us, about what we did with the time we had, about how we built our brave new world and learned to begin again.

I am not a writer. I am not a filmmaker. These are my mediums.

I am a Storyteller.

Story is Humanity.

Story is Everlasting.

Story is Everything.

The Gift of the World

A friend of mine, a friend I’ve only recently had the pleasure of calling a friend, asked me recently if I would ever consider living permanently in Lebanon, my father’s home country.

The honest answer is yes and no: I would love to have a home in the capital city of Beirut. I love my father’s family, and I love the city, its people, the culture, the food. I love the buzz that surges through it at all hours of the day, like a Red Bull you decided to drink at six in the evening but didn’t kick in until three in the morning, and you can’t go to sleep now because you have brunch with all nine-hundred sixty-one of your aunts and uncles and cousins at ten, and if you’re not there promptly, you’ve brought shame upon your entire house, so good luck, champ.

But I could never live there permanently, by which I mean constantly. I have never had one home. Never. By virtue of being the child of two very different people from two very different places, my lifetime has largely been spent bouncing between these different places, and for me, that time spent traveling has been the best time of my life, and this is something I hope to do forever.

I am very lucky to have been born to those I call my parents, to have spent a good chunk of my life on planes. I got to experience two very different cultures. I got to immerse myself in so many things, learn so many things. I learned to think in so many different ways, see through such varied eyes. I will always be grateful that I got to travel as much as I did, that I still get to travel as much as I do.

We rarely ever agree on anything, but I’ll always be grateful that my dad is Lebanese. I’m thankful he came to the States looking for an education and wound up finding a wife. I’m thankful my American mother fell in love with the Middle Eastern kid on the soccer team, because while that may have meant that I’d never have one homeland, to me, this meant that I’d never be forced to only call one place my home.

Home to me is airports, the constant hum of activity, the travelers stumbling through the motions, comparing those poor, frightened souls flying for the first time to those jet-setting on a daily basis. Moving through the security lines and navigating terminals, more often than not on my own, has become second nature to me.

Home to me is stepping onto the runway in a distant land, taking my first breath on foreign soil, tasting the difference in the air.

Home to me is ten thousand languages, cascading around me as I’m caught in the current of a river of emotion, flowing to the tune of ten thousand different words.

I thank my dad and my mom for being who they are. They gave me the opportunities to see a world most people never get to see, and this always fascinates people. It amazes those who hear my story that I spent my life forever abroad.

But to me, this, traveling, sightseeing, learning, diving head-first into these experiences…

This is my Normal.

When I have a family, I want my children to know the world far better than me.

I want them to learn, to grow, and to do it while seeing it all with their own eyes.

The Internet is a marvel, let’s be honest. We’ve learned so much about other cultures, other ways of life. We can speak through the Earth and touch other souls around the world with a simple


But the Internet can’t capture your stomach sinking as the jet takes off, your heart soaring when the wheels meet the runway.

The Internet can’t recreate the taste of the salt in the Mediterranean air, how different it is from the sandy mist of Cairo, the foggy chill of London, the dry crackling in Hong Kong.

It can’t take you by the hand and lead you through ruins and temples, city streets and mountain peaks.

It can’t drop you into a crowded square of ten million people, not one of them knowing your name, and force you to soak everything in as you dance on the edge of exploding from excitement and fear all at once.

Sitting at your desk and reading, taking notes, watching videos, learning, all of this is fantastic.

But it is not enough.

If you have the opportunity, if you get that chance, you must go.

You MUST Go.

Take a flying leap into the unknown, and discover things you never thought you’d see!

Taste foods you never thought you’d eat!

Learn to sing a song with words you may never understand, for you need not know their meaning to appreciate the beauty of sung words, the elegance of their melodies.

This is what I hope to give my children, because this is what was given to me.

The Gift of the World, printed in ink on a paper pass and stamped inside a little blue book.

This is the gift for which I’ll be forever grateful.

This is the gift that everyone deserves.

Interstellar: A Review, or, The Difference Between Stanley Kubrick and Christopher Nolan

Stanley Kubrick and Christopher Nolan have one thing in common, and that is that they are very good at spectacle. The large set pieces, the big actions, the great and cataclysmic adventures at which they hurdle their characters with absolute abandon like a shuttle at a black hole. These are things they both do very, very well and should be commended for it.

The difference, though, is that Kubrick is conducting an explosive opera. His films rip and race and tear through dramatic action and weighty battles and lofty themes, and in this cacophonous symphony, he can lose his audience. He loses me, anyway.

2001: A Space Odyssey is a great example. Here, we have this massive essay on the evolution of man and our place in the solar system–nay, the universe!–crammed with many a treatise on evolution and science, but in doing so, in focusing so much on these heavy thematic elements, his story falters.

Christopher Nolan, meanwhile, knows how to tell a story. Carefully, with the practiced and precise cuts of a surgeon, he carves and stitches, operates and weaves, freeing his films to drift through his grand set pieces without ever, not even once, losing the importance of his characters and of their stories.

Interstellar is a fantastic example: no matter how big the adventure gets, no matter how over-your-head the science or how grand the stretches of the galaxy, the movie never stops being about the humanity of all those involved, namely the tumultuous-at-best relationship between our intrepid space hero, Coop (Matthew McConaughey), and his daughter back on Earth, Murphy (Mackenzie Foy, later Jessica Chastain).

If Stanley Kubrick is a conductor, his singers belting out to the world while the opera rages on behind them, Christopher Nolan is sitting with you across the campfire, the embers crackling, the crickets chirping, and this gentleman with the giddiness of an excitable little boy is telling you–not the audience, not the world, but you–this incredible tale in barely more than a whisper, and he watches your eyes, watches the excitement glow behind the campfire crackling in your pupils, and in that moment, he knows that you are just as excited to hear his story as he is to tell it.

In that moment, you are not being treated to a show, but are instead invited into another universe, a universe that, no matter how grand, you feel was made just for you.

As a film student, I feel like I’m constantly at odds with professors in that I did not care for the vast majority of films that were deemed “classics” by the powers that be. In my mind, a lot of these classics, these films we’re all expected to appreciate–to worship, even–may be technically good, but they fail at what I feel is the most important thing a film should do, and that is tell a story.

I couldn’t care less how technically good a film is if the film cannot tell a story, and the ability to tell a magnificent story is, by and large, far more important to me than the ability to make a technically good “film.”

My favorite movie directors can tell magnificent stories, and they can all be described as different kinds of storytellers. Hell, they can be compared to students at school. Martin Scorsese is the shy kid in the back of the creative writing classroom who, every time he quietly submits his papers to the university publication, suddenly finds himself bombarded with accolades from students and faculty alike. David Fincher runs around the public park, taking pictures of anything and everything and scrutinizing it all under magnifying glasses, and then he smashes together intricate tales about these things and their relationships with each other, and you believe him. Quentin Tarantino is bouncing off the walls of a classroom he broke into at 4am, playfully yet violently bickering with his friends and scribbling magnificent maps all over white boards until campus security shows up and throws him out.

Christopher Nolan sits with you on a dock by the bay in the middle of the night, telling you this impossible story that you can barely hear over the gentle lapping of the waters against the shore, encouraging you to listen to every last detail, and when the sun comes up and he’s finally done, he turns to you and smiles, quietly thrilled that he managed to make you stay.

Stanley Kubrick may be a good filmmaker. But he is nowhere near the kind of storyteller that we find in Christopher Nolan.