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.

For Sale

Just days before Christmas, a soldier returns home to Boston to find the unexpected, and he must now decide what to do with what remains of his past life.

With Christmas rolling around, it’s that time of year again! I present to you my final project for the Fall of 2012’s Directing the Feature Film at Emerson College:
The most depressing Christmas movie ever.

Remember to Forget: An Open Letter to Guy Fawkes and His Minions

Remember, remember, the Fifth of November,
The gunpowder, treason, and plot.
I can name several reasons this mar on the seasons
Needs soon to be forgot.

The intent original behind this day most jovial
Was to celebrate a plot gone wrong.
Four hundred years by, and I oft wonder why
We’ve repurposed the use of this song.

For those not in the know, four centuries ago,
A group of Catholic Englishmen
Came up with a scheme to accomplish their dream
Of making Old England their den.

They gathered in secrecy, led by Robert Catesby,
To plan the demise of King James.
With gunpowder spent, up in flames Parliament
Would go ‘fore crashing into the Thames.

The only reason this gunpowder treason
Was not so successfully wrought
Is because of their spy, surname Fawkes, known as Guy:
He was the one who got caught.

Hanging out underground is where he was found,
Sitting pretty ‘neath the House of Lords.
He was tried right away. Ruined was his day,
For he’d been guarding the powder hordes.

While Guy met the knife, James escaped with his life,
His townspeople relieved, thrilled, and bright.
They lit flames in the street to celebrate the heat
Of the joy that would be Bonfire Night.

Why then, these years later, do we remember the traitor
Who brought England near to its knees?
Why, it has to do with a work or two:
A book and a film full of V’s.

V for Vendetta, a graphic bookletta
Written by one Alan Moore
Tells of a man in a mask with an ultimate task:
To attempt Guy Fawkes’s scheme once more.

This man is not a saint: London he does paint
In violence, blood coloring streets like rust.
Yet all the while, he carries his plastic smile,
Assuring us his intentions are just.

I’m writing this letter because I know better
Than to think this character is good.
But that he’s now a idol, this maniac homicidal,
Is a sham, is a farce, makes me brood.

His mask now synonymous with groups like Anonymous,
People who fight for free speech.
Sit down, girls and boys, and put away your toys:
A lesson I must now teach.

In 1605, when this man was still alive,
Followed Mr. Robert Catesby,
And I’ll tell you right quick: his intentions were sick.
The last thing they wanted was speech free.

Why, friends, do you think, he wanted the King to sink
Deep into the Earth for all time?
Because Catholics, you see, were persecuted freely,
And Catesby wanted justice sublime.

He didn’t want equals where once were unequals.
He wanted revenge, good and free.
When his crew took reign, he’d treat Protestants the same:
Like the dogs he believed they could be.

Guy and Catesby wouldn’t hear a single plea
To spare any Protestant lives.
They’d torture the men while kids cried in the den,
And when done, they would strangle the wives.

So, Bonfire Night is a good thing, right?
It celebrates an evil plot foiled.
Well, you’d think so; the aftermath, though
May leave your reasoning spoiled.

The foiling of this plan opened another can
Of worms for those of Londontown.
They became even worse in their already perverse
Treatment of Catholics around.

They were all thought schemers, Bogeymen to these dreamers,
The Pope their villainous king.
The Puritans preached the Holy See be impeached.
Through the streets violence did ring.

Let me be frank: the whole goddamn thing stank.
It reeked of intolerance and hate.
Does that sound right to you? So, then, what should we do?
To both sides, I posit this fate:

To those who would praise Guy Fawkes these days,
I beseech thee, pick up a book.
Do your research on this, and when you finish,
I’ll await your horrified look.

The man is a terrorist who sought through a fist
Of explosives the right to rule.
Do we celebrate terror, or have we been in error
For awarding such praise to this fool?

He deserves no reward. He should be abhorred,
His name discarded, left to besmirch.
A symbol of free speech he is not. Please, impeach
This icon from his lofty perch.

As for you, Bonfirees, your fireworks above the trees:
Your festival is founded on hate.
If any atrocity were to occur this century,
Would we build a monument at our gates?

Should any holiday carry such weight of dismay?
Should tradition carry out of bigotry?
I ask you all, please, leave this day in past centuries.
This is my humble plea.

Remember, remember: the Fifth of November
Is not the occasion you may have thought.
I bid you on your way with the hopes that this day
Will soon be forgot.

Review – Gravity: Why I Love IMAX and Don’t Like Stanley Kubrick

When I was younger, about seven or eight, I remember when the Richmond Science Museum started showing movies in its IMAX dome. At the time, it was the only IMAX theater in Virginia. I remember my mom and dad taking me and my little sister underground to enter the giant sphere, passing the massive room encased in glass that housed the largest projector I had ever seen. When we took our seats, when the pink haze that covered the walls finally faded away, I remember being struck numb by the journey I was suddenly taking. I flew high with the eagles over impossible mountains and bottomless canyons, cascading through wind and rain and snow. I dove with sharks to the very depths of the ocean floor, and I careened through the ruins of old. In all honesty, I felt like I could fly.

But my favorite IMAX movies were the ones that took me into space. When my feet were picked up off the ground and I was launched freely into the stars, I was in awe, overwhelmed by the vastness of the cosmos laid out before me. I tumbled around comets, danced across galaxies, soared over planets I may never see, and looked back on the Earth, our beautiful blue marble, and was mesmerized. Watching these films as a child was one of the only times I ever felt truly immersed in a location.

No IMAX film since then has managed to capture me in the same way. No film, that is, until Gravity.

In an era where IMAX and 3D are no longer special, where every film is subject to warped editing and blown up to massive proportions for no other reason than to double the ticket price, director and cowriter Alfonso Cuarón (Y Tu Mamá TambiénChildren of Men) uses these tools for their intended purpose: to engulf the audience in a universe they may otherwise never know. He makes a case that magic can still be made with these resources, and with the help of brilliant camerawork, a dedicated special effects team, and a truly submerging score, Gravity is a sight to behold.

Sandra Bullock and George Clooney star as two astronauts on a space walk when their satellite is destroyed by deadly space debris. Left floating in the void just outside of Earth’s atmosphere, they must make their way to a neighboring space station armed only with their wits and what little oxygen they have left.

Because of its content, Gravity has been compared to another famous galactic film: 2001: A Space Odyssey. Let me say this: Gravity is a far superior film to Stanley Kubrick’s “masterpiece,” mostly because 2001 is boringIt is a drag of a film that feels much longer than it should, and no matter how many times people have tried to sit me down and watch it, I always disconnect within the first half hour. I’m not engaged, I’m not interested in any of the characters or their individual plights, and the thing is stuffed so full of unnecessary symbolism that I end up laughing during those rare moments the movie hasn’t put me to sleep.

Gravity, on the other hand, never stops being interesting, mainly thanks to the brilliant work of cinematographer Emmanuel Lubezki (Children of Men, The Tree of Life) and composer Steven Price (The World’s End). We’re introduced to the universe of…the universe in one unbroken shot, watching our brave astronauts simply having fun being astronauts. It’s quiet, peaceful: the glow of the Earth reflects off our heroes’ helmets. Then, the debris hits, and we’re launched face-first into space, spinning with the spacemen and hurled through the stars as a cacophony of brass throws us into just as much chaos. Then, it’s quiet again, almost melancholic, as the two sole survivors gather their wits and press on, their only motivation being to stay alive.
This is the dichotomy that plays back and forth throughout the film: death and life, hopelessness and hope, waiting for the world to end and pressing on, and its delivery is nothing short of breathtaking. It’s a great argument for the most simple stories being the most effective: there are no ulterior motives and no shoehorned philosophies to speak of. There is one shot in the entire film that is at all symbolic, and it alone accomplishes more than 2001 ever could.
In short, Gravity makes the case that cinemagic is still very much alive, that IMAX and 3D can be so much more than gimmicks when done well. It may not be the movie of the year for some people, but it certainly made me feel like a kid again.