I'm overwhelmed with all the support we've been getting. That's getting me emotional too.
My Uncle Farahmand is already talking about me doing some TV spots for Iranian programs in LA next month.
"You need a sidekick," he said. "Someone who can translate for you."
"What about Meina?" I said.
"She's good for French," he laughed.
I thought that would look cool. To have two cousins who are in the film side-by-side. That's why I wanted to have us doing the road trip across America. I figured she'd represent the female perspective and we'd have good conversations. Besides, I've already done films, where it's me and my brothers talking, or, at least fictional versions of ourselves.
I thought everything was set for the road trip, but, apparently, Meina hasn't passed her driving test, or told her folks about her plans. My Uncle was definitely worried about the prospects, and understandably so. She's failed her driving test twice, and, even though she's almost 30 years old, she just never got to driving.
I know what you're thinking. That's so strange. I wonder if it is though. My mother didn't start driving until ten years after she got to America. She was just too scared of it. To this day, Sohee, my wife, who grew up in Korea and never had to drive with their subway system, refuses to drive in LA. She's also petrified of it.
I don't think Meina's petrified, but time is short, and I wanted to do this road trip in 24 days. That means I might make the trip alone, which could be cool. I guess we could have phone conversations. I have no idea.
I thought about it when I got a text from my dad saying my Uncle was worried about the road trip, while Aaron, Panauh, and I were watching Infinity War. It was wild. I was watching Thanos kill everyone, and then I had to figure out how to save the Avengers in real life.
I didn't think about it though. I just watched the film and figured it would sort itself. I didn't know the movie was three hours though. I can't watch films that are longer than an hour and a half. I can't watch anything more than an hour and a half. So, I headed to the bathroom and talked to one of my students who was ushering at the theater.
"Are you liking the film?" Justin asked.
"Yup," I said.
I stopped at a bench and sat for a bit, stretching my legs from the drive. That's when I saw all these posts from friends and supporters who have been reading the blog. I'm amazed people read these things. Sometimes it feels like you're creating all alone, but I guess I'm creating with everyone.
First, there was a message from Zen teacher Brad Warner. He was saying how much he likes all the posts and is excited for the film. He and I have been talking about race and America and Buddhism for the last seven years together. He's probably one of my closest friends. I don't even see any of the Zen master stuff, so we had at it about all sorts of stuff. And, yes, we've had fights! We argue and sometimes don't see things the same way, but we've always found a way to talk about things.
I remember our first fight. He was mad about the documentary I was making of him. I forget what the issue was, but we started arguing. That's when he stopped and paused and said: "We need to figure out a better way of talking when we don't agree."
He just said it like that. That's when I stopped raising my voice, and so did he, and we just talked it through.
Since then, we've never raised voices to one another. Now, I'm not saying we're perfect, but it was like a nice agreement: friends don't need to get all emotional if they don't agree about shit. This doesn't mean we don't argue and yell at everyone else. Of course, we're human. He's human, so don't think like that. It's just a pact, I suppose.
My dad says that's a true marker of friendship. "To be able to know your friends in the hard times," he says. "Under pressure."
It's a little bit different for me. I know I have friends that come and go in my life, but they're still my friends. There might be disagreements or whatever, but I'm not so sure things can be so perfect all the time. I don't think that exists. But, I do know that friends can make a different when you least expect it. That's what I felt when I read Dan Hirsch's message to me right after that. This came right after my student that came from Atlantic City to say such nice things, and so I felt overwhelmed again, and I started to cry again:
When I was eight, my family moved. We didn’t move far – twenty minutes down the road, from Pennsylvania to Delaware. But from my perspective, we were moving away from everything I’d ever known.
My father’s new job began immediately, so we moved abruptly. There were only three weeks left until summer vacation and I had to go to a new school where I knew no one.
Being prone to shyness, especially at a tender age, I remember the fear of that day when I stepped into that room. I had never felt so worried and alone. It was the first time I was the new kid. Being the new kid at school is daunting at the beginning of the year. Being the new kid with three weeks left in the year was terrifying.
Before the whirlwind of anxiety and fear could fully consume me, a boy, a new classmate, approached me. He introduced himself, Pirooz. He welcomed me to the class. He asked me where I had moved from. He introduced me to his friend Neel. They saved me a spot at the lunch table.
My fears quickly changed into excitement. This new place with new people can be good. I never properly thanked Pirooz for his outward kindness, his unconditional acceptance, and his unprompted desire to make a scared and shy boy feel welcome. This day has always stuck in my memory.
As I’ve read through your blog and learned about the difficulties you faced at different points of your youth, I am reminded of that day. On that day you treated me the way that you would like to be treated yourself. You demonstrated the very things that were denied to you in the “barbershop” incident.
That incident must have happened not too long after our first encounter. I can see how disruptive this moment might have been to your psyche. It was the opposite of your basic assumptions of people and how they should treat each other (or at least this is what gathered about your assumptions, based upon the way you treated me).
That day at Highlands, I went home, my mom asked if I met any new people. I said I met a couple of nice kids and had a pretty good first day. That was how I identified you and Neel – kind and friendly kids. It wasn’t until later that I even realized that you were Iranian and Indian.
Maybe it was just the innocence and naivety of youth, but I prefer to call it good fortune. I was fortunate to meet you when I did. Your openness had an affect on me even if I couldn’t identify it at the time. Although we weren’t instant “best friends” from that day forward, I always appreciated your friendship. As I move further and further through this life, I find myself appreciating your friendship even more.
I hope you find the resolution you’re seeking on your journey. Please know that I’m not trying to equate my going to a new school with the outright racism you were forced to deal with. Even though we lived in the same town, we were in different worlds. I’m a little embarrassed that I wasn’t aware of it at the time, either through ignorance or avoidance. Just know that you have affected to some degree my personal stereotyping of Iranians – They are kind, friendly, open, with big hearts and an eye for film! Keep putting that best foot forward and let me know if your movie tour ever hits North Carolina.
I'm even a bit overwhelmed reading it again. I asked Dan to read this on camera or to his phone. Maybe this is what we hear when I'm going across the country. Maybe it's just letters people send me. The memories they've had of me, or whatever they want to say to me, and I hear it. Maybe they can record it on their phones and send them to me, so I can just play it on the car speakers as I go.
I'm hoping Meina joins us for some of the trip. But, if not, maybe other folks will, virtually even.
After I read everything and Infinity War was done, I walked out with Aaron and Panauh. They're pretty amazing people. I felt like I was so lucky. Like I was nine years old again with my best friends. Then, they got into it:
"That was way too long," Panauh said.
"If you were 15 years old, you would have loved it," I said.
"Man," Aaron said. "If I was 15, I'd get back in line to see it again."
Then we talked about me posting on days when we don't film. Aaron was saying it should only be days we shoot, but I wasn't sure.
"You're going to post every day?" Aaron asked again to be sure.
"Every day until the film is released," I said.
I figured it'd be good to hear what happens in-between too, because I didn't see this as just a blog, but a book that might go along with the film. I was thinking about Spike Lee, and how he had done it for "She's Gotta Have It" and "Do the Right Thing". Like, some people might find it valuable. I have no idea.
Nemanja, my Serbian brother from another mother, says I should post every day and be as honest as possible.
"Tell everything?" I asked.
"You are constantly writing about crying and emotions - how can this be neutral," he messaged back. "Also, everything is colored by your vision and stems from the event in the barber shop."
Maybe, telling everything and being completely naked is the best way. Maybe that's all this film is.