Saturday, January 6, 2018

The Trump in All of Us

I have enough lefty friends filling up all the feeds covering him so I don't think I've actually posted anything at all about Trump. Like ever. I generally don't feel the need to chime in on a subject that's already getting enough attention. But I just wanted to share with you that this exact moment is the one I've been waiting for: The conversation to legitimately shift to mental health.

This is where the conversation should have been from day one. And I'm certain many would say that it has been but it doesn't feel that way to me. We've had a sea of left-leaning citizens referencing his mental health as an attack, which, to be quite frank, I found at best sad and, at worst, insulting.

It saddens me that the subject of mental health comes up when people are angry and are looking for a way to fling insults. The public discourse was more focused on catty attacks. The liberal side has felt powerless because we have less guns, guts and bravado, so we turned to intellectual bullying. And we continue to be shocked that the other side of the fence is not listening to our "logic" which mostly comes at them packaged in Hollywood-washed late night snark.

The mental health conversation loses all it's teeth because we, as a society, are still stigmatizing the shit out of it without realizing it. It loses gravity when we only focus our intellectual triceps on those that are hurting us. If you are under the impression that you don't have loved ones in your life, at this very moment, who are experiencing the world through the lenses of PTSD, psychopathy, narcissism, depression, anxiety and a wide variety of other diagnosable levels of consciousness extremes, you're in for a rude awakening in the new millennium. We have loved ones, who have been important contributors to our life journey, at this very moment, who probably could have easily become a Trump had they had access to some of the finances and professional connections that he had. Easily.

It continues to be a source of frustration for me (which I'm working and meditating on regularly) that our culture dismisses these mental health issues as long as they're working in our favor. People seem to feel that there are people with PTSD, psychopathy, narcissism, depression, anxiety and a wide variety of other diagnosable levels of consciousness extremes out there... But they're just like on TV or something. They're not right here in front of us. And we continue to enable these mental health time bombs. And over time these people either crash terribly or, in the worst cases, rise to positions of power.

And their mental health challenges only magnify.

Have you ever used this phrase? "Yeah I know person X sucks and has done XYZ to X number of people... But they've never done anything to me." I'd suggest it's time to reevaluate some thought systems.

As with all things, the answers are absolutely not black and white. We all have our journeys, our families and complex relationships with complex people. My vision for our future is one where we learn to discuss these mental health issues, as a society, with less judgement. A future where we can look at these things, then look at our own biases and agendas, and make decisions about how best to navigate our friends, families and society by doling out even handed positive reinforcements. One where we can look at a person we think very highly of, who's presence has been the source of many rewards, and see their shadows not as something wicked or evil, but a part of who they are. A future where we have the guts to bring that shadow to the light rather than convincing ourselves that those shadows aren't even there simply because they haven't been cast on us. I promise you, reader, Trump has not been an evil man to his loved ones. He commands deep and passionate loyalty from his closes circles and that loyalty came from somewhere. He was not always this person.

And the process of being able to see our loved ones shadows, to be able to bring our awareness to it without judgement, to be able to see their mental health challenges with loving compassion... That process can not begin until we can look at our own shadows. The darkest parts in us. With love. With compassion.

Of all the gifts Trump has given the collective unconscious of humanity, this is the one I'm most grateful for.

Saturday, December 23, 2017

Empathy is a muscle we have to work out.

And like all muscles, it can atrophy if we take it for granted. And since it's an organ of the mind that we can't physically see in the mirror, along with our biceps and hips, it's easy to assume that it's simply a matter of free will.

"I'm a better person because I feel compassion for people who's experiences I don't fully understand."

I spent a great deal of my life looking down my nose at people who didn't do this. People who only felt compassion for another person after it affected their own life experiences.

"Oh that's so great, [insert conservative homophobic Republican name], you NOW feel that love is love regardless of gender when it's affecting your own family but didn't when it was affecting the rest of the country? No. You don't get bonus points."

That's how I've felt the majority of my life. And now I see that that thought system was, in essence, no different than liking the band before they got famous. If I'm attached to the spreading of love and light only when it's on my own terms, that's not spirit; that's hubris.

For whatever reason, I developed stronger empathy muscles from a younger age. No different than friends who were gifted more muscular and attractive bodies from a younger age. There are some things we need to work harder towards and some things that come to us more naturally.

It's a shitty time in our history. But if we can't find our way towards a place of gratitude for all this darkness, to see that it's the God in all of us that's showing us the shadow of our collective human entity, then we will be doomed to repeat this cycle over and over. Eye for an eye, tooth for a tooth.

This is my resolve: to find a way to meet the darkness with love and to do this on a big scale. Everything I do is part of the long term plan to serve that mission. And I strongly believe that it's ok to have fun working towards a better world. We can't win the Superbowl by screaming at the television. I invite you to get involved in the way that most resonates with you and trust that your presence, your energy and the tiny little bit that you can do will absolutely have a ripple effect, culminating in the waive that which moves all of us in the right direction.

We build gyms to work out our biceps. Let's encourage each other to put more energy towards the institutions that work out the muscles we can't see. They're out there. Find the one that resonates with you and volunteer some time.

I don't know if this story is factual but it's sure as hell accurate. On a tour of the NASA facilities, John F. Kennedy noticed a custodial worker mopping the floor. He walks over to him and, in his folksy, politiciany way, asks the man what he's doing.

"Well, Mr. President," the custodian responded, "I'm helping put a man on the moon."

Today, I'm helping put a man on the moon by bringing my awareness to developing more empathy for those I disagree with. I'm going to give myself less brownie points for the bare minimum standard of not being overtly racist. I am grateful for the upbringing that I've had that made it easier for me to see more beauty in my fellow humans and I am doubling down on that. And I will have times of weakness when I'll momentarily forget this. I'll run out of willpower and be lacking sleep and will be frustrated at some personal issue and will forget. And when that happens, I invite you to remind me.

Thursday, October 12, 2017

So I've Always Loved Madonna...

Also cheesy, terrible Eurodance. And I think it had something to do with living under Islamic Republic oppression.

I hear the snickering in the back of the room. This is all totally anecdotal but maybe there are some ideas here that we could chew on. Just for fun.

We watch a lot of the violence happening on the other side of the planet from a very safe distance here. Isis hits us about as hard as the antagonist on a reality show. I even find myself feeling that way and I have a closer frame of reference than most. I was born here in the United States but lived in Iran for about three or four years as a child. Somehow memories of Iran are much more clear in my head than my earliest years after returning to the U.S.

Iran and Iraq fought a bloody eight year war. All wars are bloody but when historians describe Iran/Iraq they often throw in that descriptive. The death toll on Iran's side is estimated at over one million. Try to wrap your head around that. You can't; trust me. I saw it from much closer and I can't.

There are stories of things I've seen that I'd like to tell you but I don't wan't to start a debate. I think it's fair to ask that you simply trust me when I tell you that I have memories of a kind of darkness most of us have little frame of reference for.

Here's the part that people have the weirdest time consolidating: Life moves on. This was, of course, because we lived in the capital city of Tehran, further away from the western battlefront, but the entire country didn't just lay down and wait till the shooting stopped.

People go to work. Public transportation is active. The government tries their best to keep the country and public institutions together. There are house parties. People go to the movies. Sometimes, sirens go off and we run into the basement. We hear jets in the distant skies and then nothing happens. Then we hear stories of a bombing somewhere.

Human beings are resilient. The war was happening and it became the new normal. It turns out that when you look into the darkness long enough, your eyes adjust.

A thing that came out of this era was a deep desire for really happy pop music. The world around us was dark enough. We didn't need to give the darkness more crevasses to sonically seep into as well. Listening to fun, happy tunes wasn't something I remember being debated over endlessly as I see here.

I could write a book about all the ways in which we are privileged here. Only one silly little example is that we get to be snooty about our art. We can look down our noses at the low-brow pop music that the masses consume. We can point a finger at them, smirk at each other with a raised eyebrow and judge them for their shitty taste in top-40. We can be so proud of ourselves because our partying is just so much better than their partying. Ew.

But flashback to Iran, in the late 80s, during a war... A place where western music was made illegal and where we couldn't get our hands on the majority of what we take for granted now... The streets populated by so many scowling faces, many looking for a fight and all filled with uncertainty about the future... Now imagine inside of a house, people gathered around the television set, utilizing an illegally obtained satellite dish catching airwaves from Turkey... And on the screen is the music video for "Open Your Heart."

It was escape.

Flash forward to middle school. I'm listening to 90's Madonna and various other dance and pop music. But the escape now is not from the darkness of a war affected Middle-eastern country but the pressures of being a war affected Middle-eastern kid in suburbia. I was still pretty F.O.B. now that I think about it. I sat (and still do) sit with my legs crossed one over the other. Men in the east sit this way because it's rude to show the sole of your foot to others. And Rhythm is a Dancer was like my favorite song of all time. All this lead to a near constant barrage of other kids questioning my sexuality.

There is no shortage of us who've been bullied; I'm not claiming to be a more noteworthy victim than anyone else. Trust me when I tell you that I'm well aware of my privilege in so many ways. But I had a couple of bullies through the years who were quite successful in adding thunder to the storm of anxiety already brewing inside of me. Multiple times I had the experience of my headphones being snatched off my head while I walked through the halls. The bully of the month would hear Vogue and then throw the headphones back at me while yelling, "what are you a fucking faggot?" Dammit - I just really wanted to be left alone.

So what I started doing was recording my Hip-hop stuff on one side of the cassette and my dance music on the other side, so when this would happen, I could really easily flip the side the music was playing on. I've always loved all different kinds of music anyway so that actually saved me a lot of time switching cassette tapes.

Two years ago, in Black Rock City, I was with my friend, Kim Eisenberg, on a mission to get ice (I think?). While she was running her errand, I hear Rain (the song, not actual rain). I'd stumbled upon the Madonna Power Hour near Center Camp.

All they'd done was press play on a Madonna playlist. For the 15 minutes it took for Kim to obtain ice (seriously that's what we were there for, right?) I completely lost myself in an ocean of emotions, singing along with Madonna while surrounded by a group of beautiful dusty weirdos. Women, men, gay, straight, young and old... It's God damn Burning Man and none of those binary human avatar titles mean shit anyway. It's just a bunch of humans singing Madonna at the top of their lungs. We were all looking into each other's eyes with giant grins. No bullies here; everyone was the coolest kid in school and we were all, everyone one of us, in the IN crowd.

Kim finished her errand (getting ice??) and called to me. I almost stayed but I hadn't seen her all week and chose Kim over Madonna. As we left, I vowed to return next year (that didn't happen, btw). On the drive out to Saguaro Man (the Arizona regional Burn) with Rich and Rick, we listened to a couple of hours of Madonna and I decided I needed to experience that again at YOUtopia 2017. Then Cassa Frass and I chatted about it and now it's happening on Saturday at 6pm at the XSLounge.

It's not a big deal. It's just listening to Madonna for an hour and serving some drinks. But it's a new memory. It's writing over the old tapes which were songs infused with pain and sadness with a new memory of songs filled with playful laughter. This is what this community has been to me. Taking the experiences of yesteryear and making them fresh again. And it's a 1000 little tiny things like that that have brought me to where I am today, from a depressed kid who simply wanted to be left alone to a man who just fucking can not wait for all the awesome shit that tomorrow is going to bring. While listening to Power of Goodbye for the 98th time.

Friday, June 2, 2017

Only Sometimes...

Sometimes I wish I kept an archive of some of the catty and bloody hilarious status updates and comments I've typed and then decided not to post.

Words have power. As I'm about to hit enter, I stop and think about who's feelings this could hurt, who's confidence these words could shake - even if for only a moment... I ask myself if I want to be the creator of this jab for a quick chuckle. I ask myself if I want to solidify this thought system in the software archives of my brain by writing it down rather than smirking at the fleeting thought and moving on.

If you're close to me, and we've shared late night laughs over whiskey, you probably know that I actually have a jarringly dark and twisted sense of humor. I'm a legit fan of those who can pull it off! My feed is filled with dark comic genius! But for me, personally, I've found that writing things down and turning the words into a visual language has a power that passing comments in person do not.

Anyway. Sometimes I wish I'd kept an archive. Because some of that shit has been freaking hilarious.

Saturday, May 27, 2017

I don't talk about it much here but I assure you, I'm angry.

The thing that my kind, progressive, intellectual friends just can't seem to grasp is that their outrage sounds like the sweet singing of an angelic choir to Trump supporters.

It's ok to be angry. Anger can be fuel. Outrage, however, is a temper tantrum. And to Team Trump it is the most delicious desert they've ever tasted.

Many of us are crawling into the mud-pit and joining in on the hate circle jerk. Stop playing on their terms. Take action. Build. Work in community.

I don't talk about it much here but I assure you, I'm angry. And I know that outrage won't solve shit. Set goals. Work towards them. Be successful. And smile coyly as you casually move the chess pieces to a checkmate.

Operate with the belief that those of us who are lost in that bubble are not necessarily evil. Assume good intentions without obsessing about it. Many of us/them are beaten, broken, frustrated and hoping to hold on to what little power they can grasp. They've been manipulated by our darkest fears and motivations. You have shadows inside of your conciseness as well and you fucking know it.

Speak softly and carry a big stick. Work towards the future, one step at a time, and try to avoid the distractions. We can show the world what compassionate leadership looks like by building the future, not by railing against it.

Stop serving them their breakfast in bed. Build the restaurant so that they have no choice but to come to you when they get hungry. And then it's up to you if the only thing you want to serve them is a healthy vegan meal.

Friday, April 14, 2017

Our Uncle Passed Away

People often ask me if my dad is tall and I respond that my uncles and grandpas are/were. Yadollah Afshar was a big guy. He retired a colonel in a pre-revolution era narcotics task force which he described to me as being something like the Iranian equivalent of the D.E.A. In fact, his first visit to the United States was so he and some other members of his unit could take an F.B.I. led training course in New York City.

We called him Amoo. Amoo is Farsi for uncle; specifically from one's father's side. Amoo is also how my brother's son refers to me.

Amoo was a gentle and kind man. But he also had a lot of cool cop stories. One of his favorites involved going undercover as a villager through the northern mountains, near Turkish and Russian borders, in pursuit of cartels. He had told me he had a reputation as being the guy who'd fearlessly walk into rooms and bust heads when necessary. I believe his stories not have been embellishments specifically due to the fact that he was such a gentle and kind man. The confidence of a physically imposing alpha male who never needs to bark like a Chihuahua. The physical confidence that he can defend his family's honor. He was the kind of man any man could aspire to. The warrior poet.

As a seeker of truth, I've almost tried to find someone to say something negative about him and have, as of yet, been unsuccessful.

His calm demeanor was something I often mentally refer back to. His energy came through his every pour. He was a great example of how much more youthful a person can seem, no matter the number of decades they've spent in their human skin, when they actively maintain a positive energy. His philosophy was that "life is short" and that there is no logical reason to allow negativity to fester.

Amoo suffered a stroke and the last six months of his life was spent in varying degrees of silence. This was happening on the other side of the planet so it was, for me at least, difficult to feel a connection to what was actually happening. It was like reading a news clipping rather than watching the movie.

Amoo's human ego is no more and his body no longer animated. The energy that animated his body returns to the Godhead. The entity I refer to as Amoo now lives among the ghosts that roam the hallways of our minds and consciousness. I am reminded of Alan Watts' bit about the terrible relationship humanity has with death. About how our intensive care units are these drab, lifeless and depressing places filled with anxiety and sadness. About how silly it is to attach so much negative energy to an inevitability. Watts suggested that perhaps the death-wards would be so much less debilitating had they been designed to be cheerful places, with colorful walls and rooms for families to gather in order to celebrate a passing of consciousness... Where you'd have this menu of drugs you could take so that your final breath was taken through a euphoric smile. Now that would have been an interesting way to for a narcotics law enforcement professional to go.

We're told his final breath was as gentle as the way he'd lived.

I got to see him last year. We walked around Seaport Village and he tried on hats. We laughed together at the silliness of all the ridiculous reasons our family members quarrel with each other. This is silly... But I feel satisfied with the end of my journey with Amoo because he got to see the Arash that I am today. He got to see me with bigger arms, a smaller waistline and the confidence to walk the streets of this city like it's my city. It's hard to describe; it's a man thing.

I haven't cried yet but I'm sure I will. The body needs to process things regardless of what the mind says or perceives to know. And I'll shepherd this experience, as I do with all things, by creating art to interpret it.

I love you Amoo. Your essence continues on in everything I touch.

Sunday, March 19, 2017

They Buy You

Jamahl Kersey and I collaborated on this minute-long short film last year, this one being the third in a trilogy. The goal was to market The Law Office of Jamahl C. Kersey, Esq. but we didn't approach like we were creating advertising. We knew from the get-go that people don't buy your product; they buy you. 

We'd kicked around a couple of ideas and were about to move forward with an ad but one day, while hearing Jamahl speaking so passionately and sincerely about why he does what he does, it hit me that that's where the focus should be. Not information about the law or explaining the services but Jamahl's own extremely eloquent prose. So I sat down with J and interviewed him the way I'd interview any guest on Burner Podcast or #CrappyAwesome. And from that recording, I isolated quotables from Jamahl's own words and constructed three scripts which he then fine-tuned.

Each of the three videos focuses on the characteristics of Jamahl's professional journey that we felt, when combined, gave the most complete story we wanted to be tell. The first is focused on his connection to the Spanish speaking community and was shot around Barrio Logan, the second is about the black experience and the third (this one) is specifically about his practice.

The music you're hearing is by the amazing Danny Green, whom I actually went to high school with. Jamahl and I are in total agreement about utilizing our own pool of talent so I just started digging through Danny's catalogue looking for a good tune. While multi-tasking, this song started to play in the background and my ears peaked. This was the tune! I minimize the window I'm working in and when I see the title of the song, any doubt that synchronicity was in full effect evaporated. The name of the song is "Second Chance."* Different sections of this same song is used in each of the videos.

We had Chris Reyes come in to record and master the audio. Having the freedom to bring in experts to do what they do better than we ever could was quite a liberating feeling as an artist and really elevated the quality of the project.

The videos were all shot on my old Canon Rebel T3i with the kit lens that came with it and edited on Adobe Premiere. We are so excited about sharing the other two chapters with you soon.

*The album, Altered Narratives, is available at