If You Change What You're Looking For, It'll Change What You See

Editor’s Note: The following is a guest post by Riaz Patel, detailing a recent trip to Saudi Arabia just 14 days after visiting Alaska in search of the truth.

On the final afternoon of my visit to Saudi Arabia, I was standing on the edge of a red-stone cliff, squinting at the rippling, orange sun as it dipped past the vastness of the desert. I took a deep breath as the strangest thought came to mind:

“This place totally reminds me of Ketchikan, Alaska.”

The weirder part is that it really did (despite a sixty-degree temperature difference). So, please allow me to explain:

I’d been invited to Saudi to see a variety of programs recently launched on behalf of women’s rights & equality. The work lined up with so many of my own transformative shows and projects, so I happily accepted. But in the weeks leading up to the trip, I had many conversations with family and friends who were deeply concerned for my safety. That as a Muslim who was Google-ably gay, I was endangering myself - or even walking into a trap. That as a new parent, I was being reckless. I did not agree but when people say the same thing to you time and time again, it chips away at your conviction.

As a Muslim, I already had a vague personal frustration with Saudi Arabia. The reputation of their hardline religious zealots had been a part of giving Islam a bad name, worldwide. In most arguments about how backwards the Islamic world is, the “Women-Can’t-Show-Their Faces-Or-Drive-in-Saudi” argument is always a crowd-favorite. And impossible to refute.

But as I boarded my thirteen-hour flight, I made a very specific choice: I was going to make a conscious effort to see their world through THEIR eyes, not mine. What do they want and need, rather than what I thought they wanted and needed? Upon landing, I was determined to see as honest and accurate a version of Saudi Arabia as I could find. So, I spent the next three days keenly scanning places, faces, and even conversations for truth and authenticity.

I spoke with women (I’d say approximately half the women are unveiled around Riyadh) about how much more relaxed life has become since the religious police no longer have the authority to make arrests. I even chatted with one about her experiences going to “house parties” and dating on Tinder (seriously). I sipped tea with four old men in the bazaar and discussed their very real fears of Isis, many that mirror our own here in America. I had dinner with a brilliant psychologist who excitedly discussed the growing acceptance of the therapeutic process among her Muslim patients. And whenever the topic of children came up (which it did often) being out of “in-the-closet” practice, I would reference my husband and register shock that it didn’t impact the cooing over baby photos in the slightest. Time after time, I saw and experienced things that were both impressive and unexpected.

But the thing that impressed me the most in Saudi Arabia – more striking than even the spectrum of colors found in a desert sunset – I discovered next to the cereal section of a large grocery store chain in Riyadh. It was there that I found a version of feminism that was so dedicated and focused that is dazzled me with its surging hope and progress.

In the shadow of a towering stack of cornflake boxes, I spoke with a woman, fully-veiled, about her new - and very first - job. Gushing excitedly through bright eyes, I learned how only a few months’ prior her family had shown resistance when she expressed she wanted to attend a job-training & life-skills workshop. But she went anyway. I learned how when she was hired as a cashier, she used to pass notes to her manager because she was too nervous to ask questions with her own voice out loud. But still she showed up every day. I learned how her long-term goal is a PhD so she can lecture at the University and teach women. And she’s already enrolled in classes.

Now if you look at the photo of us chatting away, the veil is shocking. It’s not something I believed in or am comfortable with. But I have to remember that’s just something she wears. It’s not who she is. Please focus on the woman and not what she is wearing. You’re

looking at a “snapshot” of a human being’s existence and seeing only one aspect. And it’s certainly not enough information to judge her

life and choices.

Is her enthusiastic, giggly version of Feminism to be discounted because of her attire? Is her forward momentum to be overlooked

because her “starting point” feels so far behind what we think is acceptable? Should her achievements get any less support or

admiration because she’s Saudi and her individuality is lost on our eyes in a sea of black cloth?

Now look at the photo a different way. How rare it is to meet someone who has not only transformed their entire life, but also the future potential of multiple generations in less than one year? That is what you are looking at. She has created a new life. All she needed was the legal right, and a little help, to begin. What I was amazed by was this woman’s commitment to do the hard and exhausting work that

accompanies change. Each and every day. That ensures the changes are real and lasting - not just symbolic.

I thought a lot about the difference between participating in the work a country needs to move forward versus “symbolic activism.” And on my flight home I thought about the despondence here at home, particularly among women, still reeling from the blow of the Clinton loss a few weeks prior. It’s almost like the news cycles have created a strange, soul-crushing addition to “misery porn” as so many people

confuse “participation” in their world with complaining or posting/re-posting their anger. But that habit actually works counter to the goal of real progress because it removes the most powerful motivation: Hope.

If we are scared or worried about what the next four years will bring, these Saudi women have taught me it’s up to us to make sure it’ll be ok. We’re spending most of our time and energy panicking over what can happen and not what we will make sure does happen. When did we become so powerless? Let me tell you I just met a woman who used to be powerless only until recently, and she wasn't wasting any additional energy complaining about it. Because she has the drive of a Hope that comes from knowing you are already moving past where you are now and allowing change – at whatever momentum – to inspire rather than dishearten. Progress takes time and work and by not acknowledging or even noticing impressive change in places like Saudi Arabia, we turn our back on points of personal inspiration and the hope we so desperately need now.

If we seek confirmation when we think the worst about people, we will always find it. But the same is true when we notice and acknowledge their progress – we see the best and the brightest from people. Which I did.

Now back to the cliff in the desert at sunset. As I sipped my rose tea with a small group of locals, I thought about the difference between what I expected to see in Saudi and what I did see. How did I not know about ANY of their steps forward as a nation? Not one? Not even the curtailing of the all-menacing religious police? And I am the type of progressive Muslim who specifically searches for stories

of any type of hope coming out of the Islamic world, especially Saudi.

The answer that was relayed to me time and time again – not with anger, but more with resignation –

was:

No one wants to tell that story.

Now where did I just hear those EXACT sentiments before? A group of people saying that they’re tired that no one sees them for who they really are. That all stories about them focus on the worst. That all the stories are the same.

In Alaska. Just fourteen days prior. A trip I had made the week before the US election to get to know more about who the “They” were that were supporting Trump. A “They” completely outside of my own Echo Chamber. It was during that experience that I discovered, in conversation after conversation, how rural Trump supporters shared the exact same sentiments when discussing their frustration with the

way Others (Liberals & mainstream media) saw them (deplorable), thought of them (racists), and most importantly, FELT about them (contempt).

And so what I discovered in Alaska as I tasted my first sip of salmon-infused vodka was confirmed when I tried rose tea for the first time in Saudi Arabia: the ongoing and disturbing trend to vilify those with whom we don’t agree. In totality. It’s no longer ok to “agree to disagree.” Now we “disagree without even trying to agree” as both the rural Alaskans and Saudis had just pointed out.

I smiled when I thought of hosting the world’s first Half-Alaskan/Half-Saudi dinner party where all the different people I had recently met would sit around the table – Nicole & Seema, Jim & Jamal, Heidi & Reem, etc. – and we’d all laugh about how bizarre it was I would meet two completely different groups of people within two weeks, from two completely opposite sides of the planet, and they would both feel and want the exact same thing at the exact same point in history: To no longer be judged, invalidated, and dismissed. How wonderful would that type of comradery and support feel around the table, especially coming from such unlikely sources?

Actually, I know exactly how it would feel. I received such a gracious invitation from Glenn Beck a few months back. Who would think the two of us would sit down and not only like each other so much, but realize we share common ground on just about everything. We are in unprecedented times, neighbors. Let’s look at things a little differently.

When did regions of the world become sterile, faceless labels and not the collection of individuals with their individual hopes, worries, and dreams? Isn’t that what they really are? There is no one Trump voter. There is no one Saudi Woman. There is no one Conservative. There is no one Muslim. In the exact same way that none of us should be vilified for our most personal beliefs and doing what we feel

is best for our families, I don’t think any of us can vilify the veiled, female grocery cashier – or millions like her – who are doing the work necessary to move themselves and their nations to a place they believe is better.

They are leaping forward. We need to dig in together to try and keep from slipping backwards.

We just have to choose to be Hopeful. And get to Work.

Would Glenn make a better bounty hunter or a Jedi? You'll have to find out in a new episode of the Beltway Banthas Podcast, where Glenn goes deep on Star Wars with host Stephen Kent. In this 45 minute discussion, Stephen and Glenn explore the political themes of the Star Wars franchise, Darth Vader's redemption from Return of the Jedi, Glenn's earliest memories of seeing the films and even debate elements of the latest Star Wars films.

If you enjoy the pop culture and nerdy discussions that Glenn, Pat and Stu get into on the radio show, you'll love this! After you're through, you can also check out Stu Burguiere's appearance on Beltway Banthas to talk Star Wars. You can find that here.


It's never too early to start your Christmas, Hanukah, or Kwanzaa shopping. Or even birthday gift shopping. Especially if that special someone in your life is a Democrat. Because at last count, pretty much all the Democrats are now running for president. And that means there has never been a wider selection of official candidate merchandise to choose from. Whether you're into environmentalism, feminism, classism, socialism, or just plain love, there is a smorgasbord of classy items that you and yours will treasure forever... or at least until the next presidential election.

We have browsed each of the candidates' online stores, so you don't have to (it only took us three months). We have curated only the finest items from each of the Democrats running for president of the United States of America. Without further ado, here is your handy progressive gift guide – or maybe your what-not-to-gift guide.

First, the bargain basement options. Hurry! Time is running out to grab your Beto bandana, or your Delaney pack of golf balls, because at this point Stu has as much of a chance as these guys of getting the nomination.

Tom Steyer, for example – is he still in the race?


https://shop.tomsteyer.com/collections/frontpage/products/tom-2020-pattern-tee


There's way too much Tom here. That shirt's got more Toms than a Caucasian dentists' convention.

For the slightly more moderate Democrat in your life, perhaps they'd like to join the "Yang Gang"…

https://shop.yang2020.com/collections/bumper-stickers/products/yanggang-decal


Andrew Yang is a lock for Math Club president…


https://shop.yang2020.com/collections/apparel/products/math-hat


But for actual president? Well, I wouldn't make plans for how you're going to spend your $1,000-per-month Yang allowance just yet.

If you happen to be shopping for your dog, may I suggest this lovely "Dogs for Delaney" dog collar…


https://store.johndelaney.com/products/dogs-for-delaney-collar


John Delaney's definitely going to secure the canine vote with this kind of outreach. As for any human votes, that's another question entirely.

How 'bout this tastefully understated "Natural Canvas" Michael Bennet tote to remind you he's also still here?...


https://store.michaelbennet.com/michael-bennet-for-america-natural-canvas-tote/


Then again, it's a tote. So, it'll end up on the floor of your closet and you won't have it with you until that one random moment when you're out somewhere and you really need a tote bag. Just like Democrats will really wish they had a moderate when we're in the middle of the socialist nightmare of their creation.

Captain Planet himself, Jay Inslee recently dropped out of the race, but don't let that stop you from picking up what may be the greatest single item sold by anyone in this race…


https://store.jayinslee.com/elvis-the-elves-the-mystery-of-the-melting-snow-by-jay-inslee/


A children's book called Elvis & the Elves: the Mystery of the Melting Snow. Written and illustrated by Governor Jay Inslee. Talk about a whodunnit – how could that snow possibly be melting? Spoiler alert: it's because of evil, white, patriarchal capitalism. And Donald Trump.

Then there's the candidate who thinks you're a moron that can't pronounce his last name: Steve Bullock...


https://shop.stevebullock.com/collections/apparel/products/emoji-t-shirt


Get it? Bull. Lock. Oh, so that's how you say the name that sounds exactly how it's spelled.

There's another candidate who also thinks you need help pronouncing his last name…


https://store.peteforamerica.com/collections/apparel/products/boot-edge-edge-t-shirt


And he is definitely right about that. So, thank you, Pete "Boot Edge Edge." That helps.

Just outside the bargain bin section, but just barely, are candidates like Julian Castro and his "El Presidente" t-shirt…


https://store.julianforthefuture.com/julian-castro-loteria-card-white-tee/


When your last name's Castro, do you really want to go with a weird drawing of yourself as if you're a classic Latin American dictator on a postage stamp?

If you prefer a little "dark psychic forces" battling in your candidates, you'll love Marianne Williamson's "Turn Love Into a Political Force" rally sign…


https://store.marianne2020.com/collections/signs/products/love-rally-sign


"Turn Love Into a Political Force" would be an even better title for a Marianne Williamson album of 80s cover songs. And if you think I'm joking, then you haven't heard Bernie Sanders' classic 1987 folk album, We Shall Overcome. That's not a joke. Well, it is a joke, but it's also a very real thing.

Now, just a quick pause to consider the peculiar baby-wear that way too many candidates are selling…

…including Elizabeth Warren's trans-pride flag onesie. Let me get this straight – we can't force any gender on a child, because that's just cruel. But we can force a political advertisement on a baby? How do we know that baby is actually a Biden or Warren fan? The child may not even be a Democrat or a Socialist at all. That baby might self-identify as a Libertarian, or Republican, or even worse – a moderate Democrat.

Now to the premium items from the premium candidates. Elizabeth Warren – the candidate with the most honesty in her advertising…


https://shop.elizabethwarren.com/collections/apparel/products/impolite-arrogant-women-make-history-unisex-t-shirt

-AND-

https://shop.elizabethwarren.com/collections/drinkware/products/strong-american-unions-mug


Warren's merchandise reflects the woman herself – cold and humorless (watch her "This isn't funny" clip from the last debate here at the 4:27 mark). I'm sure she's really fun once you get to know her. Then again, maybe not.

Speaking of serious women, Kamala Harris wants to be president very badly for you, the people, as you can tell from her "For the People" poster…


https://store.kamalaharris.org/poster-for-the-people/


At $29.99 though, she's sure not charging "people's" prices. Of course, she might be having to pay royalties to a certain someone for riffing on their poster. Just saying.

For the race's number one socialist, there's a whole lot of capitalism going on in Bernie Sanders' campaign. He sells so many delightful items that it's hard to choose. But we did anyway. The most random item is this hundred-dollar, black, "Art of a Political Revolution – Artists for Bernie Sanders Coaches Jacket"…


https://store.berniesanders.com/collections/apparel/products/artists-for-bernie-coaches-jacket


Coaches across the land will be clamoring for this one. You know, since coaches are such a strong Bernie-socialist demographic.

If that's a little over your budget you might consider a "Feel the Bern" fanny pack, to help store all those government freebies you'll get from Bernie…


https://store.berniesanders.com/collections/apparel/products/feel-the-bern-fanny-pack


This is the only context in which you'll ever want to hear "feel the burn" and "fanny" in the same sentence.

And finally, from front-runner Joe Biden, we have this fine "Women's Fitted Biden Polo." Which is just about the best polo description ever…


https://store.joebiden.com/collections/apparel/products/biden-polo-womens-fit


It promises the kind of snug approach that Biden loves to provide women. Even when they don't ask.

This was one of the first homesteads in the area in the 1880's and was just begging to be brought back to its original glory — with a touch of modern. When we first purchased the property, it was full of old stuff without any running water, central heat or AC, so needless to say, we had a huge project ahead of us. It took some vision and a whole lot of trust, but the mess we started with seven years ago is now a place we hope the original owners would be proud of.

To restore something like this is really does take a village. It doesn't take much money to make it cozy inside, if like me you are willing to take time and gather things here and there from thrift shops and little antique shops in the middle of nowhere.

But finding the right craftsman is a different story.

Matt Jensen and his assistant Rob did this entire job from sketches I made. Because he built this in his off hours it took just over a year, but so worth the wait. It wasn't easy as it was 18"out of square. He had to build around that as the entire thing we felt would collapse. Matt just reinforced the structure and we love its imperfections.

Here are a few pictures of the process and the transformation from where we started to where we are now:

​How it was

It doesn't look like much yet, but just you wait and see!

By request a photo tour of the restored cabin. I start doing the interior design in earnest tomorrow after the show, but all of the construction guys are now done. So I mopped the floors, washed the sheets, some friends helped by washing the windows. And now the unofficial / official tour.

The Property

The views are absolutely stunning and completely peaceful.