Bismillah ir Rahman ir Raheem
For about the septillionth time this year, I find myself wondering why in the feck I’m writing screenplays. Short of papier-mache sculpture and nudist interpretative dance, I think it might just be about the hardest art-form to gain any kind of material success in. In fact, I think those two art-forms might be far more accepting of the under-represented.
My current project is a rom-com called Whose Wife Is It Anyway. It’s tortured, it’s romantic and hopefully it’s funny.
That’s my sales pitch to you.
But to me – I get to say goodbye to my mother. The way I wish I could have. I get to re-imagine a few acrimonious conversations as sensitive, peaceful, healing conversations. I get to have a few more funny, loving conversations with arguably the funniest woman I’ve ever met. I get to hear her voice again if only in my imagination.
And dear owner of eyeballs, you have no idea how long and how badly I have wanted to hear my mother’s high-pitched hectoring again.
A project I want to work on next year takes place all in one location, namely my family’s home here in Colombo.
I don’t have a sales pitch for you yet -sorry.
But for me – I get to be there as my mother dies. And I get to imagine her as a super-hero. No, more than that. A legend.
Even if it sucked donkey testicles in real life, on the page at least, I want to say goodbye to my mother the way I wish I could have.
As most Game of Thrones fans have, I’ve also been pondering the poor sodding fate of poor sodding Elia Martell. In love with a good-for-nothing foppy hair-brained prince. Nearly killed by childbirth. Twice. Abandoned by aforementioned blonde fop. And then raped by the Mountain. And killed. Brutally. But not before her children are murdered in front of her. Including her baby son.
If we stop to think about it, this is probably happening in the real world a whole heck of a lot. In fact, it might even be happening right now. In Palestine? In Syria? In some ISIS-controlled hell-hole where there are no reporters because no one in the outside world cares?
I invite you to simmer in that fetid reality for a moment.
Now. Why in the feck did GGRM enshrine it in fiction? Who’s fecking wish was he fulfilling?
Every pregnant woman in the series either dies a gruesome death or has the ones she love die in cruel and unusual ways. Robb Stark’s wife got off pretty easy actually. Daenarys and Elia Martell – I mean, seriously, GGRM?
Which leads to wonder why the male species would be so cut up about Ghostbusters. They aren’t real.
The rape and murder of women and children in times of war – that ish is far too real.
Whose wish are we fulfilling with our art? It’s worth contemplating. It’s worth questioning. It’s worth saying no to the beast when he asks us to make our darkest fantasies true on screen.
Bismillah ir Rahman ir Raheem
I’m not sure what to say or think as I am more unmoored than ever. Quite literally this time.
We went on holiday back to Sri Lanka mid-April, hoping to return to the US mid-May. In time to prepare for an American Ramadan. But instead, due to visa issues I won’t go into here (because it’s boring and perhaps sensitive), we’re here in Colombo still.
Why do I feel like I’m on a desert island?
I have a nanny for Isa. And since we’re living at my in-laws’ place, they have a maid to help with cooking too. So essentially, I am duty-free.
What a privilege, what an honor, what a blessing. Man. I pray every day for these beautiful women for giving me a rest.
See? Unmoored. No longer full-time mom, only mom when I feel like it. LOL. No longer stay-at-home because we’re not at home. In fact, we’ve broken the lease on our beautiful apartment in Denver and it’s being cleared out as we speak.
No, all I have to do this Ramadan is be as Muslim as I can. Harder than I thought it would be.
You see, Ramadan has often been about facing our physical demons. Tiredness for me, hunger for my husband. Even before I was a mom, I was more tired than anything else. Now I’m face-to-face with the real demons. Anger. Judgement. Self-hate. Laziness. Fear. Lack of trust in God. Guilt for shirking what I consider my ‘duty’ – cooking and taking care of Isa. And plain old meanness.
With all other things quietened down to a large extent, I’m free to hear the voices in my head. And oh, they are some real cows. I can’t believe how unkind I can be to myself. And consequently to others. Or just plain oblivious to the suffering of others, including my son.
I’m trying to be kinder. And more loving. And more trusting of God. But it isn’t easy.
The point of Ramadan for me, I’ve found (please don’t quote me on this, just a writer, not a scholar), is to figure out who I am in the face of adversity. I’ve figured out that I want to love people as much as I can. And be kind as much as I can. But that however starts with me. If I can’t be kind to myself and acknowledge my pain, how can I be kind to others?
The first week of Ramadan was the first time I had no nanny for Isa since we came here. Child started shirking bedtime, going to bed sometimes at 10:00 pm or later. He’s also a toddler now, so keeping up with him is challenging. And he’s gotten a little clingy as well. So that means carrying his 20-pound little body a whole lot. A little difficult on a fasting body.
I found myself getting grumpy and unloving with my little monkey. I would ask my husband my husband for help and would often get it. But anger and anxiety killed any gratitude and real rest I got.
Poor little bug.
Before things got really bad, another nanny appeared, due to stay till the end of Ramadan. I don’t know how things would have turned out if I hadn’t gotten a nanny. Chances are, he and I would have found some sort of rhythm. But I wonder if the damage to both of us would have been too far gone before that.
I wonder if I would have gotten resentful and morose and despairing and anxious. And hopeless and depressed and suicidal. I’m very ashamed to say, it wouldn’t have been the first time.
I’m going to try to be kind. To learn about God and to trust him. To read and to love His word. To forgive myself and forgive others. To do the best I can and work my very hardest at being kind, generous and loving with whatever resources I have that day. Be it a lot or a little. That’s who I want to be in the face of adversity. That’s even why I write.
It’s the best I can do. And then some probably.
- When my son naps, I go straight to my current project. I no longer waste time. No Facebook-ing, tweeting or other nonsense. When he is awake, I am his. When he is asleep, I am mine.
- I’ve realized I just can’t afford to waste time easing into it. I used to spend 30 minutes or more doing improv exercises, free writing, morning pages, etc., trying to warm up my brain. None of them worked. I’ve realized that my brain is warm, well, because, thank God, I’m alive. Which is good because I can’t ease into mothering either. 24 hours a day, 7 days a week, 365 days a year.
- I pay more attention to EVERYTHING. Whether I’m exhausted or my son is saying his first word while I’m looking at my phone, I’ve learned to be in the moment, however uncomfortable it might be.
- I don’t waste time on anything that isn’t beneficial. That’s why I switched from straight comedy to romantic comedy. I’ve been in love ever since. With being a mom, I’ve learned the glorious power of No. If something isn’t good for my family, sorry, not sorry.
- I know when to fold. I know when to ask for help. I don’t work to myself to exhaustion.
- I’m open to play.
- I’m open to surprise.
- I have no choice but to roll with the punches. I keep the faith, keep a sense of humor and survive. Everything ends and everything changes if I just give it enough time.
- I’m no longer waiting on baited breath for the outcome. I try and enjoy the act of writing itself and try not to care too much about winning contests, agents, managers etc. None of those things are assured in any way, shape or form. So I might as well just love writing. Similarly with being a mom, I try to enjoy my little boy’s company. Not be forever thinking of the next thing to check off the to-do list or to constantly be thinking of how I can turn anything into a teaching moment. Fact is, whether his dad and I are ‘teaching’ or not, the child is certainly watching and learning. And I have no control over what choices he makes as an adult. Only what role models he grows up with.
Bismillah ir Rahman ir Raheem
Was feeling particularly joyful today, so I went for it. It might be because there’s talk of a snow storm tomorrow and I’m flying out of Denver to New York during said snow storm. With a baby. His first time on a flight. Joy. I hope he loves travel as much as I do (eventually).
Maybe it’s because hubby and I have bought gifts for practically everyone in Sri Lanka and I’m feeling a little slap-happy.
Maybe it’s because there’s so many variables in the coming experience (plane, baby, 24 hours of flying) that I have no choice but to let go. Maybe I’ve finally found my Zen.
Or maybe I’m just tired. Choose your own adventure.
Truth is, the scene description on my new spec is kicking my backside. So I’m trying to get back in touch with brevity and capturing an emotion or an image in a few VERY well-chosen words.
Screenplays, I think, should be like poetry. A moment in time crystallized for posterity. But because they are longer and more commercial, they are more complicated. Oh well.
Here it is.
I love being human
I love my split ends and hang nails.
Yeah. I said it.
Wiping poop off my son’s butt is a freaking miracle.
I’m told I should lust for God.
But I find God in my lusts
For macaroons and laughter.
For aliens and rabbit holes and electric storms and failure
I love that I’m too big to be contained by department store threads.
There is something beautiful in everything.
And no, this isn’t a paradise.
If I don’t find clothes that fit me, I’d be naked. And cold.
I didn’t find Bermuda without jet lag.
I didn’t find the love of my life without heartbreak
I didn’t find God without being human.
I love being human. I love looking for God. I love finding Him where I least expect it.
And I don’t care who knows it.
Bismillah ir Rahman ir Raheem.
All of this is still true. And still enormously frustrating. In the face of waves of rubbish from English-speaking film, I want to hold firm to the mast of my principles i.e. the things I really love. I won’t be afraid to not like something and I won’t be afraid to fall head over heels in love with something. And I won’t be afraid to have my hopes dashed against the rocks either.
(But, thank God, I freaking loved Star Wars.)
9. Women/POC/under-represented people winning. Stories with these people which are not just about them being under-represented.
Those things are true. It kinda blows not being a white able-bodied straight dude.
But heck, we have trouble finding parking too. We have days where everything goes wrong. Where our kids or spouse or co-workers or parents drive us crazy. Those conflicts have nothing to do with our identity categories. Couldn’t we also perhaps be caught unwittingly at the center of a zombie apocalypse? Alien invasion? Earthquake? A hostage situation? (To be fair, I can think of a few action movies that have represented women and people of color a little better. Salt springs to mind. And Jack Reacher.). A parental conflict? A black-magic ritual gone hysterically wrong? You know – life?
Romantic comedies make me want to weep (not in a good way). It’s all beautiful white people in sun-kissed environments falling in love. POCs fall in love too. And sometimes – really! – the people they are in love with aren’t too concerned with their background at all.
Now I’m sure this has shut down the brains of a lot of romantic comedy writers out there now. What? An Indian woman could marry a non-Indian man and not have to contend with culture?
There are other obstacles to true love. Drug abuse? Political rivalry? Bad weather? It’s called creativity. It’s worth exercising.
No, really. My kingdom to see a Muslim woman fall in love with someone who really is not intimidated by her faith. And I’m pretty…oh, I don’t know…hardcore I guess, but honestly, I wouldn’t care too much if their relationship was ‘Sharia-compliant’ (my Muslim peeps know what I’m talking about). Just Muslims being humans. The way I know them to be. Not refugees, terrorists or accomplices or victims thereof. Gah.
No, there are no examples of this because there aren’t any that I know of that don’t come from Bollywood, Korea, etc.
I’ve yet to see a better example of this than Skyfall. The dueling philosophies in Skyfall are the old (M, Bond and the M15’s ways in general) against the new (Silva and his tech-as-terrorism tactics).
One of my favorite bits of set dressing that reflect this – this bit of dialogue occurs when Q first meets Bond:
And at the end of the movie, when Bond meets the new M – Ralph Fiennes’ character, Gareth Mallory – they have their first conversation in front of a painting of another bloody big ship, this one sailing into the horizon.
I just loved it.
When every filmic choice made speaks to this one theme, the film coheres in an immensely satisfying way.
For the record, there are very few movies that I would watch over and over again that are NOT comedies. Of the straight-up action movies, there are only 3: World War Z (for reasons mentioned in earlier posts), Jack Reacher (for a great character) and Skyfall.
It’s been more than a year since I did this blog post. And yet again my thoughts on the matter have changed.
You see, just a couple of months ago, I realized I want to write romantic comedies. Heaven knows why it didn’t occur to me before. I’m a hopeless romantic and I love making people laugh. I guess I was just confused by my affection for fantasy, sci-fi and the perversely funny.
I think this list still holds true generally, but I’m going to work on a different list for romantic comedy. Gives me an excuse to geek out and watch as many rom-coms as humanly possible.
So there’s that. Cheerio, darlings.
I’m so full of feces.
I’m trying to distill life and death and guilt into bolded bullet points for your easy digestion.
When I’m fighting everyday at this keyboard trying to write something that feels honest. That cannot be contained by a three-act structure.
(That maybe does happen in three acts for clarity’s sake, but alludes to something bigger. Also because tying my brain in knots isn’t my idea of fun. And I want to make people laugh. And that means making sense. This is a long parenthetical.)
When my mom died, I learned that I don’t know how to grieve.
For a long time, I wondered if my father was right. If I was selfish. Whether I even loved anything or anyone enough to grieve if it left me. Other than stand-up, improv and my personal freedom. Grieving all of that sounds even more selfish.
But then Mama died and my life went on as if nothing had changed. As if I hadn’t lost a limb.
I’m not going to sit here and tell you how to grieve. Everything I said before was utter nonsense. Well, I do all of those things but only to survive the day. But I have a feeling that most of us want to do more than just survive.
Muslims aren’t really clear about grieving either. Sure, there’s the washing and wrapping of the body, the Janazah (the funeral prayer), etc. But being in America and my mother being buried in Sri Lanka, I could not partake in that ritual.
Leaving no clean break in my life between ‘with Mama’ and ‘without Mama’.
The best I could get from YouTube is don’t wear make-up or colorful clothes. Well, in that case, I’m grieving most of the time. Or my wardrobe is, anyway. Surely grief is more than sartorial choices?
So I’ve decided to drown myself in other people’s grief. After finishing #ZD30Script (in which I hammered out a holey outline) – I thought I’d treat myself by binging on House of Cards AND Breaking Bad.
But I figure they’ll wait.
Cried for a young man about my age, snuffed out before he could prove that he could be a father.
Decided to watch The Station Agent – a little person is underprivileged too. Though unlike the POCs in other movies, does his happiness come at so steep a price?
Well, I guess everyone’s happiness comes at a price. Uncertainty.
One of those quiet indie movies with quiet change happening over many quiet moments. The humor is pretty quiet too. The only two jokes in the movie are in the trailer.
My life has never been that quiet. It’s always been loud, messy, chaotic, out of control. Even if I wanted to be a hermit, no one would leave me alone. No one leaves me alone long enough to complete a writing sprint. It’s a struggle to quiet the voices in my head.
And of course, sex. Changes. Everything.
And things change all in a rush – that part is true to my life. And suddenly we’ve found our place in the world and all that madness was worth it.
I liked that movie. I’d like to see a movie like that about people of color.
There’s a grief here I can’t explain. Would movies have saved my mother? Would movies have kept me from post-partum depression?
Movies can’t even seem to tell my story.
Bismillah ir Rahman ir Raheem
I hesitated to write anything anywhere because I didn’t want to add to the cacophony of voices yelling at each other across the void. So much noise, so much noise, so much noise. I just couldn’t take it anymore.
However, this blog is really for my benefit. My therapist said I should write down my feelings and I feel strongly about what’s happened and what’s been happening.
I confess I didn’t know at there had been attacks in Beirut the day before Paris was attacked. I did know about Myanmar. I did know about CAR where some murderers are apparently EATING their Muslim victims (click on link at own risk – needless to say, it’s pretty shocking). I say the victims are Muslim because the conflicts in both those countries are along ethnic/religious lines.
The world at large seems to think that Paris too has become another battleground in the clash of civilizations. The turmoil in my gut tells me that whatever I say, I believe it too.
I’ve lived almost half of my life with this fear. Expending energy trying to justify my faith. Trying as much as possible to show people how not extremist I am. When really, I’m hard-core bonkers in almost every way. Including faith. I don’t do anything by halves. You should taste my chocolate chip cheesecake. But that’s a blog post for another time.
And I’m tired. Good grief, dear friend, I’m so tired. I want it to end.
And this helps: https://www.facebook.com/noumanbayyinah/videos/vb.185523868247030/626546100811469/?type=2&theater
Nouman Ali Khan doesn’t speak specifically to my situation, but applying this to my life has cleared a lot of mists Alhamdulillah.
My job, what I want to teach my son, is to deal with what life gives him. I can try and protect him all I want. But I know that life isn’t always going to be rosy. In fact, it’s almost guaranteed that at some point, crap is going to hit the ventilator. What’s he going to do then? What am I going to do then?
The sooner I accept that terrorists will claim Islam as their justification and I will have to face the consequences, the sooner I can move on with my life.
So some fool out there might try to kill my son and I. Or my husband.
No one knows when God’s gonna punch our card. This is reality. No use griping about it. Sure, it isn’t right. But it is.
So what am I going to do about it?
Fear sucks. So that’s out the window.
Insha Allah – I will live then by my principles. I will hug children (only if they want to be hugged, of course.) I will feed people, because God, nothing makes me sadder than fat bellies in one house and starving children just down the street. I will stand up for young women. I was one once and I would have appreciated someone having my back. I will stand up for women in general. I will tell the truth and not be ashamed of who I am – hijab, five daily prayers, fasting, horse-laugh and all. Most of all, I will make it my life’s work to practice compassion. And that means opening my heart. And trying to make sense of actions that, at first blush, often seem senseless.
The only way I’ve ever tried to make sense of things is drowning myself in prayer and drowning myself in story. Prayer is of course intensely personal. Story, however, is a dialogue.
Some days – some years, in fact – the only reason I stuck it out with humanity is because of movies. Movies convinced in the words of Samwise Gamgee
that there is good left in this world. And it’s worth fighting for.
I’ve gotten to know and love people I could never have known in real life through movies. To the best of my knowledge, I’ve never met a trans woman. Yet Soldier’s Girl broke my heart into a million pieces. To the point where I couldn’t watch the ending. To the best of my knowledge, I’ve never met a drug addict. But Half Nelson allowed me to. Maybe in our darkest hours, we’re still pretty damn fine people. I don’t mean Ryan Gosling-fine, I mean creative and fierce and protective and fascinating. It’s heartening to know that.
Maybe someone some day will listen to my story. Well, not just mine but all Muslims’ stories.
Until then, I can tell you this. I’d love to hear your story. We can sit on the carpet in my living room (you can sit on the sofa if you’re more comfortable there – I’m a ground-person). I’m South Asian so you can’t leave my home without eating till you burst. And I’d like to hear your story. You don’t have to agree with the way I live my life; I don’t have to agree with the way you live yours. But good God, I want to hear your story. The fear, the failure, the falling, the fumbling, the fury, the fantastic. The glory. The glory of being alive.
How people can kill each other after living lives full to the brim of awesome – doubt and love and heartache and beauty – I will never understand.
But then it just is. It just is. I’m alive. You’re alive. And our lives are too important for fear.
Peace out, brothers and sisters.
P.S. This dude just said everything I’ve been trying to but so much more beautifully. Nailed it. Just nailed it. Now I can rest without obsessively editing this post.
Bismillah ir Rahman ir Raheem.
I’ve been trying to gather my thoughts for some time now. 7 months seems about right.
It’s been one heckuva year thus far. Not always in a good way.
About a week after my last post in February, I had a baby boy.
I wish I could tell you it was the happiest day of my life, but it was more like the climax to a horror movie. That resulted in something beautiful. But something I really couldn’t relate to as mine.
That feeling lasted a very long time. I’d never been around something as tiny and vulnerable as my son. Yet here I was supposed to bathe him, feed him, dress him and love him.
Meanwhile, my family decided to abandon me to my distress and leave me to work it out on my own. My body was beyond recognition. My life was beyond recognition.
Oh and my son refused to breastfeed. So I figured that he hated me, though he’d only been alive a matter of days. I wish I could say I don’t believe that anymore. But sleep deprivation and physical exhaustion of every kind prevents me from thinking clearly.
Yes, I have post-partum depression. I’m on the drugs. But the best anti-depressant is life, I’ve found. Can’t buy that for the highest price.
If anyone shoves infertility in my face and tells me I should be ‘grateful’, please go find another blog. I can acknowledge my own feelings while honoring other women’s sadness. It’s called dichotomy and I’ve learned in the past few months that it’s the cornerstone of the human experience.
The hits kept coming, of course.
A couple of weeks ago now, my mother died. ALS took her the way it usually does, stopping her breath. My heart is broken.
In all of this, I’ve learned a few things, by God’s Grace.
I’ve learned that every moment is precious because we never know what the next moment may bring.
I’ve learned that people can be indifferent, insensitive, even cruel. But there is no point in being angry with them. It’s just a waste of energy. Staying away from them is a better tactic. And directing my energy towards the people and things I do love.
And what of screenwriting? I spent a long time wondering what the eff I’m doing still screenwriting. Is anyone going to care what a Muslim Sri Lankan woman has to say? People don’t even care what Effie Brown has to say. And Matt Damon and Ben Affleck are actually trying to give directors a leg up. But apparently not diversity.
White straight dudes FTW!
It’s an ugly world out there. ‘Satirical’ magazines mock a dead toddler. Who looks a lot like my son, incidentally.
Children have been killed by guns, intentionally and unintentionally. And yet the government does nothing to protect them, at least from the crazy ones. If we don’t think it’s our responsibility to protect and care for children, however much it hurts us, who are we going to protect?
My stories all contain women of color. Muslims. Sometimes only women. Sometimes only Muslims. Will anyone ever care to make one of my films? I’m wondering now whether I should continue to spend my life beating my head against the wall of privilege. Because I’m tired and I have a headache. For realz.
I have a son. I have a husband. I told stories because I enjoy them. But my heart is too broken for the holes to be plugged by narrative anymore. Maybe I should spend my life loving my family instead. Maybe I should try and find fulfillment somewhere else. Being a teacher like all the women in my family before me.
Maybe. Maybe it just isn’t worth it. Maybe I should leave the good fight to stronger warriors than me.
But there are many lessons I have yet to learn and I can’t, except from my mother.
Mama, how do you learn to die? How do you learn to say goodbye to things and people and dreams and lives that are forever gone? How do you wake from that and still know who you are? Mama, come back. We have so much more to talk about. I have so much more to learn.
But you’re not coming back. Are you? Lots of things are never coming back. And it would appear that once again, I have to figure things out myself.