10 Lessons from my first short film-making experience

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So Alhamdulillah (thank God), I shot my first short film.

It’s a 8-minute short called I Like Long Walks. One location (my house), one character (me), minimal set ups. We’re currently tightening it up in post and hoping to submit it to a few festivals. Watch this space.

Here are a few lessons I learned from this teeny tiny but mighty experience.

  1. Food rocks. Food is super important. Food is the wind beneath my wings. (I’m fasting.) Seriously though: Plan lunch in advance in consultation with your crew. If you’re going to do French hours i.e. no lunch, have tons of healthy and nutritious snacks on hand. Again in consultation with your crew. I had precisely one other person so that consultation would have been easy. If I had done it. And have lots of water on hand.
  2. Get help. I was so overwhelmed writing, directing, producing and starring that I failed to account for pretty basic needs (see above).
  3. I was initially planning to shoot the thing myself so I did not feel the need to do a recce with sound and light in mind . If I had, I’d have known the train and the highway right outside would be rather a bother for sound. Plus my loud neighbors and their ludicrously long home improvement projects.  I had also initially wanted to shoot in my bedroom. But light is terrible there. So we chose the living room but light fluctuates like crazy where I was sitting.   It all made for fun times in post.
  4. Take your time on set. Goodness takes time. Especially when your actor (me) has not had a lot of sleep and is acting out some tough emotions.
  5. Divide your script into units even if there aren’t any scenes. So this makes it easier to shoot and easier to edit as well.
  6. Make sure sound is rolling is rolling when camera is rolling and off when camera is off. It can make for irritating work in post listening to sound files looking for the correct audio. Label sound files with scene numbers.
  7. Choose people to work with who are generous with their knowledge. Who don’t laugh at you when you ask questions. Who teach you everything they can. Because personally, I learn best from other people
  8. A true spirit of collaboration is key. No creative should dominate the conversation, should drown someone out, should muscle in, negate or ignore any other. Empathy and being a good listener are SUCH PIVOTAL QUALITIES for a good filmmaker, it’s ludicrous. I would highly recommend reading Marshall Rosenberg’s Non Violent Communication. The whole book seems to be up here for free with seemingly no copyright claims.
  9. This is where directing overlaps with mothering to a great degree – the director directs the vision of the film. What that means to  me is: Directors set the most gentle parameters they can and then allow their people to play freely within those parameters. Those gentle parameters are key, I think.
  10. Keep the props in a safe place in case you need to reshoot! 

Hope this helps. If it is in your heart to do so, go out and make movies, folks. Nothing quite like it. I always knew this. But I’m only accepting this truth now. Better late than never, I guess.

 

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Handling vicarious trauma as a mother of color

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It’s no secret that there’s a lot of absolutely disgusting things being done by humans to other humans and very often to animals all around the world.

Every time I open up Twitter or Facebook or anything for that matter, I find evidence of the unending evil that we can inflict upon each other.

For me, living in a Western country during peace time, people who share my identity categories gather to complain and commiserate. I must say we live in enviable comfort.

When it comes to WOCs in the film industry, what we’re doing is extremely important though. Seeing people of color like myself going through the same things I am was like oxygen to me. Like climbing out of a well and smelling fresh air for the first time.

I think we also need to start moving forward. We all know there’s a problem with the film industry, with the hiring of women and people of color. Now the question I am continuously asking is…what can I do about it?

We’ve defined the problem. Now let’s define the solution.

It’s Ramadan. It’s the month of mercy. It’s the month of forgiveness. I’ve decided to turn off the darkness so I can find my light.

Log off Facebook and Twitter for a month.

But it’s not that simple. Nope, it isn’t.

I’ve found a lot of professional contacts on Facebook. I have a few projects I’m working towards in the coming months that would require me to connect with potential collaborators on Facebook.

So what do I do?

I’ve been trying to put some limits on my social media connection. Only 10 minutes. Only in the night-time or only in the morning. Only things I can actually do something about. I don’t feed my personal Balrog more narratives of victimhood and powerlessness.

Like I said, compared to some in the world, I live in enviable comfort. There are systemic blocks against me. But I can actually do something. And I will. I will go to my grave doing something, even if it ultimately means nothing in this life.

But for that, I have to stop giving away my energy, mental, emotional and spiritual. I don’t know yet how to do that and still maintain the access to professional networks I’ve carved out.

The methods I’ve mentioned – they aren’t actually working. It’s hard not to fall down a rabbit-hole on social media when dang it, smart-phones and opposable thumbs make it so easy.

But I’ve been feeling this oppressive weight lately from the amount of stuff I consume. I wan to create more. And give more.

I’ll let you know when and if I figure it out.

The journey to Wakanda

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Going to see Black Panther was quite a trial. I needed someone to watch Isa (my son) and my husband had a constantly shifting phone call with a tax accountant that ate up every evening of the week. Gah.

Finally we settled on Saturday afternoon. Not ideal to take an afternoon away from my family but I was so so so keen to visit Wakanda.

Almost out the door, I checked the train schedule. Track works!! Not having any faith or experience in buses and thinking my 10:30 a.m. showing was far too important to miss, I decided to drive. I hate driving.

Spoiler alert: I should have taken the bus.

I didn’t get a parking ticket at the mall – which confused and terrified the crap out of me and caused me to jump in and out of the car looking like a right booby at the parking meter on the way out.
I banged my thumb in the car door. It was sore for two days.
And the traffic was in-freaking sane! I hate driving.

Have I mentioned that I hate driving? #luxuryproblems

But you know what? Wakanda was worth it.

I don’t think I’ve ever cried that much during an action movie. Certainly never a Marvel movie.

I found myself missing my dad deeply. My flawed human dad.

I have such a huge girl crush on The General who burned up the screen every time she showed up. In the first scene, she corrects the Black Panther. And as the fight scene progresses, it turns out she was right to do so.

The Black Panther’s closest advisers were pretty much all women. Silly, stubborn, traditional, modern, frightened, furious… a real study in how to write complex female characters. I was surprised and delighted by just how feminine the movie was.

Oh yes and African-ness. That is, non-Whiteness.

Like a lot of first-generation immigrants, I’ve had my language taken from me. In an effort to please people who will never be pleased, our parents systematically drummed English into our heads. We spoke only English at home. We consumed only English media; we read only English novels. But they spoke Tamil to each other. They also spoke it at their shop to their staff who were mostly from South India and could understand it. But for us, they were content for us to be ‘coconuts’ – brown on the outside, white on the inside.

It does something to you, constantly consuming media that treats you as ‘the other’, letting the colonizer take what’s left of you even after the empire doesn’t exist anymore.

Because I spent most of my life in Dubai, I never really connected with my culture. The Emirates will never claim me for their own. And the meaning of that little passport cannot be denied. Sri Lanka is weird as all heck. And it thinks I am too. Still those are  my places. If not my homes. Those places are familiar to me.

Culture, specifically pop culture, is where I find home. Where I try to piece together an identity. And Wakanda has shown me what a poor and toxic home it’s been. It’s all white. Down to the seams. And mostly American.

In my early 20s, I found myself getting what I used to call ‘homesick’. Really what it was is that I wanted to see a nuanced portrayal of a non-white face. I would watch Bollywood obsessively but still couldn’t run away from the stench of the colonizer, the colorism, the consumerism, the modern-day capitalism.

In Black Panther, it was such a delight to see African culture explored and celebrated with such unbridled joy. I wanted to pause the film so I could drink it all in. Though I am neither Black nor African, it gave me an insight into what home might feel like.

Still, I can’t deny my privilege i.e. knowing where I come from For me, I know that Tamil is my language. If I made an effort, I could learn. I could go home to Kandy, poke around my ancestral home, ask some questions, get an idea of where I came from.

Descendants from enslaved peoples don’t have that luxury. They’ve had their identities ripped away from them. Maybe through Black Panther, they can have in fantasy what is far more difficult to grasp in reality. It’s a poor substitute but it’s one step on the path to healing.

May we all find home, wherever that might be.

What even IS dark comedy?

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So since I’ve made the switch to dark comedy from romantic comedy from straight comedy from everything else…I’ve been wondering what dark comedy actually is.

The simple answer is stuff that is funny but also deeply uncomfortable for one reason or another.

Which presents this wonderful fertile grey area between comedy and tragedy. Between the energy that lifts our spirits and the horror that drags it down.

You know how drama comes from conflict? Well, comedy comes from conflict too.

Not just dark comedy. All comedy. Comedy is the theatre of the unexpected (yes, since living in Australia, I’m spelling like a English person again. Dashed English speakers can’t even agree on what to call a bathroom tap.)

The last place you would expect a ‘That’s what she said’ joke.

Now this example isn’t dark in my opinion. Why? Because the comedy itself isn’t uncomfortable. The circumstances around them are – these two dudes are about to rob a bank. They’ve been forced to by an unscrupulous bank. But the jokes is well-placed and cuts the tension beautifully.

So that brings me back to my question – what is dark comedy?

Dark comedy is the friction between our dark and light selves.

The parts of ourselves that want to be uplift, to love, to heal, to build, to nurture.
And the parts of ourselves that want to maim, kill, torture, destroy, control, subjugate.

The dark also comes from the abject – a constantly shifting space, of course.

Consider how this gay man was portrayed in Vietnam.

Choices were made, by all involved, that rendered this gay man pervy and funny.

Comedy comes from the unexpected. Dark comedy comes from both the unexpected and the dissonant.

What’s a good example of that?

I find Martin McDonagh’s comedy deeply problematic but I have to say he has a strong handle on this dark comedy business.

This first scene I think is supposed to set up some of the crimes that come up after as well as establish the Guard as given to deeply inappropriate behavior. Him feeling a corpse’s testicles just to take the mickey out of his junior is one example of this.

Do you feel what I’m saying? The joke makes you laugh and makes your skin crawl.

Here’s another one. So many things wrong with this scene, it’s sort of awesome.
youtube https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=lOF1GJimMJI&w=560&h=315%5D

A child using the n-word because he heard it on TV.
cop threatening a child.
And the last line – ‘killing little Protestants’.

And where exactly is the light here?

The child makes it funny. Because his transgressions are innocent.

As for the cop, we forgive him because the previous scenes have shown him to be devoted to the community and to his ailing mother. In spite of his tendency for inappropriate behavior, we believe that he is more bark than bite (more love than hate). A valid writerly tool though groan-worthy when you hear this particular character’s racist comments. And he is trying to bust a international drug smuggling ring (a desire for justice).

Dark comedy is a fuzzy genre but one I enjoy immensely. I’ll share more insights as they come to me.

 

How I dealt with social anxiety or, My own personal Balrog

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I’m really quite shy.

No, shy is pejorative.

I’m reserved.

But that implies that I’m a tight wad when I’m not.

I’m introverted, okay?

I think.

I love people.

However, the limitless possibility of interaction paralyzes me sometimes. And while talking to people is huge fun, I don’t crave it like plants crave sunlight. I find alone time rejuvenating, not people time.

As you might have noticed, I’m trying desperately to protect myself because being an introvert is often seen as a bad thing. When I did stand-up and improv, people were often stunned at how shy I was in real life. And they said so.

Anyway, I don’t need to add another persecuted signifier to my already long list of persecuted signifiers.

Suffice to say, I find certain activities commonly associated with filmmaking downright vomit-inducing.

Pitching.
Networking.
Taking general meetings. Or specific meetings.

Can an introvert be a leader? Of course, we can. Leaders serve people. I’ve wanted to serve people all my life.

I’m working hard to entangle the tight knot of fears and insecurities that have stopped me from becoming a director all these years. When I feel that knot in the pit of my stomach, that instant aversion, my brain screaming ‘I don’t want to! I just want to stay home!’, I see him.

Who’s him?

The Balrog. Or rather, my Balrog.

I love him really. He looks frightening. And he wants to, of course. He’s got a mean roar. And fire in his belly for sure. But really, he’s cuddly and made of orange fluff. And the stuff that looks like scabs is actually jelly. He’s my fears.

I give him a big hug. It’s like being swallowed by a bear but it doesn’t hurt. Quite the opposite. I feel the fire in him go out.

I ask him what he’s frightened of.

“I’m frightened people will laugh at us. They’ll judge us because we wear a hijab. Because we’re a woman. Because we’re short. Because we don’t have any credits to our name, apart from the time we responded to a crowd-funding campaign.”

I consider my answer as I gently wipe his tears.

“You’re quite right. People might laugh at us. They will very likely judge us for being brown, Muslim and female. And for not having done much.”

“Then why do you want to go?”

“Because I like meeting people with similar interests. With similar passions. It’s been a long while since I’ve been around people like that.”

All of the fire goes out of him.

“But it might kill us.”

“It won’t kill us.”

“It might hurt us.”

“Yes. It might hurt. But we won’t die.”

He slumps down into his favorite chintz armchair. It barely fits him but he loves it.

“Have a cup of tea with me?”

“You don’t drink tea anymore.”

“No, I don’t. You drink tea. We’ll watch The Good Place.”

“Deal.”

“Will you come with me to the thing?”

“Yes. Definitely. Always by your side. Like your personal bodyguard.”

In a way being an introvert is a blessing. Adulthood often feels like high school. We are all so desperate to belong somewhere. But I know now all too well what the cost of sacrificing my integrity will do to me. So I’d rather be alone. And thankfully, I’m okay with being alone. Most of the time.

Anyways, I’m never really alone. God. Balrog. And me. Chillin’ like villains.

I don’t always recognize Balrog when he shows up. But when I do, I’m happy to see him.

2017 = the year of leaping into faith

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So it’s been a long while since I updated this blog. I could say that I’ve been crazy busy and it would be true.
But I have also been grappling with massive internal growth. No, I’m not pregnant. But I have embraced my identity as filmmaker, which has caused me to face some pretty deep-seated fears.
The year started out pretty standard. I submitted a draft to the Nicholls and did not get in. Surprise, surprise!
But I also wrote the crap out of a short script, ostensibly because I said I’d let a producer look at it. That producer passed and since it’s a topic close to my heart – breastfeeding failure – I decided I’d make it myself. With an all-female crew a la Zoe Lister Jones. 
So far, no bites from producers. But I’m still young.
I also basically tore out my heart and put it on  the page – I’m writing a feature about birth trauma.
I pitched the feature to my ladies, the Broads. Got mixed feedback, especially about how funny or not the concept was. Well, no one ever said childbirth was a particularly comedic premise. However,
In addition to that, I found myself for the first time in my life craving like-minded company. Not just because it’s rather hard to make a movie alone. But because I still can’t quite shake the feeling that I’m crazy to think I can.
I found it oddly enough on Facebook. In numerous groups set up precisely for this purpose – assuring each other that we aren’t crazy. Groups like Moms in Film and Binders full of POC Screenwriters. Hopefully some of these will transfer into real life friendships.
Craving is actually too strong a word. I start to feel bone-chillingly lonely and so I think I should have some friends. Some people on the same riotous who-the-hell-do-I-think-I-am path as me. I put some feelers out to people. Which results in immediate nausea and regret.
But more often than not, after meeting and chatting with said people, the nausea dissipates and I’m rather glad.
It’s the ‘rather glad’ feeling I’m focusing on.
In general I submitted more. Much more. And got rejected much more. I won about 5 rejections, not counting the pitches that didn’t go so well. And one non-starter of a project.
The rejections burned for sure – and yes, I do mean vomit. But the warm feedback when it did arrive put some salve on those burns (no, nobody puts salve on vomit).
There is an audience for my work. I feel like I simply need to build a better mousetrap.
Besides if this guy has the audacity to make a movie about two people with anal fetishes falling in love, well, a chaste movie about childbirth shouldn’t be too hard a sell.
Mostly the most precious thing I gained this year was self-belief. Certainty that I could ask the right questions and get the answers that work for me. That I would figure out when to hold them and when to fold them. That God will be there to catch me.
It’s a humbling feeling. I’m terrified, but learning. From books:
….video courses….
One step at a time. I’ll figure it out insha Allah.
Because frankly I want to make things. I don’t want to simply be rejected at higher and higher levels, which is essentially what screen-writing is. Nothing wrong with that, especially if you’re getting paid.
So this year, God willing, will be the year of making things. What are you guys up to this year?

 

Update:

I feel the need to pat myself on the back for the God-given awesomeness that has happened in my personal life.

I moved to Australia.

I haven’t had a panic attack in months.

Depression is much reduced though it’s proving to be more of a barnacle than the drama queen that was anxiety.

And I’ve weaned my now almost 3-year-old son off screens – only on the weekends and that too for a couple of hours only on one day. It frankly wasn’t distracting him as well as I would have hoped anyway, in addition to making him downright irritable. His toys are much more his shiznit.

4 Things I Hate About Romantic Comedies

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Yes, that was deliberate.

And there are likely more than 4 things but we’re going to start there.

So I took this Buzzfeed quiz on the top 100 rom-coms of the 21st century. And I am sorry to say I pitifully failed.

I got 27 out of 100. My mother will be turning in her grave.

So it occurred to me that if I call myself a romantic comedy writer, I should up that number considerably.

So I started to watch as many of the rom-coms on this list that I could.

And all I can say is – Gag. Puke. Vomit.

But why?

I love love LOVE romance. I love comedy. But pretty often these films are neither romantic nor funny.

Which follows then that I need to unpack what romantic and funny mean to me.

And funny to me is a mean little ascerbic cow.

And romance is weird, smelly and up to its ears in dirty laundry but still smiling from ear to ear. Because we have a feeling. Do you know what I mean?

But more on that in another post.

So I’ve isolated a few things I just hate HATE HATE about traditional no-deviations-from-tired-tropes, why-the-hell-am-I-watching-this romantic comedy.

  1. Color monotony.

I’m guessing if you’ve been around my blog long enough, you can see this one coming a mile away.

It would seem that only white people fall in desperate love, usually with other white people.

Right. That’s why India and China are the most populous countries in the world. Sure, that may not be due to love but I’m going to say at least some of it is.

2. Sun-kissed beautiful people

Not only are there only white people in romantic comedies, 99% of the time, they are unlike any other white people I’ve ever seen. They roll out of bed, looking like movie stars (which most of them are).

There isn’t a single pimple. No boogers. No overactive bladders in the winter. They aren’t ALIVE. They are simply characters.

Which brings me to my next point.

3. There is no darkness anywhere.

Now I’m not saying we should be documenting their pee and poo trips. Only things that move the plot forward, right? However the plot often does not deal with the real meat-and-bones of romances. The fact that the lady is a hooker isn’t really what’s at stake here. It’s conservative values. Can, will and should someone give up a lucrative profession to spend the rest of their life paying off their mortgage and raise their 2.4 children?

The question that the meet-cute raises is often not really explored by the rest of the movie. Which makes it quite unsatisfying.

4. The lovable beautiful klutz trend.

Can we stop with that please?

She doesn’t have any real baggage – no PTSD from an abusive relationship or – heaven forbid! – refugee status, no depression, no anxiety, no psychosis, no anorexia, no bullimia, no complexes or mental health issues of any kind.

But physically she isn’t perfect right? Freckles? Only exactly the right amount to be aesthetically appealing. Pimples?  Slightly more than 2% body fat? A huge unsightly birthmark on her bottom? Nope. Nope.  And nope.

But her life? Her life has got to suck? Not really. At most, she has surface issues that most of us deal with on the daily, in addition to the numerous complexes visited on us by our minds, bodies, genetics, families, environments, privilege or lack thereof, etc.

Except for one thing. She’s really clumsy. It’s like she’s a grown-up toddler.

Hmmm. Now which man would like to date a grown-up toddler?

Men (it’s almost always men) who would like to be adored. Men who want to set their partner’s moral compass, to be the originator of every thought in their head, conscious or not. Men who are insecure enough in their personhood that they can’t stand to relate to an adult.

Did someone say that romantic comedies are WOMEN’S films?

That’s the end of this list for now. And I have a feeling there’s more.

Demon hunting while fasting

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We’re all trying to wrestle our demons in our creative work, aren’t we?

I highly recommend fasting if you are in fact staring into the face of the Devil.

There’s something about hunger and exhaustion that brings one face to face with one’s best and worst selves.

I learned a lot about myself this Ramadan. Not least because I wanted to concentrate less on the ‘acts’ of worship and more on being a worshiper, a slave of Allah. And that means paying attention to the beliefs that stop me from worshiping Him as he deserves.

They are many and varied and more than a little colorful, so I won’t go into details to protect myself from the innocent and guilty.

In addition to the Noble Qur’an, I also partook yet again of Brene Brown’s Gifts of Imperfection. I’ve read it before but I felt like I was reading it for the first time. So many of the guideposts seem to be speaking just to me.

My final analysis? My life has been tyrannically ruled by shame. There isn’t an aspect of my life that shame hasn’t poked its slimy fingers into.

I’m ashamed that I wasn’t able to hold down a job. I am made doubly ashamed by the fact that I was an honors student in high school and did pretty darn well in college. Still no Bugattis and babes for me.

I’m ashamed that I’m a filmmaker. No, really. I’ve claimed it. But I still can’t look people in the eye when I say it.

There are many other things that I am ashamed of, but not everyone deserves to hear my shame story. You, dear owner of eyeballs, may well be deserving, but this is still a public forum.

Oh and addiction! Brene Brown waxes eloquent on the subject of addiction and dude…have I got some real doozies!

The ones I’ve identified so far are: Anger. Sugar. Overworking.

Now if I find myself reaching for chocolate, having a mile-long to-do list, ruminating on past slights by a few chosen people (I know who my favorites are. I keep coming back to them), I find myself wondering what vulnerability am I trying to escape.

Being human is hard. Covering up our wounds, pretending we’re okay, makes it unbearable. Fasting helped me figure who my true Friend is and who my real enemy is. Fasting helped me deal with me as I am, not as I wish I was. Because as it turns out, I can never be perfect. Who woulda thunk it?

May Allah Subhana wa Taala accept all our acts of worship and bless us with another Ramadan Ameen! I miss you, Ramadan. Come back soon.

 

 

4 qualities of my favorite romantic comedies

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10 Great Qualities of Film Part 1

10 Great Qualities of Film Part 2

10 Great Qualities of Film Part 3

Two years since I wrote Part 1 and I still agree with these thoughts. I’ll be darned.

It’ll be useful when I enter the mire of indie film-making and need a compass to get my bearings.

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So in keeping with my promise to myself in that last blog post, I have been devouring rom-coms as quickly as I can. Which means a few a month (I have a toddler).

I’ve nailed down what I love about the ones I love. Looking at them now, they look like the tools from my emotional toolbox. Here goes:

1. ROLE PLAYING TO SURVIVE

In My Girl Friday, the role Hildy thinks she has to play is the one of the wife, away from journalism. But journalism, and her ex-husband, keeps sucking Hildy back in.

In Tootsie, he is encased in it i.e. starring as a woman in a soap opera. The first professional success he’s had in years. He falls in love with his co-star while knowing that escaping this role is practically impossible.

2. CHAOS

To me, this feels true to my life. It’s chaotic and love happens when I’m not paying attention.

The professor in Bringing Up Baby chases a bone and a leopard across three states and ends up falling in love while doing it.

The professor in Monkey Business is trying to nail down the formula for his anti-aging serum but instead realizes he loves his wife and couldn’t care less about aging with her.

Both professors are played by Cary Grant. When it comes to rom-coms, he’s just toppers (props if you know which rom-com that’s from. Hint: It’s also a period piece.)

In most of these madcap movies, it turns out the thing they were chasing wasn’t that important after all. As usually is the case with things we chase.

But my favorite and obviously the most contemporary one of this batch is Bridesmaids:

Annie is trying desperately to cover over her insecurities. But the more she tries, the more they burst to the surface, causing an ever-quickening tornado of chaos. Of course, climaxing with her punching a cookie. But finally she realizes that yep, she is at rock bottom but she’s going to be fine. Because all good rom-coms, whatever their engine of comedy or romance, are about – wait for it – loving and knowing yourself.

3. IRREVERENT MELANCHOLY

 

I’ve been around a lot of grief lately. I wish people handled it in as entertaining a manner as this. Or handled it at all, instead of bottling it up, though that’s another post entirely.

This is where I think my love of the perverse and sci-fi could really come out to play.

My favorites:

Eternal Sunshine may well be my favorite movie of all time. Largely because it devolves into….

4. MELANCHOLIC CHAOS

A lot of the time lately, grief blindsides me while we’re rushing around trying to hold it together. Grief is followed by chaos, or vice versa. And because we lean on people when we grieve, love often follows too.

Death at a Funeral is one of my favorite examples of this. Precisely because it follows that exact pattern.

In Bruges is about guilt followed by chaos and a good amount of violence, punctured with love between these two wonderfully charming Irish hitmen.

And Four Lions. Disenfranchisement. Chaos. A good amount of violence. Punctured with love.

Now I know, these aren’t traditional rom-coms. I’ve expanded the ‘rom’ to include all kinds of love. Because if we’re not writing about love, what are we writing about?

 

 

Crazy 8

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You know anxiety. It feels weird to say it but you think you have a handle on it.

The constricted chest? Inhale while counting to four. Exhale while counting to four.

The racing thoughts? Still your body. Watch your thoughts till they slow down.

The diarrhea? Well, you’re just going to have to stay close to indoor plumbing.

You know how to honor your anxiety. “I’m feeling a bit anxious. That’s because this is important to me.”

But if you get ‘this’ wrong, will you die? No.

It’s worthy of prior preparation. But not of panic so painful it stops you in your tracks.

So ‘it’ shows up and you ride it out. And lo and behold! You didn’t die. You mastered a demon.

But what about its twin?

Now this sucker hits you out of nowhere.

Suddenly concrete blocks are chained to your feet. And to your heart. The color is sucked out of the world. You drown under a blanket of such heavy purposelessness that there really is no point in getting out of bed.

But, of course, the world forces you to surface. You eat. You shower. You grin. But that icy pool of nothing exists just outside that activity.

You might try television. Food. Arguing with a loved one. Anything to feel alive again. But you just can’t seem to take a breath.

Let’s try this again. It worked last time.

“What am I feeling?”

“Sad. Hopeless.”
“Why?”

The water begins to swirl.

“Why?”

It has you in its cold grip.

“WHY?”

Water flows into your throat. No air left.

But out of nowhere, a tiny voice answers.

“I’m afraid.”

You surface. You sputter.

“Of what?”

“I’m afraid of being alone. Of not being loved.”

Who does the voice belong to? A little kid at a party, overwhelmed by noise and people. The class clown, joking away her loneliness. A young woman bullied at work.

And what do you tell this small voice?

There is nothing that sounds right. That sounds honest.

But you’re here now. Not drowning. Just here. Contemplating that icy pool. And maybe that’s all you need.