Bismillah ir Rahman ir Raheem
I recently saw the movie Arrival.
It might have been the toddler-free experience. In fact, the everyone-free experience. (I was alone. And. It. Was. WONDERFUL.) It might have been the rave reviews everyone gave it.
But really, I think it was just a flipping wonderful movie.
That is also about grief.
Would I choose to do it all again?
I’ve been thinking about that a lot. If I knew what was going to happen, would I have married? Would I have had a child?
Now that I think of it, my anxiety disorder is essentially the terror of not knowing. Of being caught off-guard by humiliation, hunger, any number of negative emotions I wasn’t quite expecting at that moment.
So perhaps knowing would help me savor the good times and brace for the bad.
Maybe we can all do that anyway. Except we savor the good times that help us brace for the bad.
Maybe the bad times aren’t as bad as we think they are. Because they are simply the ebb and flow of life. And the good times are just wonderful. Because why shouldn’t they be?
I’m trying to disconnect from the stories I tell myself. Which all end in me going crazy. No, seriously. Not even kidding. I’m done with the anger and the frustration.
I’m going to let the emotions pass because I know they are going to be replaced by another. And I’m just going to be.
That’s how I want to deal with grief. With so much emotional baggage. And with joy too. Unexpected. Lurking in every corner.
Bismillah ir Rahman ir Raheem.
I have a feeling this is going to be a long one. Because it’s about my mom. Buckle in, my friends.
And I’m going to be saying ‘pleasure’ a lot. Try to keep your mind out of the gutter, Internet.
I can’t remember the last time I saw my mother enjoying something. I once saw her pop a pickle in to her mouth and she looked ecstatic.
But no, nothing after that. We spent her birthday in hospital in Vellore, Chennai. I tracked down a bakery and found her some awesome chocolate cake. She scolded me for it. And I can’t remember her eating even a little bit.
My mother felt the need to earn pleasure. To reward herself for hard work. For reaching a goal-post.
That’s all good. But the trouble is, those goal-posts are slippery. Like a just-lotioned toddler with no clothes on.
My mother never earned the right to pleasure, though she did a lot with her life.
Oh, but what is pleasure really, if you think about it? Life’s basic necessities with a little extra oomph. Tea and cakes instead of bread and water. A silky pajama with lace trimmings instead of trusty old cotton.
It’s, of course, a matter of taste what is pleasing. But what I’m getting at here is, it’s just a little prettier than what we would normally have.
There were times when my mother would deny herself basic necessities too.
I remember shopping for my impossible-to-please husband with my mom.
Some backstory: Sri Lankan Muslims have this beautiful custom of exchanging gifts when a couple gets married. There’s a couple of baskets of stuff for the bride/groom – usually clothes, toiletries, costume jewelry, the stuff you might give your spouse on an anniversary. And lots of baskets of fruit, chocolate, all kinds of food, for the bride/groom’s family. A flipping humongous cake is also customary.
After the wedding, the food baskets get divided among all the relatives present. It’s finger-licking good.
On this particular occasion, we were shopping for my husband’s baskets. I was sending him picture after picture, trudging into one designer outlet after another, and the dude just wasn’t satisfied.
I remember being pretty pissed at my husband. And my mother was frothing herself up into a panic. I can just imagine the thoughts swirling around in her head. “Oh my God, what are we going to do, child, he doesn’t like anything we choose, what will people think?”
But it was lunch-time and damn it, I wanted to eat. She wanted to keep looking.
Freaking heck, Indiana Jones couldn’t find what this guy wanted. But my poor dear mother wanted to skip a meal to keep trying.
Pleasure? She hadn’t pleased her overlords, so she did not even deserve food. I forced her to sit down and eat. This makes me a spoiled brat. A food-court Chinese meal.
Tell me this isn’t about colonialism. That this isn’t about misogyny.
Now I’ve followed my mother’s example faithfully.I used to regularly work myself into a nervous breakdown.
BUT. After years of depression, anxiety and, God help me, a little guy who might follow in my footsteps, I want to change all that. I want to experience the delicious things of life.
And I don’t wait till I hit a goal either. That particular habit, I haven’t shaken yet. My goals aren’t as SMART as I’d like. I’m working on it.
But – yes, another but – I’ve found that cake is nice and all, but it’s even better with company.
Which leads to me to this other concept. JOY.
What is joy to me?
Joy is sacred. Pleasure is the doorway to the sacred.
You can share pleasure with just about anybody. But joy has to be earned.
Joy is the difference between love and lust. Between hunger and satisfaction.
After overdoing pleasure, I’m now looking for joy. In every part of my life.
I’ve recently taken up yoga with this awesome woman’s videos.
I love that yoga practitioners tend to be radically calm. They don’t pour their bodies into punishing sports clothes and then yell and push till we all faint. I’d like to leave a session of exercise marveling at my body, not hating it.
Aerobics has always made me hate my body. Even if and when they speak of ‘modifications’, the underlying idea is that those are for the weak among us.
Adriene tells us to ‘find what feels good.’ My knee-jerk response to that was, ‘What right have I to feel good?’
The thought felt Like an electric shock, like a whip to my back.
‘Let me punish myself before someone else punishes me. Because I deserve it.’
And joy? Joy was an insult to God. I need to always be humble and humility excludes joy.
I don’t know who taught me all of these lies about worship and God.
Which leads me to storytelling. My stories might be pleasurable, but are they joyous? This is where it might help to let go of structure and just tell a good story. To really dig deep into what makes you unbearable and establish a connection with the audience.
Ultimately the movies we remember didn’t just bring us pleasure, but also joy.
Oh but it’s more than that.
Because as we all know, Death is coming for all for us – and not the adorable Discworld kind either. Most of us have no idea when it’s going to strike. We should find that joy before it’s too late. And walk through as many pleasure doorways as our senses and values and resources will allow.
See. Told you it would be too long and about my mom.
What’s the one take-away?
What is time risk?
What kind of time-risks do other players have, compared to screenwriters?
- Time risk at the beginning is enormous: auditions, preparation, classes, etc. But the payoff, as described above is EPIC.
- Age (mostly for women – it’s a fact, don’t shoot me).
- Their work usually starts when the camera is rolling i.e. onmaking films.
- Their time commitment to a project might be measured in months, not years. I’ve spent four years on Whose Wife alone. Gah.
- They can do multiple projects in a year due to this relatively lower time commitment.
- Much like directors, they might not always do work they like. But if they get really big, they get to choose.
- They might even charge a reading fee (just to read but not commit to the script). This further mitigates time risk.
- We commit to one, maximum two projects per year. They commit to numbers in the double digits. Hedging their bets.
- Most of their work happens after the deal goes through. And they are paid for it. Ours – well, anyone who’s written a spec will know what a beast it is. And we’re only paid after the script is sold or optioned. And sometimes…not even then (wait till you see what I have in store for you.)
- They sometimes don’t even read the screenplay. They might have only read coverage.
- The writer faces that blank page with an idea and faith in that idea alone. We’re betting on our good judgment. The producer would likely only read the script after it was recommended by a trusted source. Raising the writer above the competition. He likely has more knowledge whether the finished project will work or not in the marketplace. Again elevating the writer. Then and only then does his/her work begin.
Screenwriters cop the most time-risk. Why?
Things we do to ourselves.
There’s an old saying in Hollywood: “Get them into your film before they get you into theirs.”
Things other people do to us.
“Sell the screenplay, transfer the copyright, the day cameras roll, not before.” – Ram Bergman, producer (Looper, Brick, Don Jon)
In Hollywood, it’s well-accepted that projects in production take priority, then films in pre-production, then films in post, and after that, new projects.
What can screenwriters do about time-risk?
Answer: spend time making movies, not trying to get films made.
If you have a career:
If you don’t have a career yet:
General good sense:
“Either become a director, or form a team with a director. But better to become a director. And not a writer who directs, but a director who happens to write.”
Be the Cohen brothers. Learn to direct as well as write. Concentrate on learning both crafts.
Bismillah ir Rahman ir Raheem
So both of those opportunities I submitted to a couple of weeks ago? They both rejected me.
Not the first time anyone has rejected me, of course. And if I stay in the game, it definitely won’t be my last.
But these submissions were different.
I’ve never felt as good about any of my work as I did about these. I felt they really represented my voice and my abilities. For one of these opportunities, I thought I was a shoo-in. For the other, I was less confident but I was sure that my submission was very strong.
It really does a number on your self-esteem when you feel good about something for the first time and it still tanks.
For a while, I drowned myself in Prince William’s wedding cake, namely chocolate biscuit cake. Because you know, chocolate. And biscuit (cookies to you Yankees). And cake.
But you know you’re a writer when the rejections are just fuel to the fire. They made me angry. They made me sad. They made me contemplative. They lit a fire in my belly. Ultimately, they made me recommit to my purpose – to be a writer, regardless of who is confronted by my story.
But that doesn’t mean I don’t have to lick my wounds a little bit. Here’s a really great process I want to record for posterity. Who is currently wriggling on my lap, paying not as much attention as I’d like to his alphabet video.
Like I said, chocolate. Or any comfort of your choice. Though overindulgence is perhaps inadvisable. We’re trying to rebuild here, not bog down.
2. Recovery for the writing spirit
I was feeling pretty battered. I didn’t have faith in writing anymore. Or my ability to tell a good idea from a bad one.
My chest felt full, if you know what I mean. So many eddying thoughts. It made sense to provide an outlet for them. So I returned to morning pages.
I confess I did these religiously for months many years ago. I thought they were a chore.
But at this particular time for a few days, they were heavenly.
I gave myself permission to moan and groan and regroup and reflect. And say anything I wanted to say without actually saying it loud and letting that morose energy affect my environment or relationships.
It was wonderfully freeing. I don’t do them everyday anymore. But whenever I feel that anxiety again, I whip out a pen and my notebook and just it let it all go.
I’m much older than I was before. It’s taken a lot of time, patience and a commitment to self-care to build that compassionate space for all of my ugliness. I didn’t always have the courage to look at my pain that closely.
What I’m trying to say is – morning pages sound easy. But they aren’t. So don’t worry if this isn’t wonderful first time around.
I hope the next one works for you. Because it still doesn’t for me.
Artist dates are all about getting comfortable with mischief, with messing around rather than mastering a skill. They’re about simply letting go and having fun, rather than doggedly focusing on the anxiety-inducing result.
I’m pretty terrible at having fun.
I did go looking for inspiration and I did find it. In The Invitation, a movie by a woman of color who just came out of Hollywood jail.
And Stranger Things.
Horror. Sci-fi. Other dimensions. The 80’s. Geeky little boys. Bad-ass girls. Everything I love in one TV show. Sigh.
I also paid more attention to my time with my son. I let him be my teacher. There’s something to be said for letting toddlers lead the way. All he does all day is play and explore. He didn’t ‘learn’ to walk or to talk. He just got there eventually through discovery.
3. Recommitting to my vision as a storyteller
I went all the way back to the beginning. Why did I start writing in the first place?
At first – I mean, REALLY way back, when I was 6 – it was because it was fun. Was it still fun? Yeah, it is.
Then it was because stories inspired me. Stories like 12 Monkeys (which I saw way too young) and Edward Scissorhands. I fell in love with the underdog. I still am in love with them/us.
And then I realized I was the underdog (around 14). But nowhere was I represented, as either hero or villain.
So I set out to change that.
I dabbled with poetry (I was a teenager. They were mostly tear-filled missives to Nick Carter of the Backstreet Boys. Judge if you want. I sometimes do.)
I dabbled with short stories. I had more fun with these.
But ultimately my heart really sang when I watched movies. There’s a reason why they called them moving pictures.
Do I think there’s a possibility that I may never see myself and people like me represented onscreen? Oh yes. Given that black and LGBT people are only now getting the representation they deserve, that too mostly in the indie space, Muslims? I dunno, dude. Many people have told me just how conservative politically Hollywood is. ‘The greatest lie the devil ever told is that Hollywood is liberal’, a dear friend and actress told me. Will Muslims and their stories ever be welcome there truly? Only time will tell.
4. List my resources.
Okay, so I’ve established that I want to make a movie.
What resources do I have to do so?
- A little money.
- A little knowledge.
- My own family home here in Colombo.
- My husband’s family home is available to a lesser degree.
- To an even lesser degree and subject to many time and ethical constraints, I may have access to the homes of four or five relatives around Colombo.
- And them too to a degree, I suppose.
- Friends with money
- Friends with expertise.
The further away from me the resource gets, the less access I have to it.
But that’s not all the resources I have. I also have:
The biggest resource I have is probably the story. But what story can I write with the resources I have? What story will really get me going?
This leads me to the last and most enjoyable step.
5. Combine and combust my resources till my passion is reignited.
Working with what I have, I’ve come up with a bunch of one-location feature ideas. I haven’t decided on which one to work on yet. But I know why I want to work on it.
The why is this woman right here.
I want to speak to my mother again. I want to relive the last days I had with her. Maybe be kinder, more honest, maybe say the things I wish I had said.
I want to see my mother again. As she was. As she could have been. As she is in my eyes. I want to ask her about being a mom. I want to ask her how to she dealt with it. I want to hear her staccato syntax construction again, part Sri Lankan, part ludicrously well-read classical and non-fiction literature fanatic. I want to hear her struggle to access the experience she knows she has. I want to help her find the words to articulate her experience.
I want to laugh when we fail. I want to laugh when we succeed. I want to cry when we disagree. To laugh when we disagree. I want to talk circles around her with my college brat arrogance.
I want to be with my mother again.
Maybe this story is my greatest resource. The outcome is the furthest thing from my mind. Within the story, I can move outside of space and time and be with my dearest friend again.
Do I need anymore encouragement? Not really. Do I need anyone to give me permission to write this story? Nope. No. Never.
Am I excited to write this story? Yes. Always. It would seem that everything I’ve written has been for my mother.
I can’t see beyond that. To optioning and pre-production and blah blah blah. And I don’t want to. I just want to be with my mother for a while.
That’s enough juice for me.
Would love to hear what story you have burning inside you. Figuratively, of course. As I said before – build up, don’t tear down.
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.