My brother said I wasn’t pretty OR 6 reasons why I write

Pretty girlBismillah ir Rahman ir Raheem

Assalam alaikum wr wb, dudes and dudettes (I remember having a particularly vicious argument with my brother years ago about whether a slang word such as ‘dude’ could even have a feminine form. As you will see, my brother and I have had many vicious arguments over the years.)

Alhamdulillah. Praise be to God. I am about waist deep in a second draft of my feature film.

Alhamdulillah the second draft has been SO much more fun than the first.

With the first draft, I wept everyday as I put my characters in the most painful situations I could think of. I was moody, irritable and depressed, a feeling compounded possibly by having just moved to Sri Lanka and just gotten married.

And not getting much sleep due to the mosquitoes.

And having to become accustomed to unfamiliar-tasting foods.

And unfamiliar sights, sounds and languages.

But that’s a story for a different time.

Every day, I waded into a deep river of painful memories. It’s a wonder how potent memories can be. Whenever I remember the first time I saw my husband, I get the same butterflies in my stomach I got then. My cheeks still flush and I feel unmoored, but in a good way.

Bad memories show up in my body too, just as potently.

Without giving away too much…my screenplay is a tale of lost identity and gained family. I’m aiming for funny, shocking, odd and hopefully very alive, the kind of movie I’ve always wanted to see, and the kind of movie I hope women everywhere will resonate with.

Because frankly all I want to do is to give every woman in the world a big hug. Brothers in humanity, you too have my utmost respect and compassion.  Since I don’t have big enough arms, I am settling for giving you a piece of art instead.

As rewarding as writing this piece has been, it’s also been quite draining and especially at the beginning when those pages were blank, utterly terrifying.

Scott from Go Into The Story asked a great question a while. At the time, still reeling from the agony of my first draft, I had no real answer. As the story begins to gather more form in the second draft, I feel an answer taking shape.

To quote my friend Sarah – as always, bear with me.

I write because:

1. Story telling is a part of human DNA.

As long as I can remember, my family has delighted in stories, whether they were soap operas, police procedurals, sitcoms or movies. As long as I can remember, my family has loved a good laugh. At their own expense or at the expense of others.

The best stories were the ones my parents told. Like memory, the telling of the story transported them back and they relived everything and re-felt everything. It was a powerful thing to witness. Plus, my parents are blasted entertaining storytellers. Drama and interesting characters seemed like quotidian elements in the Sri Lanka of their memory

2. I often feel lonely.

I grew up the youngest by many years. By the time I was old enough to have a mature conversation, my brothers had already left for university. I spent most of my teen years feeling like an only child.

The movies made me feel less lonely.  They were populated by characters playing out their lives of which I was either a nasty voyeur or silent but essential part. I prefer silent but essential part.

3. Movies gave me reassurance.

Movies often reinforced to me that I was worthy of love, regardless of whether my hands were scissors or if I was a head-scarf-wearing Turkish girl abandoned in the back of a Nazi taxi-driver’s cab.

Movies told me if I put my mind to it, I could accomplish anything. Sure, the characters on screen didn’t look like me. But they seemed like me. And that was enough.

That brings me quite nicely to my next point.

4. My brother said that I wasn’t pretty.

I was about 9.

I can’t remember what we were arguing about. I think that there was no one on screen that looked like me.  Even then I could see the danger of only seeing faces devoid of color on screen. It can distort your view of your human privilege.

I think I said something like, “Why can’t someone like me be on screen?”

And my brother said quite readily, “Because you’re not pretty.”

That stung more than a little. It still does. You know. Memory.

But I am amazed to tell you that I also remember something else – I knew that he was lying. I knew that I was drop-dead gorgeous and hecka fascinating.

So was he.

Pretty much everyone I’d ever met up until that point, male or female, old or young, dark-skinned or light, I had liked.  Everyone I’d met, I wanted to play with.

It was only much later that I was conditioned to hate myself.

And that’s when I realize someone like me needs to be on TV. Someone like me needs to show up on the silver screen. God knows how many 9-year-old girls hear, “You’re not pretty,” and believe it. Not cool.

I realize now why I’m always angry, why I’m always fighting some grave injustice and why my characters are always fighting something. It’s my brother’s fault! I knew it!

5. Writing allows me to look at things that are too painful with a little distance.

Writing helps me put myself in the shoes of someone else and forgive them. It lets me dive into a memory by giving my emotions to someone else and thus not hurting myself too deeply. It’s a good way of putting away my ego and allowing someone else, namely my characters, to figure things out. More often than not, they are a whole lot smarter than me.

6. Writing lets me have a happy ending, even if life was not that kind.

Movies tell me that it’s all going to be okay in the end. The movies that I like anyway. That everything will eventually make sense in the end. That there’s an internal logic to this mad world and I can’t possibly see it because I’m in it.

How about you? Why do you write?

I realize now that this is also a post about why I love movies.

Much love and beauty to you, my beautiful readers.

Wassalam and Fee Amanillah,

The Happy (and beautiful) Muslimah (Mashallah!)

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11 thoughts on “My brother said I wasn’t pretty OR 6 reasons why I write

  1. I wrote for similar reasons, except in place of #4 I would put rebellion against all the years considering myself / being considered “stupid”. But funnily enough, I think the very same reasons account for why I’ve more or less stopped writing now as well. I needed to stop just as much as I needed to start: it has brought relief.

      1. Hmm, not sure what I was saying there. Must have been one of those days. Anyway, I think we can intellectualise things too much; in truth, I basically stopped writing because I realised I wasn’t very good 🙂 Alhamdulilah: it has opened other doors.

  2. How did you realize that you weren’t good? I’m sorry if I’m pressing a pain point. I stopped writing my novel for similar reasons…because I figured I had a greater aptitude for screenwriting.

      1. Mashallah, it’s admirable that you’re so sanguine about it. Not many people can give up a quest/project/part of their identity (depending on how much effort they’d put into it) that easily. Perhaps you can write an blog post about that. LOL.

  3. Ha ha, I think I’ve almost written a book’s worth about all that already… folio.me.uk/category/writing/

    Can’t honestly claim to have been sanguine at first. You’ll see how far I’ve come in a couple of months — from grudging mutterings about my misadventures in publishing in February through to a kind of happy acceptance of letting go over the past few weeks.

    Alhamdulilah, right now I’m quite content, and strangely relieved. Being famous in today’s hyper-critical world would just be dreadful.

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