Category Archives: Islam

It’s Ramadan.

Bismillah ir Rahman ir Raheem

It’s Ramadan.

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.

Very difficult.

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.

Ramadan Kareem!

 

 

 

 

 

What I said before – all nonsense.

Bismillah ir Rahman ir Raheem

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.

I scrolled down my Netflix queue looking for a face of color.
I found perhaps 12 movies in hundreds.
Weak. But okay. Gotta start somewhere. And checking my privilege is a good way to start.

Fruitvale Station

Cried for a young man about my age, snuffed out before he could prove that he could be a father.

The Butler

My struggle with my father was much the same. Less nation-spanning perhaps. But just as earth-shaking. Still haven’t reached that emotionally satisfying resolution yet, though we are on speaking terms.

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 alcohol.

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.

There’s a discord here that I really can’t shake.
I wonder if movies have ever told my mother’s story. If they will ever tell my story. If I will always be forced to find myself where I’m not, where I might not even be welcome.
Will my son face that discord too? Will he be in the world, but not really acknowledged by it? Will he care all that much? I didn’t have much else to do other than movies, books and TV growing up.
Perhaps this is yet another thing I need to do differently as a parent. Give my son something else to do.
Fact is, the world may or may not change. I can try and try, but it’s not me that holds the keys. This right here is grief.
I tried most of my life to understand my mother, to be friends with my mother, even best friends. But for a number of years, my efforts were decidedly less than futile. Even counter-productive. And by the time those years were over, ALS had taken her voice. And now, it’s taken all of her. And I can try no more. Though still I try. With my forehead on my prayer mat, I scream in my head to see her again. If it works, I’ll let you know.
I can try and try, but really there has never been any guarantee that things will change for the better.
Not for me. Not for my kids. Not for my mother.
This is grief.
Maybe this is why I’ve believed in God from such a young age. Something has to be stable to keep me sane. Something has to make sense. And someone, and yes, I do believe it’s Him (God has no gender really) has to reward the effort, no matter what the outcome. Nobody and nothing else does on the planet.
This is grief.
This is suffering. I know I’m not the only one.
May I be patient with myself. May I know right from wrong, even when no one encourages me to do the right thing. May I reach out to others who are grieving. May I keep hoping and keep trying. May God reward all our efforts, whatever the outcome. Ameen.

Life is too important for fear

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.

Okay.

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.

Screenwriting. Story-writing.

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.

It doesn’t have to be perfect

Bismillah ir Rahman ir Raheem.

So this past weekend, we went to New York City.

I’d been dreaming of visiting NYC since I was very very young. I wanted to make a real weekend of it. Drive in and live at a motel and really get to see everything. On foot, on the subway, in cabs and in the car.

But it wasn’t meant to be. I’ve been unexpectedly ill for a few weeks now. Our New York weekend got downgraded to a New York tour. Which are usually 8 hours plus.

I didn’t feel up to that. No, really. Me. Who could jump up and down for 5 hours straight. Who spent three days on my feet shooting a short film. I didn’t feel up to it.

So instead we visited the Intrepid Air and Space Museum (my husband’s really into planes and war memorabilia). It was really cool.

West Manhattan is kind of gross and smelly and crowded though. And the Trump Place buildings right next to the museum are a real eyesore.

But it was nice too. The pall fell from my eyes a bit, I have to say. But that’s okay. It’s just a city. It’s not Heaven. Maybe I’ll find the life there if I went looking.

Which brings me to me.

I’m a real perfectionist. I don’t even want to attempt something until it’s perfect. To a degree that’s a good thing. But it also leads to feelings of despair, obsession (that’s one of my favorites). Not to mention when I enter the realm of rapidly diminishing returns.

Hard work is good. Perfectionism isn’t.

My latest screenplay seems to have a fairly solid structure. But it lacks flesh. I’m working on the flesh now. It’s new territory for me. I’ve not drawn on my own life. I’m writing different ethnicities, different ages and different genders. And the dysfunction of the family very much depends on the internal dysfunction of the characters. Which is what I’m drilling into right now. It’s a little scary. But kind of exciting.

I’m not going to wait till things are perfect though. I’m going to launch it when it’s ready. And not when I’m ready.

Which brings me to something else. A complete non-sequitur.

I don’t usually talk politics or world affairs on this blog. But this one hits a little too close to home. My home.

Regardless of what the BBS say…Sri Lanka is my home. Regardless of whether I speak the language (I don’t) or look the part (I don’t), Sri Lanka is my home (so kill me).

I can’t explain it. Maybe it’s because almost every member of both sides of my family are still there. Maybe because every family story I’ve ever heard has been set there. Maybe because it just feels like it. And I don’t need to justify myself to anybody.

But apparently now I do.

I want most dearly to make movies in Sri Lanka. I have some radical sci-fi fantasy ideas I’d love to set there. To think that I wouldn’t be welcome, and that I wouldn’t be allowed to explore my own past, cuts a lot deeper than I thought it would.

If I’m not Sri Lankan, what am I? A Muslim woman, I guess.

No! No, I’m not going to let someone take away my identity because they feel like it. Sri Lankan Muslim Woman. Deal with it.

I bet no one has ever dared tell a white man that he isn’t white. Though I guess even white men have been chased from their homes.

Here’s what I think the worst-case scenario will be:

BBS start looting Muslim towns and Muslim properties.

The Muslims who can, scarper overseas.

The others stay and are butchered.

Or convert to survive.

You see, Sri Lankan Muslims, we’re not the fighting kind. People say that when you push us far enough, we’ll push back. But not us. We have nothing to push with. Not a fighting bone in our bodies. We’re all biryani and weddings and businesses. That’s all we are.

Yes, there’s fury. But I don’t think we’d ever harm another human being. We haven’t so far. We have simply run away.

But perhaps I’m wrong. Perhaps we will form our own militia and fight back. Be branded a terrorist group probably. Who’ll support us financially and with training? Our own businessmen? Probably not. We’re making too much money overseas and don’t want to be blacklisted. The Muslim Sri Lankan diaspora? Again, I think they’d largely be too scared. Who then? Boko Haram? ISIS? Al Qaeda? They have no interest in the region.

So what then? Massacre.

Then no more Muslims in Sri Lanka. At least not openly.

You know what people call that usually? Genocide.  Pogroms.

What will people call it now? Absolutely nothing.

No one will come to our aid.

Not the first time I’ve been betrayed. But I really never expected blood.

All I can pray for now is that I still have a home to go. And all of my Muslim brothers and sisters too.

Lots of love and peace,

The Happy Muslimah

Emotions of Screenwriting: Hope and Disappointment

Bismillah ir Rahman ir Raheem.

So much has been happening in my life lately. So many OVERWHELMING changes. I’ve rarely had the time to take stock.

So here I am.

I’ve noticed that life comes and goes in cycles. Good stuff. Bad stuff. Good days. Bad days.

Currently I’ve not had much success in the screenwriting/film-making department.

But I’ve been through long fallow periods before. I have hope.

This is a profound change for me. Choosing hope over despair.

It’s something I learned from Brene Brown. To paraphrase, if you numb pain, you also numb joy and hope. So I’ve decided to let both in and give them dinner and dessert.

So who is hope?

Hope is the good stuff. Makes whites whiter and colors brighter. Hope is a daring emotion. It takes courage to feel hope.

Because we all have that nagging voice in our heads. “Take all this joy down a notch. It’s not meant for you.”

How freaking disrespectful. Of course, it’s meant for me. Why else would I be feeling it?

So I’ve decided that I’m going to try pretty much everything and see what happens. No harm, no foul. And lots of hope. It’s a beautiful emotion and I want more of it. And oddly enough, that’s in my hands.

Who then is disappointment?

But of course, there will be disappointment. That hurts like a dentist’s appointment. Nothing will soften that blow. Except the memory of hope. And God.

Say it with me – nothing.

Put down that bottle. Put down that chocolate cake. No. Get away from that hot guy or girl.

It’s real. It’s here.

But it’ll go away. And then we’ll pick ourselves up and get back to work.

Notice I didn’t use a conditional sentence. I hate scolding. And being scolded. I know you’re a screenwriter. As am I. We hurt very deeply very often but we always get back up in the end. I have no doubt. Thank God!

Life comes and goes. Joy comes and goes. This is one of the great trials of this world. A friend once told that the good thing about bad things are that they end. And the bad thing about good things is that they too end.

Maybe this is why I believe in God. He never really goes away, no matter what I do. He’s always there to talk to.

Here’s another tidbit from the Internet that gives me hope.

Don’t be fooled by life’s outcomes.

Not success. And not failure either.

I’ve spent so long thinking I was a screw-up because goshdarn it, I just happen to be at the wrong place at the wrong time. But none of it was really my fault. Nope. None of it.

Ultimately it’s all dumb luck. I don’t believe in luck. I believe in fate. So it’s all God’s grace.

Maybe one day, He’ll smile on me too. That’ll be a great day.

Till then, I’m going to hope. It doesn’t hurt. It heals.

This has been another joy-coated pain missive from your very own….

Happy (and Hopeful) Muslimah

The Emotions of Screenwriting: Anxiety

Bismillah ir Rahman ir Raheem

Assalam alaikum warahmatullahi wabarakatahu!

I’ve been putting off posting this because this is markedly more vulnerable than I usually am. And then I figured – what the heck?

There are many different kinds of pain in the world, but my particular brand is anxiety.

Anxiety flowers in my chest like a firework, spiking every nerve in my upper body. Anxiety immobilizes my brain and my legs because even the slightest movement, even the slightest thought, will let the predator know I’m here. Anxiety makes me feel like a toothless herbivore in the brush waiting to be hunted. Anxiety builds in the sides of my cheeks – as if screaming would help me. Anxiety cancels out my complexity, the strength that hides underneath my vulnerability.

I used to be crippled by these feelings. Like literally. I would lie under my blanket praying for death from the pain. I would weep incessantly.

But they got better over time.

I’ve gotten clearer-headed. I tried delving into my emotions. That works. After wallowing in them, I’m less frightened of drowning in anxiety. I’m less self-conscious about saying or doing or being stupid while I’m in this state.

Lately I’ve started noticing my triggers. When I say lately, I mean literally yesterday when I read an article on the same.

My triggers are situations in which I have no idea what’s going to happen.

Like job interviews. I can read every website in the universe. But I have no idea who’s on the other side of those doors. I have no idea how anything will turn out.

I can prepare myself for a job interview but really it’s a lot like dating. I go in there and I just talk. There has to be chemistry. And I try to connect and try to understand whether I would fit into this family. And really these people become like family. I have a choice about who I work with. And I should make it a good one. All the prep in the world won’t tell you how to manufacture that chemistry.

And here I am trying so desperately yet again – why is my life marked by desperation? When it’s not that, it’s anger. When it’s not that, it’s despair. Or depression. Or frustration.

And I am trying so desperately now to control. To maximize chances of success. To win. Pushed even to give up who I am. For a trifle. But I can’t do that.

In fact from years with anxiety disorder, I know what panicking does to me.

Anxiety saps energy.

Anxiety makes me forget that God has a plan.

Anxiety makes me avoid situations that’ll help me grow.

Anxiety keeps me small and hunted.

Anxiety is my friend.

It tells me that this situation is new. And exciting. And that I should embrace it for what it is. Just as I should embrace me, with all my weirdness and fragility and strength.

I keep telling myself it’s all going to be fine. And it’s working.

I’m living life on my own terms and it’s fine if this experiment goes belly up. It’s fine if I never achieve anything in a worldly sense. I did what I thought was right in the face of nearly unbearable opposition. I bore it. I’ve borne a lot of things. I’m really strong Alhamdulillah (by God’s grace).

But I am also sensitive. And I will expect strong emotions in my life. And I know I’ll be fine.

I want to go outside and look at that beautiful blue sky again. And those pink trees outside my home. I could really stare at them for days.

Love and peace. Wassalam and Fee Amanillah,

The Happy (and okay) Muslimah

The Emotions of Storytelling Part 4: Alone-ness

Bismillah ir Rahman ir Raheem

Assalam alaikum warahmatullahi wabarakatahu!

I’m deep into a comedy pass for Whose Wife Is It Anyway.

But I keep getting distracted. The past few weeks I’ve been distracted by sudden illness and moving to Rhode Island. (Which is beautiful and awesome and only 3 hours away from New York, which I have always wanted to visit, but that’s a story for another time.)

I wanted to get back into it. To do the best I can with the very limited time that I have.

That means not just locking the door to my home and my workspace, but to my heart too.

Locking the door to my home and my workspace is accomplished easily enough. Literally lock the door and the windows. Hide the TV remote (we didn’t have a TV in our home back in Denver, but we have one in this hotel room) and disconnect the Internet.

Locking the door to my heart? Now that’s a tough one.

I’m going to guess that everybody has different things that get under their skin.

For me, it’s outrage.

Something happens. Somebody is forced to endure a racist or sexist incident or otherwise dehumanized in some way.

This usually makes me upset. Very upset.

And so I’ve sworn off the Internet (to a great degree), especially Facebook and Twitter. Someone else will have to fight a few battles extra – I’m sure there’ll be quite a few voices to take my palce.

Talking to certain people drains me. Some of these people, I can’t avoid. But others I refuse to speak to, until May 5th (Yes, I know the Nicholls and Sundance deadlines are May 1st. I need a few days’ holiday, okay?)

Performing certain household tasks drain me. This is where it helps to be married.

Performing certain other tasks drain me – but really I can’t make my husband take my place at the dentist.

Sure, all of this can get a little lonely. That’s why I open the doors again after six pm and let everyone and everything in.

I usually spend the time before dinner and bed in quiet contemplation more than arguments anyway. Writing is emotionally draining enough as it is!

In any event, I think it’s a good idea for everybody to be okay with being by themselves and alone with their thoughts. It’s been the defining struggle of my adulthood – learning to love and trust myself. That battle, I’m still fighting everyday. But I think, I pray, I hope that I am much further on than I used to be.

I’m focused on finishing this project. It’s going to be done God willing! Done, done, done! I really can’t wait to put it out in to the world and see what happens.

Now before anyone comes charging in to pee on my parade, I am fully aware that it’s not likely to gain much or any success. But I’ve learned SO SO much from writing this movie, it’s a huge success already in my book. Ain’t nobody going to take that away from me Insha Allah. I’m sure the feedback I get will help me figure out what areas need work in my next projects.

My brain has been buzzing with ideas lately – mostly with left-field romantic comedies. I find myself getting distracted from my 1-location screenplay Birthday Cake (haven’t even started writing that one properly) by these ideas.

It’s a little annoying. But I’m going to count that as a blessing. Better too many than no ideas, right?

Anyway, I’ll leave you to it. It’s after 6 pm and I can open my doors again.

Wassalam and Fee Amanillah,

The Happy (to be alone) Muslimah!

 

 

 

 

 

 

7 perks of being an underrepresented writer

Bismillah ir Rahman ir Raheem

Assalam alaikum!

How’s it going, peeps? Let’s see…what happened these past two weeks? I wrote 30 pages on a new draft. I realized that I was writing at break-neck speed, not enjoying myself very much, leave alone entertaining myself and felt like my new outline had only minutely moved my project in the direction it needed to go.

I scrapped those 30 pages and went back to that outline. It was unintelligible (most my outlines are), so I wrote a treatment. I told myself I wouldn’t write a word till I was happy with that treatment. I really really challenged myself. This time, it was much much better.

24 pages in, I think Alhamdulillah (by the grace of God), it’s doing pretty good. Though obviously, the proof of the pudding is in the eating.

By the way – I made butterscotch pudding pie. Just to console myself.

Image

It strikes me that there’s a lot of negativity flying around, especially when it comes to women in film-making. I shudder to think what we would unearth if we put as much energy into finding out about people of color in film-making. But one layer of privilege at a time, I guess.

This film-making business – it’s hard. Living on Earth is hard. It’s not heaven. Nothing’s perfect.

But it’s not hell either.

With hardship comes ease, says the Noble Qur’an. Not ‘after’ as some people sometimes quote that verse as saying. But ‘with’. There’s always something to be grateful for, even in the darkest of times.

Right now, I’m grateful that there are no dishes to wash. Is it just me or do dishes just dirty themselves? Drives me up the wall.

Another trigger for this post was the book David and Goliath by Malcolm Gladwell. In it, Gladwell details any number of ways that being perceived as the underdog is actually strength, not a weakness. We have less pride, so we were willing to use unorthodox means and circumvent the system. We adapt new skills to hide our weaknesses. So many amazing things – you should really read that book.

So here are my brief musings on how being underrepresented might be good for you.

1. You know how to work hard.

You know that nothing comes easy – you were probably fed that maxim with your baby food. You don’t complain – you  just roll up your sleeves and get on with it.

2. You know how to be comfortable in your skin.

You’ve probably had a few years of self-hatred. By now, you’ve probably learned to accept yourself for the work-in-progress that you are. No mean feat, I tell you.

3. You know how to deal with uncertainty healthily.

If you’ve survived this long, you probably have sustainable healthy habits.

4. You have a good BS meter.

Sorry to curse in acronyms, friends. What I mean to say is, when you’re in a room, you probably can tell within an instant if someone jibes with you or not. You’ve learned not to question that gut instinct – it’s usually always right. Even if the person you’re talking to is Mr. Hotsy Totsy Executive Producer and the words that are coming out of their mouth say they can’t wait to get their hands on your project – you know when it’s all an act.

You probably don’t question why. Ain’t nobody got time for that.

5. You probably know how to hustle.

Or how to ask nicely. Or how to sell. Or how to get under someone’s skin.

6. You know to present yourself i.e. how to celebrate rather than hide your difference.

Often, people look at me and think that I don’t speak English, leave alone write screenplays. I know I’m going to have to be the one to approach them – not easy, but hey, you gotta do what you gotta do. I’ve have come to expect a period of surprise. I know they’re going to have to ‘get over it’ before I pitch. And then that pitch had better nail it.

I’ve practiced. You probably have too.

You and I probably both have our ways of dealing with our difference. Me, I bow, I make a joke. That helps people ‘get over it’. I listen. I show compassion. I have open body language.

You probably do ‘you’ – drama, mystery, juggling…it’s all good.

7. This is probably the hardest skill you’ve had to develop. You know how to deal with rejection, harsh criticism or just plain ole jerkery.

Many of us were bullied at school. Many of us come from families or had social circles who either don’t understand or actively discouraged us from pursuing our goals *raises hand*.

It hurts when another human being treats you like you don’t matter. Like you don’t have a right to sit at the table. And people do that in any number of insidious ways.

You’ve probably recognized your default reaction to that first shock of rejection. I’ve seen everything.  Despair, a nervous joke, optimism, acceptance (that person was literally a Zen master).

For me, it’s always been defiance. I remember this one time when I was a kid, we had a day at school where we could wear casual clothes i.e. not our uniforms. For some inexplicable reason, my mother dressed me in my brother’s clothes. I still remember the outfit – a striped yellow button down shirt. And brown pants.

I went to school, all innocent-like, with my pig tails, unaware what was about to befall me. The girls in the class, in their pretty shalwar kameezes, completely shunned me. Loudly complimented each other and turned their backs on me.

I did what even now seems like the most logical thing to do. I looked like a boy, so I went and hung out with the boys.

They were non-plussed. It wasn’t fun. Arguably the worst school day ever.

That was me. I was defiant. I still am.

I’m going to stick it to that reader. And to all those mean people at my workshop who said “You can’t write this!” Says who? Says you? We’ll see about that.

It’s not healthy to be angry, but at least I don’t lie down and take it. It’s a start anyway. Until I can learn to be Zen.

I hope you feel better about being you. I hope we all stay comfortable with who we are. And keep in mind, if you’re not always perfect, you weren’t meant to be. If you’re not there yet, it’s about the journey and not the destination.

And other daft self-help clichés.

I’m rooting for you.

Much love and wassalam.

Sabina.

A screenwriter’s prayer of gratitude

Bismillah ir Rahman ir Raheem

Assalam alaikum wr wb.

Hey, all.

This past Thursday, if you live in America, was Thanksgiving.

Ironically, for some reason, all of the major corporations decided that the next day is Kill Each Other For Stuff Day a.k.a Black Friday.

It’s all a conspiracy, I tell you. ‘They’ don’t want you feeling too grateful, otherwise you might become too happy and healthy and then you won’t buy stuff and the economy as ‘they’ know it – which is the one where ‘their’ fur-lined pockets are stuffed with dubloons – will collapse.

See?

It’s simplistic but I’ve found that the simplest explanations are generally the truth.

Everybody wants to make money.

Anyway, it’s that time of the year where everyone seems to be reflecting. And before I look back on my year and really tear myself a new one, I’d like to spend a little time being grateful.

I know that both Christianity and Islam recommend a regular practice of gratitude. Plus, gratitude has well-documented health benefits. Which I can’t find documentation for at the moment.

I’ve been meaning to make a habit of gratitude. But was too busy being curmudgeonly. Not anymore. That’s my New Year 2014 resolution. No more curmudgeonly. I find when I’m grateful, I’m actually more courageous. I have more energy. I’m more joyful. I notice the beautiful things around and I’m not going searching for that emotional buzz.

So what am I grateful for this year?

Note: I’m going to be saying Alhamdulillah (thank God) in this post. It is a post about gratitude after all.

I’m researching a new story concept. It involves some of my favorite things; women of colour, food, tricksters, the supernatural, transformation/metamorphosis. I’m loving it already. Alhamdulillah!

I just finished a first draft on a bonkers multi-protagonist comedy. I never thought I could make it coherent. But I think it’s not bad. Alhamdulillah!

I’m working on a fourth draft of my second screenplay (yes, that’s three different projects in the works). Because I’m learning so much as I’m writing, it’s taking a while to crack this one. I’m wondering if this iteration of the story will be ‘the one’ (numerous rewrites to work on other elements notwithstanding) It’s exciting. I never know if these projects will work but I’m glad I’m getting used to that queasy jumping-into-the-deep-end feeling. Alhamdulillah!

I am grateful for the Go Into The Story blog, my own screenwriting course, a veritable feast of screenwriting knowledge when I thought I had to scramble for crumbs. Alhamdulillah!

I am grateful for John August, for ScriptCat, for #scriptchat on Twitter, for Jeanne Bowerman, and the hundreds if not thousands of people so generous with their time and information that I might need a few lifetimes just to learn everything I want to learn. Alhamdulilllah!

I’m grateful for the Black Board. A more loving supportive safety net of human souls, I wouldn’t have dared to dream existed. Alhamdulillah!

I’m so grateful for Netflix. God, what did I do without it? God, please bless Netflix and let it always be low-priced and plentiful Ameen!

I’m so very grateful for my husband. Sitting in front of me right this moment watching a weird anime about pirates. Alhamdulillah!

I’m grateful for my relative youth and my relative health. Alhamdulillah!

I’m grateful for the mountains that I have yet to explore Alhamdulillah!

I’m grateful for the mountains I have explored. Man, my thighs hurt, but wow those were great adventures Alhamdulillah. I slid down a snow-covered hill-top! Unintentionally, of course!

I’m grateful to be a desert woman who knows what to do in the snow now. Alhamdulillah.

I’m grateful for courage that I suddenly found when I needed it the most Alhamdulillah.

I’m happy I’ve been able to forgive Alhamdulillah!

Alhamdulillah for rain, snow, hail and everything in between.

Alhamdulillah for networking events and good contacts.

Alhamdulillah for possibility.

Alhamdulillah for a dreadful workshop experience. Yes, thank You God for pain. It taught me where I need to draw the line.

Alhamdulillah also for disappointing projects. It taught me again how to deal with uncertainty and disappointment. And the people that cause them.

Alhamdulillah for family far and wide, blood-related and marriage-related.

Alhamdulillah for Mummy.

Alhamdulillah for Daddy.

Alhamdulillah for my brothers and my nieces and my sister-in-law.

I am mostly very grateful for safety. For food. For simple things. Like a roof over my head. Being safe in my home knowing that no one will hurt  me. I wouldn’t have the courage or the energy or the will to dream if I was struggling to survive, emotionally, physically or financially. I know there are people starving even in this wealthy country and many others around the world.

This is not just Thanksgiving getting to me. I have a feeling that I should put all my blessings to good use before God asks me what I did with them.

Take stock, peeps.

Much love,
Sabina

Representing the under-represented, Part 1: Own who you are.

Bismillah ir Rahman ir Raheem

Assalam alaikum wr wb. Peace and love, dear owner of eyeballs.

How do you feel about your work?

Do you feel a little desperate?

Do you find yourself developing ideas that you think an audience would enjoy, but you don’t?

Are you asking, even pining for help, networking like a crazy person, but not really getting anywhere?

This is the real kicker – do you feel the very essence of your being precludes you from being accepted?

Chances are, you might be a writer. Possibly an underrepresented and desperate writer.

It’s okay to acknowledge that.

I’m the second hijabi (headscarf-wearing) screenwriter I know about. Even in the Muslim city of Dubai, I knew only two hijabi filmmakers.

At least I know that I’m not alone. Though oddly enough, it’s hard for two or more hijabis in a male-dominated industry to stand being in the same room together. But that’s another story.

It’s hard. It’s hard wishing people would see past your unusual appearance/life-style choice/belief system/what have you and give your work a chance.

But I’ve learned the VERY hard way. It’s useless wishing. People have to break down their own barriers. People have to choose to listen to your stories. A great story is a thing of true beauty, but people have to open up their hearts enough to let it in. And that unfortunately is a choice.

That said, there are a few things I’ve discovered I can do so that a)I spare myself needless grief and b) I make progress towards getting the work I am doing to the people that would actually appreciate it.

These are the three main steps I am working on.

  1. Own myself and who I am.
  2. Own a professional attitude.
  3. Build a tribe.

This is going to be a three parter. I’ll talk about each one in more depth.

  1. Own myself and who I am.

People rejecting me is one thing. Me rejecting myself is something else entirely.

I am a storyteller. No two ways about it.

I am also a Muslim. DEFINITELY no two ways about that.

It was hard to accept myself in an unsupportive environment, where you can be one or the other but not both.

I tried very hard.

Moving physically and emotionally/mentally to a new much more supportive environment made all the difference.

A world of difference in fact. My productivity is light-years ahead of what it used to be – I am set to finish four drafts and two screenplays this year!

It’s hard enough shutting down the critical voice in your head. Being around critical people makes it SO much worse. Our creativity can only grow if we minimize and if possible, completely eliminate those people from our lives.

But still the shame persists.

I perform the job of critical mother/father/brother /friend myself.

I keep telling myself “I’m never going to be accepted. I don’t look like these people. I don’t talk like them. I don’t have the same beliefs. Gosh, I don’t drink, I pray five times a day, and I don’t shake hands with gentlemen!  What are they going to think of me?”

Answer? Whatever the heck they please.

I am who I am. I’m not hurting anyone. My faith is my business. I don’t need to sacrifice anyone’s pet hamster on an altar to worship God. So really what’s the problem if I cover my head and pray 5 times a day and bow to instead of shake hands with men? (It’s archaic, but it gets the job done.)

My body. My soul. My business. Their brain. Their mind. Their business.

Problem solved.

Once I get rid of the shame, a number of other glaring habits make themselves apparent.

The ‘victim’ story

People love hearing stories about Muslim people who are suffering because of their Islam.

Wife beatings, honor killings, rapes, suicides, persecution – all of these and more are the stories you’ll find if you look for stories about Muslims.

These stories feed social hysteria about Muslims. Worse still, they make Muslims see themselves as victims, that there is always an enemy, internal or external.

There’s absolutely a place for those stories in the Muslim cultural narrative. I might tell one myself if the mood and the inspiration takes me.

But mostly I want to write stories about hope.

Films for me have always been about possibility, not inevitability.

There’s plenty of conflict in my films. But that conflict doesn’t come from Islam.

I’ve made it my mission to seek out real stories about my community. Stuff that nobody ever hears about. And tell those stories.

Empowering myself

This is the problem with being a screenwriter. I write the movies and then I beg for somebody to read it. And then I beg for somebody to make it.

All of that begging – not a good look.

Ava Duvernay’s recent talk at the Film Independent Forum really inspired me.

Because you see, the people that have the power to make movies may not be interested in Muslim stories. If they are, they might be only be comfortable telling the ‘victim’ story.

And if I hinge my ability to get movies made on making somebody else feel comfortable, I might find myself drifting into dangerous territory as a Muslim story-teller. I might find myself telling those ‘victim’ stories or worse, those ‘abuser’ stories.

Don’t get me wrong, I’m still going to shop my work around. But I won’t cry too hard if nobody wants to bite.

I know that I’m interested in Muslim stories. It stands to reason then that the ball is in my court to get them made.

I don’t know how yet. But one way or another, I’m getting rid of my coat of desperation. I’m now officially on that ‘I’m making movies’ train.

Peace and blessings of God on you, my fellow scribes/filmmakers.