Category Archives: life

3 tools for the socially anxious filmmaker

Bismillah ir Rahman ir Raheem

Have you ever been on a really terrifying roller-coaster? You know the kind that made you really regret letting your husband talk you into this? The kind that has you screaming and praying even before it started?

BUT… when it ended, you were actually sad to get off?

That’s what making my second film was like.

But leading up to it was a fantastic work-out of the ole emotional management system. Particularly of my anxiety disorder.

One never knows what’s going to happen on a film set. That’s why we’re always encouraged to back everything up and have back-ups of your back-ups. So my personal Balrog just luuuurrrvvved that.

Here’s a couple of things that worked for me this time around.

I avoided my tripwires, not my triggers.

My triggers are basically decisions, screens and other people. And I’m a filmmaker!

Can’t avoid those. And don’t want to avoid those.

What I looked for instead were my tripwires. How did I know I needed a break?

Usually if I found myself glued to my screen. Making excuses to not get up and get lunch or get some exercise.

If I found myself snapping at my husband and my son, that was a major trip-wire.

But the biggest one, I think, was starting to lose sleep. I knew I needed a day off when that happened. It was hard but it was necessary.

This process has actually really helped. I know that I can work hard when I need to. And I know that I can stop myself from going overboard.

I also tried to space out my triggers. 

My son’s schedule helped me stay away from screens a lot of the time – one of the many times that #momlife has been a blessing. I would try not to schedule too many meetings or decisions in the same day. No one is dying so usually nothing was that urgent.

And last but definitely not least, I tried to up self-care, not reduce it. (Spoiler alert: I failed) 

I’ll be the first to admit I’m the worst exerciser and still am. My meals got weird very quickly very soon too in the thick of pre-production. I’m talking doughnuts and camomile tea weird. But it didn’t help. So I’m telling you – it’s not going to help. It made me a whiny baby by evening. And I already have one of those.

Hope this helps. There’s more coming, once I wrap my head around life and film and post-production.

Being a filmmaker is a lot like being pregnant.

Take care of yourself, beautiful people.

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Handling vicarious trauma as a mother of color

Bismillah ir Rahman ir Raheem

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.

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

Bismillah ir Rahman ir Raheem

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

Bismillah ir Rahman ir Raheem
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.

Demon hunting while fasting

Bismillah ir Rahman ir Raheem

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

Bismillah ir Rahman ir Raheem

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. 

 

Bottom Feeders Inc.

So. I’m home.
My home, that is. Dubai.
Dusty weird place as usual. The Mos Eisley of the Middle East.
A grudging affection there, I’m sure you can tell.
And masses and masses of memories and complexes and wounds so deep I’d forgotten they existed.
Yeah. Wounds.
It hasn’t been fun being here. I’m surrounded by family and I put on a smiling face. But really I’m tired, sad and I want to go home.
But I have no home anymore. I’ve been trying to wrap my head around that fact for a decade.
It all comes back to me here. Giving myself anxiety disorder trying to get the best grades I could.  It being worth not a damn thing when I graduated in the face of the recession.
Job application, updating CVs/LinkedIn still make me sick.
I did everything I was told to and still had zero security.
So I decided to do exactly what I please.
Of course, damned if you do, damned if you don’t.
Apparently being a hijabi worked against me in the job front too. Because I look like this:
20170104_204957
And not this:
6-amazing-hijab-style-for-bridals
Everyday a new fear. Everyday a new joy. I miss my mother. I miss the city I knew. Or the person I was as a kid. I wish I had more time to know my mother. But Dubai not so much. We’re still friends, I guess. But no, this isn’t home.
I feel a desperation here. Like I’m struggling to keep my head above water.
Why don’t I just let myself sink? Maybe the bottom of the sea isn’t so bad.
I feel like a child trying desperately to hold onto the apron strings. But there is no apron.
I have to accept I’m adrift. A little frightened. A little wary. But not stupid. And not alone. Despite what has gone before. Despite what ‘authority figures’ have tried to convince me of. Despite what I used to believe about myself.
Welcome home, deep sea creature.

Arrival and emotional agility

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.