Tag Archives: writing

Wax off! Or, How to write a killer log-line.

Bismillah ir Rahman ir Raheem

Assalam alaikum wr wb, all my brothers and sisters. Peace and mercy be on our calloused fingers and every part of our tired but hopefully happy bodies.

I’ve been studying the oft-ignored of logline-writing.

I have basically stopped ignoring it.

The Black Board has been my Mr. Miyagi in this process.

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I have culled together the main things we should remember when we write log-lines from the various sources listed at the Black Board.

1. Start with an interesting character, give him/her a high-stakes want and make the obstacles against them practically insurmountable.

I think it’s worth unpacking each of the terms mentioned above.

An interesting character

Who would be the most fascinating person to put in this situation? Usually the most fascinating person has the steepest learning curve.

When mentioning the Protagonist, give them just one well-chosen adjective.

Don’t include their name.

Only mention a maximum of two characters in the log-line, preferably Antagonist and Protagonist. More than that and it just becomes confusing.

This applies even to an ensemble piece, such as Bridesmaids or One Flew Over the Cuckoo’s Nest.

A high-stakes want

The highest stakes are usually derived from the five primal human needs – hunger, survival, protection of loved ones, sex and revenge.

None of these need be interpreted literally and more than one, I imagine, can occur in the same script, while carefully making sure the plot doesn’t become too muddy.

Peeples has the following log-line:

Sparks fly when Wade Walker crashes the Peeples annual reunion in the Hamptons to ask for their precious daughter Grace’s hand in marriage.

Wade obviously wants to have sex with Grace,  or wants to continue having sex with Grace, by showing his commitment to only having sex with Grace.

The Peeples’ family, I imagine, are trying to protect their daughter Grace from Wade.

Two competing wants = hopefully a funny and juicy conflict.

This segues nicely into the next crucial part of a log-line

Antagonist/obstacles

Do not ever have a passive character to whom things just ‘happen’. This is a fault not just in the log-line but in the entire story concept. The character should be the engine of action in the story.

He or she does something, something happens, they react by doing something else, probably still oblivious to their fatal flaw.  Something else happens. And so on until the Protagonist learns a new behaviour – or not.

Make the conflict external, even if it is internal. Let the Antagonist take a shape of some kind.

The character’s flaw is exacerbated, rendered life-threatening, by the obstacles the Antagonist puts in his/her path.

Again life need not be interpreted literally. Death can occur even when all your bodily functions are still working. As anyone who has ever stood in line at the DMV knows.

Hence the conflict forms the dramatic through-line of the logline.

Subplots should not be mentioned.

2. The logline should indicate the set-up, set up the main conflict of Act 2, and hint at the problem that will be resolved by Act 3.

This is by far one of the most useful things I’ve learned from the resources on log-lines.

Let’s look at the Peeples logline again:

Sparks fly when Wade Walker crashes the Peeples annual reunion in the Hamptons to ask for their precious daughter Grace’s hand in marriage.

Let’s re-arrange it so it mimics the 3-act structure of the movie.

When Wade Walker crashes the Peeples annual reunion in the Hamptons, sparks fly when he asks for their precious daughter Grace’s hand in marriage.

It’s much less elegant and a little confusing, which is probably why they went with the previous structure.

Act 1 set-up: When Wade Walker crashes the Peeple’s annual reunion in the Hamptons….

The Hamptons = lots of money.

Wade Walker = probably not so much money.

The use of the word ‘crashes’ means that he’s not expected and probably, not welcome either. Conflict already built in.

Act 2:  “…sparks fly when he asks for Grace…” This is the engine of conflict for the bulk of the movie.

Act 3:  How will we know whether Wade is a loser or a winner in this movie?

Answer: We’ll know if he’s allowed to marry Grace or not.

Once you have all these ducks in a row, you can fiddle around with them to make a cleaner prettier sentence.

3. What are the genre expectations based on this log-line?

The genre is one of the key aspects of marketing a movie and one of the first questions in a production executive’s mind when he views a coverage report.

A lot of dark comedy log-lines I wrote initially were misunderstood as thrillers.

I’ve found using ‘funny’ words and an ‘ironic’ tone might help.

Yep, I’m still researching this one, mostly in the comedy genre, because that’s my jam. Will let you know.

4. You can diagnose a lot of script problems at the logline stage alone. 

It’s amazing what an incredible diagnostic tool a log-line is.

In the forums on the Black Board, I’ve been alerted to lackluster antagonists and protagonists, a lack of a clear goal, and various other more secondary, but still very important considerations.

Such as there are too many weird things going on (sci-fi).

The device that connects everything together just isn’t working (sci-fi again).

And various other common-sense questions that don’t arise when you think you’ve discovered a brilliant concept.

For example, in Harry Potter, why didn’t they use the Time Turner and just jolly well  go back in time and kill Voldemort?

5. Slice-of-life log-lines operate according to different rules.

Slice-of-life movies do not translate their internal goals into external goals.

Christopher Lockhart uses the example of Love Actually:

A varied group of Brits struggles with the pleasures, pain, and power of love during the Christmas season.

…and Gosford Park:

During a weekend jaunt at a British country house, servants – who must keep order and protocol – struggle to please their aristocratic employers until a murder threatens to disrupt the balance.

According to Lockhart, these stories should be defined by a time ( as in Christmas in Love Actually), place (Gosford Park) or historical event (Bobby) and the theme should not be presented didactically.

6. You only got 25 words! 

…but I’m sure, in the age of Twitter, that isn’t too big a deal.

7. Start with a spark of an idea and keep adding elements to it. 

No one is born a fully formed adult having already discovered their vocation and values in life.

So it goes with loglines. Rarely do they come out fully formed.

They start out pure, innocent and sweet in the form of a story concept, a angel that strikes you with its wing in the queue at the supermarket.

For example, “a lawyer who cannot lie”, “Othello in high school”, “Othello in Indian politics” (these three are high-concept because they can be summed in a few words), “racial tension in LA”, “a family road-trip to a beauty pageant”.

The conflict, the stakes, the wants and the needs, all come later as you let the thing sit around for a while, gathering form.

When it graduates college, you’re good to go! (I know I’ve stretched that metaphor way too far.)

Much love and peace,

The Happy Muslimah (in a nutshell)

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I hate movies; or How to eviscerate an idea

Bismillah ir Rahman ir Raheem.

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Photo by Bruno Hamzagic

Assalam alaikum wr wb,

So help me God, I hate movies.

Day after day, week after week, I watch trailers, I look at posters, I scan the cinema listings hopefully, looking for something worth watching.

Nothing.

Less than nothing.  A slap in the face. A grab for my wallet.

I’m not interested in franchises anymore. I’m not interested in movie stars. I’m not interested in explosions.

I am not interested in shock, awe, blood, gore. I am not interested in laughter or tears. Those are empty emotions and can be triggered by practically anything I pull up on YouTube.

I would like a story.

How do you define a story?

A story means something to you. Not to me, the viewer, the ticket-buyer, the audience member, the cat-caller. To you, the story-teller.

Why do I love listening to my parents tell stories? Because they are joyful in the telling and I can see it in their faces. And through that joy, I begin to understand their values, their experiences, their beliefs, however different we are.

As we began to stop telling each other stories, I understood them less and less and we fought more and more.

The fact is, story allows me to empathize in a way that no other medium has achieved.

That is why I hate everything that is in the cinema right now. It’s a blatant insulting play for profit. It desecrates story and the power of the human spirit.

I don’t mean to say that stars, explosions and high drama are bad things. I think they just have to be used in the right way.

I loved Michael Clayton. It showed a veneer of real filth underneath a sterile world. It showed two men coming apart at the seams. Yes it had George Clooney and Sydney Pollack in it. But it was a great story.

I loved Ides of March too for much the same reason. It seemed real to me.

I follow the work of Ryan Gosling, not just because he’s an incredible actor, but mainly because he has a knack for picking exceptional projects. There has not been one movie of his that I’ve seen that I’ve not enjoyed and that I wouldn’t watch repeatedly and that I wouldn’t badger my husband into seeing.

Fo’ rizzle.

So why am I ranting on a Monday morning?

I’ve been generating ideas for The Quest 2013.

There’s plenty of literature on how to test a concept for the marketplace. I particularly recommend Save The Cat’s program of market research.

The question is – how do you know if a story concept is right for you? How do you gauge your level of passion for it? How do you know that it’s touching some deep dark place rather than simply treading tired old ground?

This isn’t just about generating the passion to go the long haul with each project. It’s about having a product at the end, that no matter what happens, you can be proud of. Because you poured your heart and soul into it. Because you told the truth, no matter how much it hurt.

That sort of energy will sustain a career, in my opinion, and that’s what I’m cultivating.

To that end, I’ve been asking a lot of questions about each idea.

As a viewer:

  1. Why would I watch this movie? What elements would make me book that ticket in advance?
  2. What elements would make me avoid this movie? What makes me shriek much like I did above?

These two questions allow me to really get to the nub of what sort of experience I want as a movie-goer.

As a writer (this is the clever bit):

  1. In what ways is this idea within my comfort zone of my abilities, interests, previous writing experience, etc?
  2. In what ways is this out of my comfort zone in the same ways?

It’s maddeningly simple, but for me, it’s helping me shape a story that’s been knocking around in my head for months now.

More importantly, it’s helping me commit to that story. Because I know why I’m writing it. Even if the telling is mediocre and the reception is poor.

Let me know what your thoughts are. And for God’s sake, if you’re a filmmaker with a movie that means something, please tell me about it. I’m starving for something real.

Wasalam and Fee Amanillah (in other words, Godspeed),

The Happy Muslimah

Film review: Best Exotic Marigold Hotel

Bismillah ir Rahman ir Raheem

Assalam alaikum wr wb, fellow scribes and cinephiles.

I’ve been advised to watch at least 2 movies a week. I have also realized that lately I’ve been alternately amazed and appalled by what I’ve seen on screen.

I’ve been hearing a lot lately about how the baby boomer crowd is proving to be an untapped market for the movies. How they might revive the flagging industry and how – finally! and not a moment too soon! – the big studios might leave behind their obsession with teenagers and young adults and give us some real stories.

I’m 26, and even I’m insulted by that sugary cereal kinetic crap.

So I thought I’d partake in the forerunner of this so-called ‘old codger’ movement – The Best Exotic Marigold Hotel.

Here’s what I thought.

The Good:

It was briskly paced. It had clear characters. As far as screenwriting goes, you could really learn a lot about turning points, in terms of plot, and character motivations in terms of dialogue, by studying this movie.

The Bad:

Why in God’s name do the Indian characters sound like they’ve stepped right off the set of Mind Your Language? I most definitely do not ever talk like that. And there is no way in heck Indian kids born and raised in India, however educated they are, speak English all the time. They are more likely to speak a mixture of English and their mother tongue, whatever that might be.

The brown people of course had traditional brown people problems. As always, it’s the clash between modernity and tradition. Between the will of the parents and the will of the child.

And as usual, white people solve brown people’s problems.

What’s more, an old lady in a wheelchair suddenly starts spouting truisms like being in a wheelchair automatically makes you wiser. My mother’s been in a wheelchair for a couple of months and I can’t see any change.

My final assessment:

The Best Exotic Marigold Hotel was a good movie with good characters. But the paternalistic tone and poorly crafted Indian characters really ruined it for me.

Out of respect, I wouldn’t recommend it to any baby boomer I know. They deserve better.

I’m going to look for better.

Wassalam and Fee Amanillah,

The Happy Muslimah

5 reasons why planning rocks – and 5 more why it sucks. And how I could make it work.

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Bismillah ir Rahman ir Raheem,
Assalam alaikum wr wb,
Who here is good at planning? Anyone out there like it?

No, I don’t want a list of tips and tricks. No, I don’t want a pep talk. Because I’ve already received one. Probably from you, your friends or your mentors. I’ve already put money, time and energy into planning merchandise.

Don’t get me wrong; I believe the hype. I know why planning is important.

Planning lets you:

  1. Get an aerial view of your life.
  2. Prioritize the most important aspects  first
  3. Make maximum use of your resources.
  4. Lay out an actionable schedule.
  5. Deal with crises effectively.

But for so many reasons, the negatives are far outweighing the positives.

Planning is making me miserable because:

  1. I can never do everything I want to.
  2. It reminds how out of control my life is rather than giving it some control.
  3. It reminds me of my failures
  4. It reminds me of all the people I’m missing.
  5. It reminds me of how far away I am from being the person I want to be.

I know this is simply a perspective issue. That if I could see the glass half-full, I would realize how blessed I am.

Blah blah blah. I already know this. I wish I could flip a switch. But I can’t.

What I mean is that it doesn’t matter how grateful I am for five minutes or ten minutes or even 15 minutes of a day. My beliefs matter. And those take time to change.

I imagine my negativity is what’s making me tired and it’s probably what made my mother so gravely ill. But that’s a subject for another blog post.

I’ve procrastinated my weekly review for two weeks now. I keep telling myself that I’ll carve out some time on a Friday afternoon, Monday morning, Tuesday night…it’s not been happening. I’ve been too terrified of the pain.
And I’m rather tired of pain, you know? I want something for work for once in my life.

I’ve been trying to plan properly for years. I started with Anthony Robbins and now I’m onto GTD. Robbins tried the inspiring tactic. GTD has been trying the tactical adult, less-play-more-work way.

Neither has worked for me yet.

I’ve just realised something. Both methods are majorly word-heavy. And I’m more visual than I realize. For a writer.
I realized this because recently I was trying to track the subplots in my screenplay. I thought I would simply write down the applicable conflicts beneath each character’s name in a boring old list.
Somehow I decided to do it differently. I decided I’d mind-map on a piece of paper. It worked much better. I was excited to get to work and excited to see how each character connected to the other in a web. That’s the way life is, isn’t it?
I’m going to get more visual to make my weekly planning sessions easier, less stressful and more enjoyable. I’m going to use some mind-mapping software, maybe make a vision board for my life, set up some inspirational mP3s or videos to watch every week Insha Allah.
I’ll try to make it different. Less about words, much more about pictures, webs, movies, visions.I’ll try not to put as much pressure on myself to get it right. It’s important to be the best person I can be, rather than do everything that I can do. Because, as I’ve found out, that’s impossible.
I’ll let you know how it goes and what tools I’m using.
Assalam and alaikum and Fee Amanillah,

The Happy Muslimah.

4 writerly rules for managing the ebb and flow of life

Bismillah ir Rahman ir Raheem

Assalam alaikum wa rahmatullahi wabarakatahu. God’s blessings, peace and mercy be on you, fellow traveler.

So I’ve been trying to practice Scott Myer’s mantra for two weeks now: 1, 2, 7, 14.

Read one screenplay a week.

Watch 2 movies a week.

Write 7 pages i.e. a page a day.

Do 14 hours of prep i.e. 2 hours of prep a day.

It’s been a challenge. But it’s been rewarding. I’ve invested more in my screenwriting ambitions in the last 2 weeks than I have in my entire life. That kind of rigor has forced me to think about what I am willing to give up and where I’m willing to go. I don’t just mean sleep and free time. I mean heart-ache, anxiety, despair, depression or my personal favorite, failure.

My husband would say I’m being too dramatic. Let’s just say I’ve decided I’ll brave the Uncertainty and the lack of Certainty that comes with filmmaking and screenwriting.

But I have failed a fair amount. I’ve missed pages, prepped reduced hours, been utterly paralysed by the blank page.

In the process, I’ve discovered that the probability of success is linked to my energy. My creative energy cycles with my body.

It is foolish to push your body to achieve more and more and more when we are designed to need replenishment. This is where the animal kingdom has the jump on us humans. Lions rest an entire day after a hunt. Bears take the whole winter off.

But we work day and night, ignoring God’s blessing of the night-time and rest.

He splits the sky at dawn, and appoints the night as a time of stillness and the Sun and Moon as a means of reckoning. (Qur’an, 6:96)

(Go here for a brief explanation of the above verse)

While society favors the Type-A “harder, faster, stronger” personality, something tells me that I’m made of cream cheese and I can only manage that for a little while before I have a meltdown.

I’ve discovered a few basic ground rules so I can work with my energy cycles rather than against them.

1. Work as early as possible

I’ve blocked out times that my family is least likely to interrupt me – between 10 – 12:30 in the morning. Or between 2:30 and 6:30 in the evening. Sigh. An embarrassment of riches.

But still things come up. Family calls from overseas. Errands need to be run. Life does not respect my ambitions.

I haven’t managed to wake up uber-early and do my prep. Yet. But I’m aspiring to it.

I am far more likely to be tired in the evening and so writing or prepping closer to night-time should be avoided if it can be helped. Hubby comes home too and spending 2 hours staring at a laptop while he’s around is hardly likely to work wonders for our relationship. Though being the sweetheart that he is, he totally understands. But he deserves better than that. And so do I

2. Schedule the hard stuff for earlier in the week

Earlier in the week, when I’m primed and ready to go, I get a whole lot more done a lot more efficiently in prep time. And the pages just zip out.

Later in the week, I get a little exhausted. Come Friday, I just feel like playing which is a great time for an ‘artist date’. Though I’ve not really been too successful at having one of those yet.

It’s also a great time to kick back and pay attention to a movie or a screenplay.

3. Get a routine

A routine makes my hours that much easier.

  1. I start with 15 minutes of concept brainstorming. This is a great way to massage my brain before getting into the nitty-gritty. Plus it’s a great way to generate story concepts, a good 95% of which are invariably duds.
  2. 1.5 hours of prep.
  3. Another 15 minutes of looking over the above concepts with a critical eye. Not just, “Is this good?” But also “What can I do to make this better?” “Why is this so bad?” “Why do I want to write about ice-cream so much?”

4. Reward yourself with some fire-gazing time

I find I get cabin fever if I stay inside too much. I like taking a walk or just sitting with my father-in-law. He’s always watching Animal Planet so metaphorically at least, we’re being spirited away to different lands.

What works for you in terms of maintaining consistency with your routine?

Wassalam and Fee Amanillah. Peace and God’s protection, peeps.

The Happy Muslimah.

Art is worship Part III: Relaxation

via http://www.freedigitalphotos.net

Bismillah ir Rahman ir Raheem.

Assalam alaikum wr wb, sister or brother.

I am going to do something I don’t do enough. I am going to be honest.

Brother and sister, I am truly too exhausted to make art.

It’s been a draining couple of years. My life has felt like a train-wreck and I have been trying desperately with my petty mortal hands to control it.

I have expected situations to be different but they haven’t been. I have expected people to behave a certain way but they haven’t. Things have changed when I had hoped they would stay the same. Things have stayed the same when I have prayed they would change. But the details are unimportant.

My feelings are not. I have disappointed, sometimes angry, exhausted all the time.

I’m sleeping like crazy. I can’t eat. I can’t think. I have absolutely no creative energy to tackle anything long-form like a screenplay or a novel. The thought of a deadline makes me want to vomit.

Alhamdulillah I have written some poetry, though.

I think it’s about time that I took an extended period of rest. Regroup my spirits, learn to forgive myself and others, find my footing a little maybe. Or learn to just let it slide and accept Allah (SWT)’s plan for me.

As soon as I say that though, some strange demon in the depths of my belly stands jumping up and down, making scratch marks in my inside, shouting with the voices of my parents, a thousand teachers from over the years.

“You have no right to relax! People like you, less-than-geniuses, have to work your butts off to get anywhere – I mean ANYWHERE! – in life! Full tension every day all the time! That’s the price you pay for being born the way you are.

What have you achieved in your adult life? Nothing.

Has your writing changed anyone’s life? No. Not even your own.”

(This is not true. I’ve discovered a lot of things about myself and others through my work. Though it has been private, it has definitely been transformative.)

“Have you made your mark on the world? Like your heroes, Sarah Kay and Phil Kaye and Ani DiFranco? Have you made any of those mind-blowing films you keep dreaming of? Have you rivaled Mr. Scorsese or Mr. Kauffman? “

(Is it really necessary for me to change the world? I thought my work was for Allah (SWT). Then it simply is what it is, the story truer than the truth. It’s my duty to tell it, whether anyone cares to listen or not. Whether it changes anything or not.)

“What don’t you have enough of? Time.

What are you getting? Older. You’re 25 years old, 26 next month. Every day brings you closer to middle age and motherhood. Increased responsibilities, lower energy levels and your already poor time management skills will simply fall apart under the pressure.”

I ask real people for advice and it is always conflicting.

“You’re trying too hard.”

“You’re not working hard or smart enough.”

“You’re too young.”

“You’re too old.”

“You don’t give yourself enough credit.”

“You’re resting too much on your laurels.”

I find myself facing a mountain. Make this film. Write this screenplay. Find collaborators who are as excited about your work as you are. And for a while, I feel energetic. But then something happens, not really a discrete incident but just something else. Something outside of me. Maybe my father calls and or my mother or some boring administrative task takes up my entire day and my body just sinks beneath despair.

I feel like the world doesn’t want me to write or create. Perhaps Allah (SWT) is trying to tell me that my destiny is to be mediocre and house-bound like a not particularly cute cat.

I find myself fighting with the people I love. Not being able to tell them how I feel. How lost, alone and confused.

It’s time I took a little time off from the rat-race insha Allah. Whatever I’ve been doing hasn’t been working. This means finding a new path. Maybe recalibrating my beliefs. Doesn’t mean I’m going to stop writing. On the contrary, I think the fact that I’ve written so little has contributed to my exhaustion.

I’ll worship a lot more. I need it more than I think.

I’ll exercise too. Take long walks in nature. Run around after children (will somebody please lend me their children kthx), kung fu, kickboxing, aerobics maybe.

I’ll spend a lot of time outside of my comfort zone, especially when it comes to people and my interactions with them. Maybe I’ll try explaining spoken-word to my husband LOL. Yesterday, I showed him “When Love Arrives” and his mind just went blank.

And yes I think I will spend a lot of time writing. I will try insha Allah to rediscover the play in art, try to refill the well a little bit. Maybe I will work on a long-term project but as something fun, not as something that’s ever going to see the light of day.

I’m not going to be telling you how it’s going because the aim is not for it to be going anywhere.

I’m just going to be myself for a while. I’m going to find out what that means insha Allah.

Wassalam and Fee Amanillah.

Sabina.

Art is worship Part II: 3 cumulative ways to maintain consistency as a writer

Bismillah ir rahman ir Raheem

Assalam alaikum wr wb, everybody!!

It’s so easy for me to get side-tracked from writing. With wedding planning reaching hysterical levels, Mashallah, I’ve given myself a holiday from my work. But! I shouldn’t! That’s why it’s called my work!

Do you know the Hadith about small consistent acts being greater than big inconsistent ones?

“The Prophet (sal Allahu alaihi wa sallam) said, “The dearest of actions to Allah is that which is done regularly, even if it is small.”

I have been thinking about that and how easily and beautifully the Sunnah about traditional Ibadah can apply to our work as well.

How do we make something consistent?

The same way we consistently do our prayers or read Qur’an.

The actions build on each other. Each step magnifies the benefits of the one that preceded it before we finally give our salaams to the angels that protect us, having done our duty to our Creator (SWT).

The same approach could be taken with our work.

  1. Pick an iron-clad time you will worship Allah through your art.

Is it in the morning before your family wakes up? In the night-time after they go to sleep? In the bus/train/car-pool on your way to work/school?

All we need is quietude, time and a readiness to work. What’s the best slot in your day for that?

For me, it’s crazy early in the morning after Fajr, Qur’an reading and 20 minutes of aerobics – well before my parents wake up. I can do my work a good few hours before my mother’s shriek sunders me from my concentration.  I love her, but the woman has a voice that would make the dead moonwalk.

If that isn’t possible for any reason, I make maximum use of the few hours my parents aren’t at home to get some solid work done.

  1. Prepare yourself mentally, physically and spiritually.

In Salah, this might translate to making Wudhu, setting an intention or learning new du’as to recite in prostation.

In writing or the making of art, this might translate into setting a goal and envisioning the joy of reaching that goal daily. It could mean saying a small prayer to the One that Gives all provision. It could mean writing morning pages, sharpening a skill, exercising to get blood flowing to your brain and eating a healthy breakfast. Most important of all is preparing yourself for the ups and downs of the business of art – the writer’s block, the networking (that’s my LEAST favorite part) and the rejection (over and over again).

  1. Subordinate all resources to achieving that goal at that time.

My goal during Salah is to worship Allah (SWT), Insha Allah. That means no distractions. Phones go off, doors are closed or a quiet corner is found. Parents, children, spouses and colleagues are told what prayer looks like and what we need to achieve it – that means no talking.

I imagine to truly pour yourself into your work, you would need to do something similar; channel all of your resources into achieving your goal.

What are your mental, physical and spiritual resources?

Once you’ve listed them, how can you best channel them into making the best art you can?

Since art is a social product and meant to be consumed by the community at large, perhaps engaging those social resources becomes exponentially important.

Here are some suggestions:

Ask your family to leave you alone when you’re in a corner with your laptop, when you have a sign on your door or on your forehead, when you’re in your garage messing around with wood.

Ask the most critical member in your family/friend/professional circle to look at your work and give you their worst (at the very least, it’ll humble you. At the very most, it will let you know what emotions are actually induced by your surrealist expressionist papier mache sculpture.)

(That’s actually really cool. If a sculptor is reading this, please consider doing that.)

Ask an Imam if the art you’re making is worthy of a Muslim.

  1. Remember to thank Allah (SWT) for the gift of another day at work.

If art is truly Ibadah, we will never know if our good deeds are accepted till Judgment day and the Dunya is a poor indicator of Allah (SWT)’s pleasure with us. Hence, it is best to leave the outcome to Allah (SWT).  The only way we can guarantee fulfillment is taking pride in the work itself and our mindset as we approach the work.

If it’s good, if it’s bad, if it’s ugly – remember to thank Allah (SWT). Just because it came out.

Making art seems a lot like what I imagine giving birth is like – a struggle but also a great joy, a great gift from Allah. Like children, our art will try us in every possible way – before, during and, for many long years, after their birth.

(As you might have guessed, I’m rethinking that 7 kids thing.)

All of this ties down to fighting Shaitan who causes us to despair, what Steven Pressfield would call resistance (The War of Art is an incredible book which I would recommend to anyone who’s ever tried to tackle a challenge.)

If we are the stage of our Iman where we would accept no excuse for missing our Salah, if we truly think our  art is what Allah (SWT) has destined for us, perhaps we should apply the same rigor to it.

Today, right now, I make a commitment to write at least an hour a day. It’s the least I can do to get things done.

Wassalam and Fee Amanillah,

The Happy (and Insha Allah, productive) Muslimah.

Art is worship

Bismillah ir Rahman ir Raheem

Assalam alaikum wr wb! Love, peace and cupcakes be with everyone reading this!

I have a little confession to make. I’m a bad writer.

The first rule of writing is write everyday even if it kills you.

I haven’t been for I don’t know how long. And you know what? That kills me too.

My fingers itch for the freedom of my keyboard and my imagination.

Mashallah, by the grace of God, I have a million ideas for short films and features and novels and poems and love letters.

But then friends call, bodies fall apart due to illness, family descends on me for one reason or another and it gets put off one more hour and then one more day. And finally when I’ve parked my butt in my chair for some good old-fashioned word-slinging, my mother scoops up my life and takes me shopping.  Because you see, I’m getting married Insha Allah in December. Remind me to tell you about that sometime insha Allah – it’s a truly funny story.)

For a while now, I’ve been unsatisfied with my life. Now that my life might involve someone else, someone who arguably, I love more than I love myself, I feel like I need to do better. I feel like I need to be better. For his sake and for our children’s sake. My children weren’t a reality until now. But now I am painfully aware that I will be a role model to them, flaws and all.

Why then do I write?

Do I write to please myself? Do I write to express myself?

Perhaps.

How effing selfish. My “self” will never be satisfied and my narcissistic intellectual masturbations will lead to a singularly unsatisfied audience.

Do I write to please you perhaps? To make you see the things that I see? To make you wonder? To make you hope? To make you laugh? To make you cry?

While perhaps a nobler intention, ultimately this too is pathetic. Because all I want is for you to really, really like me. Something that changes on a dime, as we all know.

Why then should I write?

I should write to please Allah (SWT).

Money and pleasure should be secondary.

The true meaning of this did not come home to me until I read this on SuhaibWebb.com.

“You find some people have very nice things, some people are middle class and some are lower class. This is because Allah (swt) has spread provisions. It’s the same with `ibadah. Maybe for this sister Allah (swt) has put in her heart the love to make dhikr (remembrance of Allah). Maybe that sister there, Allah (swt) has put in her heart the love of Qur’an. Maybe for this brother Allah (swt) has put in his heart the love to go for forty days in tablighi jama`at. Maybe for this brother Allah (swt) put in his heart the love to study at Zaytuna, and maybe for this brother Allah (swt) put the love in his heart to be with the people of the Islamic movement. So, the same way that Allah (swt) has given them these provisions in the dunya, is the same way He has given them, as Imam Malik said, provisions in `ibadah.”

Political activism is Ibadah. My work, as I’ve expressed before, for me is often a form of activism.

Allah (SWT) has put in my heart the love of writing. Does this mean that writing could be a form of Ibadah? Subhanallah!

When one grows up thinking that only if you read the Qur’an and pray day and night will you reach the highest levels of Jannah, such a concept blows the mind.

Art is Ibadah.

If this is Allah (SWT)’s Rizq (provision for me), if this makes my heart beat, my blood quicken, my eyes refuse to shut even if it’s way past my bedtime, and most beloved of all, fills my heart with gratitude to Allah (SWT) with every letter I type, I believe that it may well be mustahhab (highly recommended), maybe even Fard (compulsory) for me to hone my craft.

Anything less would be ungrateful.

If the world tells me to shut up and go be an accountant (my apologies to all the passionate accountants reading this), I would remind myself that the secular world is also currently opposed to a myriad of outwardly religious activities, for example, the hijab.  Spiritual art by comparison is a cakewalk and much easier to explain.

If I am not grateful for my provisions, including my love of writing, AND if I don’t serve my community through it, ultimately that barakah (blessing) will be taken from me. It is part of my religious duty to nurture it.

Allah (SWT) has placed love in my heart for writing. Mashallah, there must be a reason for that. Won’t stop till I find out what that reason is.

I needed something stronger than the promise of my children and my vain own worldly desires. Alhamdulillah I think I’ve found it.

Wassalam and Fee Amanillah,

The Happy (and Inspired) Muslimah.

The Radical Honesty Experiment

Bismillah ir Rahman ir Raheem

Assalam alaikum wr wb.

No, I didn’t conduct an interview with Usama Bin Laden (from beyond the watery grave).

I heard something that intrigued me a while ago from Laurie Gerber from the Handel Group:

“I teach radical honesty; that means communicating even when a feeling is uncomfortable or even when I am scared to because I don’t want to face the other person’s reaction. But I have practiced difficult conversations enough to know the alternative is worse: living in misconception, feeling dis-ease, not having fun with my playmates and generally liking myself less. Ick. It’s worth the discomfort of speaking up to get rid of that toxic cloud. In a dialogue, everything changes. And you really forget that; you really think the dialogue in your head (or with the friend you are gossiping to) covers all bases, but it doesn’t. You have no idea where the other person is coming from. Please find out.”

So I decided I’d give this radical honesty business a try.

Turns out it’s heckuva lot easier being honest with myself (read: beating myself up) than being honest with other people. Especially people I love. The greater the love, the harder it is for me to tell them what I really feel.

I’m scared I might lose them and I think my friendships are much weaker because of it.

The following is a collection of random observations taken during the week on where and what I hide and from whom. It may not make much sense, but that’s because I was updating a Gmail draft at work whenever a thought struck me. I ask you to bear with me, lovely readers.

I tend to obfuscate and manipulate the truth, making it hard to get to for the person I’m communicating with.

I tend to keep my true feelings and my true needs to myself.

In the quest for real human connection, I tend to over-complicate my life looking for it. Maybe performance and comedy is a way for me to connect or at least try to connect. Most people just laugh and leave. Some write me emails afterward – those I love. But stand-up for me isn’t a patch on improv. Being part of an improv troupe is very much about trust, support and the group over the individual. Needy people not allowed.

I love Improv. And I like performing.

However when it gets raunchy, nope, not comfortable. Not the first person to say that and probably won’t be the last.

I am scared of my father. And I haven’t spoken honestly and openly to my mother in a long while. Nothing hurts me more than our fake laughter. We used to be friends. Really good friends. I used to tell her everything. Now I can’t tell her anything.

I discovered that it’s okay to ask questions, even dumb ones, even at work. Guess what? Most of the time, I’ll get an answer, because people are rarely anuses if you speak to them politely.

I learned from my boss, that if I follow my passion, I can inspire everyone around me without needing to give a pep talk.

I love the Little Comets. They’re messy wounded hoons in tracksuit bottoms and trainers singing musically jagged tunes on trams and in lecture halls, anywhere someone will listen. And I’m not sure what entirely they’re on about some of the time, but this girl in Dubai gets it.

There’s something about art that allows people to ‘get’ it even if they don’t entirely understand the ‘story’, to taste the meat even though the curry is unfamiliar. That’s what I want more of in my life. Not curry, art.

I read about the World Bank report about hunger. It killed me. To soothe myself, I ate a chocky bicky (irony much?). I want to do something about this. I tried to talk myself out of it – saying I’m more into gender issues. But hunger kills men, women and children everywhere. I’m a Muslim and a human being first. A woman and a writer second.

Authority figures scare me. A lot. I’m scared to call people more than anything. It makes me feel like a bad journalist and for some weird reason, guilty?

I’m frightened to enter the Al Shasha screenwriting competition.

I was honest with my client who called me after hours. I don’t want to work in the night-time. It was uncomfortable but I felt better and I felt freer.

I am sometimes surprised by the sound of my own voice.

I imagine disappointment and pain even before it happens. Sometimes it is of epic devastating proportions.

I don’t really think that I deserve happiness and I reckon my parents don’t think so either.

I’m going to write a letter to my parents to tell them honestly about everything and I haven’t the faintest idea where to start. And yes, I am going to actually give them the letter.

I don’t know what they’re going to do. Maybe they’ll get mad. Maybe they’ll get sad. Maybe it’ll make things worse. Maybe it’ll make things better. I don’t know. It’s all in Allah’s Hands. I don’t want to go to Him on the Last Day and say I didn’t try everything I knew to communicate with them with love and respect.

Yes. I’m scared.

Will let you know how that goes.

May Allah’s Grace protect you wherever you go and whatever you do, Ameen.

Sabina.

P.S. Bismillah. UPDATE! I was honest about something that I’ve keeping to myself for a very long time waiting for someone to understand.

It was quite freeing. My focus and my concentration improved dramatically after that single simple admission.

However, being honest has consequences. And this particular admission may have had HUGE consequences (so far, so good Alhamdulillah). Be prepared to be surprised. Be prepared to be snubbed. Be prepared to be forgiven.

I need to be prepared.

Peace out, y’all.

Wassalam,

Sabina.

P.P.S Bismillah. 17th July: Incremental honesty is probably more affective than radical honesty, as incremental changes are more sustainable. I started with myself, will continue with people I work with (whom I respect, but don’t necessarily like) and slowly but surely, people I love. This is a continuous struggle and people are surprising, but true authenticity is worth it.

Wassalam and Fee Amanillah,

Sabina.

Motorcyle

Bismillah ir Rahman ir Raheem,

Assalam alaikum wr wb and wassup, peeps.

Do you guys remember being scolded in school for not paying attention?

Have you ever wondered what it was you were supposed to be paying attention to?

The answer probably arises quite naturally – your studies. As if that ever helped anyway.

But what were you doing really that was so bad? Day-dreaming? Looking out of the window at a beautiful day you were forced to wait to enjoy? Passing notes to your friends?

I wish our teachers had taught us consciousness rather than attention.

I’ve had anxiety problems for a very long time now, probably from when I was in high school.

In university, I took a workshop on mindfulness meditation. It was unlike anything I’d ever experienced before. I felt hyper-aware and very blessed. I was so frightened by that degree of consciousness that I decided to abandon it halfway, telling myself I needed to study for my silly finals.

When I entered my working life, the stress grew so quickly I could hardly think. So I started looking for peace where I could find it.

My five daily prayers afforded me a desperately needed respite from the helter-skelter mad rush of daily life. But I needed something more, something I could practice all day, regardless of where I was.

Some months ago, my parents found a beautiful little red toy motorcycle near the dustbin below our apartment building. Some lucky child must have outgrown the thing or a family must have moved out. My 3-year-old niece is a little motorhead – she loves Top Gear and her hero is Jeremy Clarkson. My parents miss her painfully, so they brought the little red motorcycle up to our flat. It sits now on my balcony, having found a very different use.

My niece taught me something about paying attention. What little blessed time I’ve spent with her (she lives in New Zealand), her attention has been entirely focused on the destruction we were causing at that particular moment, whether it was to a chocolate cake, her mother’s vegetable garden or a toothpaste tube. She delighted in the most mundane things – seeds, smudges, flowers, paint. I realized that what was mundane to me was amazing to her – she was seeing the world for the first time.

I’ve been trying to do that lately. Abandon my preconceived notions of familiarity and look at my world with beginner’s mind. I try to look at my neighborhood, my friends, my parents, my car, my life, as if I’m seeing them for the first time, through the eyes of a grown-up child.

In a world overloaded with visual information, I feel like my other senses have been starved. I’ve been spending time sitting on that little red motorcycle on my balcony, closing my eyes and opening my other four senses and thanking God for what I find there.

I’ve discovered some amazing things.

I live opposite a school and I hear the children playing every morning. The sound of children laughing makes me happy. There are layers of sound in our neighbourhood – air-conditioning, cars passing beneath my window, cars on the roads around us, the clank and clink of machinery in a nearby construction site and my favorite, dry leaves rolling on the dry tarmac as if they were alive.

Once I got used to paying attention, I shifted my attention inward to my emotions, a curiously terrifying task. I watched them manifest, usually in my chest, but sometimes in my abdomen too. Anger, frustration, guilt, embarrassment all sit like coiled serpents in my rib-cage, rage radiating outwards even into my shoulders. I discovered their triggers. I eavesdropped on my own inner voice and listened as it formed decades-old judgements, relived past hurts, blamed the usual scapegoats for my challenges. I listened to my inner voice as if it were an old cantankerous friend, that wanted what was best for me, but sometimes really went too far. But that’s okay.

Beneath the din of the city and my own inner monologue was the peace I had been looking for.

What does any of this have to do with writing? Or creativity?

I believe creativity is found in channeling the divine inspiration of the present moment. I don’t believe it’s something inside us – I believe it’s given to us by God. What kind of thoughts are going through you head when you’re creating? What are you feeling? What are your fears?

Just watch, listen and accept what you observe. You may come to realize from some deep part of you that your fears are actually toothless tigers, that in fact, God is on your team and you can’t lose.

That’s what I’ve realized anyway.

Keep laughing, beautiful people. Thanks for stopping by.

Much love,
La Musulmanne Qui Rit.