Tuesday, September 05, 2017

On Work

Excerpt from Gibran Khalil Gibran's جبران خليل جبران‎‎ poem "On Work" from The Prophet:

"Work is love made visible.
    And if you cannot work with love but only with distaste, it is better that you should leave your work and sit at the gate of the temple and take alms of those who work with joy.
    For if you bake bread with indifference, you bake a bitter bread that feeds but half man's hunger.
    And if you grudge the crushing of the grapes, your grudge distills a poison in the wine.
    And if you sing though as angels, and love not the singing, you muffle man's ears to the voices of the day and the voices of the night."

This passage has come back to me a lot these last couple of weeks. First, it was when I was writing like a fiend in an attempt to finish my screenplay (insert cliche of Los Angeles *here*, yes). It was hard but thrilling and as I got closer and closer to finishing, I got more excited. The effort was worth it and sometimes I thought, why am I doing this? Like, why? Why does this matter? And then I remembered Gibran's line: "Work is love made visible". That is essentially what I was doing...I poured myself into pushing keyboard buttons, hoping that it'd all make some sense, because I wanted to, because it's important to me, and because some part of me did enjoy it - a big part of me felt fulfilled, with writing and finishing that writing. So yes, that was work made visible.

I have worked this whole summer - which is actually what I wanted. I didn't get any time off, and the end of August was the culmination as well as the beginning of a bunch of things. However, I felt grateful, as it was only 2 years ago as I was telling a coworker, when I had nothing at all going on for me. I was out of work, out of money, out of ambition and ideas. That's the moment when, pretty much exactly 2 years ago, is when I decided to apply to graduate film schools, and when I seriously started pondering leaving NY, of actually doing so this time. 

2 years later, on Thursday last week was the last day of my full-time paid summer internship at a socially-conscious film company, and it was perfect for me; I also had to turn something in major that day (duas for that, fingers crossed, etc, duas for real); and I had to pack and clean in the midst of it all, as well as receive my subletter. It was a lot for one day. In addition I showed my subletter around a bit as it's her 1st time in Yankland. So, an incredibly full day, but in terms of work, yes it was a lot of work that I had to do and put in, but I'm grateful for it all, because I know what it's like in comparison to have nothing going on. 

It's not even a week later and I find myself itching to work again. What happened? I never thought of myself as a workholic. I don't think I am one. Perhaps it is anxiety about my trip, that might be it. Though filmmaking in general is a very anxious thing, as it's a 24/7 hustle. You can't ever really take a break from it. Because if you do, the whole machine can just stop. And right now, the only part of that machine, is me. To get a film going, it's all on me at this stage. And it takes a lot of effort and muscle and brainpower and time and commitment to get anything off the ground, especially when it's just one person. Other people don't come into the picture until much later. For months and years, it is just me: pondering, researching, writing, applying, fundraising. So it's constant work around-the-clock, and I find myself, at a time that I supposedly have off, that no, this isn't really time off, there are things I need to research and connects that I need to make, ASAP. 

It's anxiety, yes. Whether it's travel anxiety or filmmaking anxiety, I'm not sure, but the only way to tackle it is to work. And it's work I enjoy doing. I'm lucky now where my work consists of working on my films - I don't have to do anything else. Even that internship was pretty specialized and fit my goals really well, so I greatly enjoyed it and got a lot out of it, alhumdulillah. Basically these days, I find that the work that I'm doing is for myself, for my films, which is what I've wanted so badly for so, so long. Who knew that I'd have to go to school for that to happen...it clearly didn't happen on its own like it has for others. By the way, I know what real anxiety is like and how crippling it is...last year it resulted in me not being able to do anything, at all...whereas now I just want to keep working and moving. Thank God.

Anyway, blah blah. Work. I'm in Metro Detroit currently where I spent 8 months last year. Today I drove around and saw some of the places I worked at - the library, cafes, etc. A big part of me wishes I could just spend the rest of my time here doing my work at these places, that would feel pretty great, but I can't, there are a few rounds I have to make, and it'd annoy Mum if I spent all my time outside the house. Part of me wishes I could spend a month in MI - on my own - and do my work at the libraries and cafes that I know and enjoy. 

But that is not likely to happen, for reasons I'll write about soon.  

Edit: Part of me thinks I should have spent this night doing more actual work. But instead, I read, and I wrote (blogged...this). I know in the end it'll be better for me to have taken time to reflect, read and write, than just plain keep working. Because all of that is work too, and makes my "actual" work, better. If I want to be better at what I do, I should be better, and reading and writing makes me, perhaps not always better, but at least more reflective and hopefully a little bit more aware about things. Hopefully.
Also I'll be spending part of tomorrow working at a locale I know well...and I am geekily excited about that. 

Sunday, August 27, 2017

On writing my 2nd feature script

phone is turned off. well it's on 'do not disturb' and on aeroplane mode.
this computer's wifi gets turned off too.
i have 3 scenes left to write.
3 scenes.

and then i'll look over the whole thing as much as i can today, before sending it off and hopefully get notes on it in the next few days.

writing is draining, actually. i know this but just sitting here and typing this and saying it out loud to myself - yes, it's draining.

writing is draining.

writing is work.

i say these two sentences out loud to myself.

it's work. it's work to think that hard, to create, to write and will new scenes and characters into existence. it's exhausting. i feel like i could write more pages in a day, but honestly maybe i just can't. maybe my brain just shuts off after a certain number of pages or hours. writing 10 pages a day is a huge accomplishment for me, because not that long ago just writing 2 pages of a script in a day was immensely challenging - perhaps maybe not even a year ago.

so getting up to 10 pages a day? yeah, hell yeah. lemme give myself a pat on the back. ok, i just did. today, i think i'm writing about 20 pages or so. i only have 3 scenes left to write. i think i'm stalling because i know what this means, and it actually probably won't take that long to write those scenes.

is procrastination laziness? or is this procrastination? i don't think it is. my mind wanted to read some pages of a book for a bit, a book i'm hoping to finish before i start travelling. i also think my eyes got tired of looking at a screen. i also think i don't need to listen to music right now actually, and let me sit and write on my bed instead. which i never do. ever. i think this is the first time this year.

so, 3 scenes left inshallah. ah, the magic number 3. 3 scenes left. will probably get through them in about 30 minutes or so. maybe even less. thankfully when writing this script, i'm able to hit a flow and just go. i just type and type, refusing to look back until i'm done, then i revisit and rewrite. i've learned the hard way that when i hit a flow, to not stop.

so here goes. 3 scenes left. and then that means, that i have my written my full script. and it's not my first. the first one was in sophomore year of college at the University of Michigan. and that script, was a total piece of rubbish. i don't even have a copy of it, or remember most of it. it was just crap. but it's what i wrote at 19 and i honestly never think about it, thank God. so going to stop thinking and talking about it now.

this script, this story, has been building in my head for a couple years. the incident that catalyzed this story happened almost exactly 2 years ago. let's make dua for that family and for all others like them.

3 scenes left. about to turn this wifi off. and just go at it. and then i'll be done. done with a full draft of my script inshallah. right after that i will go into rewriting, send it off for notes, hopefully receive those notes and continue rewriting. then submit. i hope i'm not jinxing myself by typing this here. after my trip, i will come back and keep rewriting inshallah, another draft, another draft.

so, writing is work. writing is exhausting. it's draining.


time to shut off the wifi again.

i don't eat sweets or treats anymore but maybe tonight i will celebrate this accomplishment by having some ice cream (which is also in my script). hopefully that amount of sugar won't give me a headache though. actually just thinking about ice cream is giving me a headache...

alright, here we go.

Tuesday, August 08, 2017

On Being A World Citizen

I'm a world citizen. So is Salma Hayek.

People tell me that I'm a world citizen, "a citizen of the world". The Guardian calls Salma Hayek a world citizen as she's Mexican-Lebanese, lives in London and is married to a Frenchman.

Some time ago somewhere, my awful memory can't remember how or where (#migrantlife), but I think it was in L.A. - I met a black Londoner who told me that she's from Islington. I then had to explain for the somewhat-thousandth time the reason for my accent. I've always envied people who can definitively say that are from somewhere, that they can claim a place. Once at a friend's gathering in Jackson Heights some years ago there was a go-around of intros, and people had to say which place they can claim. I honestly can't remember what I said for myself. Bihar? London? UK? Michigan? Metro Detroit? Certainly not New York, in a room full of many actual New Yorkers.

I very recently met a journalist who calls herself a "permanent migrant" on her Twitter bio. I think that is a terrific term. As HXA, I often use "#migrantlife" to comment on the many ways that all of my moving around has permanently affected my psyche: I'm often confused (see above), having vivid flashbacks, and will forever be an outsider - a "forever outsider".

It's not only that I don't belong to anywhere - I will never belong to anywhere. Ever. It's impossible for that to happen. I will never be "from" anywhere. For even if I were to move back to any of the places I have ties to - I can't say I'm from them, remember - I will still not be from there, I will still not belong - India, London, New York, Michigan. Because I have spent too much time already in other places. I explain to L.A. residents who I meet that: "I was raised in the UK and Michigan, and lived in NY for several years before coming here" and it's always a similar reaction: "Wow, you've really moved around" / "Wow, you've seen a lot of America", etc. Yes, yes I have. Yes, I am messed up as a result. Yes, I as a poor person use film, the most expensive medium, to express how messed up I am because of my migrant life.

Is there an advantage to being a world citizen? I can look at America as both an insider and an outsider I suppose, and other places too. To me though that feeling feels overrated because being a world citizen is quite lonely for me; my brothers have been much more successful at finding life partners for themselves (mashAllah). And there are other things; the reason I am typing this actually at 4:17am is that I had a very early appointment at the passport office yesterday at 7am, and then after work I came home and my nap became me sleeping until 3am. Being a supposed world citizen ruined my sleep cycle - thanks, world.

Also, there's a comfort and an ease that someone has when they can say something like "I'm from Islington" so effortlessly, confidently, and with poise. Whereas I have to say a paragraph just to explain why I'm standing in front of someone, of how I ended up HERE. Right here, in this spot, let's mark it with an X. I can't say "I'm from XYZ" so easily, because it's just not true. It's why I'm going to London next month for a few days; I just want to see the city I was born in, to reconnect with it in some way, in my own time, hence I won't be staying with relatives. I want to see what London is like with Sadiq Khan as mayor (yay!) and after Brexit (Goddammit).

"Where are you from?" is a question that I and many others who aren't white Americans, really hate. Because for me when I'm asked this question, I can't just say one place, I'm forced to mouth my whole paragraph. But most of the time my soul resists answering so fully, because I honestly don't think this complete stranger who I will never talk to ever again, deserves to hear or know my life story - it's not worth my time or energy. So I try to deflect the question as much as possible but sometimes I can't escape it and give a forced answer, to not come off as completely rude. Fuck that though.

Whiteness still annoys me. Even though I feel like in the last few months because of an essay I read (that I have to write about soon) that I'm aiming to move past looking at identity markers, especially as a writer who develops characters, I still cannot get over whiteness or white supremacy. And I probably won't, and I think that's perfectly okay, because white supremacy is not ending tomorrow (how AMAZING would that be though?!). So when a white American asks me where I'm from - a European doesn't matter as much, as they clearly are also not from here - but when a white American asks me that I internally get pissed off, as I know what they are really asking is "Where are you from? Because you're clearly not from here" (hey thanks for reminding me whitey!) or "Why are you brown? / Why do you look the way you do?".

However, when an immigrant and/or a person of colour asks me where I'm from, I don't mind, because I see it as we're comparing notes on our life experiences. Hence when NY taxi drivers asked me where I'm from, I usually just said "My parents are from India". Because I knew what they were really asking me was which Muslim country I'm from, as they were often Muslims themselves if not also South Asian, or they had lots of Muslim friends. But a white American from Massachusetts - "from", hah - asking me the same question pissed me off immensely, and I left that convo as soon as I could.

By the way, I have enough labels on me that I either stuck on myself or that other people stick on me, so I'm not going to add "world citizen" to that silly list.

P.S. the head photo on this blog was taken at DTW in 2009 in what I like to call its "techno tunnel". Yes, taken at an airport. Like I said, #migrantlife. Wow, I really can't escape it.

Sunday, July 30, 2017


an affliction, a disease.
one that i've embraced, rather than tried to get rid of.
for half of my life now.
i think she's here to stay, in fact i hope she does.
but cinema has hurt me in so many ways.
i love cinema, i really do, i can't get her out of me
i absorb and absorb, she's in my pores my veins
my eyes
my mind
she's ruined me pathetically
disrupted my life in so ways
is my life in so many ways
is my life
is cinema my life
i'd like her to be
cinema cannot leave me
other things have left me, or never even came my way
all because of cinema.
and when people ask me about her, i just say,
"i just hope it's all worth it in the end".
who knows if cinema will ever reward me.
cinema's made me useless, really.
though it's really quite obvious, anyone could see
that i blame cinema, rather than myself
for the things that left me or never even came my way.
i am lacking as a human being. am quite useless, really.
so am i to blame or is it cinema's fault
she struck me at 16 

Tuesday, July 25, 2017

Master of None

I was having a really, really hard day. Really down. Again. (Big surprise). This has been the story of my life for many years, the sadness comes and goes. I came home and tried to sleep. But I couldn't. I finally got up, got dinner together for myself (meaning I used my microwave and cooked an egg), and decided to watch the last episode of season 2 of "Master of None".

I was told some weeks ago by a friend of what to do when I'm down - have a routine that makes me feel better. I'm still figuring out that routine, but clearly wanting to just go sleep never helps. I need to make more of a habit of distracting my mind sooner rather than later.

So for that, I thank you Aziz. I've had mixed feelings about you for years, but I wanna thank you for helping bring my mind back to a more sane place tonight. There are a couple of silly things I just haven't been able to get over for too long and I long to just throw myself back into my work and forget about it all...so thank you for creating some TV that helped me get my mind off of stupid stuff (that I'm sure Dev could relate to actually. Actually I kind of wish I could hang with Dev and Arnold and get their advice).

Some meandering thoughts on your program/television show/Netflix series:

- This second season is MUCH better than the first one.

- Glad to see you date women of colour. Even though your character didn't end up with one.

- My God, you really love food. You must have great metabolism. I mean Dev - Dev must have great metabolism. Or maybe he walks around a lot. I miss all the walking I got to do in NY. In L.A. you have to make an effort to just walk around.

- I still can't buy that Dev and his family are Muslim. His name is DEV. His dad's name is RAJESH. You picked the most Hindu names for your TV family. My guess is that you didn't think this through, maybe you actually wanted them to have a Hindu background, then people called you out on it (rightfully so) and you decided to add some Muslim-ness to this season. In your "Religion" episode, I couldn't get past their names and think that they're Muslim. So my brain kept saying "That's Aziz. Aziz". A super Muslim name, even though you're not Muslim anymore - and hey, I get it, trust me, that's totally cool.
It might've been better to not add the Muslim stuff. Or to have just given them legit Muslim names from the beginning. I'm sure you know Aziz, that desi Muslims just don't have those names. Maybe a Hindu who's converted to Islam - but even then, they'd probably change their name (though they don't have to), but they probably would, just coz names like DEV and RAJESH are 1000% Hindu. I mean Dev means "God" in Sanskrit. Not hating on these names, but they don't work for characters who are meant to have a Muslim background. It'd be like if I made a TV show with a character based on me, who's Muslim, and her name was CHRIST. It'd basically be the same thing. Wouldn't work, right?

- Ok, moving on.

- Your parents can't act. Sorry man. Even though you're a better actor around them, but if you're going for the authenticity thing, well first off - you failed with those names, and second, you can't make up for authenticity by casting your own parents. I wasn't sold at all on it, bad acting is bad acting, and I can't look past it and consider these characters to be real people and not just people in a TV show. I mean when I watched "Master of None" the only people who felt like real people to me were the people in the "NY I Love you" and "Thanksgiving" episodes - and those didn't feature Dev and Kevin and their families...sorry.

- Alongside that, what also felt inauthentic to me (I dunno what other word to use) is that Dev is a native New Yorker. Look, you're Aziz bloody Ansari. Everyone knows you're from South Carolina. This show is basically about YOU (hello, you casted your own parents...duh). So why make Dev supposedly from NY, I'm guessing, Queens? You were a transplant to NY. Dev basically acts like one too. Trust me I know - I was one, albeit much more broke. Dev does transplant things all the bloody time, and acts like one dresses like one walks like one. Nothing about Dev or his parents - or his friend Kevin too, btw - makes it seem like they're New Yorkers. The only time I believed Dev was from NY is when you show him as a teenager smoking weed - that kid sold it. I believed that brown kid to be from Queens. Why? Probably coz the actor wasn't you.
On the other hand, Denise is clearly a New Yorker. She has that swag. (And that actor is from Chicago). Dev doesn't have that swag (hey that's a word I learned in NY - trust me I have no swag myself at all). Aziz why'd you do things like this - it takes viewers like me completely out of the story and annoyed with the show and you! If you're gonna make a program about you, and cast yourself (and your parents - don't forget) in it, you might as well as stick to the same story, and get that authenticity that's so missing...like imagine pasta with no sauce. Dev supposedly being a New Yorker, is so inauthentic it's like eating pasta with no sauce. Or, or...pizza with a knife and fork (shout-out to DeBlasio).

- The season shined with the episode that followed around a bunch of New Yorkers (getting told off for yelling "vagina" in ASL - HIGHLARIOUS) and of course that Thanksgiving episode, Angela Bassett really killed it. Nice work on those episodes. They don't really feature Dev, btw. I'm not hating on Dev...but those episodes were a lot more interesting to me. And to my friends who I whatsapped with about your show. So that's at least...3 people, including me.

- I did get sold though on Dev's feelings. All the feels. I get it, to be into someone who's taken, and it's mutual - in my silly life it's one of the worst things in the world and it repeatedly happens (don't blame me, I hate it). I get it. So I felt what Dev was going through. I got past the fact that Francesca is another white lady for Dev, coz I really recognized his emotional anguish, and for some reason her being Italian helped me look past her whiteness - coz she's a village girl, basically. Wooed by a brown man in a big city. But anyway - even though those scenes and episodes weren't my favourite (see above) this relationship played out much better than the one with Rachel in season 1 - that writing and speeded-up timeline just felt lazy.

- Chef Jeff. I recognize that actor from "The Station Agent" (great film, great actor). I think with your season endings you attempt to shove too many things too quickly right at the end, and so like the shit that went down with Rachel, this shit also felt like it happened too fast. Though the Raven show and cameo, were super funny. Oh yeah - I like the knocks made on reality TV shows, that was done well.

Alright Aziz. Thanks for entertaining me, giving me something to watch, something to write, and for making me feel better. I hated on you a bit (like a week or so ago before I watched this season...sorry) for not being political like some other comedians. But the personal is political too - how could I forget that (?!) It's POLITICAL to show a desi/brown/Muslim person on telly who's just obsessed with eating out and is trying to have a love life. Not everything has to be on-point political. Our real lives do mostly consider of food and whether or not we're lonely, it's exhausting to just exist (as Dev nicely pointed out when he talked to his parents about airport security). So, I get it, I think I know, what you're doing. I appreciate the show and I'm not gonna hate on you for not making it more political...we already are just by existing.

But throw in some Tamil again next time, or South Indian food. Dev's gotta eat a dosa or two. Foodies love dosas, and he's a brown foodie.