Friday, August 19, 2016

Complaining about the internet on the internet

Hey anyone-who-happens-to-read-this,
May you all be enjoying the end of what's been an eventful summer - at times, quite unfortunately so.

I'm moving out west soon to start an MFA in Film Directing at UCLA. I actually applied to MFA programs in the autumn of last year, before I had moved out of NY. I found out that I got into UCLA's this past June, and am quite thrilled, as it was my first choice. But I'm also very nervous about the workload - so please send me good vibes/wishes/prayers! Really.

Maybe at some point I'll write/blog more for public viewing about my thoughts on this year and moving around, starting over, turning 30, etc.

I will say this - this summer was quite alright for me socially and personally, and family-wise (somehow), but mentally, the news took a drastic toll on me - and maybe it did for you too. I found myself loathing the internet and social media, especially with my own personal over-consumption and over-use of it. I know I can't always tune out the news - especially considering all of the various identities/markers I have - but I/we cannot be bombarded everyday with awful stuff happening domestically and abroad, without going at least a little bit haywire. And so my wonderful friend Saleha in Lahore, reminded me in a whatsapp voice message, that God has created balance in the world. That yes, there are awful things and events that always happen, but that it's crucial for us to see the beauty and good that our Creator has also put in this world for us to see. So I'm following that more, I hope, by deactivating all of my social media accounts, and as a result I hope to reduce my online time and screen time, and to be more present with myself and with  the world in front of me, rather than always getting dragged down by the news.

I also want to challenge my own narcissism by doing this . Instead of posting about what I'm doing or seeing, or maybe even making, which I've been doing a lot lately - I want to be offline from my accounts for a while, and practice being patient. To just hold onto these memories and moments for myself first, before sharing with others. After all, I have 1000s of photos (as some friends and family like to remind me every now and then) that no one else has ever seen, and probably never will, let's be honest. And so now, just because my phone has a decent camera and I can upload and share from my phone right away, doesn't mean that I should. I want to practice challenging my own narcissism/ego/nafs, to practice being patient and to work on the material and photos I already have (as my friend Sidra kindly suggested), and to just be more plugged out in general.

No, I'm not depressed. Alhumdulillah, I feel pretty alright. My anxiety issues aren't depressive. I also don't think my frustration at my online habits stem from my anxiety either actually. I just want to make better use of my time, especially as I know that I'm going to have to work harder than I ever have I suppose this is one way of me gearing up for that.

I'll eventually return to the social media world, when I feel like I have something worthy to share/showcase.


migrant life

Well it looks like the road to heaven
But it feels like the road to hell
When I knew which side my bread was buttered
I took the knife as well
Posing for another picture
Everybody's got to sell
But when you shake your ass
They notice fast
And some mistakes were built to last

Tuesday, February 16, 2016

The Fire Next Time

Excerpts from The Fire Next Time by James Baldwin

Pages 26-27
"Every effort made by the child's elders to prepare him for a fate from which they cannot protect him causes him secretly, in terror, to begin to await, without knowing that he is doing so, his mysterious and inexorable punishment. He must be "good" not only in order to please his parents and not only to avoid being punished by them; behind their authority stands another, nameless and impersonal, infinitely harder to please, and bottomlessly cruel. And this filters into the child's consciousness through his parents' tone of voice as he is being exhorted, punished, or loved; in the sudden, uncontrollable note of fear heard in his mother's or his father's voice when he has strayed beyond some particular boundary. He does not know what the boundary is, and he can get no explanation of it, which is frightening enough, but the fear he hears in the voices of his elders is more frightening still. The fear that I heard in my father's voice, for example, when he realized that I really believed I could do anything a white boy could do, and had every intention of proving it, was not at all like the fear I heard when one of us was ill or had fallen down the stairs or strayed too far from the house. It was another fear, a fear that the child, in challenging the white world's assumptions, was putting himself in the path of destruction. A child cannot, thank Heaven, know how vast and how merciless is the nature of power, with what unbelievable cruelty people treat each other."

Pages 51-52
"But time has passed, and in that time the Christian world has revealed itself as morally bankrupt and politically unstable. The Tunisians were quite right in 1956 - and it was a very significant moment in Western (and African) history - when they countered the French justification for remaining in North Africa with the question "Are the French ready for self-government?" Again, the terms "civilized" and "Christian" begin to have a very strange ring, particularly in the ears of those who have been judged to be neither civilized nor Christian, when a Christian nation surrenders to a foul and violent orgy, as Germany did during the Third Reich. For the crime of their ancestry, millions of people in the middle of the twentieth century, and in the heart of Europe - God's citadel - were sent to a death so calculated, so hideous, and so prolonged that no age before this enlightened one had been able to imagine it, much less achieve and record it."

Pages 91-92
"Behind what we think of as the Russian menace lies what we do not wish to face, and what white Americans do not face when they regard a Negro: reality - the fact that life is tragic. Life is tragic simply because the earth turns and the sun inexorably rises and sets, and one day, for each of us, the sun will go down for the last, last time. Perhaps the whole root of our trouble, the human trouble, is that we will sacrifice all the beauty of our lives, will imprison ourselves in totems, taboos, crosses, blood sacrifices, steeples, mosques, races, armies, flags, nations, in order to deny the fact of death, which is the only fact we have. It seems to me that one ought to rejoice in the fact of death - ought to decide, indeed, to earn one's death by confronting with passion the conundrum of life. One is responsible to life: It is the small beacon in that terrifying darkness from which we come and to which we shall return. One must negotiate this passage as nobly as possible, for the sake of those who are coming after us."

Pages 93-94
"What it comes to is that if we, who can scarcely be considered a white nation, persist in thinking of ourselves as one, we condemn ourselves, with the truly white nations, to sterility and decay, whereas if we could accept ourselves as we are, we might bring new life to the Western achievements, and transform them. The price of this transformation is the unconditional freedom of the Negro; it is not too much to say that he, who has been so long rejected, must now be embraced, and at no matter what psychic or social risk. He is the key figure in his country, and the American future is precisely as bright or as dark as his. And the Negro recognizes this, in a negative way. Hence the question: Do I really want to be integrated into a burning house?"

Didn't know that Baldwin was friends with Malcolm. Very cool.

Sunday, February 14, 2016

The Visitor

Been using this space for notes on books I read, might do it a bit for films I watch too. And so:

Got a stack of DVDs from the library that I still hadn't gotten to yet. Saw that a friend's feature had gotten into SXSW, and felt happy for him. Felt inspired too and thought, I need to get off my ass and do something film-related, need to get this ball going.

So I put on The Visitor (2008). Heard about it when it first came out, had always wanted to see it. Ending up feeling underwhelmed by it but also surprised.

The Good:
- Hiam Abbass! Didn't realize she was in it. She is one of my favourite actors, a pure icon of contemporary Arab cinema. Just read that she's directed some films herself as well - nice! I wish though that she got more dynamic roles than just of the suffering mother. Her turn in Amreeka I think was terrific, as she got to play a feisty aunt. 
- Didn't realize this film would be addressing undocumented immigrants, and the BS that happens all too often for someone getting picked up by the NYPD then getting thrown into detention. The film doesn't have a happy, wrapped-up-with-a-bow ending, which I liked. I was surprised the story went there.
- Liked the pairing of an Arab guy with a West African woman. Colourism is rife in Muslim communities. Cute couple. 

The Bad:
- The acting. I thought the main guy was very stiff. And just too awkward. We get it, you're old and lonely and awkward. Everyone was awkward in this film, except the character Tarek (yeahhh Haaz Sleiman).
- Definitely white saviour trope in this film. As well as old white guy getting down with it; ie learning to play the djembe and joining the drum circle.
- Director's notes on the DVD also noted this, with writer/director Tom McCarthy really wanting to focus on the story from the old white dude's perspective. Yawn. That's basically, like so many films out there.
- So much of the acting felt so stilted and again - awkward - and some of the editing too, I just feel like it wasn't great directing.

I did really like McCarthy's first film, which happens to be The Station Agent, which I by chance re-watched some months ago. Terrific little film.

Updated: his other film is Spotlight. YEAH. Now that is a really good film!

Wednesday, January 27, 2016

Bloodchild and Other Stories

Excerpts from the essay "Positive Obsession" in the collection Bloodchild and Other Stories by Octavia E. Butler

Page 127
            "Honey...Negroes can't be writers."
            "Why not?"
            "They just can't."
            "Yes, they can, too!"
            I was most adamant when I didn't know what I was talking out. In all my thirteen years, I had never read a printed word that I knew to have been written by a Black person. My aunt was a grown woman. She knew more than I did. What if she were right?"

Page 129
            "An obsession, according to my old Random House dictionary, is "the domination of one's thoughts or feelings by a persistent idea, image, desire, etc." Obsession can be a useful tool if it's positive obsession. Using it is like aiming carefully in archery.
            I took archery in high school because it wasn't a team sport. I liked some of the team sports, but in archery you did well or badly according to your own efforts. No one else to blame. I wanted to see what I could do. I learned to aim high. Aim above the target. Aim just there! Relax. Let go. If you aimed right, you hit the bull's-eye. I saw positive obsession as a way of aiming yourself, your life, at your chosen target. Decide what you want. Aim high. Go for it.
            I wanted to sell a story. Before I knew how to type, I wanted to sell a story."

Page 133
            "Who was I anyway? Why should anyone pay attention to what I had to say? Did I have anything to say? I was writing science fiction and fantasy, for God's sake. At that time nearly all professional science-fiction writers were white men. As much as I loved science fiction and fantasy, what was I doing?
            Well, whatever it was, I couldn't stop. Positive obsession is about not being able to stop just because you're afraid and full of doubts. Positive obsession is dangerous. It's about not being able to stop at all."

I've been meaning to read Octavia E. Butler for ages. In the library earlier this month her name came into my mind and I finally picked up one of her books, so Bloodchild is the first work of hers I've read. I'm not much of a sci-fi reader, maybe that's why I haven't felt compelled to read her, but I'm so glad I've started to. Woman was a force to be reckoned with.

This book is a compilation of short stories, and I haven't read sci-fi like it before. The autobiographical essay "Positive Obsession" in the end of the book, really moved me, especially as a (aspiring/struggling/nonworking) filmmaker. Film is definitely an obsession for me, and I'd like to think, a positive one. And I'm not able to stop it, nor do I want to. I want this obsession to continue and grow.

Tuesday, January 19, 2016

So the Story Goes / On Leaving New York

A photo posted by HXA (@hena_x_ashraf) on

I have really been dragging my feet on writing about my drive out of NY. It's been over two weeks and now I'm writing and posting this from Utah. I really wanted to write this on the first night of my drive, but I was just too exhausted in all sorts of ways. Same thing the next day. I clearly have been writing, but I've really procrastinated on this.

It was a very long and emotional drive. My last full day in New York was NYE. Local friends really pulled through for me, and then at night I went out. I never care about NYE, but since it was my last night and it happened to be New Year's Eve, I went and danced around, ironically with Michigan girls.

The morning of my departure I got the rental car, or really, a minivan, and Hassan came over to help me load it. Man writing this feels weird! The images of my last minutes in Astoria are in my head. I officially got going around just after 12:30pm. I took the Queensboro bridge and wound my way through Manhattan. "I Know There's Gonna be (Good Times)" by Jamie XX happened to come on as I drove down 9th Ave.

I went to Pittsburgh first. I knew I didn't wanna do everything in one day, getting the car, loading it, driving 10+ hours to Detroit, so I split up my drive into two days. Pittsburgh was slightly out of the way but I wanted to stay in a decent place in a "big" city, not some little motel off the side of the road. I was doing mostly alright while driving; on both days I sang my heart out to my CDs, and didn't think once of what the other drivers might think. There were so many emotions running through my head. I knew leaving would be hard but I didn't think it was gonna be this damn hard. I was thinking about missing NY, missing truly amazing people that I've gotten to know, and this other thing too, and it was all making me quite sad.

Cue "So the Story Goes" by Ash. I wasn't even really paying attention to the lyrics, but just that whole album by Ash is quite good and emotive, and so the last tune made the tears come out. It was night, I was about to reach Pittsburgh, and I was sobbing. I gotta say though, the Pittsburgh bridges at night are quite a nice sight.

At Holiday Inn Express, I did what I sometimes do when I'm down; I phoned up some people and had a couple of chats. I still felt quite melancholy. It was a classic case of not knowing what you have, until it's gone. I knew I needed music and sleep, so that's what I did.

Waking up in Pittsburgh though, was a hidden blessing, and I knew that right away. I took my time in heading out, and drove around downtown and got lost on purpose. It seems like a really interesting city, I'd love to go back and take a whole bunch of photos, and visit the Justseeds Collective. Hanging out in Pittsburgh made me feel a bit better about leaving NY, as I realized, there's more to explore in this country than just NYC. I already felt that just a couple hours after leaving NY in the previous day, when had I stopped to get petrol somewhere in Pennsylvania, because immediately, the people were completely different. And as I drove around Pittsburgh and took note of its photogenic bridges, rivers, buildings, I knew that these transitional months might be an opportunity for me to explore more of the country. Coz when you're in NY, you're in a bubble, and I at least, tended to forget about the rest America and how different it is.

Pittsburgh by car

Ok course by the time I reached Michigan, I was crying again. Weezer's Blue album was playing, and the last track came on, an 8-minute epic. Again, I wasn't even paying attention to the lyrics, I was just so full of anxiety, that I cried and shouted through the whole song. I reached my parents' street, and instead drove around the block rather than pulling up, and paused for a few minutes. I phoned big F and he told me to just go in.

Going "home" and seeing my parents was fine of course. Though I definitely was crazed and loopy that night and the next day. I think I noticed this when I belted out all of "Bohemian Rhapsody" to my Mum, and she just looked on in confused amusement. I can be goofy around her, no worries, but this was on another level. I think after that though I calmed down a bit :-D

I was only in Michigan for about 12 days before I left for Utah. Those days were good, my Mum definitely took care of me, and I started to get into some sort of routine. Definitely for the first few days I felt like I was out in the country. The biggest change really is having to drive around everywhere; I have to drive even just to do things like go to the library, to the shop, etc. I definitely miss public transport, though driving can be convenient at times.

Even though I was quite sad at leaving New York, I knew it was necessary and that it'd be good for me, and it has been so far. Already in recent weeks, including my last weeks in NY, I had been feeling more creative, and so much less stressed out. I shot photos of the city in black and white, which allowed me to look at New York in a different and exciting way, and it was pretty fun. I also developed a new tag and all of sorts of ideas for DIY stuff I wanna make. Filmmaking is definitely always the goal, it just takes so long to make a film, so I need to do stuff with my hands that's more immediate and less digital. Alongside all of this, I've been wanting to change my personal aesthetic. After uni I changed my look up quite a bit. Now I'm changing it again. I want more of a rock/punk/artist look. So I'm stereotypically wearing more black/painting my clothes/changing my jewelry/(re)dying my hair. Yes, a couple of friends have already made fun of me :-) But whatever, I'm doing this because I want the outside to match what's inside.

In those few days I was in MI, before I had to head out,  I did get to visit my old stomping grounds of the Dearborn area, where I went to middle school and high school. I met up with a lovely old friend, Ali, whom I hadn't seen in about 5 years. When I lived in the area I felt like an insider/outsider. Now though, returning after quite some time (my parents moved out of Dearborn Heights to another suburb, when I was in college, so I'm not in Dearborn much anymore), I felt like an outsider. I was looking at things with new eyes again, and it unnerved me a bit, but I think its ok. I know I don't really fit in anywhere. The one place that felt more like home to me, I've left, for now at least. Let's see where things end up.


Here's a playlist I made that features some of the tunes I listened to during my drive, including the ones mentioned above:

Thursday, January 14, 2016

On Carlos D and Interpol

Written enroute to Utah:

I grew up listening to Interpol. My first interpol concert was when I was 16, at St. Andrews in the D with my brother Feraz. I felt like Paul Banks was looking right at me at times, typical fan I was.

Turn On the Bright Lights is such a good, classic album. A rare album where every song is a gem. What a force. What a statement. It will always be one of my faves, and "Obstacle 1" just gets me moving and emotional every single time I hear it. Every single time.

The follow-up album Antics was good as well, but didn't have the same impact. I saw Interpol live two more times in college. Interpol and MIA are the only acts I've seen live, 3x each, both during my college years in MI.

I was so infatuated with Interpol, that in the summer of 2006, when I was doing summer film internships in New York, and thus, living in the city for the first time, this happened: I was broke, yet again. I was passing out flyers for some Anglophile party, funny enough. It was July, night time, hot, I was about to turn 20. I had been listening to Interpol once again for weeks on end; everyday Paul Banks's voice feeding my mind. That night, on that corner in the Lower East Side, Paul Banks walked right in front of me. Right in front of me. He was wearing a hat and all black, of course, in the middle of summer. Stunned, I grabbed his shirt as he passed by me. Hahahaha.

Stupidly: "Are you Paul from Interpol?" I knew that he was, I just, that just blurted out. Hey, I was genuinely starstruck!
I think he either nodded or said "Yes." He looked quite amused. Maybe its the only time a hijabi girl has grabbed his shirt.
I told him how much I loved his band and his music. How much I really, really loved Interpol.
He asked me my name and I answered. Then he shook my hand and went on his way. Despite being broke as a joke and not having a great time in New York in those days, that chance moment made my summer.

I've encountered celebrities since then, but that interaction is the most memorable and meaningful for me.

Of course, the other band members were so interesting too. Sam's drumming, is like no other on those albums. Daniel Kessler with the crazy feet during the live shows. The guys would frequently smoke cigarettes as they performed their killer songs, which seems very impossible, including Paul, the singer! But they pulled it off.

And then of course, Carlos D. Oh…Carlos D. What a man, what a look, what talent. What stage presence. He just looked awesome in those days, purely amazing. His bass-playing is I think what made me first fall in love with bass so much, and I still think its the instrument with the sexiest sound, and the one I've always wanted to learn. Carlos has a lot to do with that. His work on those albums is just excellently phenomenal. Yes, he deserves all these words.

sexy Carlos D back in the day, doing his thing
And to think, he didn't even wanna become a musician. As revealed in this rare and revealing interview below which I somehow stumbled upon a few weeks ago.

Interpol's third album had bad reviews. I think I have it somewhere, or I might not. I gave it a listen and was done. That happens with me a lot, when it comes to music. I can really dig a band's first album or two, but then when the third album comes and the bad reviews hit, I stop paying attention, and I only listen to their earlier work that I love. Even if later albums are said to be good, I just can't be bothered to check it out. Interpol, the Strokes, MIA, the Stills, Bloc Party, I'm sure there's several others, that I've done this to.

Though, I've heard Interpol's last album really deserves to be checked out, so I will.

Anyway, back to Carlos. Here are some really interesting passages. Carlos ditched the band 6 years ago and hasn't looked back since. He's now an actor. He's a completely different person! So much love and respect to Carlos :-) I love you man and your work! Please don't hate me coz I'm a fan from your Interpol days.

"At some point in time, I think the moment for me, and it’s funny to think that this is the occasion for it, but when Coldplay— our old manager was Coldplay’s manager— when they played Saturday Night Live, he offered us tickets. And when I felt so much titillation and excitement over all the skits— Jon Hamm was the host— and looking at how they were being performed. And then when Coldplay came on, I felt bored, quite frankly. I knew then that there was something going on with me, some kind of identity shift, really. It really troubled me."
- I think its funny what he says here about Coldplay. I also stopped liking Coldplay around this time, after I went to one of their concerts I think in 2005. I just couldn't handle all the sappiness, even though I'm a sap myself. I've been done with Coldplay since that gig.

"You had this very distinct style of dressing back when you were in Interpol, and you look very different now. Everything has shifted. I don’t think I would have even recognized you had I not known. Have you had an identity shift like this before?
Yes. That’s another thing. I’ve been a chameleon from day one. As soon as I got skillful at that sort of image making, I started to feel that image as a constricting suit of armor and I’d have to change it immediately."
- Funny, I'm going through a change as well I think, in my look. Not as major as his, but its a shift.

"Sure, I love telling myself that I should have continued along with my scholarly pursuits and that was the plan, then it got derailed by Interpol. This is a very attractive story to me. But that’s not really the story. And most people don’t really give a shit about me, they care more about the music that has changed their lives, or the music that has affected them to some extent. That’s the story that they’re emotionally tied to. So my own kind of, “You need to know I was on my way to being a scholar,” it’s peripheral. And I try to remind myself of that when I get too caught up in what I want to do and what I want to get done."
- Sorry Carlos! I'm probably one of those people.

Here's the full read:

Here's his website:

And turns out he just wrote about Bowie for Pitchfork:
Carlos Dengler, now

- Cross-posted on The Ashraf Obsession

Friday, January 08, 2016


Excerpt from Shadowshaper by Daniel José Older

Pages 160-161
            "Funerals. No one danced at funerals. Or did they? Sierra had a vague memory of Gordo going on in music class about how, in certain parts of Africa, they used to throw big parties and parade through the streets when someone died. The tradition had carried on to the Caribbean - the Haitians would march in wild circles with the coffin so that the spirit wouldn't be able to find its way back home to bother everybody. And New Orleans...Something about New Orleans...
            "Imma write a book," Tee announced. "It's gonna be about white people."
            Izzy scowled. "Seriously, Tee: Shut up. Everyone can hear you."
            "I'm being serious," Tee said. "If this Wick cat do all this research about Sierra's grandpa and all his Puerto Rican spirits, I don't see why I can't write a book about his people. Imma call it Hipster vs. Yuppie: A Culturalpological Study."
            "But there's black and Latin hipsters," Sierra said. "Look at my brother Juan."
            "And my uncle is most definitely a bluppy," Izzy put in.
            Tee rolled her eyes. "There'll be an appendix, guys. Sheesh."
            "What the hell is culturalpological anyway?" Izzy demanded.
            "It's like the slick new term for cultural anthropology."
            "You made that up!"
            "So what? I'm on the forefront. If I say its slick and new, then slick and new it is."

I quite liked this book. I haven't read a YA novel in a long time, so it was refreshing. The passage above was probably the most hilarious for me; the characters sounded what actual teenagers do sound like. It's funny, and maybe coincidental, or maybe not, that the first book I've read this year and after my move, is a book set in New York, in which the city is very much a character.

Also, I love this cover:

I found some of the messaging to be a bit on-the-nose. But I'm questioning myself on why I feel this way. Hell, why should we be subtle, as writers/artists/etc? It's great that Older got this book published. All the more power to him. Maybe he wasn't subtle on purpose, actually, of course it was on purpose. Perhaps we've had enough of subtlety.

I first heard about this book via this profile of the author in the Guardian:
"Until 2014, Older worked by day as an emergency medical technician in Manhattan. He wrote mostly at night. And he sees himself, explicitly, as an outsider to the literary and publishing scene: “I entered the writing work clearly and strategically to do this thing, to write these books, to get them into the world and fuck with people, and to generally fuck shit up,” he says at a restaurant in Brooklyn."
Yeah! Let's fuck shit up! High five man.

I plan on checking out more of Older's writing on his website, where he discusses this piece by the Guardian: