Category Archives: Islam

7 perks of being an underrepresented writer

Bismillah ir Rahman ir Raheem

Assalam alaikum!

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

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

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

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

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

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

But it’s not hell either.

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

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

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

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

1. You know how to work hard.

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

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

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

3. You know how to deal with uncertainty healthily.

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

4. You have a good BS meter.

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

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

5. You probably know how to hustle.

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

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

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

I’ve practiced. You probably have too.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

And other daft self-help clichés.

I’m rooting for you.

Much love and wassalam.


A screenwriter’s prayer of gratitude

Bismillah ir Rahman ir Raheem

Assalam alaikum wr wb.

Hey, all.

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

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

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


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

Everybody wants to make money.

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

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

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

So what am I grateful for this year?

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Alhamdulillah for networking events and good contacts.

Alhamdulillah for possibility.

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

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

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

Alhamdulillah for Mummy.

Alhamdulillah for Daddy.

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

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

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

Take stock, peeps.

Much love,

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

Bismillah ir Rahman ir Raheem

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

How do you feel about your work?

Do you feel a little desperate?

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

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

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

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

It’s okay to acknowledge that.

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

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

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

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

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

These are the three main steps I am working on.

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

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

  1. Own myself and who I am.

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

I am a storyteller. No two ways about it.

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

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

I tried very hard.

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

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

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

But still the shame persists.

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

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

Answer? Whatever the heck they please.

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

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

Problem solved.

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

The ‘victim’ story

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

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

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

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

But mostly I want to write stories about hope.

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

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

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

Empowering myself

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

All of that begging – not a good look.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

4 ways to deal with rejection

Bismillah ir Rahman ir Raheem

Assalam alaikum warahmatullahi wabarakatahu.

Peace, blessings and mercy of God be on you (in case you didn’t understand the odd assortment of consonants and vowels above).


Didn’t make the Quest.

There’s part of me that wonders what I did wrong.

And there’s a part of me that knows that I did everything I could and then some.

It’s a funny dichotomy, that. Feels almost schizophrenic. But it’s a good thing – if the outside world doesn’t validate my work, I’m learning to validate myself.

So what did I do in order?

1.       Misery loves company – but only for a while.

I spent a little time among other non-Quest participants on the Black Board. Some ate pie and wept. My poison was blueberry streusel muffins.

These are blasted good. And if you want to offset the delayed gratification of screenwriting with some immediate gratification – there’s nothing like baking.

And eating.

Alhamdulillah (thank God) for muffins.

2.       Congratulate myself on how far I’ve come.

I looked back in horror at the absolute nonsense I sent to Scott last year LOL.

I really have learned a lot. Much more to learn, for sure. But I’ve definitely made great strides by the grace of God.

3.       Make a big goal (thank you Shaula Evans, mod of the Black Board, for this one).

I need to hit the ground running.

That means having at least one feature script on the Black Board by March next year and a total of 4 completed screenplays by then too – well at least three worth talking about. The first one, like my first attempt at the Quest, is rather embarrassing.

I’d also like to get one of my shorts made – either by myself or someone else. A couple of people are interested in some of my short screenplays. I’m going to ride that wave plus explore other beaches.

I really like beating these metaphors to death, huh?

I’m currently rewriting my second feature. Structure is my main focus with this draft. One mouthful of that elephant at a time.


We got two new cork boards at the thrift store and a garage sale for two more projects.

Why would people give away cork boards? Don’t they know they’re gold? In any case, Alhamdulillah for thrift stores and garage sales.

4.       Back to work.

It’s funny being my own boss. I don’t know how to reward myself. Whether to reprimand or pat myself on the back. I do alright most days.

Though alright is definitely not good enough.

And I’m noticing I have resistance over certain projects, mostly because of fear of rejection. Those are the ones I need to ride myself about.

Yes, it helps being a bit schizo when you’re an as-yet unproduced screenwriter.

You don’t need to be a writer to face rejection.

Please share anything you’ve learned on your way to greatness in your field. How to roll with the punches.

Watching Rocky might be a good idea right now.

Much love, lovelies.

Wassalam and Fee Amanillah (More peace and go with God)


Babies and bathwater, or, 4 ways to be kind to your screenplay

Bismillah ir Rahman ir Raheem.

Assalam alaikum wr wb!

‘Sup, homies.

So I’m on my third draft of my screenplay. Haven’t written any pages of it, since a thorough analysis of my structural scaffolding is in order.

It’s 186 pages long and there might be a lot of good things in there, but they are really buried.

At the moment, I’m going through my screenplay with a fine-tooth comb, trying to figure out what each scene says about my cast of characters.

At best, they say nothing at all.

At worst, they say the same thing over and over again. Or nothing surprising.

The bits that I thought were really clever were sometimes very jarring. Or not clever at all. Cleverness in fact occurred in odd and unexpected places. Such is the beauty of writing.

Yes, perhaps I’m being unduly hard on myself.

But I really don’t think I am.

In any case, last week, I had a severe case of this-is-never-going-to-work-itis and a timely reminder from Jeffrey Lieber, showrunner, that I should check the bath-water for babies.

And I wonder – how do I do that?

Here’s what I think I should do. Haven’t gone through all these steps yet and will update this blog post when I do.

1. Do a clean read.

Scott Myers of GITS does an excellent job of explaining that here.

Doing a clean read, I put my script reader’s glasses on. I found a few things I really loved about my screenplay buried really REALLY deep down. If I was a script reader, I would have given it a pass because, well, the script isn’t anywhere near its full potential. I knew that.

2.       Give my script to a few trusted readers. Collect not just the criticisms but the compliments too.

I’ve had the great blessing and privilege of having Mr. Wonderful read by a few lovely people on the Black Board and my classmates at a Screenwriting Master Class. I trust them not to lie. When they said they really liked my script, I am choosing to believe them. I’m going to collect those compliments and file them under a heading called “Babies”. Yes, those babies may not be fully formed yet, but that’s no reason to abort the foetus. Polishing those gems hopefully will get me closer to a great script.

3.       Figure out my story, especially my theme.

This is the part I am labouring through at the moment. I am excavating character, structure and theme as it is now, but also generating a whole bunch of questions that will God willing trigger some great change for the next draft.

I’ve hit upon some excellent truths about what I am trying to say with this story. It’s true what Scott always says. The more you think about your story, the closer it gets to its real essence.

It’s pretty daunting, but it’s pretty exciting too.

4.       Do a not-so-clean read.

I want to actively look for the good in my screenplay.

It might be a throwaway line of dialogue. A nice bit of scenery. A great minor character.

All bits of magic that cropped up unexpectedly.

Sure, those babies may not be fully formed. But they deserve to be nurtured, if they fit my story and my theme. But I can only know that if I know what my story and theme is, hence point no. 4.

Well, that’s my 4-step plan to not throw out any babies with the bathwater. Let me know what you think.

Wassalam and Fee Amanillah. Peace, love and Godspeed.


Hello Yellow Brick Road

Bismillah ir Rahman ir Raheem

Assalam alaikum warahmatullahi wabarakatahu.

Peace, glorious peace.

It’s a hard-won battle, inner peace. But its victory is sweeter than I’ve imagined by the grace of God.

I recently let go of a dream I’ve held since I was a kid. Becoming a director.

I’m laughing even now thinking of myself being a director. It’s just not who I am anymore. At least not for the moment, anyway.

Ya Allah, what serenity it is, knowing who you are? After my troubled adolescence and downright melodramatic early twenties, this feels like a goshdarn oasis in a desert.

This is what happened: I took an internship at a movie here in Denver. I thought I would cut my teeth in the filmmaking world, learn, grow, breath, find my feet and maybe add director/producer to my screenwriter on my resume.


A film set is loud. Busy. Picky. The ones who run that film set (director, producer, AD) must obsess over details.

I’m not a details person. I’m more of a big-picture kind of person. And that level of anxiety is not something I can handle, at least not yet.

And planning? God, my own life is difficult to control. How can I control a film set with perhaps hundreds of people on it?

So I gracefully bowed out. I’ve clumped out on other projects, so my grace on this exit surprised even me.

I came back to screenwriting. Glorious, glorious screenwriting. For a week or so, I wrestled with my fears. The usual Asian ones. Destitution. Ridicule in society. Loneliness.

But mostly just destitution. Money is a fickle god.

My hubby has been a gem during all of this. He’s never put pressure on me to bring home more (halal) bacon. His only concern is for my happiness.

I figure there’s a reason why God gave me these respectable jobs during the recession and then kept shoving me out over and over again. I think He was telling me, “What are you doing wasting your time? Chill out. I got this.”

I’m finally listening.

So screenwriting it is, for better or for worse. Insha Allah (Allah willing) it’ll be for the better. But only time will tell and only God knows.

Perhaps none of this makes any sense to you.

I’ve decided to screen-write full-time. I hope that makes sense at least.

Allah Hafiz.

The Happy (and screenwriting) Muslimah.

My brother said I wasn’t pretty OR 6 reasons why I write

Bismillah ir Rahman ir Raheem

Assalam alaikum wr wb, dudes and dudettes (I remember having a particularly vicious argument with my brother years ago about whether a slang word such as ‘dude’ could even have a feminine form. As you will see, my brother and I have had many vicious arguments over the years.)

Alhamdulillah. Praise be to God. I am about waist deep in a second draft of my feature film.

Alhamdulillah the second draft has been SO much more fun than the first.

With the first draft, I wept everyday as I put my characters in the most painful situations I could think of. I was moody, irritable and depressed, a feeling compounded possibly by having just moved to Sri Lanka and just gotten married.

And not getting much sleep due to the mosquitoes.

And having to become accustomed to unfamiliar-tasting foods.

And unfamiliar sights, sounds and languages.

But that’s a story for a different time.

Every day, I waded into a deep river of painful memories. It’s a wonder how potent memories can be. Whenever I remember the first time I saw my husband, I get the same butterflies in my stomach I got then. My cheeks still flush and I feel unmoored, but in a good way.

Bad memories show up in my body too, just as potently.

Without giving away too much…my screenplay is a tale of lost identity and gained family. I’m aiming for funny, shocking, odd and hopefully very alive, the kind of movie I’ve always wanted to see, and the kind of movie I hope women everywhere will resonate with.

Because frankly all I want to do is to give every woman in the world a big hug. Brothers in humanity, you too have my utmost respect and compassion.  Since I don’t have big enough arms, I am settling for giving you a piece of art instead.

As rewarding as writing this piece has been, it’s also been quite draining and especially at the beginning when those pages were blank, utterly terrifying.

Scott from Go Into The Story asked a great question a while. At the time, still reeling from the agony of my first draft, I had no real answer. As the story begins to gather more form in the second draft, I feel an answer taking shape.

To quote my friend Sarah – as always, bear with me.

I write because:

1. Story telling is a part of human DNA.

As long as I can remember, my family has delighted in stories, whether they were soap operas, police procedurals, sitcoms or movies. As long as I can remember, my family has loved a good laugh. At their own expense or at the expense of others.

The best stories were the ones my parents told. Like memory, the telling of the story transported them back and they relived everything and re-felt everything. It was a powerful thing to witness. Plus, my parents are blasted entertaining storytellers. Drama and interesting characters seemed like quotidian elements in the Sri Lanka of their memory

2. I often feel lonely.

I grew up the youngest by many years. By the time I was old enough to have a mature conversation, my brothers had already left for university. I spent most of my teen years feeling like an only child.

The movies made me feel less lonely.  They were populated by characters playing out their lives of which I was either a nasty voyeur or silent but essential part. I prefer silent but essential part.

3. Movies gave me reassurance.

Movies often reinforced to me that I was worthy of love, regardless of whether my hands were scissors or if I was a head-scarf-wearing Turkish girl abandoned in the back of a Nazi taxi-driver’s cab.

Movies told me if I put my mind to it, I could accomplish anything. Sure, the characters on screen didn’t look like me. But they seemed like me. And that was enough.

That brings me quite nicely to my next point.

4. My brother said that I wasn’t pretty.

I was about 9.

I can’t remember what we were arguing about. I think that there was no one on screen that looked like me.  Even then I could see the danger of only seeing faces devoid of color on screen. It can distort your view of your human privilege.

I think I said something like, “Why can’t someone like me be on screen?”

And my brother said quite readily, “Because you’re not pretty.”

That stung more than a little. It still does. You know. Memory.

But I am amazed to tell you that I also remember something else – I knew that he was lying. I knew that I was drop-dead gorgeous and hecka fascinating.

So was he.

Pretty much everyone I’d ever met up until that point, male or female, old or young, dark-skinned or light, I had liked.  Everyone I’d met, I wanted to play with.

It was only much later that I was conditioned to hate myself.

And that’s when I realize someone like me needs to be on TV. Someone like me needs to show up on the silver screen. God knows how many 9-year-old girls hear, “You’re not pretty,” and believe it. Not cool.

I realize now why I’m always angry, why I’m always fighting some grave injustice and why my characters are always fighting something. It’s my brother’s fault! I knew it!

5. Writing allows me to look at things that are too painful with a little distance.

Writing helps me put myself in the shoes of someone else and forgive them. It lets me dive into a memory by giving my emotions to someone else and thus not hurting myself too deeply. It’s a good way of putting away my ego and allowing someone else, namely my characters, to figure things out. More often than not, they are a whole lot smarter than me.

6. Writing lets me have a happy ending, even if life was not that kind.

Movies tell me that it’s all going to be okay in the end. The movies that I like anyway. That everything will eventually make sense in the end. That there’s an internal logic to this mad world and I can’t possibly see it because I’m in it.

How about you? Why do you write?

I realize now that this is also a post about why I love movies.

Much love and beauty to you, my beautiful readers.

Wassalam and Fee Amanillah,

The Happy (and beautiful) Muslimah (Mashallah!)

The Rest and Relaxation Protocol

Bismillah ir Rahman ir Raheem

Assalam alaikum wr wb, peeps.

Once again – not feeling great.

It’s not more of the same. Was feeling good then had a sudden turn of weather.

What does feeling bad feel like to me? In a word – exhaustion. My head hurts, my stomach and chest hurts. I feel like a rubber band stretched too tight. This has been happening far too often lately and I think Allah (Subhaana Wa Ta’aala) is telling me it’s time for a change.

I think Allah (Subhaana Wa Ta’aala) is trying to tell me to slow down and live with more intention. Intention is not scrabbling for power in the darkness, smacking away every human being that comes close. Intention is grabbing what you got and going after it.

Problem is, I don’t know what I got and I don’t know what I’m going after.

In other words – I haven’t planned my year yet. I know – it’s February.

As I said before, I hate planning. I hate disappointing myself.

But I’ve recently shifted my perspective on planning. Planning is simply a tool to help me show up with – you guessed it – the right intention insha Allah. If things go well, Alhamdulillah (thank God)! If not, thank God! Perhaps something better will fall into place.

Better late than never.

May Allah (subhaana wa ta’aala) help me get over my allergy to planning. May He make my week of rest and reflection productive and inspiring. May I be set up practically and spiritually for the rest of the year. Ameen!

May Allah (subhaana wa ta’aala) grant us success in this life and the next.

Peace out.

Wassalam and Fee Amanillah,

The Happy Muslimah.

My friend Fear and 2013

Bismillah ir Rahman ir Raheem

Assalam alaikum wr wb!

Man, it’s been a wild year huh?

Early January this year, I went to a cousin’s engagement. On our way back to Colombo, my family’s car got hit by two buses. That’s right. Not one. TWO.

Isn’t that wild?

Alhamdulillah, everyone walked away from that accident.

I got a good knock on the head, though, which resulted in a dramatic swelling of my face as the blood from my head injury fell down into my eye sockets.

The effect my face had on people was hilarious. I scared children and made women cry.

I look back on that incident and I have to say, not only am I grateful, I am terrifically happy.

As odd as it sounds, we couldn’t have chosen better timing and a better location to have a disaster. Our entire family was on that same road home.  From wherever they were, they all turned around and came back to aid my mom and dad.  I can say with utmost certainty; there are far worse places to have a mild concussion.

I can’t remember much of the 12 hours or so after the accident and even in the weeks after, as my brain recuperated, my short term memory was a bit wonky. My big brother (who specializes in emergency medicine) said there’s nothing to worry about; I probably felt drowsy.  Thinking back, waking up in the middle of conversations just adds to that hilarity of the situation.

But my parents were not that amused. They were fully conscious, terrified and anxious.

The capital-F Fear has lasted a bit too long. It’s been almost a year now. My father is still frightened to drive, thinking he fell asleep at the wheel that day. He tells me, “I’m too old to drive. I am too tired. I am too distracted. ” The Fear cripples him.

Why was I capital-H Happy? Why was he Afraid? Was it because I was unconscious? Was it because I was naive? Was it because I simply didn’t care?

Recently I have been quite fearful myself. A recent social engagement left me crabby and shaking.

I have been watching my ‘I am’ statements recently and found there is a shocking prevalence of a kind of self-smack talk. “I don’t like new people. I am not good with new people. I am not good with unfamiliar situations. I am a nervous person. I am a shy person.”

I thought of something else I’d learned recently.

Watch your thoughts, for they become words. Watch your words, for they become actions. Watch your actions, for they become habits. Watch your habits, for they become your character. And watch your character, for it becomes your destiny. What we think, we become. My father always said that. And I think I am fine.

I’ve heard this many times, but honestly it’s only made sense now.

These fearful thoughts have probably become my character. A photographer once told me she was surprised that I am a comedian because I was so timid.

“Like a mouse?” I thought at the time. I wasn’t angry; I was just sad that my Fear was so evident. Still I managed to have a kick-butt photo shoot.

On the morning of that social gathering, I sat very still and quiet and listened to my thoughts.

I was frightened of other people. I thought they would hurt me. I thought they would prey on my vulnerability. I thought they would bully me.

Good Lord, where did these horrid thoughts come from?

I’m not going to blame anyone else. I’m not going to blame some monolithic culture for branding a tiny South East Asian woman with stereotypical qualities.

Wherever they came from, they must be stopped. Because I don’t want to ‘become’ frightened. I don’t want my destiny to be shrinking away in the corners of rooms, waiting for someone to notice me and being scared when they do.  Allah Subhaana Wa Ta’aala is my Protector and His world is too big and too beautiful Mashallah.

I’ve learned that my friend Fear doesn’t leave when asked. He doesn’t leave when yelled at. And he doesn’t budge, even if you tell him to go back where he came from.

I have started changing my thoughts consciously. I’ve started to turn “I am shy” to “I am hopeful”, “I am thoughtful”, “I am observant”, “I am peaceful”. Nothing wrong with not talking. When you listen you learn so much about so many new things. When you consciously listen, it takes a bit of hard work. You have to shelve your ego and give the other person the space to express themselves. I’m still trying but Alhamdulillah it’s a richly rewarding experience.

The day of the accident, I was happy because I wasn’t alone. That day and all the days after that, every time I woke up someone I loved was there. It was like the world’s best Facebook picture slideshow.

And the only person who was hurt was me and I knew it wasn’t that bad. You know when something inside you is changed forever and Alhamdulillah that didn’t happen that day.

That particular week, I was just grateful for every single silly little thing, from my parents to TV, from boiled eggs to pain medication, from hugs to the wind, to beautiful confusing Sri Lanka to lovely and infuriating Dubai.

Hopefully insha Allah in changing my thoughts, I will change my character. Hopefully insha Allah I will nurture peace, whether my friend Fear is with me or not.

That, more than anything, is my intention for 2013 insha Allah.

Have a blessed year. Have a blessed life insha Allah!

Wassalam and Fee Amanillah.

The Happy (and fully healed) Muslimah.

Switching horses mid-stream

(Picture from

Assalam alaikum wa rahmatullahi wa barakatahu

Allah (SWT)’s mercy be on you, dear owner of eyeballs. I know lately, He is definitely been showering it on me.

About 7 years ago, I started writing a science fiction/fantasy novel in college. It was the project of my college years, wildly ambitious, spanning dimensions and planets and species. I attempted to tackle subjects of which I had barely any knowledge or experience – consciousnesses, quantum physics, identity, physicality, race, religion, society, culture. My imagination knew no bounds.

I continued this novel into 2008. But somewhere along the line, I decided I wanted to be a screenwriter. I have been struggling with that art form ever since.

But that story I once was so invested in still haunts me. Its characters have bled into some of my screenplays. My first feature had its main characters as some of its supporting cast. I found myself loving these characters and these stories, missing them, though I hadn’t looked at those word documents in four years.

I moved to Denver, Colorado. Yeah I know. It shocked me too. More on that later.

My husband talked about a fresh start. New freedoms. Away from countries and people whose relationships carried too much baggage.

I found myself thinking of my sci-fi novel again. Thinking that it wasn’t as bad as I thought it was. That I should finish it.

I looked back at my notes. Dayummm. I had an imagination Mashallah. I had courage. I was more insightful than I thought. But I didn’t trust myself. I let that snarky voice all writers have tell me how crap I was. How no one would ever read my novel. How I could never measure up to Vonnegut or Octavia Butler.

But why should I even try? I’m not the wonderful, effable, laugh-till-I-cry Vonnegut. I’m not the amazing, brave, beautiful Octavia Butler. I’m Sabina Giado. Adjectives yet to be written insha Allah.

That’s what killed my project all those years ago.  Reading those beautiful people and feeling despair instead of inspiration, hope, rejuvenation.

Science fiction is about hope, not misery. Science fiction is about possibility, endless, untold possibility, limited only by our imagination, not the blackness of despair. That’s why I love science fiction. That’s why it resonates with me somewhere below my belly button. That’s why I plunge into libraries looking for Mr. Vonnegut like he was a friend I haven’t seen in years. (I haven’t. I haven’t read a Vonnegut novel since I dropped my sci-fi novel in 2008. Just picked up Breakfast of Champions.)

But then there’s screenwriting. Good Lord, I’ve invested time, money and hope in my screenplays. I’ve met people in coffee shops, trying to pitch them my work. I’ve wrote and wrote at all hours of the day and the night. I’ve read hundreds of articles, listened to tons of podcasts and roundtables, watched videos and films, though admittedly only read a few screenplays.

I feel like I’m on the cusp of breaking through. A little more reading, writing, learning and listening and maybe I can write something truly great.

But that’s odd. You see, what I wrote there? ‘Something’. Not ‘a screenplay’. Just something.

My study of screenwriting has helped me in tons in my storytelling abilities in general. I can spot bad characterization, overwriting, underwriting, a terrible ending or climax. I can also spot genius or an incredible mastery of craft. Both on screen or in a book.

I know what works with me. What I’d like to watch – or read – and what doesn’t.

As you can see, I feel like I have quite a dilemma.

Maybe I should try writing this bad boy for a while. What have I got to lose? Everything that comes out of me is from Allah (swt) anyway. Perhaps He wants me to finish this novel. One way or another. Inner critic be damned.

Plus, my last screenplay was about difficult emotional subject matter and really drained me. Maybe writing this novel will be like a working holiday.  I might figure out I love sci-fi more than so-called ‘dark’ comedy.

I’m familiarizing myself with my characters again. It’s like I’m meeting them after a long time.

I’ve decided to simplify the structure a lot. I’d like to simplify the goals and the science of the extra-terrestrials too.

Most of all, I’d just like to worry less and write what feels good, regardless of how little or much I think I know.

Lord knows, none of us will ever really know enough. We can just do the best we can with what we know.

Insha Allah it’ll work. Or not. It’ll still be fun insha Allah.

Much love and happy writing.

Peace and the protection of God,

The Happy Muslimah.