Category Archives: life

How to be a real, not fake ally

Assalam alaikum!

Something I wrote on Twitter on Friday gained much more attention that I expected.

Here’s what I said:

  • I am considering quiting the film industry. I am tired. Racists have gotten me down. I was offered my first TV writing job earlier this year. Only to find out the show was built on the backs of Muslim women. (thread. Unfortunately).
  • I went to a support group for emerging female directors. Only to be interrupted by the white women in the group. I’ve had meetings with people in power. Who only have apologies and promises for the future. The future is now. The future is me.
  • I look at my projects and I feel optimistic. They’re beautiful. They deserve better.
  • I look at myself and see a tired woman with a broken heart. I look at the industry and see far too few allies and far too little chance for me to break through. No more of this. I’m done here.

As you can imagine, there was a lot of “Don’t quit!” “Try harder!” And a lot of “The world would be poorer without your voice.”

The world is poorer because it doesn’t give a crap about my voice. Not just mine, but a whole load of people, from what I can see.

I wrote a Twitter thread in response. But it didn’t thread up. What’s up with that, Twitter?

Anyway, as I expected, that thread got much less response than the first ‘woe is me’ thread. People love to see a Muslim woman cry but won’t do the work to make sure she doesn’t cry again.

So here’s my thread. Telling myself before anyone else what it means to be a true ally.

  1. The most wondrous thing people with privilege do is throw their hands and say ‘What can I do?’ I’ve heard that at least three times from people in power in the last few months. It literally makes me see stars.
  2. We should all check our privilege. I’ve got mine – I’m hetero, able-bodied, married, living in a Western country. I have almost no accent in English. I have a college education. None of these things have ANYTHING to do with my ability to do my job. But somehow people more readily believe I’m competent because of them. Still I am where I am today.  I’d have probably given up much sooner without these privileges.
  3. I’ve been creating for years. The moment I share my trauma, everyone loves it. Don’t just elevate our trauma; elevate our joy too. 
  4. Patterns are hard to break. If our brains are neuroplastic, surely our industries can change too. It’s a man-made system and made for men too; it’s up to you to unmake it. 
  5. Racism is a white person’s mess. Not my job to clean it up. But because my brother charged me to leave the world better than I found it, here I am.
  6. Give people credits. No credits = this never happened. Credits = a resume. Credits +money = a professional career. Aim to give us professional careers.
  7. Upskill. Creativity is a toolbox. Share your tools. You’ll likely find underrepresented people have been doing unofficial and unaccredited learning from books, YouTube videos and seminars for years. This doesn’t mean that learning isn’t valuable.
  8. Look at your life and your career. Find the gaps. Find the spaces.
  9. Listen to us. We’re angry and we’re sad. Don’t be defensive. There is no longer any defense or any excuse. All of this information is on the Internet for free. All it takes is a Google, but here I am, like a helpful Sri Lankan housekeeper, cleaning up your mess. Again.
  10. https://creativeequitytoolkit.org/
  11. https://inclusivetoolkit.com/
  12. Work ‘with’ us. Not ‘over’ us.
  13. Your Mileage May Vary. 
  14. Please donate to this family. We all need each other in this brutal world: https://www.launchgood.com/campaign/siddiqah__azraqee__recessive_dystrophic_epidermolysis_bullosa_1#!/  
  15. Please watch my film. If it gets to a 1000 views, I might be able to get an associate membership from the Australian Director’s Guild! 

Anyway I’m taking an extended break and trying different things. And trying not to cry too much.

But I know nothing is forever and things change.

Don’t binge-watch.

Bismillah

I know, dude, this is a really strange thing for a filmmaker to say, eh?
Look, cinema is a DARK DARK art okay? You can get people used to all kinds of dehumanizing nonsense by showing them IMAGES of it first.
No one knows this better than Muslim hijab-wearing women.
And I’ve been studying and working with cinema now a good ten years. Yeah I’m old. Never you mind how old I am! Just kidding, I’m 34 this year. Growing old is a privilege.
The standard method of creating, at least the way I’ve been taught, is to have a theme.
What is a theme, you ask, assuming you are one of the many lambs my kind lead to slaughter.
It is the ‘meaning’ of the film/show. The question we try to explore. Its essence. Its beating heart.
The more robust the heart, the better the show/film. The more the theme permeates every aspect of the film/show’s existence, the more enjoyable it is to watch. You feel like you’re in good hands. You relax. You enjoy the ride. You binge-watch.
You turn off your thinking brain.
Don’t do that, my love. You’ll drive into a ditch.
Because films and TV always have to leave out SOMETHING. That something is usually something really important.
This is because neither form can tolerate that level of complexity (at least not yet). The real world has multiple layers to it. The world in entertainment can only have a few, otherwise it would cease to be entertaining and just life. And nobody wants to watch life.
The most important questions is…what is the creator of this piece of art leaving out?
Take for example the show Dark.
It is essentially about the inevitability of destiny. This is not destiny delivered from God. It is genetic destiny. Sons are doomed to walk in their fathers’ footsteps. We cannot escape our family’s trauma. We cannot outrun grief. We simply cannot let the people we love go. Even if we escape to another time period. Even if we escape to another dimension.
There is no God in Dark, only time. Which no one worshiped, but everyone tried to control.
There is also no therapy in the world of Dark. Which, given some effort, could have solved all of its problems. But then what do I know?
You see? In order for the TV show to work, you have to leave out something. The creators of this show chose to leave out joy, hope, trust, the acceptance stage of the grieving process, etc.
If I hadn’t stop to think, I wouldn’t have recognized that.
So now what do I do?
I make du’a before I read or watch something, even if it is only a tiny Youtube video or article. (Or at least I intend to. There’s so much content everywhere, that mindfulness will take some practice).
I ask Allah (God) to show me what the creators have left out. I remind myself that all power belongs to Him and we will all return to Him. I confirm that He is the only One who can change my condition. This is a affirmation of my values.
I also try not to watch things for too long. I make notes every so often on what I like and what I hate.
Dark is a beautiful TV show. It was densely and thickly plotted. I loved that time was a tight knot and I loved following along as each strand unravelled.
But as I’ve said above – no God, no joy, no love that doesn’t immediately destroy itself. What a well, DARK, way to live.
Anyway, this is what I do or try to. Be interesting to hear what you think.

I lost a child.

Bismillah ir Rahman ir Raheem

I’m not even sure it was a child. All I know is that it was a blighted ovum – a child that could have been, had those cells decided to multiply.

The easiest kind of miscarriage, from what I’ve heard.

So what did I lose exactly?

Hope.

Optimism.

A chance to start again.

I lost and then I lost again.

Month after month.

It’s been a year almost since we lost our baby.

There’s a part of me that knows that I am being shackled by social mores. The only way to be isn’t as a mother. The only way to love children isn’t just to give birth to them. There’s a whole world of children that I could love. If that is indeed my calling. And it is.

There’s also a part of me that is gaping, empty. Wounded beyond recognition.

One year later I still feel grief. My body convulses in pain and anguish and refuses to get pregnant again. For fear I will cling to this small piece of flesh and then die over and over when what was never mine is taken from me again.

This is the opposite of peace. This is the quintessential attachment.

I don’t know what I’m supposed to do about it. Other than to allow myself to feel it. I loved that little empty thing. That little empty white sac that passed out of me took a piece of me with it. No, not just me. Me and the man I’m going to love till the end of time.

Maybe my kid is playing with my mother in heaven. Maybe my mother felt lonely and asked God to send her someone to talk to. Mama and I used to have the most hilarious conversations. Mostly because I would never agree with her. Then she would get mad and she was funniest when she was angry.

And God said, “It’s not Sabina’s time yet, but here’s her child.” I hope you’re not giving your grandma too much trouble. Scratch that – give her trouble, she enjoys it. If she’s not tearing her hair out, she’s not alive.

But then neither of you are alive.

This isn’t one of those miscarriage articles with a soaring ending. “Two months after, I was pregnant again.” I’m not. I may never be. Who knows? I don’t.

I hate those blasted gloating articles. Everything doesn’t have a happy ending. This is not a goddamn Disney movie. Sometimes it’s shit and we need to sit in it. #pottytraining #ongoing

I’m learning to be okay with that. Like humans adjust to all situations, however intolerable they might seem.

Do you have a child I could borrow? I promise I’ll give them back in the same condition.

But some days I also need a break. I feel like it was my fault. And I find myself pleading with God. “Please. Give me another shot. I’ll have more vitamin D. I’ll eat more fruit and vegetables. I won’t bathe my child in my own trauma. Please. Give me one more chance to get this right.”

It’s amazing to me how well I can beat myself up. Guantanamo wouldn’t do as good a job.

There has been a little upside to the loss of my child. Just a tiny one.

I’m paying much more attention to my general well-being. I’m much more aware that if Mama isn’t well, baby isn’t well. I’ve spent so much time and energy trying to make peace with anxiety, depression and fatigue as a part of my life. When I should be kicking it to the curb as quickly as possible. A more joyous life is possible for me. With a few changes.

I stumbled onto a functional medicine practitioner. She diagnosed me with leaky gut. To my astonishment, she said there could have been a link between leaky gut and my mother’s ALS.

I have an autistic five year old. The last thing I want to do is die. At least for his sake if not for mine.

So I’ve started an anti inflammation diet. I’m taking every vitamin under the sun. I’m working on getting my five servings of veggies a day. A cultural bias towards meat isn’t helping but I’m working on it.

I’m fighting anxiety. I’m not killing myself like my mother did. I’m letting things go.

Some days I feel better. Some days I slip into my old bad ways and feel much much much worse.

I’m grateful to my body to waking me up. To love. And to me.

I alternate between compassion and self-loathing, sometimes in the same moment. It’s painful to be so alive.

Why am I telling you all of this? Am I using you as my garbage bin or what?

In my usual fashion, insha Allah (God willing) I’ll be making a web series on this very topic. Trying to turn my frowns into smiles.

It’ll be full of muck like Just Food. The way I like it. We’ll really get in there. Watch this space, lovely. 

To all my fellow post-partum sufferers: I’m sorry. It’s not your fault. 

Trigger warning – birth trauma, post-partum depression, breastfeeding failure. But I promise this has a happy ending.

Here’s my story. You’re not alone.

I wrote this to Suzanne Barston over at Fearless Formula Feedera little while after my son was born. In ‘celebration’ of Just Food releasing, I thought I’d share my full labour and delivery and breastfeeding story.

I’ve edited it to protect the guilty. Because nothing can protect them from God’s wrath.

I’ve also added a few things in my usual parentheticals.

So here goes:

“I’ve been trying to come to terms with my traumatic labor and breastfeeding journey and how it’s changed me. I hope telling my story will do that.

I would like to tell you I glowed and felt wonderful during pregnancy. I did not. Copious amounts of vomit aside, it seemed like the whole world was out to tell me that I would miscarry or harm my child. From random women I was sitting next to at Eid prayer (“I lost my baby at six months. Don’t do anything stupid. You’re not normal. You’re pregnant. Just because you feel you can do it, doesn’t mean you can.”) to my very own father (“You’ll lose the baby”).

I never felt adequate. I never felt up to the task of growing a baby inside me. Leave alone taking care of one.

And almost as a giant middle finger to my naysayers, I had my heart set on a natural childbirth. I wanted to give birth to my child, feeling every contraction like a wave of pain. And get through it. For once, I wanted to feel like a warrior. I wanted to feel strong.

I did Hypnobabies in preparation for this. Because I needed to calm the heck down. I’ve tried this ‘woo woo’ stuff before. It’s never worked. I don’t know why I thought it would work now. But I was still hoping against hope that it would still work for me.

I had a 38-hour labor. My body didn’t know what to do to get my son out. Also every time I stood up, my son’s heart-rate would go down. So I was confined to the bed. Not part of the plan. After about 24 hours, the contractions came hard and fast but my cervix was not dilating. I gave up and got an epidural so I could get some sleep.

During all of this time, the nastiest person in Colorado was my L&D nurse. The woman taunted and demoralized me every chance she got. “Are you okay?” “Do you want to talk about pain now?” “This is going to be the hardest push of your life.” No sh**, lady. She didn’t help me experiment with positions. She didn’t help me get comfortable. She even wanted to stop me going to the bathroom, going so far as to suggest a bed-pan. All as if to say, “you’re on my turf and you’re my b**** now.”

I don’t curse this much usually, but I’ve never felt more trapped and powerless.

Finally by some miracle, my child came out of me. By the grace of God, a vaginal delivery. I think my nurse and my doctor decided that they were going to ‘let’ me have a vaginal delivery. out of the goodness of their hearts. Perhaps because my doctor didn’t want her rate of C-sections to go up. Perhaps because the hospital didn’t want the rate of C-sections to go up.

Regardless, my son was born and he was stunning. He still is.

Oh, but it was about to get worse. So so so much worse.

The first few days, he latched and nursed like a champ. Trouble was, he was never satisfied. The nurse kept telling me that his stomach was only the size of a grape and he didn’t need much. Well, he had some grape in there. He screamed every time he stopped nursing. My nipples became cracked and sore.

One day, I broke the latch and put him down. I couldn’t take the pain anymore.

A few days after we took him home, he refused to nurse. He lay on my nursing pillow as I tried to put my nipple in his mouth, kicking and screaming and crying. His big beautiful eyes looking up at me in fury and hunger as if to ask me, “Why are you doing this to me?”

And you know what the worst thing about this whole time is? My son looks like me. And it killed me. I would look in the mirror and see his face, not mine. I wanted him to look and be like his father. I wanted his ‘screw-up’ mama to be a footnote in his genetic make-up.

Too many times in my life have I been bullied. Too many times have I looked into people’s faces and asked, “Why are you doing this to me?” I never wanted that for my son. I never wanted to become the bully.

He didn’t latch again for two weeks.

In this time, I went to see a lactation consultant. She was more concerned with talking to my mother-in-law about whether she nursed or not and what they do in Sri Lanka (where I’m from) rather than helping me. She treated me very much like a ‘magical person of color’ – as if us ‘Eastern’ cultures have this breastfeeding thing down pat.

Not true.

Her comments to the Caucasian ladies who also attended the session were more comforting and more accepting of their feelings.

So I was paying 15 dollars a session to this woman for nothing new.

(What I described as nothing new was actually some top-shelf shaming.)

One day though, he miraculously latched – with a nipple shield. He nursed for a week or two with a nipple shield.

The nursing, though, made me feel better, much better.

One night, he and I were up for two hours trying to get him satisfied. I refused to give him formula, thinking to myself, “No! This is going to be a breastfed baby!” Finally, just as I had made up a 4-ounce bottle out of frustration, he tired himself out and fell asleep.

Did I just starve my son to make him breastfeed?

The ladies at the La Leche League Facebook group, of course, had plenty of advice. “Maybe he’s just one of those babies who wants to feed 24/7.” “You should wear your baby.”

All of their suggestions seemed undo-able to me and sent me spiraling even deeper into depression.

 But then of course he stopped nursing and started screaming again. Right after that, about 5 weeks postpartum, I got my period. My milk vanished.

I went to another lactation session. The consultant looked at me wearily and said, “What are we going to do with you?” The other ladies laughed. I felt like a kid who’d failed an exam.

Am I a sack of sh** like everyone says I am? I know I’m not. After spending a day Googling suicide, I decided to see a therapist and take medication.

I hope my son turns out okay. I hope I turn out okay.

I’m sort of glad that breastfeeding didn’t happen. It’s like I needed a knock upside the head to figure things out, to finally turn off all those mean voices in my head. For my son’s sake, if not my own. Though really, we need each other. I’m also glad he refused to nurse and demanded the bottle. Who knows what might have happened to him if he was as dogged to breastfeed as I was?

And according to the research, my little boy will be fatter, sicker, poorer and less popular…because of formula???

I’m not sorry I gave up breastfeeding and pumping.

My son learned to turn over recently. I can’t remember being so excited about anything in my entire life. And one day, when he and I were doing laundry , I found him studying the cabinet with great interest. I decided to lie down beside him and figure out what in the heck was so amazing. From his perspective, it was like a cross between the Empire State Building (which I’ve never seen) and the TARDIS (which I’ve also never seen).

It was truly amazing.

If I was still struggling to breastfeed, I might never have had the joy, the love, the perspective to see things from where my son lies.

This must be what poverty feels like. Not knowing where your child’s next meal is coming from. Weeping because you can’t feed them. Counting pennies as you do. Why are we impoverishing each other? Why are we creating artificial forms of privilege? Don’t we human beings have enough weapons to hurt each other with?

There’s always going to be something. Women are always going to be trained to look askance at each other. ‘Oh you’re not skinny/married/single/straight/lesbian/dating/studying/pregnant/breastfeeding/whatever enough'”

(I don’t know if I’m going to have any more kids or how I’m going to feed them. Whatever happens, I hope they always believe that they are loved and that they are enough.)<

(oh yeah and that happy ending? I’m still here. And I made a film Alhamdulillah!)


And if you’d like a postpartum double bill, this is my friend Shoshana Rosenbaum’s horror thriller on early motherhood:

Do you like what you see in the mirror? Me neither. Until now.

I’m mildly embarrassed to tell you this, but here goes.

Last year I took a course on how to dress myself.  

Yeah. I did that. I spent money on it.

Why the **** would I do something so  ******* dumb when we could have been making ******** movies, I hear you say?

But you know what? It is, hands down, one of the best investments I’ve ever made. And I have spent a crap ton of money on ‘courses’.

And that’s because I learned so much.

I love clothes.

I love colour.

I love movement.

And I’ve realized that I’m 33 years old and nobody gives a hooping funt what I wear.

Nope, not a a flying flamingo

Not even a defenestrated fizzwaggle.

So I dress for me. If I like what I see in the mirror, dayuummm. Mashallah. I give myself a grin. I’m keen to slay my day.

I need not get a single compliment about my outfit. That’s not what I’m looking for. I’m looking after me.

But make-up?

I’ve spent a lot of years poring over my face. Poring over my pimples. Poring over my pores. I wish I could grab my 20-year-old self by the shoulders and shake her, “Don’t buy that make-up. It will do precisely jack all. All it will do is make you look like a reject from Twilight. Or a mime that managed to escape their box.”

Seriously tho. Make-up is expensive. It goes bad (what? Are there bananas in foundation? Why does it go bad?) And and and….have you noticed how the number of freaking things we need to put on our face to look groomed keeps growing?

Ten years ago, had you heard of highlighters? No, right?

Yeah. That’s something that appeared in the last five years.

I don’t know about you but I sweat. I don’t need to catch the light. The light catches me.

Let’s wear clothes that make us feel good. Really really good. Like I-could-swing-from-a-chandelier good.

View this post on Instagram

 

Assalam alaikum and Eid Mubarak, family! Marvel at the orange I finally have the courage to wear.

A post shared by Sabina Giado (@sabina.giado) on

 

I never would have the courage to wear this Fanta shade of orange if I hadn’t internalized this belief:

No one cares what we are wearing except us.

What if we attract too much attention on the train? What if someone attacks us?

That person would have attacked us if we were wearing only black o the fliest pair of Chuck Taylors in the country. Violent Islamophobes don’t see clothes. They see targets.

We’ve got only a limited amount of years on this earth. Let’s choose joy. We’re privileged enough to have a choice.

P.S If you love make-up, more power to you. I can’t be bothered anymore. It’s no fun.

P.P.S. I just spent a whopping $10 on a BB cream. And I started using it yesterday. I look exactly the freaking same. My problem is, if I spend money on my face, I expect to look like Miranda Kerr. It’s make-up, not plastic surgery.

What I wish I could have said to my parents about filmmaking

Assalam alaikum dear parents,

I know you were terrified.

If it makes you feel any better, I was too. I had the nervous runs every day.

I mean, there I was, the daughter of Sri Lankans. From Sri Lanka! A tear-drop in the Indian Ocean! Most people don’t even know where the heck we are!

And here I was, telling you I want to make movies for the rest of my life.

Why shouldn’t you be scared? And angry at me for making such mad decisions?

You’d leave home at 7 am and get home past 11 pm every night. Just to send me to uni. And I was going into an industry where living wages aren’t guaranteed, even for mid-career professionals.

You’d raised me to walk with my head held high. And I was going into an industry known for its abuse of women.

Worse still – I wear a hijab. I may as well have been wearing a target.

I’ve been writing screenplays now for about 9 years. I’ve been a filmmaker for two. I’d like to tell you something – you were right. You were right about every. Single. Thing.<

You were right to be mad at me.

You were right to be scared.

All of your reasons weren’t judgments; they are facts. This industry doesn’t pay. And well, the #metoo and #timesup movement are testament to its treatment of women.

But please hear me when I say: If there was anything else I could have done, I would have done it. My other jobs gave me severe anxiety disorder.

I went to work every day with dread like a suffocating blanket. Every Sunday night, the chest pains would be so bad I couldn’t do much more than cower under my blanket.

Apart from the physical pain – those grandchildren you want? They weren’t going to happen. Not with my body like that.

But crap, who the hell do I think I am?

You ran from cages I cannot imagine so I didn’t have to live my life in them. I’m safe. I’m fed. I’m clothed. I’m sheltered. And now I want to make films.

Who does that? People who are free.

Safe minds dream. From those dreams spring art.

Why do you think there are so many white people in the creative industries?

Doesn’t that make you mad? It makes me furious.

But I want you to know how blessed my life is now. I still have anxiety but it’s much reduced. My chest feels expansive, not contracted. Yes, my work is hard. It’s thankless. It doesn’t pay very well. Or at all. There are times where I have felt such deep shame at my perceived inadequacies that I haven’t known what to do with myself.

But I know deep down that this is where I’m supposed to be. This is what God put me on Earth to do. Otherwise, He wouldn’t have given me joy. He wouldn’t have given me freedom. He wouldn’t have given me a head bursting with stories and ideas.

I love you. I always have. And I always will.

3 tools for the socially anxious filmmaker

Bismillah ir Rahman ir Raheem

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

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

That’s what making my second film was like.

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

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

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

I avoided my tripwires, not my triggers.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

I also tried to space out my triggers. 

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

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

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

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

Being a filmmaker is a lot like being pregnant.

Take care of yourself, beautiful people.

Handling vicarious trauma as a mother of color

Bismillah ir Rahman ir Raheem

It’s no secret that there’s a lot of absolutely disgusting things being done by humans to other humans and very often to animals all around the world.

Every time I open up Twitter or Facebook or anything for that matter, I find evidence of the unending evil that we can inflict upon each other.

For me, living in a Western country during peace time, people who share my identity categories gather to complain and commiserate. I must say we live in enviable comfort.

When it comes to WOCs in the film industry, what we’re doing is extremely important though. Seeing people of color like myself going through the same things I am was like oxygen to me. Like climbing out of a well and smelling fresh air for the first time.

I think we also need to start moving forward. We all know there’s a problem with the film industry, with the hiring of women and people of color. Now the question I am continuously asking is…what can I do about it?

We’ve defined the problem. Now let’s define the solution.

It’s Ramadan. It’s the month of mercy. It’s the month of forgiveness. I’ve decided to turn off the darkness so I can find my light.

Log off Facebook and Twitter for a month.

But it’s not that simple. Nope, it isn’t.

I’ve found a lot of professional contacts on Facebook. I have a few projects I’m working towards in the coming months that would require me to connect with potential collaborators on Facebook.

So what do I do?

I’ve been trying to put some limits on my social media connection. Only 10 minutes. Only in the night-time or only in the morning. Only things I can actually do something about. I don’t feed my personal Balrog more narratives of victimhood and powerlessness.

Like I said, compared to some in the world, I live in enviable comfort. There are systemic blocks against me. But I can actually do something. And I will. I will go to my grave doing something, even if it ultimately means nothing in this life.

But for that, I have to stop giving away my energy, mental, emotional and spiritual. I don’t know yet how to do that and still maintain the access to professional networks I’ve carved out.

The methods I’ve mentioned – they aren’t actually working. It’s hard not to fall down a rabbit-hole on social media when dang it, smart-phones and opposable thumbs make it so easy.

But I’ve been feeling this oppressive weight lately from the amount of stuff I consume. I wan to create more. And give more.

I’ll let you know when and if I figure it out.

The journey to Wakanda

Bismillah ir Rahman ir Raheem

Going to see Black Panther was quite a trial. I needed someone to watch Isa (my son) and my husband had a constantly shifting phone call with a tax accountant that ate up every evening of the week. Gah.

Finally we settled on Saturday afternoon. Not ideal to take an afternoon away from my family but I was so so so keen to visit Wakanda.

Almost out the door, I checked the train schedule. Track works!! Not having any faith or experience in buses and thinking my 10:30 a.m. showing was far too important to miss, I decided to drive. I hate driving.

Spoiler alert: I should have taken the bus.

I didn’t get a parking ticket at the mall – which confused and terrified the crap out of me and caused me to jump in and out of the car looking like a right booby at the parking meter on the way out.
I banged my thumb in the car door. It was sore for two days.
And the traffic was in-freaking sane! I hate driving.

Have I mentioned that I hate driving? #luxuryproblems

But you know what? Wakanda was worth it.

I don’t think I’ve ever cried that much during an action movie. Certainly never a Marvel movie.

I found myself missing my dad deeply. My flawed human dad.

I have such a huge girl crush on The General who burned up the screen every time she showed up. In the first scene, she corrects the Black Panther. And as the fight scene progresses, it turns out she was right to do so.

The Black Panther’s closest advisers were pretty much all women. Silly, stubborn, traditional, modern, frightened, furious… a real study in how to write complex female characters. I was surprised and delighted by just how feminine the movie was.

Oh yes and African-ness. That is, non-Whiteness.

Like a lot of first-generation immigrants, I’ve had my language taken from me. In an effort to please people who will never be pleased, our parents systematically drummed English into our heads. We spoke only English at home. We consumed only English media; we read only English novels. But they spoke Tamil to each other. They also spoke it at their shop to their staff who were mostly from South India and could understand it. But for us, they were content for us to be ‘coconuts’ – brown on the outside, white on the inside.

It does something to you, constantly consuming media that treats you as ‘the other’, letting the colonizer take what’s left of you even after the empire doesn’t exist anymore.

Because I spent most of my life in Dubai, I never really connected with my culture. The Emirates will never claim me for their own. And the meaning of that little passport cannot be denied. Sri Lanka is weird as all heck. And it thinks I am too. Still those are  my places. If not my homes. Those places are familiar to me.

Culture, specifically pop culture, is where I find home. Where I try to piece together an identity. And Wakanda has shown me what a poor and toxic home it’s been. It’s all white. Down to the seams. And mostly American.

In my early 20s, I found myself getting what I used to call ‘homesick’. Really what it was is that I wanted to see a nuanced portrayal of a non-white face. I would watch Bollywood obsessively but still couldn’t run away from the stench of the colonizer, the colorism, the consumerism, the modern-day capitalism.

In Black Panther, it was such a delight to see African culture explored and celebrated with such unbridled joy. I wanted to pause the film so I could drink it all in. Though I am neither Black nor African, it gave me an insight into what home might feel like.

Still, I can’t deny my privilege i.e. knowing where I come from For me, I know that Tamil is my language. If I made an effort, I could learn. I could go home to Kandy, poke around my ancestral home, ask some questions, get an idea of where I came from.

Descendants from enslaved peoples don’t have that luxury. They’ve had their identities ripped away from them. Maybe through Black Panther, they can have in fantasy what is far more difficult to grasp in reality. It’s a poor substitute but it’s one step on the path to healing.

May we all find home, wherever that might be.

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

Bismillah ir Rahman ir Raheem

I’m really quite shy.

No, shy is pejorative.

I’m reserved.

But that implies that I’m a tight wad when I’m not.

I’m introverted, okay?

I think.

I love people.

However, the limitless possibility of interaction paralyzes me sometimes. And while talking to people is huge fun, I don’t crave it like plants crave sunlight. I find alone time rejuvenating, not people time.

As you might have noticed, I’m trying desperately to protect myself because being an introvert is often seen as a bad thing. When I did stand-up and improv, people were often stunned at how shy I was in real life. And they said so.

Anyway, I don’t need to add another persecuted signifier to my already long list of persecuted signifiers.

Suffice to say, I find certain activities commonly associated with filmmaking downright vomit-inducing.

Pitching.
Networking.
Taking general meetings. Or specific meetings.

Can an introvert be a leader? Of course, we can. Leaders serve people. I’ve wanted to serve people all my life.

I’m working hard to entangle the tight knot of fears and insecurities that have stopped me from becoming a director all these years. When I feel that knot in the pit of my stomach, that instant aversion, my brain screaming ‘I don’t want to! I just want to stay home!’, I see him.

Who’s him?

The Balrog. Or rather, my Balrog.

I love him really. He looks frightening. And he wants to, of course. He’s got a mean roar. And fire in his belly for sure. But really, he’s cuddly and made of orange fluff. And the stuff that looks like scabs is actually jelly. He’s my fears.

I give him a big hug. It’s like being swallowed by a bear but it doesn’t hurt. Quite the opposite. I feel the fire in him go out.

I ask him what he’s frightened of.

“I’m frightened people will laugh at us. They’ll judge us because we wear a hijab. Because we’re a woman. Because we’re short. Because we don’t have any credits to our name, apart from the time we responded to a crowd-funding campaign.”

I consider my answer as I gently wipe his tears.

“You’re quite right. People might laugh at us. They will very likely judge us for being brown, Muslim and female. And for not having done much.”

“Then why do you want to go?”

“Because I like meeting people with similar interests. With similar passions. It’s been a long while since I’ve been around people like that.”

All of the fire goes out of him.

“But it might kill us.”

“It won’t kill us.”

“It might hurt us.”

“Yes. It might hurt. But we won’t die.”

He slumps down into his favorite chintz armchair. It barely fits him but he loves it.

“Have a cup of tea with me?”

“You don’t drink tea anymore.”

“No, I don’t. You drink tea. We’ll watch The Good Place.”

“Deal.”

“Will you come with me to the thing?”

“Yes. Definitely. Always by your side. Like your personal bodyguard.”

In a way being an introvert is a blessing. Adulthood often feels like high school. We are all so desperate to belong somewhere. But I know now all too well what the cost of sacrificing my integrity will do to me. So I’d rather be alone. And thankfully, I’m okay with being alone. Most of the time.

Anyways, I’m never really alone. God. Balrog. And me. Chillin’ like villains.

I don’t always recognize Balrog when he shows up. But when I do, I’m happy to see him.