Tag Archives: communication

I hate movies; or How to eviscerate an idea

Bismillah ir Rahman ir Raheem.

Photo by Bruno Hamzagic

Assalam alaikum wr wb,

So help me God, I hate movies.

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


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

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

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

I would like a story.

How do you define a story?

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Fo’ rizzle.

So why am I ranting on a Monday morning?

I’ve been generating ideas for The Quest 2013.

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

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

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

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

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

As a viewer:

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

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

As a writer (this is the clever bit):

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

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

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

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

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

The Happy Muslimah

3 Lies I Have Been Told About Being A Successful Artist.

By Stuart Miles. From http://www.freedigitalphotos.net

Bismillah ir Rahman ir Raheem

Assalam alaikum wr wb, peeps.

So I’ve been on this radical rest trip. Of the many things I wanted to do (see a LOT of movies. Eat ice-cream. Take long walks), one of them was write, with no chance of success.

No chance of success. What does that mean to me?

That means that no one will see my work and tell me it’s wonderful. No one will ever release it in any way to the public – it will be never be published, painted, sculpted or filmed. It may even never be seen by eyes other than mine. If so, perhaps by uncomprehending eyes.

This is a highly emotionally fraught belief I have about my work. The message my work communicates must be understood. If not, I have ‘failed’. 

But I continued to write anyway, focusing on the outcome, this time not of success, but of failure. It seemed important to me to get used to failure. All the great creative minds in the world suffered thousands of failures before finally getting it right. I wanted to lessen the pain of failure, train myself to get the right perspective, to learn the lessons, rather than whinge, whine, mope and despair.

So I wrote a poem, a far-too-personal, far-too-esoteric, far-too-emotional poem about my husband. I knew that if I read it to him, there wasn’t much chance that he’d understand. But I wrote it anyway.

I continued to read an incredible book on characterization and did some of the creative exercises.

In adulthood, study is considered a waste of time unless there are monetary rewards. In childhood, it is considered a waste of time unless there are system-generated rewards such as grades and certificates.

But the true reward of study is putting what you learn into practice – when the surgeon saves a life, when the graphic designer designs a book, when the journalist publishes a controversial world-changing new story.

But the system trains us to look for short-term gains – grades, certificates or monthly salaries.

This makes studying in adulthood really arduous.  Without those regular accolades, it is much harder for me to maintain momentum though learning the ropes is essential for my craft.

I feel my chest constricting with the desire to do more. To achieve more. To be everything to everyone. To get that pat on the back, that glowing review. To bake that banana flan, visit all my aunts and uncles, take care of my in-laws and my husband and in the meantime, write an award-winning screenplay. And of course, look stunning when I go to my relative’s wedding.

My body fills with pain again and my head becomes cloudy. But now thankfully, I’ve learned to recognize the signs and stop myself before my head gets too big.

Oddly enough, just after I wrote this, I went looking for TED talks on success and motivation. I found this fascinating one by Mr. Dan Pink. Carrots and sticks just don’t work for 21st-century lateral-thinking problems. But intrinsic factors, my freedom, my degree of skill, my level of service to others; that’s what keeps us coming back to work.  That throws all of the jobs I’ve ever had into sharp relief.

This leads to the biggest and worst lie I’ve ever been told: That I am talented. True, my friends, my teachers, they probably all meant well, but the fact of the matter is the word ‘talented’ contains a connotation. A connotation that I am somehow above the rest. That perhaps that I do not need to work as hard. That a little of what I do goes the long way.

At least this is the belief that my arrogant talentless backside has had for a long while now.

I have had a false sense of entitlement. I am talented. They must hire me. I am talented. They must be excited by my short screenplay. I am talented. Of course I can write a feature.


I am a novice and I need to study. Talent might be inherent but skill needs to be learned. Talent is the sword but skill is the sharpening stone. Talent might be the beer, but skill is the funnel (I know that’s a haraam metaphor). My point is, talent is nothing without skill. And I don’t got no skills yet, son.

Writing this blog post was a mistake because it is definitely a short-term gain. When I hit publish, it’s ‘published’. But I am going to force myself to wait till it’s the right time to publish it.

I did however read the poem to my husband. He was very touched. And he understood every word.

That’s the best success I’ve ever had.

May Allah (subhaana wa ta’aala) bless you for your time.

Wassalam and Fee Amanillah,

The Happy Muslimah.

We are family. Or not: Some words of advice from Murshidah Said

Bismillah ir Rahman ir Raheem

Assalam alaikum wr wb!

If I asked my family to speak honestly to me, they would probably get confused.

Depending on their mood, or how well their day went, or how well I’ve been following their commands that day/week/month/year, they will either a) repeat the same lie they have always repeated or b) launch into a violent attack of everything I hold dear.

It’s quite obvious we can’t communicate with each other. We just don’t know how. They offend and I defend. This cycle has been repeating itself all my life.

This means that we can’t help each other. This means that things have gone unsaid for years, perhaps decades. This means that Allah (SWT) has blessed us with a family but the Devil has made sure we are all alone in the world.

My friends have confided in me about the communication patterns in their houses. They are frighteningly similar.

This is unacceptable and this is not something I would like to replicate with our children.

I asked my friend Murshidah Said, an empowerment expert and a dear friend, to help us put down different paths for our families. (Seriously, Mashallah, she is made of awesomeness. I would highly recommend following her on Twitter, adding her on Facebook or subscribing to her blog for more nuggets of wisdom.)

Here are my questions and here’s what she had to say. If you have any further questions for Murshidah, please don’t hesitate to comment below.

Note: At its core, what Murshidah is advocating is a change of belief as to how your relationships are and how it can change. The actions she advocates will only have true effect once that change in belief occurs. This is something Murshidah knows I struggle with myself J.

There are certain hot-button issues at every stage of life that usually damage the parent-child relationships, sometimes irreparably. What are some constructive ways to approach these issues?

When we hit the hot buttons, we are hitting the EGO- CENTERED part of ourselves. This is the part where we operate only with our mind and body, and not use our heart and spirit to connect with others.  When we come from a space of LOVE and connection with our Creator, the communication we have will not come out with hurt and anger. So some quick steps to approach these issues whether you are the parent or the child:

1.       Before you face the issue, be aware of your thoughts and feelings.

If you start the conversation with fear, anger or guilt, the person you will be communicating with will receive that energy and will match it. This normally comes out with anger, blame and hurt too. If you are aware of your feelings already, you can also be open to share it at the beginning for example, “I would like to talk to you about this but I am afraid that you will get upset. I hope you will listen without interrupting until I finish…” Be open about how you feel and what you want from the other person before you address the issue.

2. Know what you want to achieve from the conversation.

No one wants to start a fight purposely so when discussing certain topics, address what you hope you want the other person to understand and see. Discuss what you want resolved and what would be the best positive outcome for the discussion.

3.       Pick the right time to talk.

Ask permission first to arrange the best time to discuss. Not while someone is in the middle of an errand or in the middle of doing something important or necessary. I would advise to discuss when both parent and child can sit quietly – not during dinner, or work, or if someone is watching TV. Know that it’s important to give full attention to the conversation so as not to have an interruption from other people or other distractions.

4.       Always start from a space of LOVE.

Tell the other person why it’s so important to talk about this issue and why you need to tell him/her because of the LOVE you know this person has for you. Start with LOVE and continue the conversation by saying what you expect from the discussion so that you will get closer with each other and not affect your relationship as parent-child.

5.       At the same time, recognize that your current relationship may not be as close as you think.

Keep on improving your relationship. This takes daily effort. Find something that you can chat and talk about everyday that you know you will not argue about and that will bring you closer. Make time to do something together that both of you will enjoy to start improving communication.

6.       Learn to see from the viewpoint of the other person.

If you are the child, see the situation from your parents’ point of view and step into their shoes. They may have certain social or mental conditioning that you may want to relate to. At the same time, explain your point of view. And parents…LIKEWISE!

7.    Whether you are parent or child, when discussing these issues, be sure to respect the other person and not raise your voice or talk down to the other person.

 I’m sure I’m not the first person to ask you this, “Why are my parents so stubborn?” And vice versa, “Why are my children so stubborn?”

People are “stubborn” when their EGO is the focus of their lives. There is a difference between being stubborn and being steadfast.  When a person stands by his /her beliefs, the person is unwavering in his opinion but may be empathetic to the other person.  Being stubborn means to refuse seeing other people’s point of view and sees only their own way as right.  There may be reasons as to why people are stubborn and these are some ways to deal with this:

  1. The person may not have the knowledge or understanding or information about a situation. The act of stubbornness comes from an energy space of fear and defensiveness. The person may rebut any form of opinions as a way to cover his/her ignorance.
  2. The person may have a strong personality type that has a tendency to not be able to accept criticisms and he/she may be stubborn when it comes to opinions that conflict with theirs.
  3. The person reacting out of stubbornness may fear change, the unknown and a loss of something or someone.

How can we as children improve communication? How can parents improve communication?

In addition to all the steps that I listed above there is one more activity I would highly recommend and it’s called, “What I feel like sharing”.  It may be uncomfortable at the beginning but I highly recommend it.  Every morning before the start of the day, have a “WHAT I FEEL LIKE SHARING SESSION” where members of the family can take turns to share their feelings and what they plan to do for the day. There are however rules to this activity. When a person is talking, no one is allowed to look at other things like TV, phone, computers, etc. Full attention MUST be given to the person and no one can interrupt until the person finish talking. (This can end with “That is what I feel like sharing.”) The person talking must also speak with LOVE & RESPECT about his/her feelings without blame and criticism. Rather, to share how she/he feels (may be positive or negative feelings). After the session, the family can discuss how they can improve a situation or do something that would add value to each other. Trust me, this was one of the toughest activity for me as I am (or was) someone who cannot talk about my feelings. However, when done regularly, you will be amazed at how you bond with the people around you especially your friends and family who engage with this open communication of LOVE and SHARING. (I have also encouraged some organisations to start their Monday morning meetings with a “WHAT I FEEL LIKE SHARING” session. Bosses, or parents, have to initiate this activity though. Productivity, motivation and profits improve when there is LOVE and self worth. Now if organisations can do this, trust me, families can start too!)

Reflect, learn and follow the footsteps of our Prophet (saw) on how he communicated with his children, elders and how he conducted himself with people.  He always came from the space of LOVE & RESPECT when conducting himself for Allah’s sake.

How can we break the cycles of blame, despair, etc?

When we are in the space of anger, fear, negativity, this is what happens. The Law of Attraction states that what we focus on, we will attract. That is why we are encouraged to make Dua only for good things in our lives.

One of the reasons for living a life of blame and despair is when a person is not in a state of shukr or gratitude.  For all the things in your life and all the people you have in your life, be sure to give thanks to Allah for they are there for you for a reason. Wake up every morning and do a mental or preferably a written list of all the things that you are grateful for in your life. Even when you face challenging situations, be sure to focus on the good and what you can learn from that and take action to improve your situation instead of blaming. When we blame, we become helpless. Instead focus on what can you do to change a negative situation.

Another way to break that cycle is by writing down all your achievements in your life. Divide your age by 3 and in each part of your life, list down all the things that you accomplished or did that made you feel so happy, proud and grateful. You will learn to look back to see that you have managed to overcome what you deemed difficult situations at the time.

I am a strong believer that your past does not determine your future, but what you do in the present does. So if you are currently unhappy with your life or surroundings now, make a conscious effort to change it. Anger begets more anger and the energy of LOVE is more powerful than hate or anger.  Perhaps you cannot change your circumstances, but you can change the future of how you will communicate with others, knowing the hurt it can cause others when you are in a space of anger. You also know now how to communicate better with your children as you have experienced the hurt of a dogmatic upbringing.

What are some of the after-effects of these kinds of persistent arguments?

God forbid, I have come across teens who have run away because of the breakdown in communication with their parents; children who do not want to be around their parents much when they reach adulthood because of all the pent-up frustrations in the growing up years.  Research has also shown that a person who cannot fully forgive a parent (or both) can lead to career and relationship problems in their adult life.

These negative emotional energies will also be transferred down to their children in the future and affect how they raise their families.  Families make up the society and when there is turmoil in the family or negative energies coming out from the families, the society formed from these families will be negative and not empowering to the people. Where there is no LOVE, there will be chaos and it will be manifested in the environment, the surrounding and the peace of the community.

What kind of communication should we as a community aim for between parents and children? What would be the benefits of this?

Let’s all start from the space of LOVE & RESPECT. The emotions and space we were all born with is full of LOVE. Just hold a baby and you can feel the LOVE coming out from the child. This is the original US before the hurt and accumulated anger that caused the hardened adult heart. Get connected with our Creator and know the purpose of our lives here on Earth. When we know our purpose, how we relate with other people in our lives will come naturally. The communication we MUST have with everyone in our community and everyone else in the world is one of LOVE & RESPECT. LOVE & RESPECT because we are all Allah’s creations and we are all spirits having a human experience. We will ultimately go back to Allah so how we live and add value in this world will determine our state of our soul when we leave this world. It must all start with our families before we can spread LOVE & PEACE to the world.  We will never have peace as long as within our own souls there is no peace.

Some of my final words:

Instil LOVE in your heart. Forgive everyone before you sleep. People who hurt others are hurt and scared themselves. Give them LOVE and pray for peace in their souls. Be grateful every day, for there is always something we can be grateful for. Know your purpose in this world. When you live it, there will be LOVE.

Please note that this requires daily conscious effort.

Some useful quotes we can reflect on:

Volume 8, Book 73, Number 14:
Narrated Abu Huraira:
I heard Allah’s Apostle
صلى الله عليه وآله وسلم(Peace and Blessings Be Upon Him) saying, “Who ever is pleased that he be granted more wealth and that his lease of life be pro longed, then he should keep good relations with his Kith and kin.”

Narrated Jubair bin Mut’im:
That he heard the Prophet
صلى الله عليه وآله وسلم(Peace and Blessings Be Upon Him) saying, “The person who severs the bond of kinship will not enter Paradise.”

“Your Lord has commanded that you worship none but Him, and that you be kind to your parents. If either or both of them reach old age with you, do not say to them any word of contempt, nor repulse them, but address them in terms of honour, and out of kindness lower to them your wings of submission, and say, ‘My Lord, have mercy on them as they cared for me in my childhood”‘ (17:23-24).

I hope my little interview with Murshidah has helped and inspired you to overcome the molehills that have become mountains in your family life. You’ll always know how I’m doing – tell  me how you’re doing and let’s figure this one out together.

Because as I said before: This is unacceptable.

Wassalam and Fee Amanillah,

The (usually) Happy (but right now, quite angry) Muslimah.