Tag Archives: religion

What I said before – all nonsense.

Bismillah ir Rahman ir Raheem

I’m so full of feces.

I’m trying to distill life and death and guilt into bolded bullet points for your easy digestion.

When I’m fighting everyday at this keyboard trying to write something that feels honest. That cannot be contained by a three-act structure.

(That maybe does happen in three acts for clarity’s sake, but alludes to something bigger. Also because tying my brain in knots isn’t my idea of fun. And I want to make people laugh. And that means making sense. This is a long parenthetical.)

When my mom died, I learned that I don’t know how to grieve.

For a long time, I wondered if my father was right. If I was selfish. Whether I even loved anything or anyone enough to grieve if it left me. Other than stand-up, improv and my personal freedom. Grieving all of that sounds even more selfish.

But then Mama died and my life went on as if nothing had changed. As if I hadn’t lost a limb.

I’m not going to sit here and tell you how to grieve. Everything I said before was utter nonsense. Well, I do all of those things but only to survive the day. But I have a feeling that most of us want to do more than just survive.

Muslims aren’t really clear about grieving either. Sure,  there’s the washing and wrapping of the body, the Janazah (the funeral prayer), etc. But being in America and my mother being buried in Sri Lanka, I could not partake in that ritual.

Leaving no clean break in my life between ‘with Mama’ and ‘without Mama’.

The best I could get from YouTube is don’t wear make-up or colorful clothes. Well, in that case, I’m grieving most of the time. Or my wardrobe is, anyway. Surely grief is more than sartorial choices?

So I’ve decided to drown myself in other people’s grief. After finishing #ZD30Script (in which I hammered out a holey outline) – I thought I’d treat myself by binging on House of Cards AND Breaking Bad.

But I figure they’ll wait.

I scrolled down my Netflix queue looking for a face of color.
I found perhaps 12 movies in hundreds.
Weak. But okay. Gotta start somewhere. And checking my privilege is a good way to start.

Fruitvale Station

Cried for a young man about my age, snuffed out before he could prove that he could be a father.

The Butler

My struggle with my father was much the same. Less nation-spanning perhaps. But just as earth-shaking. Still haven’t reached that emotionally satisfying resolution yet, though we are on speaking terms.

Decided to watch The Station Agent – a little person is underprivileged too. Though unlike the POCs in other movies, does his happiness come at so steep a price?

Well, I guess everyone’s happiness comes at a price. Uncertainty.

One of those quiet indie movies with quiet change happening over many quiet moments. The humor is pretty quiet too. The only two jokes in the movie are in the trailer.

My life has never been that quiet. It’s always been loud, messy, chaotic, out of control. Even if I wanted to be a hermit, no one would leave me alone. No one leaves me alone long enough to complete a writing sprint. It’s a struggle to quiet the voices in my head.

And of course, sex. Changes. Everything.

And alcohol.

And things change all in a rush – that part is true to my life. And suddenly we’ve found our place in the world and all that madness was worth it.

I liked that movie. I’d like to see a movie like that about people of color.

There’s a grief here I can’t explain. Would movies have saved my mother? Would movies have kept me from post-partum depression?

Movies can’t even seem to tell my story.

There’s a discord here that I really can’t shake.
I wonder if movies have ever told my mother’s story. If they will ever tell my story. If I will always be forced to find myself where I’m not, where I might not even be welcome.
Will my son face that discord too? Will he be in the world, but not really acknowledged by it? Will he care all that much? I didn’t have much else to do other than movies, books and TV growing up.
Perhaps this is yet another thing I need to do differently as a parent. Give my son something else to do.
Fact is, the world may or may not change. I can try and try, but it’s not me that holds the keys. This right here is grief.
I tried most of my life to understand my mother, to be friends with my mother, even best friends. But for a number of years, my efforts were decidedly less than futile. Even counter-productive. And by the time those years were over, ALS had taken her voice. And now, it’s taken all of her. And I can try no more. Though still I try. With my forehead on my prayer mat, I scream in my head to see her again. If it works, I’ll let you know.
I can try and try, but really there has never been any guarantee that things will change for the better.
Not for me. Not for my kids. Not for my mother.
This is grief.
Maybe this is why I’ve believed in God from such a young age. Something has to be stable to keep me sane. Something has to make sense. And someone, and yes, I do believe it’s Him (God has no gender really) has to reward the effort, no matter what the outcome. Nobody and nothing else does on the planet.
This is grief.
This is suffering. I know I’m not the only one.
May I be patient with myself. May I know right from wrong, even when no one encourages me to do the right thing. May I reach out to others who are grieving. May I keep hoping and keep trying. May God reward all our efforts, whatever the outcome. Ameen.

7 ways to still be a writer – no matter what your life is like

Bismillah ir Rahman ir Raheem.

May the peace and blessings of God Almighty be with you, dear owner of eyeballs.

I am writing from a rather swish hospital room in Tamil Nadu, India. Don’t worry – it’s for my mother, not me.

That doesn’t make it better, though.

My mother’s illness has locked an icy hand over my life for the past couple of months as the weakness in her left hand spread to her right hand and now to her left leg. Subhanallah, it is one of Allah (SWT)’s most stringent tests to stay patient in the face of debilitating sickness. I am going to wager that it is far worse being the one that watches – especially if you are in the dark and helpless – rather than the one that wastes away.

But I’ve still been trying to write as I believe it is one of the most potent ways I can do Ibadah insha Allah.

Some days have been better than others. I’ve decided that this day Insha Allah will be a good day.

My mother needs our help a fair amount. She’s not entirely incapacitated Alhamdulillah but still my time is not completely my own. I need to be present for her physically and emotionally.

It struck me some while ago that my situation is much like that of a new mother. And it follows that if I apply some of the lessons that writers who are also mothers have learned in their full-to-the-brim lives, I will feel less like a loser because I’m not writing regularly.

This is what I’ve learned from my own experiences and that of others.

1. Accept my situation.

When I didn’t accept the hand that Allah (SWT) has dealt me, I was caught in a funk of anger and gloom. I was no use to anyone, leave alone my dear mama.

But when I began to accept my life and even began to see the blessings in it, I began to see the wiggle room. I began to see the abundance and the possibility. My mind opened to re-ordering my life to best take advantage of my new circumstances.

2. Pay attention to the present moment.

By the Mercy of Allah, there is beauty and blessings here. Right now. Right in this moment. The sound of my fingers on the keyboard and my mother in the next room watching bad Hindi soap operas. Most of all, the thrilling relief that because of the superb care we’ve gotten here at the hospital by God’s grace, we are very close to a diagnosis, to closure. These are all moments I will never get back again.

More importantly, I find that when I pay attention, my brain becomes better at calibrating my actions to maximize the information I’m receiving. If I project myself into the future and try to guess the best course of action based on information I haven’t even received yet, I am liable to give myself a headache.

Does that make sense?

Simply put – have you ever carried a pile of books up a flight of stairs? With a mug balanced on top? I did once recently. My mother kept telling me that it was a bad idea, but I knew that I could do it. My brain became razor sharp. My body somehow set my spine and my arms in the perfect position to balance the load correctly and move simultaneously, all the while watching the load for imbalances. I watched out for obstacles in my path. It worked. I’d like to bring that kind of concentration into every part of my waking life.

3. Ask for help.

The women in my family have a huge problem admitting that they need help. They believe it smacks of weakness and will draw a pack of predators to feast on us alive.

I just read an excellent article by Martha Beck about how to ask for help and not feel pitiful and helpless. The solution is to ask, “How do I do this?” rather than “Can you help me?” This frames the asker as a problem-solver rather than a damsel (or gentleman) in distress.

But sometimes, I just need help. I mean good ole-fashioned “lift me up when I fall” help. I couldn’t handle it alone. With rehearsal for our improv troupe, I couldn’t be with my mother all the time. Possibly a good 85% of the time, but not all the time.

But sometimes when I asked for help, I became the butt end of judgement instead. Other times, it was resentment.

I learned to be choosy about the people I can trust. I learned the obvious choices are not always the best choices. And after I made my choice, I trusted completely.

4. Talk to people about how they’ve dealt with similar situations.

As I said before, I drew parallels between my situation and that of a mother of a newborn. So I asked a few writer-mothers how they dealt with raising young children and being a writer – two full-time jobs.

They shared with me the lessons they’ve learned, many of which have informed this post.

5. Work in ten- and twenty-minute bursts.

My brain will focus naturally on the task at hand if I know a child is going to cry, a timer is going to go off or my mama is going to holler.

6. Make lists that direct you towards a great goal.

I am working on the fourth rewrite of a mystery screenplay.

Thinking of research alone makes my heart stop. I have to research police procedures in Sri Lanka, money-laundering in the UAE and the Muslim community in general in Sri Lanka.

But if I divide my elephantine task up into small cat- or even mouse-sized chunks and work on one section at a time, rewarding myself as I go, that mountain does look a lot less overwhelming.

Lists also help to bring all your resources into focus so that you can achieve the goal at hand. But be sure to write down an inspiring goal, not simply a to-do list. To-do lists are for robots, not human beings. An inspiring goal however puts fire in my spiritual furnace and heats me up enough to take that next step, however daunting it may.

For example, for my goal of research, I could write down something like “Insha Allah I want to know the world of my characters inside out and experience it as they experience – not as I think they experience it.” That works for me. Nothing rings more hollow than a poorly researched story.

7. Connect to something bigger.

I am a Muslim, though I’m not keen to shove belief down anyone’s throats. Your throat is not the primary organ of belief anyway.

When things seem difficult, confusing or just plain hard, it always helps me to trust in the decree of Allah (SWT) and trust that He will be Merciful.

If I believe in a plan, that means that things are happening for a reason and difficult – and good times – are both here to teach me a lesson. Perhaps that the physical body can fade, but the soul can only be destroyed by Allah (SWT). That no situation is all bad – only Hell is all bad. And no situation is all good – only Heaven is perfect. That if I listen and watch hard enough, Allah (SWT) will show me the path. Insha Allah.

I hope this very long post has made a modicum of difference.

Love you guys for the sake of Allah.

Wassalam and Fee Amanillah,

The Happy (and peaceful) Muslimah.