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Art is worship Part III: Relaxation

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Bismillah ir Rahman ir Raheem.

Assalam alaikum wr wb, sister or brother.

I am going to do something I don’t do enough. I am going to be honest.

Brother and sister, I am truly too exhausted to make art.

It’s been a draining couple of years. My life has felt like a train-wreck and I have been trying desperately with my petty mortal hands to control it.

I have expected situations to be different but they haven’t been. I have expected people to behave a certain way but they haven’t. Things have changed when I had hoped they would stay the same. Things have stayed the same when I have prayed they would change. But the details are unimportant.

My feelings are not. I have disappointed, sometimes angry, exhausted all the time.

I’m sleeping like crazy. I can’t eat. I can’t think. I have absolutely no creative energy to tackle anything long-form like a screenplay or a novel. The thought of a deadline makes me want to vomit.

Alhamdulillah I have written some poetry, though.

I think it’s about time that I took an extended period of rest. Regroup my spirits, learn to forgive myself and others, find my footing a little maybe. Or learn to just let it slide and accept Allah (SWT)’s plan for me.

As soon as I say that though, some strange demon in the depths of my belly stands jumping up and down, making scratch marks in my inside, shouting with the voices of my parents, a thousand teachers from over the years.

“You have no right to relax! People like you, less-than-geniuses, have to work your butts off to get anywhere – I mean ANYWHERE! – in life! Full tension every day all the time! That’s the price you pay for being born the way you are.

What have you achieved in your adult life? Nothing.

Has your writing changed anyone’s life? No. Not even your own.”

(This is not true. I’ve discovered a lot of things about myself and others through my work. Though it has been private, it has definitely been transformative.)

“Have you made your mark on the world? Like your heroes, Sarah Kay and Phil Kaye and Ani DiFranco? Have you made any of those mind-blowing films you keep dreaming of? Have you rivaled Mr. Scorsese or Mr. Kauffman? “

(Is it really necessary for me to change the world? I thought my work was for Allah (SWT). Then it simply is what it is, the story truer than the truth. It’s my duty to tell it, whether anyone cares to listen or not. Whether it changes anything or not.)

“What don’t you have enough of? Time.

What are you getting? Older. You’re 25 years old, 26 next month. Every day brings you closer to middle age and motherhood. Increased responsibilities, lower energy levels and your already poor time management skills will simply fall apart under the pressure.”

I ask real people for advice and it is always conflicting.

“You’re trying too hard.”

“You’re not working hard or smart enough.”

“You’re too young.”

“You’re too old.”

“You don’t give yourself enough credit.”

“You’re resting too much on your laurels.”

I find myself facing a mountain. Make this film. Write this screenplay. Find collaborators who are as excited about your work as you are. And for a while, I feel energetic. But then something happens, not really a discrete incident but just something else. Something outside of me. Maybe my father calls and or my mother or some boring administrative task takes up my entire day and my body just sinks beneath despair.

I feel like the world doesn’t want me to write or create. Perhaps Allah (SWT) is trying to tell me that my destiny is to be mediocre and house-bound like a not particularly cute cat.

I find myself fighting with the people I love. Not being able to tell them how I feel. How lost, alone and confused.

It’s time I took a little time off from the rat-race insha Allah. Whatever I’ve been doing hasn’t been working. This means finding a new path. Maybe recalibrating my beliefs. Doesn’t mean I’m going to stop writing. On the contrary, I think the fact that I’ve written so little has contributed to my exhaustion.

I’ll worship a lot more. I need it more than I think.

I’ll exercise too. Take long walks in nature. Run around after children (will somebody please lend me their children kthx), kung fu, kickboxing, aerobics maybe.

I’ll spend a lot of time outside of my comfort zone, especially when it comes to people and my interactions with them. Maybe I’ll try explaining spoken-word to my husband LOL. Yesterday, I showed him “When Love Arrives” and his mind just went blank.

And yes I think I will spend a lot of time writing. I will try insha Allah to rediscover the play in art, try to refill the well a little bit. Maybe I will work on a long-term project but as something fun, not as something that’s ever going to see the light of day.

I’m not going to be telling you how it’s going because the aim is not for it to be going anywhere.

I’m just going to be myself for a while. I’m going to find out what that means insha Allah.

Wassalam and Fee Amanillah.


Art is worship Part II: 3 cumulative ways to maintain consistency as a writer

Bismillah ir rahman ir Raheem

Assalam alaikum wr wb, everybody!!

It’s so easy for me to get side-tracked from writing. With wedding planning reaching hysterical levels, Mashallah, I’ve given myself a holiday from my work. But! I shouldn’t! That’s why it’s called my work!

Do you know the Hadith about small consistent acts being greater than big inconsistent ones?

“The Prophet (sal Allahu alaihi wa sallam) said, “The dearest of actions to Allah is that which is done regularly, even if it is small.”

I have been thinking about that and how easily and beautifully the Sunnah about traditional Ibadah can apply to our work as well.

How do we make something consistent?

The same way we consistently do our prayers or read Qur’an.

The actions build on each other. Each step magnifies the benefits of the one that preceded it before we finally give our salaams to the angels that protect us, having done our duty to our Creator (SWT).

The same approach could be taken with our work.

  1. Pick an iron-clad time you will worship Allah through your art.

Is it in the morning before your family wakes up? In the night-time after they go to sleep? In the bus/train/car-pool on your way to work/school?

All we need is quietude, time and a readiness to work. What’s the best slot in your day for that?

For me, it’s crazy early in the morning after Fajr, Qur’an reading and 20 minutes of aerobics – well before my parents wake up. I can do my work a good few hours before my mother’s shriek sunders me from my concentration.  I love her, but the woman has a voice that would make the dead moonwalk.

If that isn’t possible for any reason, I make maximum use of the few hours my parents aren’t at home to get some solid work done.

  1. Prepare yourself mentally, physically and spiritually.

In Salah, this might translate to making Wudhu, setting an intention or learning new du’as to recite in prostation.

In writing or the making of art, this might translate into setting a goal and envisioning the joy of reaching that goal daily. It could mean saying a small prayer to the One that Gives all provision. It could mean writing morning pages, sharpening a skill, exercising to get blood flowing to your brain and eating a healthy breakfast. Most important of all is preparing yourself for the ups and downs of the business of art – the writer’s block, the networking (that’s my LEAST favorite part) and the rejection (over and over again).

  1. Subordinate all resources to achieving that goal at that time.

My goal during Salah is to worship Allah (SWT), Insha Allah. That means no distractions. Phones go off, doors are closed or a quiet corner is found. Parents, children, spouses and colleagues are told what prayer looks like and what we need to achieve it – that means no talking.

I imagine to truly pour yourself into your work, you would need to do something similar; channel all of your resources into achieving your goal.

What are your mental, physical and spiritual resources?

Once you’ve listed them, how can you best channel them into making the best art you can?

Since art is a social product and meant to be consumed by the community at large, perhaps engaging those social resources becomes exponentially important.

Here are some suggestions:

Ask your family to leave you alone when you’re in a corner with your laptop, when you have a sign on your door or on your forehead, when you’re in your garage messing around with wood.

Ask the most critical member in your family/friend/professional circle to look at your work and give you their worst (at the very least, it’ll humble you. At the very most, it will let you know what emotions are actually induced by your surrealist expressionist papier mache sculpture.)

(That’s actually really cool. If a sculptor is reading this, please consider doing that.)

Ask an Imam if the art you’re making is worthy of a Muslim.

  1. Remember to thank Allah (SWT) for the gift of another day at work.

If art is truly Ibadah, we will never know if our good deeds are accepted till Judgment day and the Dunya is a poor indicator of Allah (SWT)’s pleasure with us. Hence, it is best to leave the outcome to Allah (SWT).  The only way we can guarantee fulfillment is taking pride in the work itself and our mindset as we approach the work.

If it’s good, if it’s bad, if it’s ugly – remember to thank Allah (SWT). Just because it came out.

Making art seems a lot like what I imagine giving birth is like – a struggle but also a great joy, a great gift from Allah. Like children, our art will try us in every possible way – before, during and, for many long years, after their birth.

(As you might have guessed, I’m rethinking that 7 kids thing.)

All of this ties down to fighting Shaitan who causes us to despair, what Steven Pressfield would call resistance (The War of Art is an incredible book which I would recommend to anyone who’s ever tried to tackle a challenge.)

If we are the stage of our Iman where we would accept no excuse for missing our Salah, if we truly think our  art is what Allah (SWT) has destined for us, perhaps we should apply the same rigor to it.

Today, right now, I make a commitment to write at least an hour a day. It’s the least I can do to get things done.

Wassalam and Fee Amanillah,

The Happy (and Insha Allah, productive) Muslimah.