Finding My Self

I’m not made for short and frequent posts. I’ve made a lot of changes in my personal habits – positive ones, but I think I’ll stick to my rarer epics for now.

College is far more than I expected – not the experience itself, but the course. It’s almost like that ‘coming home’ feeling that people talk about when they discover their niche. But it’s also scary. It feels like I wasted so many years not pursuing what I want to do, or being afraid of going it on my own, that now I have this overpowering burden of being rushed. Like the seconds are working double time and so much has slipped away that I’ll never be able to make up for it.

If I had continued to draw or explore over the years, instead, by packing away the art books and pencils, I might have been able to establish a platform by now. I’m having to learn how to re-draw and re-immerse myself into the paper. But with only 4 hours a week dedicated to that, it’s a little hard. At the end of the day, art of animation on paper is only a small part of this whole course and I have to squeeze out every second I can from it.

My tutors are amazing and if I start writing about them, I could end up writing well into tomorrow, so we’ll leave that for some other day – or for my personal journal. (I’m saving that for a memoir or posthumous publication so don’t despair completely – you might just find out everything it says one day!)

I’m discovering that there is so much I can and want to do, and there just doesn’t seem to be enough time to do it all. Will I ever be able to write all the books I want to? Or make anime out of them? I’m a fan of anime/manga for life now that W (my drawing tutor) lent me one of his DVD collections.

The first one I watched was Ghibli’s ‘Only Yesterday’ (Omohide Poroporo). The title actually means Memories Trickling Down (like drops or beans) but I guess that comes across better in Japanese and they had to change it for the English version. Since I’m new to DVD’s, I didn’t know how to access the English sub-titles and first watched the whole 2 hrs in Japanese only. 🙂

But I loved every second of it.

In a way, it was better for me to do that because I got to appreciate the drawing and the way in which the artists brought out the story so well in the character expressions. I understood most of the story even without knowing what was being said. And I learnt to appreciate the vocal rhythms of Japanese (to me it sounds like a mix of Persian and a local Kenyan dialect).

I think part of my immediate connection was because of the plot. It’s about a 27 year old unmarried woman in 1982 Tokyo with flashbacks into her 10-year-old self. There is something in the telling of the story, the simplicity of the lines and yet amazing complexity of the expressions, and that nostalgia of the unadulterated past which will appeal to anyone born in the 80’s. (I honestly don’t think anyone born in the 90’s will ever be able to have the innocent memories that those born before that time have – the world has changed too much 😦 )

I felt like Isao Takahata was writing the story that was inside my head and my heart. I was both the storyteller and the reader simultaneously. And the freakiest thing was that there were scenes in the movie that could be straight out of Surviving Zahra. Taeko might be a little more positive and happy, and Toshio might be more clumsy and young, but they’re Masuma and Akber in a Japanese dimension.

Who would believe I wrote the novel before ever knowing the movie existed? Maybe some stories are the same the world over because there are only so many ways to tell them and only so many characters that can live them out sincerely. In a way, it gives me hope that people will like Surviving Zahra – so many have loved Only Yesterday. Of course, the challenge as usual is actually getting them to buy the book in the first place.

SZ goes to reviewers next week, insha’Allah and my publishers tell me that printing is scheduled for some time in May. It’s a little later that I had hoped for, but I guess these things can’t be rushed. I’ve been praying for what is best so I’m trusting this is a result of my du’as.

Before I sign off , I want to do one of those ‘heed-my-advice” spiels. Nothing major, only to mention that I really think anime is one of the best things Muslims could use to tell Islamic stories. You don’t have the challenge of dealing with hijab that real actors would and you can actually show personal side of Islam that so few people know about. And the very best thing (especially in Only Yesterday) is the noticeable lack of background music. Sure there is some, but none of the overpowering sounds in normal western movies and cartoons. Mostly, it’s beautiful silent pauses and the sounds of life.

I could almost see Surviving Zahra in anime-form. Insha’Allah, some day – if not by me, then by some who’s read this blog and the book and has the courage to dream as I am re-learning to.

S’laams,
Bint Ali

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