Hello everyone. I am officially back after a much-needed break.
It was shorter than I anticipated — truth be told, knowing myself and how I navigate projects I work on, I would not have been surprised if I completely scrapped this whole newsletter and left it in the dust. But I feel there is something special here. I enjoy this platform. I like the discipline it instills in me to write. I enjoy being able to practice critical thinking with an audience and hear the thoughts of the incredible people who care enough to support me and my work. I love writing, talking about films, sharing art, finding a reason to seek out and utilize interesting ideas and experiences I come across to share them with you all. So, I am back, and it’s going to be a bit different this time around.
If you were following this newsletter before, you will know that I have moved my newsletter from Gmail to Substack, a major newsletter platform that allows writers and artists alike to create a newsletter of their own and charge a subscription fee to their audiences who wish to fiscally support their work. This newsletter is not easy to maintain, there have been many late nights I have stayed up just to write something interesting for myself and you all to read and think about, and it’s rather taxing putting your thoughts out there into what seems like a void, where only a handful of people acknowledge your words and reciprocate energy even though most may be reading the letters as well. So, with this platform I hope to create an environment of people who I know are here to support me and care about what I have to say and find benefit in it, and what easier way to do that than ask for a very small monthly fee that acknowledges that support.
Starting not this week, nor next week, but when I feel the time is right, I will begin charging a few dollars a month, probably somewhere between $5-7 to everyone and anyone who wishes to receive these letters. For now, however, it will remain FREE, as I continue to build my audience here and get back in the groove of things.
There is the option to start subscribing now if you wish to support, paying $5 dollars a month, but you will not receive any different content from a free subscription — for now that is.
If you’d like to start a paid subscription simply go to the newsletter homepage at bilalmohamed.substack.com, click on the subscribe button, and it will give you paid subscription options, then you can choose accordingly.
I intend to approach this newsletter with a freer and more experimental approach, so as I try new things out, it would be a delight to have you all here with me. And that way, when I decide to start charging, you all will be able to decide if you want to stick around or not.
One thing that is changing immediately is that I will no longer send out my letters on a specific day. As the amount of writing time I have varies, I will make it a point to send out one newsletter a week at the very least. You can continue to expect the letter on Sundays, insha’Allah, but it is all tentative, as my schedule is constantly changing and some letters may simply be more timely on a specific day than others.
A short list of things my newsletter will offer (more consistently are)
The classic weekly letter of personal meditations and vignettes.
Art and film critiques/reviews/commentaries
Book reviews and recommendations
Original writings (short stories, poems, essays, interviews etc.)
Original visual and audio content (paintings, drawings, photography, podcasts, etc.)
Original unreleased and archival content
Community threads to establish discussion amongst all subscribers.
The ability to discuss topics one on one with me through Substack or Email
Another thing that has changed as you may have already noticed, is that the newsletter now has a name — “The Dilettante Don”
If you’d like to read about why that is the name, and what “Dilettante” even means, you can read about it on my about page, here.
You should also know that the newsletter site bilalmohamed.substack.com contains an archive of all 22 letters I have written so far. So if you want to return to them or are new here and would like to read them, feel free to do so.
Otherwise, I’m going to get right back into some good old writing about whatever.
I have been thinking lately about how healthy isolation really is. Not isolation in terms of COVID or a pandemic, which in that case, if you’re called to isolate you probably should, but rather, what a lot of us deem to be the occasional, yet necessary isolation. Those times in our lives when we have been consumed by the rat race, comparison, heartache, loss, guilt, or any level of depression, and our inclination, instead of asking for help or looking for a comfortable place/person to unwind and speak to, is to become a recluse under the impression that this is the most logical form of recourse.
Now obviously, I bring this up speaking from long-term experience, as I have myself just reappeared from leaving for some time with the reasoning that my mental health needed it. And in many ways, my mental health has found betterment and growth through this isolation that I decided to take. The thing is though, my isolation was from very specific things. The catalyst which encouraged me to disappear for a bit was not depression, heartache, or loss, but was simply exhaustion. I was tired. I was tired of work, people, and everything which demanded greatly of me. I was tired of thinking so much and fighting myself every day to get things done. I was tired of what my work demands of me, which is only ever normal, and this, of very few situations, I am starting to believe, is when isolation is a smart and healthy choice to make.
In the time that I have been gone from this writing this newsletter, I have done things like go camping, travel, spend time with friends, build better bonds with my family, help my parents out, get back in the gym, watch and study lots and lots of films, read, love, pray, learn, think about what I miss and don’t miss, meet new people, and just experience a bit more of life away from this virtual one I believe I have to live in. And the enjoyment and fulfillment I’ve been able to bring into my life I wouldn’t have seen had I decided to just keep on pushing myself against what my body and spirit were asking of me.
Now, that brings me to the other end of the rope – isolation caused by the not so healthy things, such as depression, grief, comparison, heartache, etc.
Some of us isolate for the right reasons and come back into the world feeling rejuvenated and ready to take on the world. But some of us do the opposite and lose ourselves in these mental prisons of rumination, stuck at home or dragging our feet throughout our daily routines, leaving off parts of those routines that may normally bring us happiness or energy and get our endorphins flowing, therefore plummeting us even deeper into the abyss.
I worry about a lot of people in my life. Those people who I know may not be in the best place mentally and feel isolation is what they need when really, they may instead need to talk to someone, open up, and explore the complicated feelings they may be dealing with. Confronting these things are difficult by nature, but I feel like there are certain signs one can look to to observe whether they may be going down a path that is not so healthy.
Substance abuse is something I see a lot, especially now as I am getting older. It’s rather frightening to witness, especially when people you love and have cared about for a long time change into a completely different person before your eyes. Their perception of life changes and they establish realities that do not actually exist, whether it be drastic or minuscule, whether the substance be marijuana or LSD, it changes people and how they function to an extent. They may justify their actions and push away anyone who doesn’t support their lifestyle. And when life gets hard, it becomes an escape, a means of coping with the tribulations of life, and when that mixes with isolation, I fear it can take people down treacherous roads, as I am sure many of you have probably seen if you know people who’ve dealt with substance abuse or suffered from it yourselves.
As I try my best to communicate with the people in my life who are struggling with these very means of coping with whatever they are going through in their lives, I am simply here to remind you all that there are people there for you if you need it. Be it an internet friend or family member, be it me, or a random person on the other end of a helpline, I pray you all take the time to reflect and check in on yourselves and seek the help that you need when you need it, because we all need help sometimes. I am thankful for everyone who has checked up on me in the time I have been gone, and I am thankful that I have been in a good place rather than a darker one.
It’s as they say, “When you’re in your own mind, you’re in enemy territory” so when you feel the enemy has grown in strength that means it may be time for backup.
So, with that I say thanks for being here, and I hope you are well. And if you’re not it’s okay, please prioritize yourself and do your best to escape the bad thoughts in your head.
It’s good to be back.
Films I’ve Watched Recently
(Too many to count so I am choosing some favs!)
Sex, Lies, and Videotape
By Steven Soderbergh
Schizopolis was the first film I had seen by Steven Soderbergh, and as my friend L who recommended me his films said, “it probably wasn’t the best film to start with.” However, after watching Sex, Lies, and Videotape, I am glad I did. I had a feeling that Soderbergh had a range of storytelling and directing ability as I noticed that he also directed Che Guevara’s 2-part biopic, Che, which I haven’t gotten around to just yet though intend to. I also have heard about Sex, Lies, and Videotape film from multiple friends and film communities on the internet far too often. It had been circulating for some time and I have finally gotten around to it, and must say, it was well worth the hype.
This film is so beautifully shot, so simple, easy to follow but all the while incredibly intriguing and suspenseful that you never have the chance to even think you are bored. The dynamic between these characters is so naturally intense, so well developed, and they are so deeply rooted in their personalities and beliefs that you can’t help but feel you are watching the lives of genuine people play out before you on screen. They are developed in a sophisticated way, mostly through action and when through dialogue, with the very smartest dialogue, unfiltered and incalculable, and therefore more believable. This film is about infidelity, blind trust, complicated sibling relationships, obsession, and perversion, but it’s not as bad as it sounds. Could be much weirder, this is fairly consumable lol I promise. Highly, highly recommend, 5/5. I also have a crush on young Andie MacDowell after this.
By Abbas Kiarostami
I had been wanting to watch this for a while simply because of Juliette Binoche. I have a running bet with my friend H, well not exactly a bet but more so I made a promise to myself that I would have dinner with Juliette Binoche one day and H said I was tripping, therefore challenging me and my confidence. But anyway, this was not at all what I expected. What a confusing film??! In fact, if I hadn’t watched it twice because my friend Y wanted to watch it with me, though he regretted it, I probably would have given up on it completely. Only after a phone call to my friend R who had loved the film and seemed to have understood it did I think I could somewhat appreciate it for what it was.
This film is slowwwww. There is no score/soundtrack except this accordion someplace somewhere in the vicinity of the plaza they spent some time walking in, but other than that, its just you and the characters for a long while being cryptic, crazy, and random as hell all throughout. I liked the visuals, it was refined, bougie settings, whole lotta Italy. All I could hear throughout the film was “wheres the uhhh gabagool!” lol.
But on a serious note, this film was rather powerful once I got to better understand it. It’s a story about this woman Elle, living her life with her son away from the father all their lives because she fell into the role of “The Other Woman”. And when they finally reunite it displays the complicated relationship that they have fostered for themselves and the difficulty that comes with being in the presence of someone you loved at a time, even married, only to find that they had a whole other life outside of you. Kind of wild. But also, my synopsis is slightly conjecture and conclusions I have put together through my own and my friend R’s thoughts. A lot of the story remains a mystery, so if you are interested in coming up with theories of your own, I’d suggest watching it. You may have to force yourself a bit or split it up in segments because it does get slow, but still very much worth the watch if you’re in love with Juliette Binoche like me.
The Acquaintances of a Lonely John
By Benny Safdie
It was really cool to see this. I have been enjoying watching the early films of some of my favorite directors. I have a soft spot for stories that enhance and brighten the mundane. That is what this film does. Take a guy who has not a damn thing to do and just follow him as he kills time with his homie from the gas station. He doesn’t get into nothing crazy, nor do anything stupid, he just exists and tries to at least enjoy some of his time and escape the reality that he’s bored and lonely. Funny, smart, and short. A classic in my eyes. I’d like to make something like this.
By Catherine Hardwicke
I hate to say it, but I also kind of don’t. I slept on Twilight. This was a masterpiece. Absolutely loved it lmao. It’s also hilarious to know Robert Pattinson HATES this film. Him and Kristen Stewart are incredible actors so this is just a treat.
(Not a film but still incredible)
Amazon Original Series - Modern Love
By The New York Times
This show is one of my favorite things in the world. I will always come back to it. Please give it a watch if you haven’t already. And if/when you do let me know because I would love to talk about it and hear what your favorite episode was. They just came out with season 2, its great, some episodes I like more than others, I might even say I liked this one more than season 1, and season 1 is incredible. So, I don’t know, you be the judge!
A Few Recent Dictionary Entries:
Kuleshov Effect - The Kuleshov effect is a film editing effect demonstrated by Russian filmmaker Lev Kuleshov in the 1910s and 1920s. It is a mental phenomenon by which viewers derive more meaning from the interaction of two sequential shots than from a single shot in isolation.
Weathervane - a revolving pointer to show the direction of the wind, typically mounted on top of a building.
Hearst Castle - Hearst Castle, San Simeon, is a National Historic Landmark and California Historical Landmark located on the Central Coast of California in the United States. Conceived by William Randolph Hearst, the publishing tycoon, and his architect Julia Morgan, it was built between 1919 and 1947.
Gerda Taro - Gerta Pohorylle, known professionally as Gerda Taro, was a German Jewish war photographer active during the Spanish Civil War. She is regarded as the first woman photojournalist to have died while covering the frontline in a war. Taro was the companion and professional partner of photographer Robert Capa.
Sui Generis - unique
That's all from me for this one, just keeping it light as I get back to writing.
Thank you for reading. And please drop a like, comment, or even send a personal reply to these emails if you feel inclined to. I'll be here.