The Growing Mind

Writing My Memoir & Emotional Growth


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The Journey of Writing Took Me to Tampa for AWP 2018

29027392_10215455600284568_7833725541348802560_o1312 words (10 minutes read)

Excited, nervous, and prepared, I was sitting on the sofa in our hotel room waiting for Mike to get ready and take me to Tampa Convention Center. Going to my first AWP (Association of Writers and Writing Program), I felt like a little girl going to a new school wondering who her new friends will be. I got there a little late and also found out I had gone to the wrong building for the panel I wanted to listen to. But soon I figured it out and the marathon started. I ran from one panel to another and found my way to the book fair too. It was so much fun. My Fitbit celebrated thousands of steps I had taken by the end of the day. I was so tired that I had to skip the evening parties provided by AWP. Mike picked me up around 7:15. We had a nice dinner in downtown Tampa, enjoyed the atmosphere of the downtown with so many of local and conference people hanging around enjoying the chilly but not cold night by the ocean. Despite how tired I was, I was chattering the whole time telling Mike how much I enjoyed my day. At the end of the night, I don’t remember when my head touched the pillow.

The second day, Mike was ready earlier than me to get me there as soon as possible. This time, going to AWP felt like going to an amusement park for me. Listening to the smooth beautiful literary pieces written and read by academic professors took me up the roller coaster causing excess release of dopamine and Oxytocin in my body. Learning how network building could be easier when you are in touch academically and how far I am from it took me down the roller coaster releasing a lot of cortisol. The overall outcome was excitement and thrill.

I went to Tampa with no intention of going back to school and came back thinking about attending an MFA program. The academic panel talks were so inspiring. I have learned a lot about writing and literature during the past two and a half years, but attending these panels made me think I have no direction in my learning process. I am determined to improve my literary writing skills, but self-teaching is not as easy as I thought. I have been walking a zig-zag path, and found lots of gaps in my learning process. It’s time to give a frame to my learning process under the monitor of experts. The joy of being a student again and learning more, this time about a subject I love – literature and literary writing – felt so strong. Will I do it?

AWP offers a vast range of panels, talks, and discussions. I had two major categories for my personal pursuit in mind, non-fiction writing skills and the business of selling a book. I tried to carefully pick a few panels and lectures among the hundreds that were offered. I did end up leaving a few talks after 10 minutes to run to another one. Overall, I had a great first experience. At the end I felt overwhelmed and it felt good. I had reached my goal. Exhausted but with a big smile, I walked out. Mike was waiting for me to give me a big supportive, congratulating hug.

Here is a summary of my take away from AWP 2018:

Writing Skill Development (focused on non-fiction/memoir/personal essay)

  • To write a memoir the writer needs to write a story rather than explaining the situation (recommended Vivian Gornick, The Situation and The Story). To do this we need:
    • To add dimensions to the basic story that explains the situation. Reflections and lessons learned make the story readable.
    • To focus on memories, we remember. As Philip Graham mentioned, stories in our minds cast a shadow. That is what needs to be revealed in a memoir.
    • And, by researching and adding the history, we bring a broader approach to our story.
  • The writer needs to be able to answer this question: why should anyone but me want to read my book? To write a good memoir is to have a good answer to SO WHAT?
  • There are many selves in a personal essay or a memoir. The main ones are the remembering self (the now narrator self), and the remembered self.
    • The remembering self is the wiser one that adds the reflections and answers the SO WHAT question. It is the one who finds the patterns of the memories.
    • The remembered self is the one who talks about the memories, the main ingredient of the story.
  • There are parts of a memoir we hesitate to write. Those parts might make us face a negativity about ourselves (a shadow) that we don’t want to know. Those are the parts that need to be written carefully and non-judgmentally.

My Picks @ Business of Selling a Book

Jeffrey Lependorf brought up the highlight for marketing. He emphasized to make sure you don’t market at, instead you need to share what you are doing and what you have to offer.

Before publishing the book

  • Even if you are not ready to send query letters out, try to write one. It helps you find the main theme of your story and will keep you focused. Jane Friedman offers good advice in her blog.
  • Submit short pieces to literary magazines
  • Open an account in goodreads.com
  • Write literary reviews for books in goodreads.com
  • Seek Blog Hosts who will accept your blogs
  • Host others in your blog, if you have one
  • Every author needs a website, even a very simple one.
  • Multimedia such as Facebook, Twitter, and Instagram are not required for everyone.
  • Try to build your literary network by reaching out and focusing on small groups, not everyone. Be specific when choosing your audience!
  • One way to ask for blurbs for your book is writing an honest fan letter to your favorite author and ask them to return the favor. Explain to them why they are among your favorite authors. Some publishers help with this as well.
  • The panel offered by Pitch Wars organization was very helpful to understand what really needs to be in a query letter. This organization has a contest and reviews the entire manuscript for the winners of the contest in two and half months. The dates are in their website.
    • They expect to see these items in the query letter:
      • The theme of the story
      • Establishing your main character
      • What are the stakes for your character
      • Why you are the right person to write this book
      • Comparative titles (not the best sellers and not too old)
      • In a query letter to an agent, you can also mention why you selected that agent.

Marketing After Publishing the Book

  • The marketing responsibilities vary from publisher to publisher, but at the end the author has the responsibility for reaching out to the right communities to find the most interested audience.
  • Finding organizations related to your book subject. Cooking? Disabilities? Exotic Cultures? Illnesses? Religions?
  • Find out if you can get an opportunity for a NPR interview related to your story or related to other interesting subjects of your life.
  • Take the Author Questionnaire (provided by your publisher) seriously and fill it out with clear and thorough explanations about yourself.
    • The information you provide in the Author Questionnaire helps your publisher find the right audience for you.
    • In the application don’t leave out your birth date since it is very important when appling for different prizes. Your publisher needs it.
    • Jane Friedman offers a sample of an Author Questionnaire in her website.

List of a Few Magazines for Non-Fiction submission in the U.S

BER

Minerva Rising Press

Hippocappus Magazine

Yorick

BatCat Press

Orion Magazine

The Southampton Review

 

Celebrate life!

Shabnam

Editing Credit: Mike Curtis

Picture Credit: Shabnam Curtis

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Writing Retreat

the porches

(671 words – 5 minutes reading)

Sitting at a porch of a writing house called “The Porches” right by the James River in Virginia far from the crowded cities, listening to birds singing and cows mooing, watching the clouds moving on top of the mountains, and writing, feels so relaxing, exciting, and fulfilling at the same time.

I am here with three other wonderful writers for four days. We are having a great time separately and together. “The Porches” is a three story house with five guest rooms. Staying in our rooms or using the beautiful porches and other parts of the house, we write during the day and whenever we run into each other, we exchange encouraging words.

“How is your writing going?”

“Fantastic! I’ve been writing for two hours non-stop. Isn’t it so great to be here?”

“It is great! I feel so happy. However, I am working on a new blog post. It is about a philosophical subject and the progress is very slow. I feel stuck.”

“Maybe you should switch to something else and get back to this later. Have you written about this writing retreat in your blog?”

“That is a great idea. I had started writing about the retreat last time I was here but never finished it. Thanks for reminding me. I’ll go back and work on it and take a break from the philosophical blog post.”

“Good luck!”

“Thank you! Enjoy your writing!”

There is no sense of superiority here. In our group, new writers and professional writers all help each other.

Dinner is our social event in the evening followed by a workshop to talk about a writing topic or have a critique session on each other’s writings. Listening to a webinar or sitting in a class trying to absorb all I can to learn more about writing, I feel exhausted after 45 minutes. Here, I can sit and talk about a writing topic until late at night after a day full of writing, and I feel my brain absorbs every word passionately and doesn’t want the session end. Wine and the background music performed by frogs we can hear through the windows help too.

I love writing and learning about writing. At home, I work on it almost every day. But the writing experience here is different. The connection to nature and the encouraging, like-minded people make me happy and my brain a lot more productive.

A while back, I was searching about human connection (heart to heart) and came across the impact of the hormone oxytocin (also called the love hormone) on our behavior. I learned how important this hormone is for human connection. The release of oxytocin makes us more compassionate, happy, and creative. Unlike the myth and old belief that only sex releases this hormone, research shows there are other ways to increase this hormone in the human body. Compassionate behavior, hugging, acts of kindness, and spending time in nature are among many other activities that increase the release of this hormone in our body. My writing retreat is a true example of this. Being among other writers and spending time in this house surrounded by pure nature, far away from the city with no cellphone signal makes me happier and therefore more creative.

The writing retreat is an amazing experience of solitude and socializing together. During the day, being alone while so close to nature and its quietness connects me to my core and helps me quiet the noise of worries and self-doubts in my brain and get access to what Eckhart Tole calls true intelligence. I don’t know the relationship between oxytocin and true intelligence, but my personal experience draws a direct correlation between these two. The connection to my core makes me more creative and focused and that helps me to create better quality writing which is very fulfilling. During the evening discussions, I learn more writing skills from other writers and apply them in my writing the day after. It is a circle of happiness. I need more writing retreats!

Editing Credit: Mike Curtis

Picture Credit: Shabnam Curtis


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2017 Report Card

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It has been a long time I have not been here, but I have been busy writing and learning.

It is time to wrap up 2017 and start 2018.

2017 brought me so many opportunities to learn more and write better. From joining great writing clubs in the Washington D.C area, going to writing retreats and expanding my network, to reading a variety of books and learning how to analyze a story with literary tools, this past year has paved me a wonderful path and let me expand my writing skills.

Learning more about writing a story was not the only outcome of my efforts. I also arrived at a deeper realization of how satisfying writing is to me, how it gives me the ability to focus and experience living in the flow (when during an activity, one doesn’t feel the passage of time and gain a sense of meaningfulness) and intellectual and spiritual fulfillment.

In 2017, starting my year with joining a couple of writing clubs and attending their monthly meetings was a gateway to a new world. I got to know other enthusiastic writers writing about fascinating non-fiction stories. They welcomed me in their group, and that became my support group. I looked forward to every month’s meeting to read others’ submissions or to submit my piece and get constructive feedback from them.

Then it was the writing retreat experience. A few of us in the writing club decided to do a writing retreat. “The Porches” close to Jamestown, Virginia has been our retreat place. Sitting in a quiet place in the middle of nature far from the crowded city with a limited cellphone signal was so helpful for better concentration and a clearer mind. Not only that, I also got to hang out with other writers who helped me along the way to improve. We wrote during the day, cooked dinner together, and had a workshop on what we wrote after dinner every night. It was a great experience.

I got support and encouraging feedback from this group.  One day, during the day, I was trying to see how I could remove parts of the writing without breaking the flow of the story. I was trying to cut my manuscript in half, and was not able to do it. At night sitting in the living room after dinner, drinking wine, and discussing our writings, I expressed my concern about the excessive amount of words I had written in my book and how I was not able to remove sections since the details seemed necessary. When the team came up with the idea of dividing my manuscript to two books, I was relieved. We discussed the pros and cons of it and I started thinking about the possibility. It was doable. Book one includes the story of my life in Iran covering 1978 to 2004 and book two covers my life in the U.S after my immigration in 2004 until 2015 when I started writing the book. In 2015, I ended an era of personal dissatisfaction by starting to write my memoir.

What I learned about writing had a magical impact. It changed my approach to reading. I began analyzing the story through reading. I started developing critiquing skills, something I had never learned before. Websites like Sparknotes, Shmoop, and Cliffsnotes became my favorite place for hanging out online for a while. Then on Mother’s Day, my daughter gave me two books, “The Great Gatsby” and “Sparknotes – The Great Gatsby” She explained to me how they learned to do literary critiquing in high school with those books. I was thrilled. Her support was so encouraging. Reading became a more intellectual activity too.

I also became attracted to short stories. I started reading literary magazines such as The New Yorker, The Paris Review, Harper’s magazine, and the Modern Love column in The NY Times.

To practice more writing and evaluate my writing skills, I have started writing personal essays. I have submitted one for an anthology and am waiting to hear whether my piece will be accepted in early spring of 2018. I have one that will be reviewed by my writing club in January of 2018. I am planning to submit that piece to the Modern Love column in NY Times. And I have a couple more under development. My personal essays are focused on my experience in relationships with people around me, and its undercurrent is analyzing human behavior through the universal desire of feeling connected to others and sense of fulfillment.

Reading with an analytical approach helped me to realize I was at the point that I needed professional editing on my manuscript. I received great critiques from the writing coach L. S. Lakin leading me to add 8 years to the beginning of the book. This gave a better background to the reader about how everything was built up in my youth.

As the editing of my first book is now in progress with the great help of the memoir instructor and professional editor Mathina Calliope, I am excited to start working on the publishing process.

I understand establishing a market for my book has a big role in the publishing process. Regardless of the type of publishing route – traditional or self-publishing – I choose, I need to build a platform and get my name out to readers who might be interested in my story.

I have started studying about book marketing specifically on possible markets for memoirs. One great book I am reading now is “You Should Really Write a Book”. I got to know this book through signing up for a webinar “Writing the Memoir that Can Sell: How to Attract Agents & Editors to Your Story” that will be presented by Literary Agent Regina Brooks.

I have also learned a lot about publishing and marketing through Jane Friedman’s blog and I am looking forward to the Webinar “How to Get Published: Land a Book Deal in 2018” she is offering on January 4th.

As part of getting to know other authors and publishers in the industry, I have planned a few trips to attend book festivals and conferences.

Here are a few I am planning to attend:

AWP Conference – March 2018 Tampa, FL

Virginia Festival of The Book – March 2018 Charlottesville, VA

Abu Dhabi International Book Fair – April and May 2018 Abu Dhabi, UAE

18th Library of Congress National Book Festival – September 2018 Washington D.C

Fall for the Book – September 2018 Fairfax, Virginia

International Festival of Authors – October 2018 Toronto, Canada

Sharjah International Book Fair – November 2018 Sharjah, UAE

 

To a prosperous 2018 for all of us here and there!

 

 

 

P.S. Here are a few more links to other Literature and Book fairs in the world:

Toronto Storytelling Festival – Toronto Canada

2 Seas Agencies 2018 International Book Fair

International Publisher Association Events

The 2018 Fairway Galle Literary Festival

 

 

Editing Credit: Mike Curtis

Picture Credit: https://pixabay.com


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Why Didn’t I Write on My Blog For a Few Weeks?

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For the past few weeks I have been restructuring my memoir. I have been focusing on a major theme trying to add the most related memories/stories and remove unrelated threads. It has been challenging but also liberating. Challenging enough that I was not able to write about it on my blog but liberating enough to fill my heart with hope for this book and even subsequent books.

I have written over 140,000 words so far and by the time I finish the draft, based on the additions required by the new structure, I will have well over 150,000 words. This is long and I have learned a memoir usually should be around 80,000 words to offer a memorable story, unless I lived Nelson Mandela’s life, but I didn’t have the privilege of being him. This means I need to focus on my theme and remove half of the words.

This all came up to answer only one question asked by an excellent writing coach, L. S. Lakin, who did a thorough critique on first 50 pages of my draft. I chewed on my nails until I received her critiques and then her first email took my breath away leaving me in despair, feeling I wrote junk. Don’t take it wrong. She was not being negative. She was asking difficult questions that I needed to answer and despite all the confidence I had about knowing what I was writing, I found out I was not clear enough. I was not able to satisfy her question with a proper answer.

This is exactly what she wrote to me: “My main concern, as is the case with all memoirs, is why you wrote this, for whom, and what benefit they would get out of this.”

Emails went back and forth between us. She was helping me get through my fear and come up with a good answer. We eventually came up with a theme that we agreed was a good focus for my story. When the email shower was over, I began to see the clouds were going away and the sun was shining on my memoir again, this time even brighter.

We came up with one major theme. I could see how that theme and the focus is going to help me cut the extra volume out of my story to give it a flow and to avoid writing a dull and confusing story.

Having an experienced coach is always a great help!

I have been continuously reading as well. Reading books like 1984 and Giovanny’s Room helped me to figure out the ambivalent feelings we Persians have experienced under the authoritative culture and oppressive government. What George Orwell called “doublethink” is the undercurrent of my story too. Especially after the Islamic government took over the power in 1979, what we experienced in everyday life forced us to accept the mutually exclusive concepts simultaneously. While a lot of us Persians didn’t believe in wearing the head scarf, we had to be careful to wear it properly to avoid being punished by the government. While we believed in freedom of speech, we censored ourselves carefully to avoid punishment as extreme as execution. While we tried to remember some good old days, we were forced to study history books representing a very different picture of the past, and then work hard to obtain an A grade on the reports we wrote. And no matter how much we resisted, fear of punishment was a constant shadow following us. Gradually, it even became part of the culture.

To focus on a clear major theme, I realized I need to show all these, but I don’t need to go through all the different layers of my life, I only need to focus on the related stories.

These were not the only outcomes of her help. It also enabled me to take a different approach or maybe a deeper approach to understand the themes of other books better. Searching and reading the book analysis available on the web and in libraries has become my everyday fun for the past few weeks. Considering I have never had any official training in English literature, I felt clueless every time I read Spark notes, Shmoop, or Cliffsnotes analysis.  I understand them now and it feels great!

I was so focused on these thoughts and subjects that every time I thought of my deserted blog, I quickly told myself I’ll do it later, I don’t know what to write now and I let it go. I knew I was swimming a little deeper in the ocean of literature and writing. I have been carefully adjusting my swimming skills in that depth. And, here I am explaining what was going on within the past few weeks. It was a breakthrough. I feel more confident and more motivated to finish this book and even to start other stories.

Writing creates such strong passion in me that I think if only I was a poet, I could express it through the density of a poem.

 

Editing Credit: Mike Curtis

Picture Credit: https://pixabay.com


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Writing a Memoir and Handling Memories of Closed Relationships

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(509 words – 4 min read)

I had a feeling something was missing from the first chapter of my memoir. I had a sentence or so about how my first husband and I got together. Then I wrote page after page about how the relationship declined. There were so many reasons why we got together but regardless, we were attracted to each other. There was a spark that pulled us together.

Writing a memoir is supposed to be healing and believe me it is. It is supposed to help the writer put things in perspective and look at things with wisdom, to feel better about the past. However, the way I had written my story made me feel like an idiot marrying a person who was obviously the wrong match.

Practicing self-compassion to avoid blaming myself, I though, may be not everything was as idiotic as it sounded. It just didn’t make sense. As unwise as my decision was to marry at age 19 for my type of personality, there had to be more to it. I started questioning myself why I got attracted to that person. It took me a while to admit to myself that there were good moments in the beginning that drew my attention to him. Since we had a painful divorce, I was denying any good memories. I did not want to remember them, so it was easier to think there were none. But that is what made me feel like a total failure.

One day driving home from work, listening to an older song, and drawn into my thoughts about my book, I remembered the song was my ex-husband’s favorite song. The train of memories came back. Suddenly, I remembered all the poems he wrote for me in the beginning of our relationship. I remembered he told me our relationship was provoking his thoughts and he could write a lot more poems than before. I remembered we had good memories even for a short time. I felt a lot less than a failure. I felt so much more compassion towards myself.

There is no right or wrong and under the circumstances, I became attracted to him for a good enough reason for my 19-year-old self. Then things turned out to be very difficult because we were very different. We ended up hurting each other. I am not proud of that, but I came to accept it as part of my growth process. This way he was not a total failure either. I seriously disliked a lot of his actions but not his existence. All these thoughts created a big wave of peace coming and washing over my soul. There it was a little more compassion, a little more inner peace. Building it piece by piece!

Once again, I arrived at the conclusion of looking at the big picture of each event, trying to avoid removing any of its pieces. I remembered again, life is complete with all its ups and downs. More importantly, I remembered to accept my past with all the beauty and the blemishes in the picture.

Celebrate life!

Shabnam

Editing Credit: Mike Curtis

Picture Credit: https://pixabay.com


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Books The Backbone of My Life and My Memoir – Part 2 of 2

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(1385 words – 10 min read)

Part 2 of 2 – America

I arrived in America in March of 2004. With a broken heart, I had to leave my daughter in Iran for an unknown amount of time until I could take care of all the permissions and paperwork, to have her join me. I believed my dream of freedom in the land of democracy would come true.

Despite my husband’s serious disagreement with bringing some of my books, because of the extra weight they would add to our bags, I still managed to bring a handful of my beloved favorites. I was not able to imagine living without those specific books.

Within the first week of my arrival, the need to learn more English skills and my love for books dragged me to the libraries. It was fascinating to walk in the public library and find all different kinds of books, walking among the aisles, and grab any book I liked. In Iran, local libraries had very small collections and as a member I was only allowed to go through the index cards and see if the book I was looking for was available. Usually, it was not. If the book was available, then the librarian would go and bring it for me. Due to a fairly dysfunctional public library system in Iran, I was very used to buying the books I wanted. Here in America with the big collection the library system offered, I was able to find all different sorts of books in the library.

Iran’s Islamic government had several mandatory Islamic courses to be taught every year at school. I had to learn about Islamic rules, the history of Islam, and Arabic as part of the curriculum. Few people were interested in those courses at school, but all of us students had to pass them with good grades if we wanted to maintain a good GPA. Because of all those forced, boring courses at school, I had never been interested in spending more time on religious books, but surprisingly found myself reading about different religions here in America. It felt like I was not forced and could expand my knowledge about different belief systems. Isn’t that what America is about?

Reading all those books did not change my agnostic view however with a lot more information, I felt confident I could express my opinion, without being arrested by the government (as would happen in Iran), and without being severely judged by a lot of people. That certainly felt like freedom.

I also found myself interested in reading about America’s short but rich history. I read stories about how democracy was formed in less than 2 centuries as a result of people’s belief in freedom. The beauty of having all different ugly and pretty pieces of its history together. The history of how people of all races fought hard and gained human rights, women’s rights, gay rights, and how all different ethnicities came along to live together to build a country called “The United States of America”. The history of becoming one of the world’s most powerful countries.

Like all other immigrants, to settle down, I had a busy few first years but I never stopped reading. Cultural shock, learning a new language, missing my daughter who was still in Iran waiting for me to bring her here, marriage problems, working as a retail associate in store while trying to find a job to use my professional experience from Iran, and trying to go to graduate school were amongst the main challenges. Reading was the fun part, the me-time part, and the joy part, especially with the unlimited resources I had access to. Not only would reading take me to a different world outside of the reality of my life, it also gave me hope and triggered my motivation to move forward stronger than ever. This felt like freedom too.

Over time, I brought my daughter to my side, found an understanding partner, completed my Masters degree with a good graduate school and found a professional job.  I was intellectually stimulated at work and living in a nice home, but I found myself confused, questioning the PURPOSE of life. Now what? I was happy but not content. Something was missing in my life. In fact, something big was missing.

My lifelong dream was to become an independent woman and manage my life under my own supervision rather than following others’ possessive control. I did become independent, enabling myself to use my own logical and emotional intelligence to make life decisions. Didn’t I get all I wished for? What was missing? I was puzzled.

My interest and passion for books has always had a major focus on Philosophy, Sociology, and Psychology. Around 2009, I found myself drawn into Psychology, specifically the concept of “Self-actualization” introduced by Abraham Maslow. I attended seminars, read books, and talked about it almost all the time. I have this obsessive behavior that my husband politely calls “Passion”. When I get excited about one new subject, I change the lenses of my life glasses to that particular subject. Even trips to the grocery store are seen and analyzed through these new lenses.

Reading more about it and living with this concept for a while, I got to the learn that Maslow thinks the ultimate goal of being is to become self-actualized, to use one’s potential fully. Along with this, studying about altruism helped me to understand to become self-actualized, one needs to become compassionate first.

Well, I always tried to have good intentions towards others around me, but this concept was asking a lot more than that. Not only did I need to learn to be less judgmental and to avoid jumping to conclusions about others’ behavior, I also needed to be compassionate towards myself. I needed to stop criticizing myself and become gentle with myself. WOW! I thought. As a woman raised under the authoritative government and culture of Iran during the 1970s and 1980s, I believed I was never “good enough”, which to me is the major outcome of being controlled by possessive behavior coming from Government, spouses, and parents.

I had to re-wire everything in my head. It took me a few years to digest this new concept of being self-compassionate. Living in America and having good company around me and not being under possessive behavior helped tremendously and made the process possible.

Reading books has helped me expand my knowledge and form a broader point of view. It has helped me to develop less judgmental and more empathetic behavior every day.

In this mental journey from Marxism to Mullahs to living in the land of democracy and beginning the path to self-actualization, I have learned to investigate many great thinkers through their books, and then use my birth-right of freedom to interpret their words to my life circumstances. I learned there are unlimited paths to freedom. Everyone creates their own unique path, but we are all in this together.

I have come to learn that with compassion towards others and ourselves, doing the best we can at every moment of life is “the PURPOSE of life”.

On the journey to self-compassion, I learned writing even more than reading brings out all the passion and joy of life in me. While writing, I feel the freedom in my spirit. When I am writing, I don’t feel the passage of time. Jane Friedman explains those moments very well, “Time stops; you’re in the flow”. Writing also helps me feel the most compassionate to others.

When you write stories, you need to see beyond the surface of what happened. When you write, you learn each person has strengths and flaws. Under different circumstances, people do the best they can and making mistakes is a natural part of life. Everyone needs support to improve. When you write, you learn that in fact, to accept the imperfect nature of being and improving it is another way of expressing “the PURPOSE of life” and the ultimate FREEDOM for humans.

Last but not least, I learned having freedom is not the end of the journey, it is the journey itself. The beauty of this long journey is that it is never-ending. There is always deeper freedom in life to explore. Life is limitless.

And finally, there are always more BOOKS to read and to write.

Celebrate life!

Shabnam

Editing Credit: Mike Curtis

Picture Credit: https://pixabay.com


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Books, The Backbone of My Life and My Memoir – Part 1 of 2

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(939 words – 7 min read)

Part 1 of 2 – Iran

There are unlimited different paths to live. Mine was luckily influenced by many books and different schools of thought. From Marx and Marxism to Mullahs under the Islamic Republic of Iran, to America and Democracy, and to Abraham Maslow and Self-actualization, my path had a lot of zigs and zags but was entertaining. Every step had to be taken to build some part of my character. This whole path helped me finally begin to accept myself with all my flaws and strengths as a human.

When I was a little child, my big influence was my knowledgeable, depressed, short-tempered, loving, and Marxist father. Under his influence, I fell in love with books and authors who talked about freedom and human equality.  I don’t know where I would be without my beloved author “Samad Behrangi”. He was a firm believer in human equality influenced by Marxism. During my childhood, his books were the game changer in my life. I read Samad’s most popular book, “Mahi Siah e Koochooloo” that translates to “The Little Black Fish” many times. I loved how the little black fish thought of life.

The little black fish who left the little creek and her family to explore the end of the creek was. She made the decision to leave the ordinary life she, her mother and her ancestors have lived forever, to go explore the sea and find something bigger to live for. She became independent and led her life for bigger dreams.  In the end, she sacrificed her life but she was not regretful because she realized her dream of seeing the big sea. She became my role model.

I was seven years old when people came to the streets of all the cities in Iran to protest the Shah’s policies against human rights. My parents and I were there too. I was taller than everyone else since my father would carry me on his shoulders. My parents never asked for an Islamic Republic. They were asking for more human rights, for less political prisoners in jails, for freedom of speech, and for women’s rights. But long story short, Mullahs (clerics) took the state over and Iran became “The Islamic Republic of Iran”. A kind of Frankenstein that was neither Islamic nor republic since people would be arrested and/or executed if they said anything against the Mullahs’ wishes.

There were so many things we did inside the house that became illegal all of a sudden, including having mixed gender parties with women not wearing scarves, playing music, dancing, drinking alcohol, watching western movies, and conversing about ideas other than Mullahs’ ideologies. Soon, under the Mullahs’ regime, wearing a scarf outside of the house was mandated for all women and girls older than 9. We had two different parallel lives, inside the house and outside the house. Outside was gloomy and we needed to hide everything from the Government.  My life inside the house was about a dejected father losing almost all hope for democracy in Iran, still trying to secretly keep a small flame of belief in democracy and human freedom. As depressed as he was, he would still recite the poem “Life is beautiful” by the Persian poet Moshiri for me, especially when he had a shot of home-made vodka.

“Yea, Yea, Life is beautiful

Life is an everlasting fire-temple

If you lighten it, you’ll see the flames dancing in every border

And if not, it will be quiet, and that will be our fault …”

Both vodka and the poem were banned under the Islamic government rules (sharia laws) during the 80s.

My father owned so many books and would share them with me to read. My life was filled with the thoughts from authors such as Jean-Paul Sartre, Ethel Lillian Voynich, Jack London, Howard Faust, Victor Hugo, Leo Tolstoy, Romain Rolland, and Maxim Gorky as well as many great Iranian authors.

The Islamic regime soon began searching houses for any atheist subject related books and would arrest the owner. I cried the day that my father placed most of his books in two big suitcases to take them to my uncle’s workshop outside of the city to burn them. I could see the pain in his face when he left the house. We managed to keep a few of them that I still own. That event made me appreciate books in my life on a deeper level. Few people had that problem in Iran. Culturally, reading books wasn’t encouraged. Maybe if it was and people were more knowledgeable, they would not let Mullahs take over their country. I believe ignorance is our biggest enemy.

Throughout those dark years under Mullahs tyranny, books became my best company. Along with a few other friends, we managed to get access to the underground book market and find illegal books (Farsi or translated to Farsi) that were published before the Islamic regime took over. During the era of the reformist Mohammad Khatami’s presidency in the 80s, the publishing industry took a little jump and more good books found their way to the market. We took advantage of every single possibility. Reading books especially helped me not to forget my dream for freedom.

The Islamic regime’s harsh structure, as well as the traditional and authoritative culture offering little for women’s freedom, made a roller coaster ride of my life in Iran during the 80s, 90s and beginning of the new millennium in Iran. I finally found my way to America in 2004. America, the land of opportunity, democracy, and freedom with countless numbers of books available to read. This was like heaven to me.

To be continued…..

 

Celebrate life!

Shabnam

Editing Credit: Mike Curtis

Picture Credit: https://pixabay.com