The Growing Mind

Writing My Memoir & Emotional Growth


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Writer’s Bock

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(592 words – less than 3 min read)

I mostly read this past week. For the first time I faced the challenge of writer’s block. I was not feeling motivated to write for the past two weeks. I have been taking notes on my journal but not one word on my story. With the fulltime day job and other life responsibilities, it is hard to find time with a fresh brain to write. My love relationship with writing is facing some conflicts and needs some new fuel. It is like a marriage that you have to pay attention to all the responsibilities of the marriage and that dilutes the passion and desire and makes us feel sad and even frustrated. That is exactly how I feel about my love relationship with writing now. I need to remember to manage my priorities based on what makes me content not what life dictates me. I understand, making a balance in our priority list is a never ending but meaningful part of our life. I am sure I will be back on the road after this detour, since I trust this love.

I posted a comment about my concern on NAMW Facebook page and received so many supportive comments. That was heartwarming and makes me feel better.

I finished “Honeymoon in Tehran: Two Years of Love and Danger in Iran” by Azade Moavaeni this past week. She is a second-generation Iranian-American journalist who felt strong roots in her parents’ country, went there and tried to establish a life. She faced so many challenges that made her think twice about her priorities. I really enjoyed reading this book. I relate to almost everything she explains about living in Iran as an educated middle class woman. I am 4 years older than her and was born in Iran. I migrated to the U.S when I was 31. My generation went through the revolution that ended up with a dictatorship governing the country and then 8 years of absolutely unnecessary war with Iraq. All we learned from theocracy over the years through school and society was to feel guilty if we were happy.  We never believed that and always sought happiness and beauty in life in different ways.

Azadeh has explained the challenges people (especially women) face under dictatorship very clearly with no exaggeration. The way she felt it and explained it is very real. I am impressed she managed her expectations realistically as a born and raised American girl.

Since I am writing my memoir, reading Azadeh’s memoir helped me to be braver to explain the negative feelings I had when I lived back in Iran, the feelings that I repressed because of the autocracy’s influence at the deepest part of one’s personal life. It’s easier now to explain when I acted selfishly to survive since I was part of that system and didn’t know better.

I can see now I have come a long way and learned how to defend my rights and respect others in a democratic system.

As I am writing this article for my blog I already feel the motivation again to finish my story and share it with others.

Let’s celebrate life!

Shabnam

Editing Credit: M. Curtis

Photo Credit: https://pixabay.com


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Story ….. Story….. Story…… We All Love Stories!

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(983 words – Less than 5 min read)

“One thousand and one Arabian Nights”

Yes, we all love stories. Throughout history humans have used stories to live and to survive. One good example is “One thousand and one Arabian Nights”. Have you read it? Do you know how the legendary Persian queen, “Scheherazade” survived the deadly marriage? With becoming a storyteller and creating this legendary book! I have read them on and off but watching this Iranian TV Show “Shahrzad” made me curious to know more about these stories. I downloaded the book on my phone to read all of them. The stories reflect challenges that people dealt with in their life. There is a great amount of wisdom in each story.

The TV show we have been watching this past two weeks called “Shahrzad” is strongly written and played. It covers a few years in the 50s in Iran when the coup happened to overthrow the democratically elected Prime Minister Dr. Mohammad Mosadegh. In truth it represents the present status of the society too. The protagonist “Shahrzad” is a wise woman who faces so many challenges in her life living under autocracy.

Shahrzad knows so many of the “One thousand and one Arabian Nights” stories and uses the wisdom of the stories in her life. She tries to get the best out of life even in the worst situation when she is forced to an arrange marriage or when her baby is taken away from her. I am sure a lot of people deeply relate to the characters of this show specially her. It helped me to see my past more clearly and enabled me to see the causes and effects of what happened in my life under autocracy.

Watching the show has been helping me to picture the life style I used to live not long ago. It has been helping me to identify the fears that were created by that life style and that social structure; fears that I still carry with me. It is all about the impact of dictatorship on one’s personal life!

Neither the open-minded nor the conservatives could survive the dictatorship’s selfish decisions. The decisions flow down all the way to the most private parts of personal lives and limit people from thinking freely and even imagining their dream life. It kills dreams overtime!

In that life style you have to fit in or you are singled out and put under a lot of pressure. Not many choices are on the table. People have to repress all their desires and disappointments and even die with it.

The dust of the dictatorship covers every piece of the individual’s life. Everyone lives in fear and that creates a demon inside them. A lot of people become selfish and aggressive to survive. It creates a dictator in each person. People even family members are scared of each other but they have to pretend they enjoy their relationships.

The population of open-minded who can smell democracy and are after human’s right is very small.  They are all under watch and face extreme danger in their lives. It is very hard to follow and respect human’s rights. Human rights are a luxury in most cases. For a lot of people, aggressiveness becomes the way to claim their rights. Emotional violence in all different types become normal and creates a lot of inner-conflicts and social conflicts. Is there any way to change this? I left the country. America became home for me. I enjoy the taste of freedom in my life but I constantly deal with survivors guilt too. What about the millions and millions still living there? They deserve a better life style with liberty and inner peace. I don’t have any answer yet but I am very hopeful for a good change.

NAMW Group Coaching Take Away

This past week, I attended in June NAMW group coaching. Listening to people’s conversations took me back to how I started my writing process. I thought I should share it here. When I was turning 40, I started creating a chronological list of my life milestones. This practice helped me to create the outline of the story later when I started writing my memoir. I also created a list of people who came to my life. As it was suggested in the group coaching session, it will help me if I write a few words about characteristic of each person in their relationship with me. I believe each person can show different sets of characteristics in different relationship. We build different relationships to fulfill different needs. One relationship can fulfill the family love we need to receive and the other one to have our intellectual conversations to feed that part of our soul. Self-reflection and looking back at my past and current relationships give me the opportunity to see my lessons learned more clearly. We also structure our relationships by bringing the best or the worst out of each other. That is why we get good vibes from some, stay neutral with others, and cannot stand some people.

Coursera

This past week I listened to the rest of the Coursera course “Creative Writing: The Craft of Setting and Description” provided by Amity Gaige. I have two take-aways from this week lessons.

In order to feel the scene that I need to describe, I need to mediate on it, read about it, look at the related pictures and if possible go to that place again or simply live in it for a while. To start, I mediate and focus on nature on my walks and try to describe what I see as a practice.

The second takeaway was how to get inspired right before we start writing. Amity suggested reading poems can be inspiring and I found out I did the inspiring part naturally by listening to some writing courses before I start. I will try the poem as well.

 

Celebrate life!

Shabnam

Editing Credit: Holly M

Photo Credit: https://pixabay.com


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A Few Pieces of News about My Writing Progress

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(1027 words – 5 min read)

Everything is moving forward slowly and gradually with joy!

Here are a few pieces of news about my progress:

  • After attending a few teleseminars and one online course provided by “National Association of Memoir Writers” (NAMW), I got their membership to use the database of memoir writing they provide to their members, as well as for networking opportunities. What Brook Warner and Linda Joy Myers have been providing in their online events has been inspiring to me. I try to use the knowledge and experience they share to improve my writing. Here is the link to their website: http://namw.org/
  • Skills I learned this week
    • From NAMW June round table: They talked to author Amye Archer. It was a great discussion! She mentioned a valuable point about depressing moments. You remember it as trauma not as an event, so writing about it is not easy. We don’t remember all the details since we were under that pressure. It is difficult to ensure our current emotions do not impact the authenticity of the story. When I asked how to describe someone I consider self-centered, Amye gave a good answer.  She said you have to explain your reasons for leaving, so it’s ok to explain your issues with him.  Remember to take responsibility for your reactions, but let people draw their own conclusions.  Also remember under abusive circumstances, not everyone has the ability to leave. The time to leave has also to do with the amount of ability you have to cope.
    • From writing: My passion for social psychology has always motivated me to study and learn more about human behavior. I have a strong interest in human behavioral patterns and the root cause of behaviors. Pursuing this passion scientifically through self-study on this subject has helped me to avoid judging people, which is one of the main steps towards inner peace. I noticed I write a lot about human behavior because it is kind of my strong point. In a teleseminar provided by NAMW, I asked how much is too much to write about psychological analysis for a character’s behavior in my story. Brook and Linda Joy cautioned me against providing too much analysis.  Let my readers make their own interpretation that is not led by my emotions. So I made decision; I need to show my character’s behavior enough to help my readers communicate with each character compassionately, not judgmentally.
    • From Coursera: This past week I have been listening to the course “Creative Writing: The Craft of Setting and Description” provided by Amity Gaige. It is a great course, the second module of a 5 module package for fiction writing. I know I don’t pay attention to details of the places I spend time in.  If people have new furniture in their houses, I am the last one to notice. I have a hard time remembering the clothes people wore when they met with me. I don’t even know what detail to look for in such cases. However, listening to this course made me think that human appearance and their behavior have some direct relationship. There is a connection between us and the space we live in. Modern design, classical design, traditional design in our homes and clothing come from our personality. Living with a particular design reinforces some aspects of our personality.  People in big cities far from nature have different behavior than people who live in houses with yards. Messy place, tidy place, colorful place, or places with natural colors make a huge impact on our behavior in everyday life. In order to become a good writer, I need to be able to describe a scene with important details to help my readers to feel the vibe of the space. In order to practice this, Amity suggested to become a good observant, like children not knowing how things work, they pay attention to the detail. It is called “beginner’s mind” which means look at things like you haven’t seen them before and try to explore them and explain them.
  • Books I am reading: I read a few books at a time. I pick one of them to read based on my mood.
    • I chose a book in a genre I have never read before. “The Siren” by Tiffany Reisz. This book is categorized in erotic genre. It is not a shallow sexy book. It is written pretty deeply, explaining the feelings of people who enjoy sex and pain together. In order to understand this part of human behavior, reading this book is helpful. Tiffany has created characters who chose this life style and explores their relationships with others who have a hard time believing in that life style. Their relationships are well explained and feel real.
    • The other book I have been reading this past week is “How to Write a Memoir in 30 Days: Step-by-Step Instructions for Creating and Publishing Your Personal Story” by Roberta Temes. I plan on reading this and a few other related books to make sure I get different perspectives. I get very good lessons from NAMW meetings, articles, and courses, however I would like to look at other people’s perspective on memoir writing as well.
  • Last but not least, I made some additions and did some editing on what I wrote about the 2007 stories in my book (adding almost 2000 words). I am close to finishing the draft of 2007. My draft covers 1993 – 2007 so far. I’d like to call this version a draft of a draft. This is simply my memories turning to words. Brene Brown called it “Shitty First Draft” (SFD). I like it!! J
  • Question of the week: In our previous relationships we all thought we fell in love, but I have a hard time calling it love if that relationship was a constant struggle. Every relationship is important and has a lot of lessons, but Love doesn’t exist in every relationship. It is easy to call romantic co-attachment “love” mistakenly, but was there any love in a relationship based on co-attachment to fulfill insecurities? Was there any love in a relationship that never accepted you for who you are?

Celebrate life,

Shabnam

Editing Credit: M. Curtis

Photo Credit: https://pixabay.com

 


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This is How I Started

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(1065 words – 5 min read)

I started working on my memoir around Thanksgiving of 2015. Work had not been busy for the past few months, frustrating me with feelings of uselessness. I was used to always being very busy at work. When work slowed down for the first time in my life, I did not know what to do with myself. The slow pace gave me time to think about a lot of things I had never thought of before, and the frustration gave the thoughts a negative tone. My negative thoughts were telling me the reason I was slow at work and not adding any value was because I was not good enough. Pretty quickly, these thoughts turned in a crisis. I was distracted by obsessive thoughts and consumed by anxiety.

For a long time I was not able to pinpoint the cause for my concerns. I was confused with all the mixed feelings and thoughts. I frantically googled every possible related subject and read many articles trying to figure out what was going on in my head and my heart. All I knew was I had lost the inner peace I had worked so hard to build. What was wrong?

After a while I realized I was terrified of aging. My research led me to understand this can be part of a mid-life crisis. I started reading more about mid-life crises to learn how to deal with it. Over the course of 3 months, I learned a mid-life crisis is a phase that can lead down two different paths – destructive or constructive. In one case, I could continue to give destructive power to the spiraling negative thoughts, leading to depression. However, if I could look at aging constructively, I felt I could work to build a legacy. I had long conversations with my husband Mike and my close friends about how I felt. My choice was simple.

The thought of writing had been in my mind for a long time, and after an event a few years earlier a dear friend asked me to write the story of my life. I started to write my memoir shortly after, but could not devote any time to it. However, I knew I liked writing. I felt I needed it, but my busy life never allowed me to pursue writing until this time that work was slow. In a coffee-break conversation with my friend Holly, she encouraged me to try writing again, to work on a legacy.

Since I was very demotivated, it took another few weeks before I started looking at my earlier writings. I started reading them and felt impressed by how much my English skills had improved in just a short time. I started writing again. That is what was missing in my life. It was possible to create value regardless of my job satisfaction!

I felt better when I wrote, so I wrote more and more and felt even better…. I found myself feeling anxious and looking forward to get back to my writing time almost every day. I got excited. I ordered books to read about how to write a memoir. I started researching about memoirs and how they differ from biographies. I began looking at other books and reading other’s memoirs, all the while writing and writing. I got to a point where I was thinking about it almost all day. The next steps seemed to come to my mind naturally. The process of figuring out what to do was so natural that I fell in love with writing. I would start writing and the words would appear on my computer screen, surprising me with thoughts I didn’t know I had. I found writing empowering and writing my memoir healing!

By the New Year I felt a lot better. The obsessive thoughts subsided. The anxiety was under control and I was truly enjoying my writing time.
I started creating an outline for the story. I don’t write chronologically, but work on sections of the story as they present themselves in my mind. As I write, I also update the outline of the story. I write very often, not every day but a few times per week.
Now that my work-load is back to normal again, when I don’t have time to read and write often, I feel frustrated.
My goal is to finish the first draft by the end of 2016. I have written 60,000 words so far. In 2017, I will be adding more details and emotional explanations to the first draft. I will also be editing as I add more details. I will re-arrange it to give it a cause and effect style by flash-backs. By 2018 I will be working on the final editing and asking for feedback and hopefully beginning the publishing process.

I have joined a few writing workshops. I have created a long list of books I’d like to read in “Goodreads”. I am taking on-line courses mostly on “Coursera” about writing, happiness, social psychology, and related subjects. I read other blogs about memoir writing. I read a lot of psychology articles related to the process of self-awareness, to learn how my life story fits in this process and how this process fits in my life story. I talk to close friends (including my husband and my daughter) about my thoughts. This is a cleansing effort which creates a very special bond between me and the beautiful souls around me. It feels wonderful!

The process has ups and downs of course! Thinking about some sad or stressful events in past makes me feel down or sad sometimes. In order to write it realistically, I try to lift up my soul to put things in perspective and learn from the damage. That helps me heal the damage little by little and deepen my self-awareness. It is beautiful how it works. It makes me particularly happy when I see how good can come out of bad and sad. Duality of life!

I have shared books I am reading on my blog via “Goodreads” and linked blogs I am following. I will share other blogs that I find useful and organizations that are helpful. Most of all I will share my weekly progress in learning how to be a writer and in writing my memoir.

See you next time as I share my weekly progress.

Celebrate life,

Shabnam

Photo Credit:https://pixabay.com/en/door-change-new-beginning-board-672999/

Editing Credit: M. Curtis & P.E