This Spiral Life


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Searching For Wholeness In My Memoir Writing; Giving Voice To The Villains

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(1479 words)

Everyone carries emotional pain in their heart, the embodied trauma of our lives and our ancestors’. According to California’s surgeon general, Nadine Burke Harris two third of the populations have dealt with Adverse Childhood Experience (ACE). I think the rest who didn’t, have been traumatized through cultural pressures and limitations in one way or another. Dr. Gabor Mate in his recent documentary The Wisdom of Trauma states that trauma is a hidden pandemic. All of us need to pay attention to the pain, instead of trying to escape from it.

To process the pain, many people have embraced memoir writing as a form of personal and collective trauma therapy. Those of us who become memoirists have a responsibility to take care of ourselves while writing. We are also responsible for writing trauma-informed stories that show the complex multi-layered human pain and resiliency in all characters in our stories.

Creative writing is going through an era of exploring different parts of our identities and piecing them in a bigger picture. What we read from today’s writers helps us connect to a deeper universal pain of human life. Shared stories that help us deepen our understanding about various Native American tribes and their beliefs; Palestinians and Jews and their long, complicated conflict; the many different reasons for immigration; the personal and collective emotions existing in LGBTQ+ communities; and all other unlimited dimensions of beings, the wholeness of life and all the pain it carries. We read and write not only to know each other, but to learn that villains were human beings, maybe with more pain in their closed hearts, and to find a piece, even a little piece, a nuance of ourselves and our pains in each of these stories; learning about non-conventional possibilities and freeing more of our potential by releasing our pain to live more fully.

Being an Iranian is only part of my identity but there is so much more to who I am. I explored the Iranian part and its traumas in some depth in My Persian Paradox, my first memoir. I am currently writing about the follow-up, American part of the story. But how about other dimensions of me; being a woman, a mother, a writer who gains deep satisfaction from writing but doesn’t write much, a Psychology lover and human behavior observer, a wife, a plant lover, a storyteller, a dog lover, a person with biases and hidden biases, a person who has repressed anger in her, a person who fears community building, a person with deep doubts on structured religions, and so many more that I know and I don’t even know about. All those untested strengths.

As part of the epidemic need for self-discovery and self-development, like many others, I have been an avid learner of self-help subjects. The combination of therapy and studying self-help resources have been helping me to move along that path of development and emotional growth.

Therapy especially has lifted me, and brought awareness of my subconscious.

Reading and intellectually understanding the information made me realize the pain. Getting in touch with the pain, however, didn’t immediately help me get into the healing process. I needed my brain to learn about it, but gradually I felt the need of involvement of my heart and body to feel it, to practice it, to live it. I could see the trauma and repression. I didn’t know how to deal with the depth of it, let alone writing about the healing process . I needed a teacher, a guide, and a community to help me embody what I have been learning, to learn it not just with my brain but sense it through my body and process it through my heart; to integrate different pieces of me, known or forgotten – dark or light. This assimilation needed more integrated practices. Therapy and studying are parts of it, but there is more to it. This type of integration would help me to begin coming out of my denial mode, accept myself and the world as is, in order to see the opportunities for growth, and to realize more of my potential towards wholeness. What I mean by wholeness is to be part of a bigger system of being and to believe that there is always more than one point of view; To give voice to everyone, even the villain of my story. We’ve heard that “the people who are the hardest to love are the ones who need it most.”

I long to write and tell stories that explore different parts of me in relation with the systems I have been living in. And what I mean by that is to delve into myself and other characters in my stories and see each of us as a whole soul, see the dynamic of the system we interacted in, feel the pain we all carried in our hearts. Exploring those back stories that shed light on the hidden pain that caused aggression, jealousy, and selfishness, and all other trauma-caused hurtful behavior, I want to write those tales about the darkness of trauma and its transformation to light. To use storytelling to create empathy and acceptance, to see the pain beyond the hurtful behavior, to process the pain, to forgive, to create change, and to move on with more resiliency.

Stories about a mother’s harsh discipline, father’s hurtful criticism, the uncle with his sharp tongue, the neighbor who always cautioned or actually scared everyone by her stories of burglary two blocks away, about the friend who always compared her situation and expressed her disappointment, the stepmother whose bad words damaged relationships, the little boy in the neighborhood who was always called a trouble-maker, the cousin who reminded us of Eeyore and his gloomy point of view, the other one who disrespected women, the acquaintance who didn’t welcome immigrants. Stories about my deep shame of not being enough every time I expressed an idea, the fear of being disliked by others, and about the judgmental analysis I run on my aunt’s behavior.

Each one of these characters has more than one dimension of being and they carried tremendous pain in their hearts. People dealt with the tension created from their personal experience and intergenerational traumas. We are confused. We hurt each other while we love each other. A lot of time we create stories with no substance to numb ourselves and get away from the pain. And we skip the backstories to escape from the deep heavy pain in our hearts.

I think not discovering the pain and the resiliency that came with it makes one’s writing shallow, showing only the face value. Compromising on the backstories and the underlying pain, the root cause, means we are not telling the whole story. Real stories, true memoirs, and personal essays need to shed light on the undercurrent of tension in the atmosphere. Otherwise, they are only bunch of words about a limited point of view. I should know how to add the hidden gem of the underlying pain to the story – coming from not only my brain but being poured onto the paper through my body and my heart, allowing the reader to see each character inside out.  That’s when I share a true story that helps us attain deeper self-discovery towards wholeness. It is still one point of view but connected compassionately to others. It becomes part of the collectiveness and universality of being a human!

I first learned about this concept when I started writing my first memoir almost six years ago. I’ve continued learning about this never ending transformation. To deepen this practice in my life including my writing life, a couple of years ago, I joined the Integral Life community and have enjoyed the deep practices they offer in integrating different pieces of ourselves and the world into our life.

This is a community that follows the school of thought of the great thinker Ken Wilber who has introduced, enhanced, and popularized the Integral Life Theory. While I participated in integral practices through this community, I felt I needed more coherent practices and deeper learning. I decided to take training to become an Integral life Coach myself. I started my one year certification program with New Venture West (NVW). Learning to process the difficult emotions through tested techniques within a safe community and transforming them to power have become a great tool for a deeper dive in writing my second memoir and has shown me stronger connection to life. It allows me to see myself and others as pure souls covered by layers of darkness and pain. I am hungrier to write about those who I resented or judged, to bring their stories to my story, to think about their pain and to see my pain in it, To explore our entanglements and transforming them to a powerful net of life. Wholeness.

Let’s celebrate life!

Editing credit: Mike Curtis


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Interview With Shabnam Curtis: How Storytelling Could Bring More Empathy

Why did you choose to write memoirs?

When I started questioning everything around me, I was like, Am I in the wrong career? Am I doing something wrong? Am I doing not something right? But then, I started opening my story to my safety circle and I felt better. I decide, You know what, these are the traumas, these are the bitter past, that I have to deal with it, I can’t just put it aside anymore. I have to bring them up, I have to process them. So that’s when I actually started writing stories. And from the beginning, I knew I wanted to share it with everyone. (Shabnam)

To read the rest or listen to the podcast, please click here.


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The Power of Telling Your Story – with Shabnam Curtis‬

Lori: What experiences have you gained by sharing your story with others?

Shabnam: I couldn’t believe it. It started even before I started writing my memoir and it actually encouraged me to write my memoir and I was kind of in a midlife crisis. Then I was just talking to my friends at work, especially because we spend a lot of time at work. So I have a lot of American friends who were born here, around me, and we just talked and,  chit chatted and every time I shared one story from my past, I felt better. Then they got to know me better. I got to the point that this past is really bitter, but when I shared it with someone else, in a form of his story, it makes me feel better. Unsurprisingly, it makes the audience feel like oh my god, I have a very similar experience. And who would think a girl in Iran is all grown up in the Midwest in America? We shared experiences, so we just shared stories and that led me to feel like you know what, I want to write this book. Because I wasn’t a writer, I started learning to write, and then I started looking for communities of writers. I published a book and then I read the book for the people. I started having a community of people who shared very similar experiences. It’s just growing in so many different ways and it changed my life.

To listen to the podcast please click here.

Let’s share our stories,

Shabnam


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The Flavor of Ice Cream

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Excerpted from the Shabnam Curtis’s memoir, My Persian Paradox.

One June day of my freshman year/ninth grade, in 1985, I needed a break from studying. My mother suggested we go out for ice cream to Tajrish Circle. Tajrish, a shopping area on the skirt of the mountains in the northern part of Tehran, was a favorite place for my mother and me to wander, especially for window shopping and mouthwatering snacks. My father disagreed. “Afternoons are the worst time to go to Tajrish. There will be no parking spots. It’s hot outside. Why don’t we just stay at home and rest?” To my mother, he grumbled, “You take advantage of her, suggesting ice cream to satisfy your own childish desires.”

To continue reading please go to The Write Launch website.


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How Is It To Be An Indie Author?

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(1020 words – almost 8 minutes read)

Yes, there is still a stigma with being an indie author. There are bookstores, contests, and awards that do not accept self-published books. In the writing community, you are better off having a publisher’s name even if your publisher does not support much to promote your book.

Despite the stigma, I decided to walk the indie author path and test its freedom. My story about an Iranian girl who lived under the Iranian dictator regime was timely and needed to be in the world, and the whole process of finding an agent and then a publisher would take more than two years.

I was confident about my decision, and I knew I’d make many mistakes since I was a newbie in the publishing world. I wasn’t unaware of my ignorance, but I was willing to try it.

I published my book on March 20, 2019, with a well-attended launch party and started with good sales. However, I knew the high-rank sale would not last long. So, I started working hard on promoting the book while I was learning the alphabet of the promoting process. At the end of 2019, I was burnt out but had gained enough maturity to put my situation in perspective.

I started appreciating those 5 to 10 people who showed up at my book reading events or Memoir writing workshops. I realized my book as a tool for community building, and I could start with small local communities. The importance of number of sales wasn’t significant anymore. Of course, I like to sell more books, but not selling many isn’t heartbreaking anymore. Why? Because I learned figuring out the monster algorithms such as Amazon and Goodreads is pretty impossible. I also do not have essential connections with journalists and famous authors, so I cannot get a lot of words spread out. And, last but not least, I don’t have money to hire a publicist to build the connections for me. So, in 2020, using what I learned from 2019 efforts, I decided to do what I could do. Be a local author and work with local organizations.

I came to believe the power of the local community. So, I reached out to libraries, non-profit organizations, and college professors in the Washington DC area. I have been having at least one event per month and have a couple of activities set up for the next six months. I enjoy my book talks, memoir writing workshops, and becoming a storyteller. It is a community service that I can offer to give meaning to my life and, hopefully, to others. Being a local author has been a pleasure, and I feel genuinely honored when others reach out and give me feedback or ask my attendance for an event. It took almost one year of hard work to be part of a community that counts on you. It is rolling now!

So, based on my personal experience ( and few others around me), if you feel you like creating real and authentic connections with a few numbers of people, being an indie author will be a fulfilling one deepening the meaning of your life. Now, I’d like to share a few mistakes that I’ve made with you:

  1. I left only 3 months between finalizing the manuscript and publishing date. That was not enough because:
    1. The pre-sale need to start 3 months before your release date.
    2. The final manuscript needs to go to at least 50 beta readers for earning a few reviews in Goodreads before the pre-sale starts.
    3. The final manuscript needs to be sent to possible reviewers such as authors or public figures to gain their review for blurbs on your website, Goodreads, and on the book.
    4. You need many weeks to contact many bookstores and set an event right after the book is published.
    5. And this is if you already have your Goodreads author page and your website up and running.
  2. I spent money on any marketing opportunity came my way because despite my own decision, I subconsciously believed as an indie author, I don’t have many good chances. Wrong! Be careful where you invest in marketing. There are some that worth doing. Spending money on Bookbub (if they accept your book) could be helpful to increase the number of sales in Amazon and make your book more visible. My mistake was that I didn’t plan the timing of reducing the price of the e-book to $0.99 correctly. Bookbub refused to promote my book on full-price, and what I had paid for was non-refundable.
  3. I paid for a booth and, attended a few Book Festivals. Except for Gaithersburg book festival, no other one brought me sales or recognition and booths are expensive. I now work with a team of authors, and we share the booths and expenses.
  4. I signed and paid money for consignment agreements with a few bookstores across the country. It really didn’t work out. If a bookstore orders your book, and puts it on the shelf, it is good. Most bookstores have Ingram account and if you publish and distribute your book through Ingram Spark, they can buy it 55% off. (You need to set it at 55% discount and returnable for bookstores)
  5. I spend $200 on distributing a press release one month before the release date. Press release distribution does not really work for indie books with unknown authors.
  6. Do not take the number of likes on social media personally. It is all business and algorithms. Post regularly. Post about your book, news about your book, and other useful or encouraging contents readers like to see. On Instagram and Twitter take advantage of popular and related hashtags to get more followers. It will build up slowly and organically.
  7. I didn’t try hard enough to publish an excerpt from my memoir or a related article in a literary magazine or a literary forum. Give yourself plenty of time after your manuscript is ready and before you publish.

I will be glad to provide details about my journey. Shoot your questions my way 😊

Let’s share our stories,

Shabnam


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Seeking freedom and belonging under oppression: A Persian Paradox

woman turning around on green fields

Photo by Jackson David on Pexels.com

My Persian Paradox: Memories of an Iranian Girl by Shabnam Curtis is not the first story to be shared, and will not be the last, but there is a need for more stories to show the different pieces of this complex puzzle called humanity. Sharing her story, Shabnam aimed to contribute to and enrich the diversity of voices. When we share stories and know each other on a more profound level, we feel the authentic human connection, we create empathy, we sense a true belonging. True belonging is to be part of something while we keep our identity and accept ourselves and others for who we are. Fitting in is hiding some aspects of our personalities, something emotionally painful. It kills our self-worth and makes us a victim. Belonging creates self-worth and freedom. Belonging and authentic connections are basic human needs.

To read the article please visit this link.


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Through Compassionate Eyes

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A Short Story

When I went to pick up Maman so we could food-shop for my book launch party, she climbed into the car wearing her usual beautiful smile. I said Hi, and when she did not reply, I glanced at her. Her lips shivered, and tears rolled down her cheeks. She said she had been up until 2:30 a.m., reading the first half of my book, a memoir. Since the book is in English and her best language is Farsi, it was a chore she had managed with a dictionary. “You made a monster of me,” she said brokenly. “Was I that bad when you were a teenager?”

to continue reading please go to Eat, Darling, Eat


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MUSLIM WRITING SALON BRINGS AWESOME DIVERSITY TO D.C.

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In the rooftop bar of Eaton DC, skeptical of attending a religious event, I didn’t know what to expect. When Nafisa Isa enthusiastically started introducing the program, people cheered and hollered. Sitting in the second row, I turned back to see the people cheering, and saw more than 100 people mostly with dark hair and olive skin, like me. All the chairs were filled and people were standing by the bar.

to continue reading please go to View & News 


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When You Write What Scares You—And Then See It in Print 

What a powerful piece! So beautiful “Giving voice to those secrets takes away their power. Am I afraid to stand in that light, to take on that power and claim it as my own?”

BREVITY's Nonfiction Blog

Diane GottliebBy Diane Gottlieb

An essay I wrote was just published last week. It was my third publication, the first that will appear both online and in print. You’d think I’d be thrilled.

Part of me was. I had worked this shorty (432 words) for about two years, off and on. I’m proud of it. It’s tight. Honest. And it’s … personal. Very, very personal.

That’s the part that’s got me.

I’m fifty-eight years old, and while I’ve come to writing late, I’ve brought with me many rich stories. I’ve led a full life, with lots of joy and a fair amount of pain, neither of which I’ve ever been shy about sharing. Yet, seeing this particular piece, all 432 words of it, triggered me in a way I hadn’t expected. I felt naked. Exposed. I felt shame.

Why is it so hard to tell our stories? I take that back…

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