The Growing Mind

Writing My Memoir & Emotional Growth


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How to Represent Characters in A Memoir

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(824  words – 6 min read)

In a memoir characters are all real. We know them in person, but we only know them from our perspective. My mother’s strict discipline was harsh on me but she was a very kind teacher and a very obedient sister. It is important to show how a person has different roles in her life and shows different aspects of her personality in each role and under different circumstances.

I found that fascinating when I started thinking seriously about it. I personally think everyone should write a memoir to put the pieces of the puzzle of our life together and to understand what happened in our life.  But even if I did not want to write a memoir, I still wanted to know the characters of my story better and not just from my standpoint. I began to look at the story as a whole to find out about the role of people interacting with me as the protagonist of the story. But I needed to remember each person is the center of their world as well. Even though I don’t need to include all aspects of a person’s personality in my story, when I try to put a person in perspective, it helps me to be more realistic and less judgmental about that person. It helps me to remember that person was dealing with her own circumstances at the time. It reminds me how dynamic life is and how circumstances can change quickly in all different directions in one’s life. And that will help me remember to avoid focusing on small issues. That also taught me that things that matter in life are those actions we take that have a long-lasting impact in our life.

So, I started to create a questionnaire in order to know my characters better. I searched a lot and read a lot of existing questionnaires for character building in a novel or a memoir, and then I made the decision to build my own questionnaire to answer my questions about why people in my life did what they did. This will be to explore the character’s behavior and attitude psychologically. I will use generic character building questionnaires to talk about the appearance of my characters but this one is more about their personality traits.

  •        Was I able to be myself in the person’s presence? Why?
  •        Did I let that person be him/herself in my presence? Why?
  •        Was that person more logical or more emotional (impulsive)? How did that impact our relationship?
  •        Was that person fact based or did they believe things easily?
  •        What was that person sensitive about?
  •        Was that person an extravert or introvert? talkative or shy?
  •        Did they warm up in a social event quickly or stay reserved for a while?
  •        Did they approach people or they let people approach them?
  •        What did they do when they were angry? And when they were sad?
  •        Were they competitive in a community (family and friends)? Do they show it or did they deny it?
  •        Were their beliefs more conservative or liberal?
  •        Were they open to new ideas?
  •        Were they direct or passive-aggressive?
  •        Did they express their emotions easily or try to pretend everything was good even when it was not?
  •        Did they have a hobby?
  •        Did they care about liberal arts?
  •        Were they religious? Or follow spirituality? Or atheist?
  •        Were they superstitious?
  •        How long would it take them to make a decision?? Did they overanalyze everything?
  •        How was their financial status?
  •        Were they humble financially (regardless of their financial status)?
  •        Did they help others unconditionally? Or they expect something in return?
  •        Were they judgmental of others or empathetic?
  •        Did they think everyone else is at fault?
  •        Did they like to create a different day every day or they would feel better to follow the same routine everyday with not much change?
  •        Did they hold principles on their values or they would change their values based on the circumstances and audience?
  •        Were they problem solvers or complainers?
  •        Were they punctual or always late?
  •        Was the person persistent?
  •        Did the person consider others’ feelings in his decisions (from the other’s stand point)?
  •        Did the person plan ahead or feel comfortable being spontaneous?
  •        Did the person worry about everything or pretty much relaxed and easy going?
  •        Could you share a secret with that person safely? Without being judged and fear of revealing your secret or taking it against you to their advantage?
  •        Was the person authoritative? Or a teammate and cooperative?
  •        Was the person sophisticated and elegant?
  •        Did the person care to have a simple life or one of luxury?
  •        Was the person possessive over others?
  •        Was the person secretive? Or an open book?
  •        Did the person foreshadow signs of doing something wrong later?
  •        Do I know about that person’s childhood if she/he is an adult?
  •        Who was the most important person in that person’s life?
  •        What did the person do for living? Did it impact his/her opinion about personal life?

 

Celebrate life!

Shabnam

Editing Credit: M. Curtis

Picture Credit: https://pixabay.com

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What Have I Learned About Intimacy Through Writing My Memoir?

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(812  words – 6 min read)

The word intimacy might sound very sexy but through writing my memoir, thinking about the story of my life and why everything happened the way it happened, I learn beyond the sexiness of this word “Intimacy”.

We humans have a great desire to build intimate relationships. Intimacy gives us comfort, connection, and fulfilment. Yes, intimate sex is very comforting but our desire is bigger than that and the physical is only part of what we seek. We crave a safe shelter to express our emotions without fear of judgement and to be our true selves in many aspects of our lives and relationships. Intimate relationships are not just between romantic partners but friends, parents, and even business partners. According to Wikipedia and its sources there are 4 types of intimacy; “Emotional intimacy, Intellectual(cognitive) intimacy, Physical intimacy, and Experiential intimacy”.

I believe we create intimacy when we let our partner or friend think out loud in our presence with no fear of losing our support. It creates that safe shelter for them to go and vent, where we can talk about our most private thoughts without the fear of being judged. That is a totally different level of communication.

When we have those relationships in our life, we can experience what it is like to be ourselves with them. The sense of confiding with another human being offers a feeling of fulfilment. When we know we have a true fan who accepts us as a package, we feel connected. That is the beginning of self-awareness too. We become brave enough to admit our dark side because we are not alone and we become proud of our bright side because intimacy reminds us we are worthy.

Even short term intimacy can create lifelong satisfaction. I feel the fulfillment, and I hear the sound of satisfaction and pleasure surviving in an 80 year old man talking about the only true romantic love he experienced in his 20s. It didn’t last long but still warms his heart in his dark lonely days.

Perhaps building long-term intimacy brings the ultimate feeling of fulfillment. Across the world, people try hard to build intimacy into all kinds of relationships. Some do it easily, but some face a fear of intimacy due to personal experience, cultural pressure, or political repression and fail.  Without exception, I believe everyone tries their best to gain it.

Writing my story, I realized when I was able to be that person for someone else, as well as recognizing those who could be that person for me. I began to understand how different my life has become as a result of those long and short term intimacies in my life. And I learned how miserable I was when my life lacked intimacy.

I learned how difficult it is to create intimacy under authoritative structure. The authoritative culture and political structure of Iran’s society where I was raised, created fear and distrust in most inter-personal communications. That has poisoned the core structure of society impacting relationships among families, friends, and businesses.  That fear and distrust significantly lowered the possibility of creating intimate relationships. I realized how fear led people’s emotions. People could hardly trust to express their feelings and to be themselves without fear of being judged or even punished. And how that resulted in a difficulty to experience true and unconditional love. To love and to be loved. The basic human need….

I learned lack of intimacy in one’s life is the biggest damage that creates so much confusion. It disconnects people from their society. And when almost everyone feels like that, the whole society suffers from lack of love, fulfillment, and contentment.

In my story, I want to show how people were starved for intimacy because the authoritative structure created fear, distrust, and insecurity. To survive insecurities, people carried a hidden agenda. Any kindness could hide a selfish reason behind it, demanding a favor in return. I lived that life. It was dark, we knew it, but I didn’t know anything better. I knew there was something out of order, but didn’t realize it fully until I was in a different environment far from there with a more democratic structure. At that point I saw the darkness and began to understand what caused it. It was sad learning how dark it was, but liberating to learn how to change it! A democratically structured environment, though imperfect, tremendously helped my emotional growth. It enabled me to create all sorts of intimate relationships including a successful marriage. I began to learn how it feels to be fulfilled and connected because of intimacy, by being myself, and by giving and receiving unconditional love in my life. I have a long way to go to feel less fear and more connected but I cherish my intimate relationships and the depth of meaning they add to my life every day.

Celebrate life!

Shabnam

Editing Credit: M. Curtis

Picture Credit: https://pixabay.com


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Independence: The Theme of My Story

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(548  words – 4 min read)

I’ve been thinking… is having the power of independent decision making freedom? And if so, is that what I was after in my life? Is that the theme of my story?

Throughout my life, the word “Independence” has been the goal, the motive, and the driver of my life. Ever since I remember, I wanted to be independent and to be able to live the way I wanted; beyond clichés. Being raised under an authoritative and male dominant culture, and a totalitarian government, it was always my biggest dream to be able to make decisions on my own without the influence and manipulation of parents, husbands, or the government.

I always felt, when someone else made a decision for me, I didn’t use my intelligence. It always made me feel I was not intelligent enough, not good enough. But I also knew that when we find the courage to make decisions for ourselves, using our intelligence, we feel confident. I knew it would feel liberating and would help me live my life based on my own core values and not others’. I knew it because my favorite author “Samad Behrangi” seeded the dream of independence in my head early in my childhood by his magical book “The Little Black Fish”. The little black fish made the decision to leave the little pond she, her mother and her ancestors have lived in forever, to go explore the sea and find something bigger to live for. She made her decision, left the pond to go find the big sea, 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.

Repressed under an authoritarian structure, it took me a while to realize that I could become independent, make my own decisions, and use my own intelligence to lead my life.

Yes, this is the theme of my story. My story shows how I fought to make my own decisions. All I had to go through. I had to get married to come out of the dark shelter of authoritative parents, to get divorced to leave controlling spouses, and to leave my motherland and emigrate to the west to liberate myself from a totalitarian regime. It took a lot to take ownership of my own life and live it under my own leadership.

By making one right decision, I moved one step forward but then wrong decisions put me 3 steps backward. I then moved 5 steps forward and 2 steps backward but I moved forward. The more decisions I made on my own, the more confident I became to make another decision. I love all the decisions I have made; wrong and right! I feel liberated and powerful. I feel I have my life under my control. I feel “Independent”. It is the biggest joy of my life to make my own decisions; wrong and right! There is no other pleasure deeper than this. I fought to get to this point and will continue fighting to maintain and expand this state of “Freedom”.

This is the story of millions of us, women and men in this world! This is “A Story of One of Us”.

Celebrate life!

Shabnam

Editing Credit: M. Curtis

Picture Credit: https://pixabay.com

P.S. “A Story of One of Us” is the working title of my book. 🙂


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Learning Curve

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(671  words – 4.5 min read)

There are so many voluntary and involuntary learning opportunities in our life every day. The ones we choose most probably come with excitement and pleasure. The Involuntary learnings like new circumstances and changes of situation in our life can be accompanied with fear and stress sometimes.

Regardless of the type, any change has a learning curve. We need to realize we have a learning curve for each new change in our life. Changes are happening constantly and we are always learning.

Even when we start to learn about something we always wanted to learn about, we get discouraged if we feel we are not progressing fast enough. Frequently we forget there is a learning curve and set high expectations for ourselves to understand the new change faster than our capabilities. We forget we are learning.

If we pay attention to the complexity of the change and adjust our expectations, we can give ourselves a chance to come up to speed naturally and feel better about our learning process.

There are many factors that impact the speed of learning and one of the most important ones is realizing and remembering we are on learning curve.

To become a writer, I am trying to read many different kinds of books to learn more about writing styles and techniques. Learning to be a writer deals with many different factors and is a very new concept in my life. To build confidence as a writer, I am trying to be aware of my learning curve. The journey of becoming a writer, specifically a memoirist, is not separated from the journey of self-awareness. These go hand-in-hand to help the memoirist write the story of her life with honesty and dignity.

I learned something about myself when I started reading “I Know Why the Caged Bird Sings” by Maya Angelou. I found myself not too attracted to it. I was not able to continue further than chapter one. I panicked and started thinking what was wrong with me?! Maya Angelou’s famous book and I am not attracted to it!! Am I crazy or have no sense of understanding literature??  Of course, the very next thought in my mind was “how do I expect anyone to like my book then? “.

Luckily, I recognized my negative self-thoughts right there. I let go of “I Know Why the Caged Bird Sings” and switched to listening to “The Color of Water” by James McBride and I liked it. He shows an amazing contrast of his mother’s life by switching from her youth to her adult life each chapter. I found myself liking her as an adult a lot better. I felt more comfortable with her adult life as a brave woman. I then read more about Maya’s biography online and started listening to her interviews on YouTube. I fell in love with the adult version of her. I was so moved by her wisdom.

I understand the pain she experienced in her childhood made the strong and wonderful Maya as an adult,  but I also remembered at this point in my learning process, I still need to hear about the strength of women a lot more than their repression. As selfish as it sounds, their suffering resonates with the memories of my youth in a negative way. Since I am still in the process of learning to feel “I am good enough”, I need to adjust the speed of my learning and delay reading books that I am not ready to read yet. It was right to stop reading Maya’s childhood story (she explains it so vividly that you find yourself in her) and it was right to listen to the words of wisdom in her interviews from later in her life. I adjusted to my learning curve. Later when I gain more wisdom, I am sure I will be able to read the story of her pain as a child and connect to it with strength.

Maya says: “when you know better, you do better”. I respect my learning curve.

 

Celebrate life!

Shabnam

Editing Credit: M. Curtis

Picture Credit: https://pixabay.com

 


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Our Interaction With the World

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(380  words – 3 min read)

Welcome 2017!

Understanding the world around us and focusing on what we are looking for through networking creates a new level of connection between us and around us.
In the era of fast communication, Google has become my best buddy for brainstorming. It generously takes me to other likeminded or not-likeminded people and gives me the chance to read other people’s ideas.
I started following blogs and websites related to writing more seriously. I found it great, reading other people’s’ articles, but it became greater when I started writing comments on their articles. It made me think about the writer’s thoughts with more curiosity and helped me connect with the writer on a different level. It is amazing when we try to see the world from others’ standpoints. It certainly pushes us out of our comfort zone and gives us opportunities to become more open minded.
As I started following certain people and websites online (always open to new ones but have limited time), I found encouraging articles, ideas, and statements. Here are a couple of beautiful thoughts I found:
  – “Speak about it from the vantage point of ideas, rather than what you’ve accomplished.” by Brooke Warner from her Facebook page
  – “Do not underestimate the power of the Gift of Words.” By Michelle Gunnin
I have added a new page – Get Out There – to this blog to share some useful links I found for writers. It is mostly focused on memoir and nonfiction writing. The goal is keeping it organized as I add more links to it.
As much as I love browsing the web to get more interaction with others, I still long for face to face relationships. We all need it to some extent! So, I started joining writers’ clubs around where I live. I want to attend and connect with people through hearing their ideas while watching their body language. I’d like to feel the energy when they express their opinions about the stories. Face to face intellectual discussions can be very dynamic. The pressure of active listening and providing instant answers to keep the conversation going activates a lot of other parts of our brain and leads us to new explorations.
Networking can bring a lot of intellectual prosperity to our life when we step in it with integrity. Let’s get out there!

 

Celebrate life!

Shabnam

Editing Credit: M. Curtis

Picture Credit: https://pixabay.com

 

 


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The Year In Review

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(180  words – 1.5 min read)

An honest self-reflection always leads to better resolutions. It is that time of the the year again!

2016 accomplishments

  • Wrote more than 100,000 words (75% of the draft)
  • Became NAMW member
  • Read so many great books
  • Listened to coursera writing courses
  • Started my blog and love it 🙂
  • Attended webinars offered by NAMW
  • Attended The Magic of Memoir Conference in Oct in Oakland, CA
  • Read many articles in psychological studies  to understand human behavior and personalities and how they connect or disconnect in the story of life.
  • Learned more about becoming a writer
  • Learned more about what I don’t know

2017 Moving forward

  • Finishing the first draft (putting memories on paper)
  • Editing for version 1 (checking grammar, clarifying sentences, adding dialogue, scenes, and checking the flow of the story)
  • Attending “Writing Your Memoir in 6 Months” class by NAMW.
  • Reading more books (Including classic novels, memoirs, and modern novels – Psychology books are part of my daily diet)
  • Attending local writers clubs
  • Focusing on building my platform through social media
  • Understanding the publishing process better and getting ready for publishing in early 2018

 

Happy Holidays and Happy 2017!

Celebrate life!

Shabnam

Editing Credit: M. Curtis

Picture Credit: https://pixabay.com