The Growing Mind

Writing My Memoir & Emotional Growth


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What Does My Story Offer My Readers?

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(1076 words – 8 min read)

Did I already say writing a memoir is a very interesting journey for me? I think I have repeated this in almost every blog post so far. The miserable feeling of reading what you wrote and hating it and then trying to figure out why you hate it and what is missing is confusing.  if you are lucky it takes you to another “aha moment” or it makes you feel even more confused. I welcome the confusion and let it lead me to my next step. It is a messy constructive process. I love it.

I am not ready to send a letter to an agent yet but I want to give myself a better approach towards an agent’s expectations and to see if it fits my work. Maybe self-publishing is a better route for me to take. I have started searching and learning about the structure of a good query letter for an agent. There is no question in how intimidating it was to read the requirements. It got worse when I learned the whole letter needs to be about 300 words. I curiously read some samples and started playing around on my letter.

I started by writing the second paragraph of the letter first, because the second paragraph introduces my book. It’s an interesting practice. Writing about the synopsis in almost 200 words made me think what is my story really about?  The whole draft is 120,000 words and yet I am not sure about the theme. So, with a broken heart, I welcomed confusion to this phase of my journey.

I have been reading other books about Iran written by skilled authors,  Reading Lolita in Tehran, The Republic of Imagination, Things I’ve been silent about, Honeymoon in Tehran. These books cover so many great dimensions of the Persian culture. Azar Nafisi is one of my favorite authors so coming across Fatemeh Keshavarz’s book “Jasmine and Stars; Reading More Than Lolita in Tehran” criticizing Azar Nafisi’s “Reading Lolita in Tehran” was surprising to me. I made a decision to read it without judging it.

The richness of all of these books is impressive but for a new writer like me, I have to say, it was unnerving. I critically thought to myself, what is my story about? First, I thought I am adding too many dimensions to the story. Then I felt I am not covering enough aspects of my life in the story.  I was ready to cry feeling what is the happy middle for this process?  A memoir is not an autobiography. It has facts, analysis, reflections, expressed feelings, and opinions, but it can cover only so many aspects of one’s life in a limited time-frame. What do I want to offer to my readers?

Despite my doubts, I continued to write my 200 words. I thought I need to start from a bad draft and then improve it. If I don’t start, I will get nowhere and I am the only one who’s going to see that messy draft. I won’t even show it to Mike!

What did I learn from the messy draft? (Here’s a secret: It is actually about 400 words now.)

I learned that my journey has had so many parallel dimensions that were complementary at the same time. Dealing with loving yet opinionated parents who were very different from each other, fighting to break out of the authoritative cultural structure, and escaping from tyranny to democracy all created my unique path that is also similar to a lot of others who have similar dreams as me. The dream of being Independent, having options in life, and reaching self-love and inner peace.

Iran and the Persian culture is a complicated subject to write about. Politics and personal life have been intertwined for decades or even centuries. I am not a political person and I have no intention of getting to politics in my book, however, I am certainly expressing my opinion about tyranny and dictatorship the way it impacted my personal life. Centuries of dictatorship has influenced the Persian culture in different ways but it has never stopped people from longing for human freedom. People have expressed this longing in so many different ways such as different forms of art where  freedom has only become a beautiful imagination.

It is so confusing to see how a culture that is rich in history, literature, cuisine, and art – including dance and music, can be so authoritative and inflexible. We are the people who have lived with the legend of “Good Thoughts, Good Words, Good Deeds” but lost its practice as time has gone by. It is complicated to constructively criticize a legendary culture that has been weakened by theocratic ideologies over the centuries. It is so delicate to explain how people’s dreams are not realized and they cannot articulately explain that feeling of loss. The feeling of loss comes across as confusion and frustration. What tyranny has done to my motherland is not an easy story.

On the other side, I have the privilege of sharing my life experience as an immigrant. I lived my life under tyranny imagining freedom and then came to democracy land. I have experienced and observed how wonderful it is to have choices in life. I can share how my assimilating process has helped me choose aspects from my old culture and my new culture and how to merge them together to make a better life. This life experience has enabled me to share how I have developed the respect for different cultures rather than a black and white judgmental look.

There is no black and white. There is only us, and every one of us matters. Every one of us, regardless of the color of our skin, the language we speak, and our personal beliefs has an amazing story to share our unique but universal experiences. Reading each other’s stories helps us understand each other better and brings our hearts closer.

I am still thinking and processing my offer to my readers. Meanwhile, I have made the decision that my story about Iran, immigration, and America is from my point of view. I will write it with my heart and from a place of love and I will try to do my best to share my experience authentically. I am hoping I can create an image that shows the beauty of life with all its dotes and antidotes as well as the necessity of human freedom.

Celebrate life!

Shabnam

Editing Credit: P.Emami

Picture Credit: https://pixabay.com

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Can We Find Our Authentic Self Through Writing a Memoir?

partner-1607184_1280(471  words – 3.5 min read)

What does it mean to become my authentic-self? There are thousands if not millions of articles and books about this subject. I read only a few. The most influential one was “Love Warrior “ by Glennon Doyle Melton. She beautifully takes us to the journey of her becoming true to herself and learning how to live her authentic self. Inspired by her very authentic memoir, I began thinking about my personal experience through writing my memoir. Have I ever functioned through my authentic-self? How authentic is my memoir? Am I brave enough to write a very authentic memoir? And what does that mean?

There is an old Persian saying – “good thoughts, good deeds, good words”. I interpret it as meaning our thoughts should be in line with what we say and what we do.

Being familiar with “good thoughts, good deeds, good words”, I know I have subconsciously tried to practice the concept of living self-authentic, but how do I find those occasions that I lived my authentic-self? When I did something and felt peace and determined inside despite outside criticism? Was it when I decided on my divorces to liberate myself and my daughter from others’ control and move forward towards independence? Was it when I made the decision to drop out of physics school because it wasn’t my cup of tea? Now that I look back, I see the consequences of living my authentic self were positive overall and helped me make progress towards a more peaceful life. I see that all along it has been my goal to avoid pretending and be myself. That is one major element of becoming independent.

Writing this memoir is perhaps the best practice of living my authentic self I have ever done. If I want to go further, I would like to ask myself, what were the consequences of those occasions when I did not live my authentic-self? That is the best outcome of writing the memoir. A self-reflection through this writing practice. I only started learning about those consequences by writing my memories on the page and reading and editing it over and over.

It is beautiful to go through the iterative process of reading and re-reading, editing and re-editing in order to offer a more connected and more authentic story to my readers. Doing this feels like I am scrubbing old regrets off to feel the freshness of the air on my skin.

I learned about all those many moments that I pretended and said and did things that were against my thoughts and my values. I fought with my heart’s desire and instead did things that caused me anxiety, fear, and stress. I didn’t know better, but trying to write those moments authentically is building a more authentic-self of me. Every step counts and make us closer to ourselves!

 

Celebrate life!

Shabnam

Editing Credit: M. Curtis

Picture Credit: https://pixabay.com


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Writing a Scene in a Memoir and Living in Present Moment

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(793  words – less than 6 min read)

At this point of my writing process, I have my first draft which contains all my related memories to the memoir I am writing. That is now like an autobiography rather than a story. The focus of my memoir is how I faced challenges to become independent and to be able to make decision for my own life, so it only highlights memories related to that during the years I have selected to write about – 1999 to 2010 in detail and some summary of before and after.  The writing class I am taking – How to Write Your Memoir in Six Months –  has been very helpful. I now know all those memories I have written through almost 120,000 words need to be turned into a story using literary tools. One important tool is creating “Scenes” for each memory to connect with the readers deeper through their imagination.

Learning how to turn memories into a story through scenes has been a big challenge for me. As simple as it sounds, at first I was not able to understand this concept in writing. My instructor in the writing class helped me a lot by reviewing parts of the story and giving me hints where I need to add scenes. It seemed clear but my learning curve was a little longer than I expected about this one. I was scratching my head asking myself what the heck is a scene? I started searching and reading more about scenes. I found a lot of great articles about it simply by searching in Google, my best buddy! We hang out a lot. 😊. I learned the best scenes are created when my reader sees, hears, smells, touches, and even tastes the details reading an event.  Describing how something happened through the 5 senses make the best connections with the reader. Makes sense right? I still had to dig down deeper to understand it.

One other question I came up with was how accurately I could explain the scenes in the memoir since it is a true story. Then, I thought about the 5 senses and realized my feelings went beyond that. I started to list the scenes that I remembered. As I always look at everything from a psychological and human behavior standpoint (my favorite subject of all time), I found a common factor among all the scenes I remembered best. When I was more involved emotionally rather than logically, and felt the energy and dynamic of the event, my memory was consistently more vivid. I have always thought of myself as a more passionate and less logical person anyway and that is how it worked for me. I remembered occasions with high emotions most accurately, and oh there were a lot of them – almost all my life. To my surprise, remembering the detail helped me to process and accept most of the bitter memories as an event in the past and a lesson learned for now.

This reminded me of some of Eckhart Tolle’s articles about living mindfully in the present moment. What do he and other spiritual leaders really mean by this? I needed to add some spirituality (absolutely non-religious) juice to this discovery of mine. So, I went back to re-read some of Eckhart Tolle’s articles. The one I feel helped me the most was about relationships, explaining how we need to first remove the relationship we have with ourselves to remove “I” and “Myself” to be able to live in the present moment. That is when we can offer true and unconditional love in our relationship with others. Learning from the past brought me to this understanding of living in the present. Living in the present is as simple as living non-judgmentally of ourselves and others because each one of us is unique and takes a unique path in life. It doesn’t mean we must approve everyone else’s behavior but it means to accept it as is. When we accept people as is, then we can take constructive action toward their behavior rather than being destructively impulsive. For instance, it is better to accept a thief non-judgmentally and as is, trying to educate and help them change their mindset and behavior rather than punishing them with death and disturbing society more than the thief did.

My other understanding was, if I practice living in the present moment, I will be able to remember things more realistically later. I will be able to process the memories and accept them, take the lesson, and let go of the bitter ones without creating resentment.

Writing a memoir has helped me improve my self-awareness tremendously. It has connected me with the purpose of life at a deeper level. I believe, everyone should write the story of their life.

Celebrate life!

Shabnam

Editing Credit: M. Curtis

Picture Credit: https://pixabay.com


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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. 🙂