When I was young, I had no idea what I thought, felt, or wanted. Pressed for my opinion, I’d make an evasive or sarcastic comment instead of deciding what it was that I thought. I didn’t want to say anything that could be construed the wrong way, or held against me in a court of law because, in my household, unpopular opinions (and un-perky attitudes) were the catalyst of shit storms.
So, for the most part, I shut my mouth and forgot I had a voice. I took up whistling a happy show tune.
At 21, I met the Iranian I would marry. I was bowled over by his passion for expressing his desires and opinions, particularly when they were controversial. There he’d be in the university courtyard, arms waving, a pro-Khomeini revolutionary, debating Israeli-Palestinian atrocities with a Jewish grad student just back from his free Birthright trip to a Gaza strip kibbutz. He wasn’t interested in being liked, even though he was; he was after honor and respect.
He was a man so comfortable in his own skin; so confident in his opinions; so unapologetic for who he was; so magnetic.So unlike me.
I thought that by marrying him, his self-possession and charisma would naturally rub off on me.
Now, a lot of bad shit happens when you don’t own an opinion or a voice.
First, like water, you’ll take the shape of whatever container you find yourself poured into, and it’s generally a shape that you will not like. A shape that looks an awful lot like the map of the Islamic Republic of Iran. So not good.
Second, you’ll eventually realize that you’re unhappy with other people’s choices when you have very little recourse. Voting with your feet is great, but only when you have someplace to go and you can take your kids with you.
Third, all that love and safety you thought quiet would buy you will only end up producing disdain and peril.
And this, my friend, is just the tip of the chilly iceberg.
I write a lot about being saved by running. But there’s one more thing that completely changed my life and that’s writing.
It was only when I began working on a memoir about my glory years in Iran that I came to understand who I really am and what I want. And for someone who was never able to do that before, believe me, that’s one monumental accomplishment. It’s the Mt. Everest of personal development and self-fucking-acceptance.
It took a few of drafts to get there, but I finally understood what kind of young woman ends up in a country she’s so ill-suited for with a man, who made it clear from the starting block, that the set up would never work. I finally understood that it wasn’t him that I had to figure out, then forgive, but me.
I believe that in order to get what we want most in life—connection with others, impact, self-respect, peace—we have to have the courage to tell the truth, regardless of who will disapprove. We have to allow ourselves to be vulnerable. We have to risk opening ourselves up to whatever it is we’re so afraid of. Intimacy? Criticism? Truth? Pain? All of the Above?
To own your own opinions, your own story, your own voice, is to set yourself free.
Everything changed in my life when I stopped hiding who I really am/was. The world opened up and I grew to approve of myself, even though I sometimes put others off.
Putting yourself out there, in real life and on the page, is the best exercise there is for standing in your own power.
Over the years, I’ve had a wonderful outpouring of support and love from readers. I learned that what I had to say—as hard as much of it was for me to do so—made a positive difference in their lives.
For this reason alone I will often tell my writing students this: Your REAL audience is desperately waiting for you to put into words what they are feeling, what they are yearning to hear. They are waiting for you.
I’ve had the great privilege of helping others tell their stories and reclaim their voice. Hard to believe, I’m not the only one who forgot how to talk. It’s heady stuff, let me tell you, this truth telling. I help them get the words and the stories down on the page, despite the shame and fear that has kept some of them mute for years. Watching them wake up to themselves for the very first time, oh, it’s magic. It makes me love them so, so much.
If you’d like to explore the writing process with me as your guide, what it would take to write this kind of book, all the little pieces-parts that are involved, I invite you to click here.