Storytelling as Healer

I had the most wonderful experience today in a meeting with my fellow staff members at the Twin Cities Daily Planet and some of our community allies.

At one point, we began discussing wounds. We began discussing healing. We discussed the ongoing trauma that comes with being “othered.” It was an incredible, powerful, tough discussion to be a part of. I’m struggling to organize it in my head.

I want to be very true to myself in this space, honor my history and respect my mistakes and future.

I went to a very small private high school in Minnesota. 9/11 occurred just days after freshman year for me. Much like with many other Americans, I remember where I was, what I was doing, and how I found out on that horrible day. Unlike the rest of my classmates, however, my mother and aunt came and picked up my younger brother and I from school, worried that students would retaliate in a cruel way.

The next day I walked into school and students (or whomever it was) had taken the opportunity to write their opinion of me in my locker. Slurs and words I had never, ever heard before were suddenly my reality. Teachers warned me to calm down my “Arab-ness” as the students were going through difficult and sensitive times (as if I wasn’t living in this country, feeling the same fear and horror my white classmates were feeling). I was Arab-American, but I didn’t feel Middle Eastern in any way, shape or, form. Other people sure felt it for me though. Suddenly I was “the Arab” at the same time I was feeling more and more ashamed (systemic oppression at work) of being Arab-American.

The moment I opened my locker and those ridiculous slips of paper fell out, that was the moment I realized I was a person of color, that I was an “other.” I’ve spent my entire life, and far too much god forsaken energy, trying to maneuver it and looking for other’s acceptance of me and my other-ness, in a way that doesn’t scare people or make them uncomfortable. I spent years denying everything about my culture, participating in the oppression of other Arabs and other communities, because I was hiding from me and my realities and my traumas. I’ve not gotten over that even in my work now.

Those moments have shaped my entire life. Those wounds never truly heal. Our traumas never truly leave us. Healing is a long, slow, sensitive process that takes the whole of our lives if not longer. We may never know that peace, but I know that we’re sure as hell going to fight tooth-and-nail for it.

I use storytelling to shape the world I believe needs to exist. I don’t live in that world yet and I don’t hide from this world pretending that if I close my eyes and ears, that other world will show up. I work as a storyteller for a number of organizations with community leaders and community leaders in-training all over the Twin Cities. I’ve been spending so much time helping other use storytelling to begin healing processes and to fight for that something better, that I’ve ignored my own and my role in community storytelling, even in my own communities.

I want to use this blog space to share my story and define my stories, to talk about the power of community storytelling, and to discuss the importance of storytelling in the development of the better world. I hope that you’ll feel called to discuss your own stories and your own processes of healing, if you have them.

For me, storytelling is such a powerful tool because it offers us an opportunity to both shift our frame of the world around us and to begin shifting others’ frame of the world, by speaking about the world in the ways that are us honest to us, our lives, and our communities. By recognizing that how we express our world impacts the way the world looks, we hold the power to begin tearing down these destructive and traumatic paradigms that actively work to destroy us, to begin building a better world and to fight for justice in a way that doesn’t support the “cycle of protest.” Our words and photos and videos and dances have more power than we could ever imagine for us and for each other.

I’m sure I’ll be back to discuss this more. I want to talk about this at length, but I don’t believe I quite have the language yet to do so. For now, I want to acknowledge that my wounds shape who I am and what and why I write, no matter for who or what I am writing. If I am to heal those wounds or at least learn from them, I need to be honest about their existence and not hide from the scarier parts of myself.

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