A few years ago, a friend introduced me to Saeeda, her colleague at the San Francisco Unified School District. Saeeda was writing a book in which she details her personal journey — going from a young black American woman growing up in poverty in Pittsburgh to a middle class adult working in corporate America.
On the surface, she was an accomplished professional. Beneath the exterior, however, she suffered from her past and her family challenges, including domestic violence, addiction and poverty that she witnessed throughout her childhood. Through her writing, Saeeda takes us on a journey addressing her past, facing her demons and finding healing through healthy eating, yoga and meditation. Below are some reflections from Saeeda about writing and her personal journey.
What compelled you to start writing a book?
I didn't intend to write a book. In fact, my idea was to create a calendar with yoga poses and delicious and nutritious food tips. I shopped my calendar idea around and no one wanted it. But, a publisher loved the idea as a book instead of a calendar. So, I decided to write a book.
Then, soon after, I realized I had no idea how to write a book, and I asked myself, "How does one even complete a book?"
After making the decision to write my story, I surrounded myself with teachers and other writers, who encouraged me to shape the idea. Then, I sat in the chair most days, and wrote.
What motivated you to continue to write, and finish your book?
Interestingly enough, when I signed up for a writing class, I started to discover more of myself. I attended writing groups with brilliant creative people — all with a unique story to tell. I was inspired by their journeys. Most importantly, I realized that I was not alone. I was not the only one documenting and processing unfortunate life events. Every time I wrote another section of my life, I felt better, stronger and lighter.
My writing group also inspired me to continue. They wanted to know more about my story and encouraged me to share more. Watching these other writers as they were finishing their manuscripts and essays made me realize that I could finish my work too. As I watched them struggle and overcome hurdles, I felt I could overcome mine as well.
My writing teacher's rule was that you can give feedback to someone, but it must be said in a way that makes the person want to go back and write, and rewrite. As my sentences improved and I started to build a body of my work, my life story — and its meaning — became clearer.
Making meaning, I realized, also motivated me. I wanted to create something and inspire others to do the same.
Throughout the process, I continued to ask myself: "What else would I be doing with my time?" I've watched so many people, myself included, spend too much time being entertained and/or anesthetized. I was compelled to create meaning, and to write this book for myself, my family and others readers who might find it of value.
Then, I started to feel a hunger: I wanted to own my own experiences and not be embarrassed by them. Most importantly, I wanted to heal from my past.
Your writing is very personal and, obviously, you share a lot about your family history. Has the completion of the book changed your relationship with your family, or changed them in any way?
Writing this very personal story about my family and myself has changed my relationship with almost all of my family members. I believe this book helped each family member create a better relationship within him or herself, if anything by bringing truth to the surface.
My older brother wrestled with the issues our family faced in a different way. Coming from a darker side, he is now using my book as a resource to process our family trauma. He's now writing essays about those events and how they impacted his life. We are closer now, communicating more, and he sees a different path through his pain.
Perhaps we will have the opportunity to create a better relationship with each other as a family, and then those in our communities. My hope is that The Healing is a story that transcends space and time. We, as humans, are always healing from something — past, present and future. That is evident in my family story and perhaps yours too.
I can imagine that reading this book, which discloses a fair amount of family struggles, must have been incredibly difficult on your parents, specifically your father.
Although my father is proud of my work and thinks completing a book project of this magnitude is amazing, it was a bitter pill for him to swallow.
My father genuinely wants me to understand the reasons why he did those horrible things, such as the physical abuse, and what it means to be an oppressed man in America. He explained to me that his actions stemmed from the pain he felt inside for years. Through his explanations, I realized that there's always a reason, oftentimes a logical reason in a person's mind, as to why they act the way they do.
In our family's case, factors such as oppression, systemic racism, insecurity, jealousy and intergenerational pain (just to name a few) led my father to behave the way he did. Reading the details in black and white, through my personal account, has made all of us acknowledge some very simple facts: violence, alcohol and drugs in our home helped shape who we are today.
Has your life changed at all since completing this book?
I love the Zen quote "Before enlightenment, chop wood, carry water. After enlightenment, chop wood, carry water." That quote explains how I feel regarding the phrase, "since completing this book."
My version of the Zen quote: "Before completing the book, practice yoga, eat good food, show up for work, and carry my burdens. After completing the book, practice yoga, eat good food, work with love and unload my burdens, so that I can share my experiences with the others."
This book gave me a vessel to put my burdens into. Hopefully, it'll become a gift for others to unload their own burdens. Completing the book lightened my load, so that I can be of better service to myself and others. It has provided me with more opportunities to live my purpose and be more present in the world. Today, I wake up more and more with a smile on my face.
Any advice for aspiring writers, who specifically want to share personal stories?
Don't give up. Don't quit. Write out the story first before you judge it. Don't let your mind say whether or not it is good. Create the story first and then rewrite it, and then get input before you decide what it is. Then rewrite it again. Then get more input. Then look at it and ask others what they think.
Ask yourself, "Is this a good, honest story? Does it have a home in the world?" Let your intuition guide you.
We are all creators. There is someone, somewhere wanting and needing your exact story. Your story is important and matters. Share it. Don't be afraid to fail, and don't be afraid to be great!
The writing process is often a marathon of sorts, ending up where you may have never imagined. Let it take you on that journey.
About the Author
Saeeda Hafiz is a native of Pittsburgh, PA, and a graduate of Temple University. A yoga teacher and wellness expert for over 20 years who focuses on teaching physical and mental wellness to diverse groups, Hafiz has studied at the Sivananda Yoga Vedanta Center and the Natural Gourmet Institute. She lives, works and teaches in San Francisco.