It was in my Publishing Prose class, third year. Essentially, it was a class where over 20 students would workshop your piece and you had no choice but to sit there and silently take it.
This day was my turn. I had submitted “Leap of Faith”, my first shot at legitimate non-fiction. I submitted the story of how and why I became a Muslim. A story of pain, struggle, sacrifice and God.
I just placed the single most important decision of my life up for the scrutiny of twenty or so of my peers who were either of a different religion or didn’t have a religion.
Why did I do that? Because I felt I had to. I say that piece took me six years to write: two were spent experiencing it, and the other four learning how to tell it properly. And I had reached a point in my life where I knew that in order to grow, I had to become vulnerable. I had to trust in my ability to tell my story with honesty.
And so I sat aside from the round table discussion—the fishbowl, we called it—silently. I had opened my heart up in those 7 pages, and now I waited for a gathering of other writers to poke and prod and cut away at it…
Researcher Brene Brown talks about the necessity of vulnerability in her popular TEDtalk, “The Power of Vulnerability”. She spent six years researching people with, what she called, a sense of worthiness. These were people who felt they were worthy of connection, and who had “the courage to be imperfect.” Brown mentions that “courage” comes from the Latin word cor—“heart”. And a big part of what made them feel worthy, was that they were willing to feel vulnerable. They were willing to open themselves up.
Now, no one ever said being vulnerable was easy. To be vulnerable is to accept the unknown. To accept that things may not work out—whether it’s a relationship, a goal, anything where there is no guarantee. Acknowledging that things are out of your control takes a huge acceptance of vulnerability.
And yet there is a benefit to being vulnerable.
In Brown’s research she found that the people who felt themselves worthy of being loved were those who were most willing to embrace vulnerability. In being vulnerable, we push ourselves out of our comfort zone. Being vulnerable with people is like causing a small earthquake in yourself, briefly exposing your core to the world. And in doing so, we grow.
As both a Muslim convert, I frequently find myself having to be vulnerable. The first thing everyone wants to talk about when they find out you’re a convert is “why did you become a Muslim?”. I was once at a conference and found myself surrounded by a group of well-intended brothers who wanted me to tell them the story of how I converted. I felt claustrophobic, jittery voice, shaking hands—the first signs of a panic attack. Mercifully, we were called back into the auditorium before I could start. I don’t blame them, but some seem to expect converts to suddenly open up and tell the intimate story of the biggest paradigm shift in their lives, and they’ve only just shaken hands.
It took me many years to become comfortable enough to tell the whole story of how I became a Muslim—from discovery, to conversion, marriage, divorce, and recovery.
My first crack at writing it down was a creative non-fiction piece called “My Life As A Movie”. I was able to, in a way, mask the hardships with the guise of comedy, and to pretend I was viewing my life from the perspective of a film camera—somewhat detached. I read it at a showcase of Islamic art at The ARTery, on Jasper Ave in Edmonton. I was standing on the stage, hands trembling, mouth dry.
But even though I was afraid, some part inside of me knew I had to do it. Some part of me knew I had to allow myself to become vulnerable for these people. Even though it was mostly a crowd of Muslims, they were still strangers. But I did it. I told them my story.
I allowed myself to be vulnerable.
Vulnerability and Writing
I sat aside from the round table discussion—the fishbowl, we called it—silently. I felt like I was awaiting judgment. The most important decision of my life, on paper, up for scrutiny. To say I was nervous was an understatement. The workshop session started, and then something wholly unexpected happened: they liked it. In fact, they wanted more. In writing my story, I tried not to sound preachy—I was writing about finding God, after all—but my peers, many of them my friends, encouraged me to expand on it.
So I went back, added more details, and eventually chose that piece to be part of the PROW program’s student-published anthology, The PROWlers. With that I’ve allowed myself to be vulnerable for whoever reads the book. And here, in this blog, I allow myself to be vulnerable for you, the reader.
To write is to be vulnerable. There’s no way around it. Writing is exposing a bit of yourself to the world, and it’s not always pretty either. But through my writing, I am able to grow. I am able to embrace vulnerability, harness it, and absorb it. It’s not comfortable. Sometimes it’s painful. And it’s always a gamble.
But no matter what the outcome is, you are better and stronger than if you chose to remain comfortable.