July 21, 2017 by Katia
Exactly three weeks ago on Friday I stood on stage in front of a large audience, reading something quite personal that I wrote in a language that isn’t my native tongue.
Many years ago I was completing my Masters degree and preparing for my looming immigration to Canada by putting myself through an emotional bootcamp (is your soul migration-ready?; Get your psyche in immigration shape). As part of that effort I handcrafted a plan which included seeing a life coach once a week to help me with stress management. I supplemented these visits with televised help from a reality show called Starting Over where a group of women, individually assisted by two life coaches, sought support to help them handle a variety of transitional situations. I watched the show with more than just pure voyeuristic interest, I watched it as if I was a student and this was my text book. A particular sentence seemed to have engraved itself onto my consciousness and became my biggest take-away from the show: placing yourself outside of your comfort zone brings growth.
In the years that followed, I left Israel and relocated to Canada and often found myself reverting to that sentence. It became more than just a motto or a passive mantra to use in order to self soothe. It became an actual instrument in my tool box and then an active imperative. A guideline.
A few months ago I wrote a post about immigration likening parts of it to death and rebirth and submitted it to BlogHer, a blogger conference, where selected posts are categorized and chosen to be honoured as voices of the year. Anything you write and submit for somebody else’s review and scrutiny becomes baby Moses in a basket sent off into an unknown faith with you — the worried mother — feverishly hitting ‘refresh’. The sought-after feedback arrived much earlier than expected catching me off guard, as I was walking home from work. An email notified me that not only was I selected as one of BlogHer’s voices of the year, but I was also being offered the opportunity to read my post on stage, a post I felt very strongly about both on a personal and a broader level. It concentrated on a painful fragment of my own immigration story but it was also the story of every immigrant, I believed, and in today’s political climate I longed so badly for it to be shared publicly. My heart performed a perfect double toe loop jump sinking and soaring at the same time as I read the congratulatory title of the email. I had participated in three previous conferences, bringing printed copies of my posts with the intention of sharing them on open mic nights and never once followed through. The invite so kindly extended to me was terrifying and there was no way in hell I was going to sit this one out.
Placing yourself outside of your comfort zone brings growth.
With its succinct definition it’s complicated Facebook managed to perfectly capture and summarize just about everything. Including humans. It’s complicated. When I turned eight I decided that I was going to join a newly established arts school in Tel-Aviv and major in drama. I saw no contradiction between my extreme shyness and the requirement, posed by my discipline of choice, to act on stage in front of people. That paralyzing, often excruciating shyness continued to reside in me long after starting arts school and graduating from it and from every subsequent stage in life. I’m pretty sure I only recently stopped holding my breath as I walk past a group of teenage boys in fear that they would say something judgemental about me. Throughout the years I learned how to mask my shyness well and can affirm that fake it till you make it is indeed a thing. I made It, emerging somewhere in the middle of the shyness scale blushing only rarely instead of once a day (when I’m lucky).
In the two months leading up to BlogHer I’ve suppressed the sense of dread that seemed to climb from my chest to my throat whenever I imagined going up on stage. I must admit, dread was always accompanied by its counterpart, excitement, and they traveled together spreading through the same areas of my body making themselves known through flutter.
Saying that denial and the motto placing yourself outside of your comfort zone brings growth got me through reading in English to what I’d like to imagine was a packed ballroom at the Hilton (the projectors wouldn’t allow me to see beyond the blurry first row of tables) would be not just inaccurate, but unjust. Every BlogHer conference I attended was accompanied by a sense of elevation, sometimes not experienced until after I had left. There’s power in numbers. There’s power in support and camaraderie. There’s power in women. Energy is a thing.
Female support ran like a golden thread through my experience. A female friend inspired my essay by asking on Facebook: “Do you know what an accent is?” and responding “It’s a sign of bravery”. Writer friends offered critique on my first draft. After I published the essay on my blog it was shared by fellow writers that I look up to personally and professionally. Sending me that initial email, preparing me for the production and acting as the very embodiment of support was a remarkable woman whose warmth seeped through the impersonal medium of email exchange and who perfectly captured what flutter looks like in this image she took moments before I went on stage. In the morning of the show a writer I’m proud to know armed me with her battle cry: live readings are my jam and my safe zone. When I’m on stage I know that everyone is rooting for me. She later texted me: I’ll be sitting near the stage so you can see my face and sense my energy. My blog bestie and fellow honouree kept me anchored, safe, friended and Belini-ed.
My tribe cheered when I went on stage, texted and posted pictures online. My mom who was traveling to Israel and was staying with a friend responded immediately to my text after I had gone on stage and come back – thank goodness, we were rooting for you – she did so at night time from a timezone that was seven hours ahead.
In my post I spoke about certain aspects of immigration being reminiscent of death and others of re-birth. Is it possible to say that there’s more to something than life and death? Yes, there’s the in-between, the how you live your life. Immigration isn’t just death and new life it is also the most empowering thing I’ve done. My biggest “overcome” yet. In the weeks since BlogHer I’ve been trying to organize my thoughts and emotions around the conference and they were too complex and I still haven’t sorted all of them out, but there’s a huge sense of peace and rightness that hovers over everything else. It’s that sense of elation that comes from having challenged yourself greatly and emerged on the other side unscathed. Fortified.