Dancing with Duality in Saudi Arabia: In Conversation with Author Stella Vance
An honest and extensive telling of one woman’s life, Dancing with Duality: Confessions of a Free Spirit explores Stella Vance’s spiritual journey from a child of divorce to wanderer and ending with the identity of “free spirit.” While not necessarily a memoir rife with travel stories, Stella does find herself in many parts of the globe, and in multiple relationships with foreign men, in the four decades the book covers. Making much of her money as a teacher, she was even able to take advantage of an opportunity to teach for a year in Saudi Arabia.
Between the traveling, Stella shares her life’s complexities – eating disorders, abortions, drugs and alcohol, spiritualism, and love – as well as the lessons she has learned. It is a good reminder to “be careful when you judge someone; you may end up doing a similar thing.” By the end of the book, we have explored many of the different corners of Stella’s life in a memoir that is truly confessional.
It can be very hard for people to speak their truth. We often fear judgment from others, or struggle with our own self-judgment. How did you find the courage to share the entirety of you story? Was the writing process challenging?
I was inspired to write my memoir after reading Eat, Pray, Love. Also several people (including my mother) had told me I should write the memoir because they thought I had lived through a lot of adventures. Once I got going, I loved the process.
I encourage everyone in their 50s or older to write her memoir, as this really helps you understand all you have learned in life, all the wisdom you have gained, albeit often from pain and suffering. Writing your memoir helps you make sense of your life, and also to forgive others on a deeper level, because now you see the Big Picture and how things often turned out well despite the wrongs inflicted on you.
Was their any portion of your life that you left out of the book? Why?
No, I tried to summarize it all. But the funny thing is, I could write a book just as long about the last five years since writing the book! The editor turned out to be my “twin flame” (a concept I didn’t even believe in until I experienced it!), and I left my husband for him. But when I turned my editor on to my spiritual path, he broke up with me to focus on enlightenment! I went through a really tough Dark Night of the Soul as a result, but came out of it wiser.
I went through a really tough Dark Night of the Soul as a result, but came out of it wiser.
Then, four months later, someone sent a guy a link to one of my radio show interviews. He recognized my face, name and voice, and contacted me. He was my high school sweetheart and prom date whom I haven’t seen in 40 years. Now, I am visiting him in a week (see chapter 2—he has reformed since then).
One of the first lessons in the book is “sometimes, after a whirlwind of chaos, the story ends up better than you could have written it yourself.” Do you have any advice for those looking to write their own stories? What is something they should avoid doing?
By “writing their own stories, “ do you mean manifesting/creating their reality, or do you mean writing their memoir? If you mean manifesting, be sure to back up your dreams and visions with CONCRETE ACTION. Just taking a little action every day toward a goal will lead to amazing creation. But imagination is not enough. You have to implement your dreams by taking concrete steps. For example, I wanted to travel, so I got a master’s degree in teaching English. I sent out 50 applications worldwide to get that first job in Mexico.
Your memoir spans four decades and multiple continents. What would you say is the main takeaway you want people to have when they finish your book?
People should follow their hearts, and find some way to make their dreams come true. Do what you love, what you feel passionate about, and what you are good at. Life is short. When older, people regret what they HAVEN’T done much more than they regret the “bad” things they did. And really, all experiences can teach you something; even the mistakes you made can be turned into learning experiences.
I also believe in letting go and forgiving. If you don’t forgive someone, you are the one who suffers. And of course, don’t judge anyone—you can discern that their behavior is not what you want and you can avoid them. But don’t waste any energy judging them. Not your job. You don’t know what they have been through.
When teaching in Saudi Arabia you disguised yourself as a milkman so you could go running everyday. The rest of the time, you followed a conservative dress code dissimilar to the clothes you wore in the United States. How did this change in appearance influence your sense of identity?
I tried to look masculine to avoid being raped. It didn’t really change my identity, except that it truly reinforced my self-image as someone who was determined to continue exercising and doing what was right for my body, despite laws that would prevent that. So I guess in that sense, it made me feel more confident and brave!
What was the most life-changing part of living in Saudi Arabia?
Wow. I met people there that to this day are among my best friends. (In fact, I am visiting Danielle in Florida next week, along with my high school sweetie, who was mentioned in Chapter 2.) It also made me much more aware of how women are mistreated, and considered property, even in modern day times!
It made me grateful for women’s rights in the West, but also aware of subtle ways in which the double standard still exists. Also, living in Saudi Arabia and talking to my female students made me realize how adaptable we are as a species. I mean, despite their confined limited lives, the women seemed happy. They had their families and that was all that mattered.
In the memoir, you write about a number of cross-cultural romantic relationships. Did you find that the divide in culture ever caused a similar problem in all the relationships? How would your fix this problem?
Well, what I learned from dating foreign me was to REALLY and I mean REALLY appreciate American men! So I’m not sure if any of the cultural problems were fixed—especially with Middle Eastern men.