My Story

I believe in human potential.

 

My mother was a Holocaust survivor who lived through two concentration camps (including Auschwitz), two Nazi ghettos, and an infamous death march that started in Poland and ended hundreds of miles away in Germany.  Most of her family—including parents and three siblings—were murdered.

 



my mom after the war

 

When I was born there was great hope placed in my ability to make something of my life so I could redeem (replace?) so many lost relatives. You could say every one of my breaths—from my first at Brooklyn’s Maimonides Hospital to the one I’m current taking at my Washington, DC desk (lit year-round by white Christmas lights) — is a Fuck You to Hitler.

 

But I like to flip this fury at The Furor around. Everyday I try to honor the gift of life I’ve been given. I take this very seriously, though I almost always go for a cheap laugh.

 

 

Sexual Abuse

Growing up, I had a very loving family but I also happened to live on a block shared by two pedophiles. (You heard right: two pedophiles on one block!) These men molested scores of neighborhood children, including me.  I was four when most of this abuse occurred.

 

Because I couldn’t process these events, I spent most of my childhood convincing myself it never happened.  But at 16, for some unknown reason, I mentioned these events to a friend. And as the words were still spilling out of my mouth, I had a weird thought: This kind of storytelling is going to save your life.  I don't know how I knew this, but I was right.  Unfortunately, there have also been many consequences associated with my abuse (documented in my play MARRIED SEX and my recent essays published in The New York Times and Salon).

 

 

I became obsessed with the question: How do people heal?

 

 

Writing

I never wanted to be a writer. My highest childhood aspiration was to be a check-out girl in the supermarket.  But I changed my mind when I discovered That Girl, starring Marlo Thomas. I was going to be a financially unstable, unmarried actress in Manhattan, living in a run-down apartment.

 

 

That's exactly the life I created right after getting my B.A. in Theatre from Brooklyn College.  However, a few years later, while walking down the street, a monologue fully formed in my head.  When I got home I was smart enough to write it down. I couldn't help notice it wasn't half bad. All of a sudden I felt something odd. Almost like confidence, though I'm going to describe it as my dust settling.

 

Eventually, short monologues turned into full-length pieces.  

 

 

In the mid-90s I moved to Prague and began writing huge solo pieces and multicharacter plays. After a few years I wanted to come home, but didn't know how to repatriate so I applied to grad school. I was so lucky to get into the MFA playwriting program at Brown University, where I got to work with amazing mentors like Paula Vogel and Nilo Cruz. At Brown, I received writing instruction for the very first time. I also got to continue the healing endeavors I'd started in my 20s (therapy, spiritual practices, a million self-help books).  Artmaking and recovery were always on parallel tracks, however. Never touching. 

 

 

Healing

After grad school, I drifted back to solo performance because I missed the purity of one person on the stage telling a story.  When I tried writing autobiographical pieces, I immediately became curious: Would putting my trauma on the stage change my relationship to it?  It did. Profoundly. Also, people started talking to me about their own trauma. Responding to this,I built larger projects around my plays (see COLLATERALLY DAMAGED and MARRIED SEX) so I could ignite conversations around trauma and healing. But not only.  I got interested in normalizing discussions about other topics that might otherwise be considered shameful.  Creating these pathways for dialogue became my mission. 

 

I began eliciting stories unconnected to mine. I was invited to teach a story/performance workshop at a drama festival in Mostar, Bosnia that brought together teens from all over the former Yugoslavia. I used storytelling and drama to facilitate dialogue between Jewish Israelis and Arabs from all over the Middle East. Eventually, I was working with teens living in poverty in DC, soldiers returning from and Afghanistan, sexual assault/abuse survivors, and female military veterans. 

 

In each of the instances, I was humbled to be invited into someone else’s pain.  But it wasn’t only pain. The stories these survivors most wanted to tell expressed a basic need to be heard and understood so they might move forward.

 

 

 

Confidence

The more I learned about healing (mine and others), the more I saw a relationship between resilience, confidence, and courage.  It takes confidence to speak one's truth. It takes confidence to believe one could bounce back, or make it through the day. All movement forward requires confidence! But where does one find this self-assuredness, especially in the face of tremendous self-doubt. I think the answer involves acts of courage.  

 

Courage does not depend on self-esteem.

Courage develops a sense of accomplishment.

Courage can be developed through story.

 

After 25 years, I’ve come to understand that no matter our circumstances, stories can help us move forward.

 

Not all stories... Some keep us stuck in a dirty ditch of self-blame and victimization.

 

We have to learn to tell the right tales.

 

This kind of story helps us reach our potential.

 

What I’m Up To Now

 

These days I'm writing essays, turning MARRIED SEX into a book, and touring the country with a keynote called Confidence Follows Courage. I'm mostly speaking to women's groups and colleges, where I also do a series of assault prevention (and healing) workshops as well as sex ed (I learned a lot doing research for my sex play). In all these capacities, I'm thrilled to help others the best way I can.

 

 

My days consist of writing and running Laura Zam Enterprises, the business that houses all my activities. My nights are reserved for cuddling with my honey, and other comforts.

 

I’m living exactly the life that I want.

 

That’s all I ever meant to do.