I have issues with vulnerability.
I’m an introvert by nature, extrovert by training. I don’t share easily. It’s the hardest thing for me to blog, to put myself out there with my warts and all. I prefer to craft a perfect avatar of myself, and only show the world this version of my best self.
Why should I care? I’m sure I’m not the only one who does. It’s comfortable this way and there’s no need to change.
But I’m a writer. And a writer is supposed to engage fully, with the word, the moment, the reader. Empty shell words are easy to spot, and a fake writer isn’t worth any reader’s time.
But my fear of vulnerability is preventing me from writing truthfully, and has stopped me from writing. It has stopped me from writing here, it has stopped me from writing well, and it has stopped me from taking my writing to the next level, where honesty awaits.
If there is such a thing as a God, then S/He has been banging me over the head these last few days with this message: Be real. From Sara Wachter-Boettcher’s post about empathy starting with vulnerability, to Karen McGrane’s post about living the truth as the path to great work, to an interview I just did with Trey Ratcliff about doing your work and sharing it with the world.
You see, the secret is that deep inside of every one of us is a voice, and this voice speaks true things to us all the time. For people who are connected with themselves, they can hear their voices just fine. For those who aren’t, their voices are barely a whisper.
Every time I have grown as a writer, it’s because I’ve listened to this inner voice. I’ve listened to what it’s had to say, and I do my best to let those words come through my mind, out of my fingers and into the world.
It does not always come out perfect, so much is loss between listening to this voice and the writing of the words. Sometimes the voice comes through (comes true?) loud and clear, sometimes I have to strain to hear it.
But when I let my fear of being vulnerable – being found out, being criticised, having my weaknesses exposed, letting people know that I am less than perfect, that I don’t always know what I’m doing, that I feel like a fraud – when I let that fear wrap a shell around me, the voice becomes softer and softer. And I lose my lifeline to the truth.
It’s not worth it to live inside a cocoon. If I have to be a better writer, to be a better me, if I want to say true things, then I have to listen even more closely to this voice, and I have to let it out. Even if it means being vulnerable, and falling on my face.
A poet is somebody who feels, and who expresses his feelings through words. This may sound easy. It isn’t. A lot of people think or believe or know they feel — but that’s thinking or believing or knowing; not feeling. And poetry is feeling — not knowing or believing or thinking. Almost anybody can learn to think or believe or know, but not a single human being can be taught to feel. Why? Because whenever you think or believe you know, you’re a lot of other people: but the moment you feel, you’re nobody-but-yourself.
To be nobody-but-yourself — in a world which is doing its best, night and day, to make you everybody else — means to fight the hardest battle which any human being can fight; and never stop fighting. As for expressing nobody-but-yourself in words, that means working just a little harder than anybody who isn’t a poet can possibly imagine. Why? Because nothing is quite as easy as using words like somebody else. We all of us do exactly this nearly all of the time — and whenever we do it, we’re not poets.
If at the end of your first ten or fifteen years of fighting and working and feeling, you find you’ve written one line of one poem, you’ll be very lucky indeed. And so my advice to all young people who wish to become poets is: do something easy, like learning how to blow up the world — unless you’re not only willing, but glad, to feel and work and fight till you die.
Does this sound dismal? It isn’t. It’s the most wonderful life on earth. Or so I feel. e.e. cummings