The Rewards of Vulnerability

December 17, 2011 § Leave a comment

Fully Alive

by dawna markova

I will not die an unlived life.
I will not live in fear
of falling or catching fire.
I choose to inhabit my days,
to allow my living to open me,
to make me less afraid,
more accessible,
to loosen my heart
until it becomes a wing,
a torch, a promise.
I choose to risk my significance;
to live so that which came to me as seed
goes to the next as blossom
and that which came to me as blossom,
goes on as fruit.

Last month I was accepted into The Writer’s Studio at Simon Fraser University,  a one-year creative writing certificate, and was asked to submit five pages of my writing to include in our introductory anthology.  This was a big exercise for me in vulnerability, as I am not used to having to meet deadlines with my creative writing, or exposing my work to people I’ve yet to meet. And on top of it, the creative “flow” doesn’t always happen just because you want it to.  As I was trying to pound out five pages, I was feeling awful. Some panic started to set in and then that familiar deluge of thoughts about the quality of my writing and how people would respond to it.

Well, this is well-trodden territory for me and some good insights arose over the course of the week.

First of all, I’ve discovered that writing for me is a kind of intimacy.  It’s good if you can make an effort to share it at the right time, at the right place, and with the right people.  Otherwise, the results can be hard on your budding self-confidence.  Furthermore, I don’t write comics, science fiction, mysteries, or thrillers. So, what do I write?  And, why do I write?  And, perhaps more importantly, Who is my audience?  These seemed like excellent questions to be asking myself at the dawn of an intensive writing program. It was a good opportunity to orient myself around my intentions and purpose.

As I write these words, I am aware of the 12 of you who have signed up to have this post sent directly into your inboxes.  Thank you!  I am aware of your differences, likes and dislikes. I am aware of our histories, what I think you think about me, and what I think you expect of me, and what I think you want me to say, and what I think you don’t want me to say.   All of this goes on in the background of the words that surface.  I am aware that what I write may please one person while annoying another, and that this can change and shift around with every sentence and every post.

So one major hurdle, in writing, as in life, is to drop the fear and the need to make everyone happy. I write to tell the story that has arrived and to investigate its truth for me.  As people grow as writers, we begin to tell our own stories, rather than the stories that others may have told on our behalf, or expected us to tell.  We become authentic. There are just too many people in the world to be able to please everyone and we have to lean on our own perceptions, experiences, and ideas as having inherent worth and validity.

I write in service to the things I hold most dear: truth, equality, self-reflection, healing, art, and the beauty of language and ideas. I write to have a voice when before I have felt too scared to speak.  I think that to be a good writer, or good at anything creative, a person has to risk being vulnerable.  Just think about it, can you love and be loved if you can’t be vulnerable?  Perhaps vulnerability is the best friend we can ever make, but very often this friendship is a lifelong journey of how, when, and with whom to open up. And at times we have to be careful and tender with this process.  It’s kind of like not sleeping with someone on the first date — not that any one of us would ever do something like that!

So after these reflections, I was able to put together five pages of my writing that I felt comfortable sharing.

Sharon Butala, a writer who has been nominated for a Governor General’s Award, inspired this post with a chapter she wrote in Coyote’s Morning Cry:

“People seem to feel, generally speaking, that to be vulnerable means to be weak, to be foolish, to be in need of protection. It also seems to mean to not have the wit to evade, ignore or simply lie, whenever there is a danger of revealing anything personal about yourself.  Telling other people more than they would reveal about themselves means that they might be able to take advantage of you. Vulnerability is a quality, I see, that nobody wants.

Even compassionate people use this word as a warning, with a kind of gentle empathy and a desire to protect. ‘You’ve made yourself vulnerable,’ they say. And I’m surprised, taken aback, because for every secret I’ve revealed, a hundred more lie buried far from the light of day. They are the ones I can’t bring myself to speak out loud, at least not yet.  In the face of all the books written by authors more famous than I, the secrets I’ve revealed are too trivial to deserve the name. It seems to me, when I really think about it, that as the world has had so many billions of pepole, each of whom has had a life complete with secrets, it is an absurdity to think that my secrets matter in the least.

When someone, in this case me, opens up her heart, searches deeply and tries to express in simple, honest terms what she has found there, good people may fear for her.  She may even fear for herself. But it remains, in my opinion, the only, the best thing to do. What are books for? I ask myself. Why write about your life if you can write only of facts? What would be the point? Why would anyone care? I believe in books; I believe in them as a tool to lift humanity out of darkness and fear, and I believe in the role of the artist/shaman, who acheieves sometimes, in an instant’s lightning flash, a link with the powers that create the universe. Nothing else but the opening of the heart speaks to people in a way that matters, that holds the potential to change people’s lives, because they recognize the common humanity, the ubiquity of what seems like unique problems, unique suffering, in the words of the writer telling as much truth as she can manage about her life.

This ought to be reward enough:  that in the struggle to find truth she comes to terms with her own unmanageable desire or terror, with her little-girl soul, setting it on the path at last toward becoming a woman’s soul.

[…]

Openness of heart breeds openness of heart. Vulnerability cracks the hard casing of the hearts of others.”

Thanks for reading and for being here with me along the way. I wish for you peaceful sleeps and that your own vulnerability always be received with love, respect, and tenderness.

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