This week, I'm going to offer a rambling chat about vulnerability. I came by the knowledge of vulnerability through a difficult journey that involved a lot of shame and fear. I'm going to sort of wander here. Perhaps one of my twists or turns will be what you need.
My vulnerability story goes like this. Once upon a time, I used to dream, hope, and pine that I would write stories that would capture the entire world. I also desired this feeling that I was connecting work with others and being true to my art. But I was a coin with two sides. I also wanted to be wildly successful, to make enough money to help my kids go to college, to see my books on the shelves of stores across the world, to see my name on the lists of favorite books, and to see shiny stickers on my books.
I worked hard and made no sales. I was so far from the coin; there are no words for the shame and fear I felt and that I caused others around me to suffer. It was stupid and awful. One day I realized I could basically write anything and shoved my art to the back of my desk and wielded my craft. The purpose was to make some money. I mean every $30 is a pair of blue jeans, a meal out for my family, or a chance day at the beach. I went about writing books like a business and that did lead to publication, but also to a terrible discomfort and uneasiness that I was somehow missing the boat of myself. I went on like this for a decade, but then began to back away from the blue jean work.
I don't know what to say except that losing my art was like losing myself. Art has to be like the morning bird song for me. It must be the vastness of the universe. It must be the twinkle in a eye. For me, art can't be about making money. This makes me want to curse a little. Money allows for vacations, extras, and freedom. I also live in a society that the measuring stick of success is fame and fortune. Yet, art infuses me with worthiness. Losing the extras has been hard, gaining an internal sense of worth has been priceless.
I turned 50 this week and here is a true confession. I've felt like a failure for much of my adult life because I've focused on the negative about myself. I've felt deep shame because I suck at so many things that many find success at. I suck greatly at making money, like I was born into a world that put its foot on my neck and laughed at me because I didn't have a chance in hell. My shame has gone deep. I also suck at academia. I've been so ashamed of this. Many of my friends are so freaking bright and pick up degrees like those things grow on the side of the road. I have always struggled in school. I was lucky to get a B.A. I was the bottom of my class. I do learn, but not the "right way." I think the education world is a lot like the business world, not my forte.
Also with 50, I've embraced the good about me. I'm a good helper, and I dwell in a place where I create for the joy of creating and nothing more. A few writers are privileged in this life with the opportunity to make connection and money. I used to be green with envy about that fact. That has faded away. I am happy for all the art that binds us together. The binding is a group effort. My stitches count. I am as sure of this as gravity. Here is the way I see it. Time to strip naked and stand on the edge of the road. My form may not capture the interest of many. Many, many people might pass me by. I'm holding my head high. Every little thing shines. It does.
So in my vulnerability, I hope you read Plumb Crazy because it is part of me, the depths of me on a page, and that on those pages that you might find part of yourself. I have found myself on the pages of books many times. I hope that you laugh when you read my pages because every giggle, chuckle, and smile is part of why I am here. I didn't follow the rules when I wrote Plumb Crazy. I followed my heart. Writing for me is a joy. There is something so uplifting about finding the voice of a story and then spinning out a tale that it brings tears and laughter and a feeling of spread wings and flying. Seek it.
I'm working harder to follow my heart now than ever before. I am trying to add to the ancient paths of story, and I hope that my efforts inspire you. I hope that you join me in prayer and thoughts that I will find good places to share my gifts. Be vulnerable.
I will be back next week with more thoughts.
Here is a great TED talk from Brene Brown about vulnerability. This is really about the journey of your life.
Here is a doodle for your enjoyment.
Here is a quote for your pocket. I hope you write the greatest poem.
This is what you shall do; Love the earth and sun and the animals, despise riches, give alms to every one that asks, stand up for the stupid and crazy, devote your income and labor to others, hate tyrants, argue not concerning God, have patience and indulgence toward the people, take off your hat to nothing known or unknown or to any man or number of men, go freely with powerful uneducated persons and with the young and with the mothers of families, read these leaves in the open air every season of every year of your life, re-examine all you have been told at school or church or in any book, dismiss whatever insults your own soul, and your very flesh shall be a great poem and have the richest fluency not only in its words but in the silent lines of its lips and face and between the lashes of your eyes and in every motion and joint of your body. Walt Whitman