Creativity Lesson: Vulnerability
Can I be honest? Being real, thoroughly seen, or being open-chested and vulnerable is a struggle for me. I like things perfect, consistent, predictable, safe. I like having answers and categories and boxes in which to place things and people. I like ideas that are well-curated. I like lists and check marks. I like appearing as if I have it all together because then I believe I do.
Growing up, in my home, everything was black and white: right and wrong, happy and sad. Showing messy, confusing, or exploring contradicting emotions or opinions wasn’t easy for my parents to understand. But what I've found is that when it comes to the human experience, there is a lot of gray and blue and yellow and red. There is a spectrum of vibrancy and flavor. Concrete is lifeless and boring and unreliable. There is so much life and connection to be found in the in between.
When I gave birth to my second daughter, I was the most vulnerable that I’ve ever been. I groaned, growled, bared my teeth, even, under the intense weight of excruciating pain. I let myself sink into the experience deeply. I demanded to be heard. What would typically have been an uncomfortably embarrassing situation for me felt animalistic and natural. I begged the strangers around me for help. I was desperate. I was profoundly in tune with the work that my body was doing without consent from my fear. I felt my bones prying apart as my baby’s body traveled toward her first breaths, and a catheter was being inserted into my spine. The pain was gone the instant she came earthside, and she was all of a sudden on my chest screaming and pink. In my arms was new life and one of the most beautiful moments I've ever experienced transpired. I had never felt more connected to my body’s strength, to my husband, or to my children than in those first minutes with my newborn daughter. I had never felt more vulnerable. Being vulnerable brought me an understanding that allowing myself to feel radical deepness, discomfort, or pain, even, can yield the richest, most whole moments of our lives.
“Body shame is so powerful and often so deeply rooted in our psyches that it actually affects why and how we feel shame in many of the other categories, including sexuality, motherhood, parenting, health, aging, and a woman’s ability to speak out with confidence.”
- Brene Brown
I hated my body nearly my entire life, so when I wrote a piece in 2012 talking about the love and the acceptance I finally felt for the vessel that I lived in—after my first daughter was born—I was terrified. In writing, I often feel tempted to create things to impress people. To say what I know people want to hear or to relate in some surface-level way. My worst pieces always started out this way. But this essay was different. I had to really look at myself to find the words for all that I felt. I was terrified to write that essay, but at the same time, putting the words down on the page was freeing. It was almost as if I didn’t believe what I said was true until I wrote them down. Within a week of publishing this particular essay, 7 million people had read it, and I had hundreds of comments and emails expressing to me how much they needed to read those words. Unintentionally, I had connected to thousands of women across the world—all because I dared to say what was hardest to say out loud. Understanding and truly loving and accepting myself for who I was was the first thing I had to do before I could offer it to others with my craft.
What keeps you up at night? What are the nagging, gnawing worries on your mind? Write them down—list them out and elaborate on them.
Think of a time when you felt particularly strong. What was happening? What were you doing? Now back up a little bit—How did you get to this point of strength? What were you feeling in those moments or before this moment? Describe it.
When do you feel most known and most connected to others? Write the story of a time or a moment when you felt this.
Can you think of a time when you intentionally avoided vulnerability either in your art or in a relationship? How were you affected by this? Imagine what could have happened if you had opened yourself up more. Write about it.
Do a word association exercise with “vulnerable.” List out words that come to mind when you think about this word. Once you’ve made your list, then spend some time fleshing out some of the words into phrases. What connections are you drawing here? What feelings come up as a result of what you find?
Write one of the stories that is a “taboo” in your life. This is an intensely personal story you've never told anyone, one you've tried to push from your mind because it's so embarrassing or painful. Give yourself the freedom to write it without worry that anyone else will read it, but spend the time to flesh out the details or nuances. The story can begin however you want, but end the piece with “From all this, I have learned …”
Write one of your birth stories or adoption stories in detail. Reflect on your thoughts, fears, worries, moments of bravery. Share the parts you tend to leave out when you recount the story to friends and relatives. Write into the dark parts, the murky parts, the raw moments.