These topics are landing as they should, I suppose. Several times this year, as I’ve looked at the word that provides me with the prompt for my weekly post, it has seemed to hit things right on the nose somehow, sometimes eerily so.
I’m sitting in an airport at this moment, reflecting on yesterday — the day my memoir was released — which included a full day of absorbing press and doing interviews, and ended with a bookstore event in conversation with a writer and artist I greatly admire. It’s weird to say I’m already starting to get slightly used to putting my signature on the title page of my book, but it also still mostly blows my mind. How did I get here? How did I do this? And also, now that I’ve done it, how do I continue and in which direction to I go?
If there was one word I heard repeatedly yesterday, it was vulnerability. Vulnerability is a word that’s thrown around a lot these days — as a stand in for a the act of recognizing and showing honest emotions without sarcasm or psychic armor, it seems — but is that what vulnerability is? The true definition of vulnerability is the quality or state of being exposed to the possibility of being attacked or harmed, either physically or emotionally. It’s showing your underside, your soft side, your ventral side, your pale and quivering belly, to the world. Putting yourself out there, as we say. To do so requires a lot of trust that you won’t be injured by doing so, or that you don’t care if you are injured, and I don’t think most of us are used to living life that way. I certainly am not.
Someone asked me from the audience at the bookstore event last night how I got comfortable being so vulnerable and opening myself and my story, my family’s story, up in such a way. My response was that I am not at all comfortable doing it, that I was in fact, scared shitless. But I said that there I was anyway, trusting that it would be okay for me to talk about some incredibly hard and painful subject matter however difficult it is. I don’t know whether my trust of the world has increased or if I’ve just grown too weary of putting my fists up to the world to try to protect myself and my softness all the time. The truth is I’m a soft person. Always have been. And the truth is also that I haven’t shown that to the world, or to anyone, except on a few records here and there.
I wasn’t set up to trust anyone or anything, so showing that soft side has been impossible until recently. I’ve just assumed that I would be harmed because that was my training. And the steps to recognizing that and trying to reroute my brain’s wiring from the tangle of snakes that told me everything and everyone was dangerous, to accepting that there is mostly good in the world and that most folks aren’t trying to harm me, has been at once terrifying and incredible. The work is still happening, every day, every minute. I catch myself, many times a day some days, in a free fall toward anger and aloneness, then I try to bring it back to the new part, actually the old part, because we are all born clean, that I know is in me, that I know is the true me. I try to bring it back to the part that allows me to be my soft and tender self, the part that isn’t afraid to expose the ventral, the lungs, the heart, the guts. Sometimes it’s minute to minute. But if I am on this planet for a reason this time around, I’m pretty sure it’s to learn to trust.
Minute to minute. Isn’t that the gift of living? Isn’t that the gift of breathing? Every breath is new, and each one reminds us that we start over again and again. To admit that, to admit we’re supposed to be forgetting the last breath we exhaled, is probably real vulnerability. In fact it’s probably some other plane, because just as most of us are not set up to be trusting, vulnerable beings, we are not set up to let go. But once the breath is gone, it’s gone, isn’t it, and each new one is as fresh as anything ever was. Our bodies age, but our spirits can be reborn every minute, ready to learn and love with no expectations based on what came before. That thought presents a quandary — why were we given such an ability to remember things if that, in many cases, only served to keep us from love? How do we reconcile the argument between survival instinct and emotional progression? The primal instincts are there to remind us of damage that was done before and to warn us that it might be done again. If we are in a primal state, which I often am, how are we to be vulnerable? An animal rolls into a ball and shows her back to a predator to protect herself. A person closes off her heart when there is fear of a potential break.
As usual, I ask more questions that I can ever answer. But also as usual, the questions are quite often more important than the answers.
Peace, love, and happy Wednesday.
See y’all on the road.