A great mentor in my life said, “Run yourself up a flagpole and see who salutes.”
That’s energy and power, huh? I need to be who I am and not worry about pleasing others so much. And it works great as long as people do salute. When they mutter and close down and turn away, I want to strip that flag from the pole, stuff it under my shirt, and pretend it never happened.
It’s such a cliche, that nightmare where you’re naked and people you thought were your friends throw rocks at you. But I know that nightmare so well it sits in my gut like one of the rocks, shreds of my skin still clinging to it.
So, I hide away. I wrap myself up in masks and armor — anything so that if people don’t seem to approve, I can think, “It’s not the real me they don’t like. They don’t know the real me.”
I’m not alone. Most people wear masks — symbolic, of course, but powerful nonetheless.
Masks distance us from hurt, but also from closeness. It is only when we see a person’s vulnerability that we care about them. “Oh,” we think, “you’re human too!”
To reach people through my writing I need to be vulnerable. I need to open my heart and let people in so they can see how it beats. I cannot afford to protect myself.
Of course I want people to care about me as a person. And as a writer, I want readers to care about my characters. Which means THEY have to be vulnerable.
I’m not saying this right. We’re all vulnerable. Everything is vulnerable. The fierce dragon whose scales under the tongue are softer than the others, the building whose ventilation system is big enough to allow a small child to crawl through, the big, tough CEO whose young daughter has just announced she’s going off to live with her mother instead of him.
The issue, then, is not making ourselves vulnerable so much as admitting our vulnerability. Our characters don’t have to embrace this aspect of themselves. We writers, we creators, must.
How do we embrace vulnerability?
- We show the underbelly. Maybe it’s yucky. It’s probably darned embarrassing. And the risks are real.
Showing vulnerability is not the same thing as pointing an arrow at yourself and declaring to the world, “Look at me! I’m such a loser!! Don’t you feel sorry for me?” But it may look like that if we’re not careful.
- We also have to preen those peacock feathers.
We must share the feelings of success: so proud and touchy, so scared of being scorned, so gloriously happy and embarrassed that maybe no one else thinks this is a big deal. Hard, hard stuff.
It’s not the same thing as pointing an arrow at yourself and saying, “Aren’t I great? Don’t you wish you were me?” Pah-lease. But again, it can look like that.
I’m not so good at all this vulnerability stuff. I’m working on it. For such a show-offy kind of gal, you’d think I wouldn’t have so much trouble putting myself out there for the world to see, but I do.
Can you see this? My short story, “Moving On,” won 7th place in the Children’s/ Young Adult Fiction division for the Writers Digest 80th Short Story Contest last fall. Have I even put this big deal in my life on this blog? NO! Why not?
Maybe it feels like bragging. Maybe I was afraid of making a bigger deal of it than it deserves. Maybe I just don’t know how to open up and share my total delight that such a thing happened to me. To me! An award! I’ve never won an award before. Is that pathetic?
And really, who cares if it is?
I am my successes and my insecurities. The ugly belly and the peacock feathers, wild and wonderful.
And so are we all. And so are our characters. Raise ’em up on that flagpole! Salute!! And then maybe we can treat ourselves as proudly as we do our creations.
This is a good space to brag, if not about yourself, then about your characters. How do they make you proud of them?