Thursday, April 10, 2014

The Strength it takes to be Vulnerable

I’ve been thinking a lot about vulnerability lately. I mentioned it in my interview with Jen Hritz. I think about it in terms of my characters in The Geodesy Series. I’ve seen it in my brave friend, Aideen Walsh who published her autobiography. I watched one of my actors embrace it in the photo shoot for the book covers and trailers. I even counseled a single-mom friend to accept it on the day she moved when she went outside to find her truck had two flat tires. And yet NOTHING makes me so uncomfortable.

I like to think about life in terms of Strength and Weakness. I have described Stellar Navigation as Elena’s struggle with those opposing forces, but now I think that description is inaccurate. Elena’s problem is that she feels vulnerable, and she wants to feel strong. She thinks that one precludes the other. Poor Elena (poor Sue)! It took me half my life to figure out that weakness and vulnerability are not synonyms.  In fact nothing takes more strength than allowing yourself to be vulnerable.

 Let’s take my friend Aideen’s book as an example. She is not a writer by trade, and if you met her on the street, you might notice her Irish brogue and the twinkle in her eyes, but you wouldn’t walk away thinking she was particularly strong or terribly weak as a human. But her story is an intense demonstration of human strength and vulnerability (not weakness). Furthermore, the fact that she has put her story out there for the world to see a testament to her strength because that kind of exposure leaves her so vulnerable. Yet she has embraced that exposure rather than shying from it. Amazing! Poetic!

 And I appreciate it, but ARGH it makes my palms sweat and my head spin to think about the world knowing any details about my life aside from the externals. And being in the presence of vulnerability makes me . . . hide. Bear with me while I set the scene. At my photo shoot this week, I sent all of the actors out of the room except Jeremy (the actor playing Ethan). I needed shots of Ethan sucking his thumb since that is such an integral part of the character, but I didn’t know how to ask my actor to do that. I hemmed and hawed and fumbled. Finally, my photographer, Paul Woodruff, stepped up and explained what I wanted in the gentlest and deepest way. Not only did my actor get it intellectually, but he proceeded to really get into the character and demonstrate the vulnerability that I desperately wanted to capture for this character. It was so achingly honest that I couldn’t watch while Paul took the pictures. In fact it took me two days to really look at the proofs, which left me breathless.  It must have taken a lot of strength for Jeremy to be that exposed.  (I don’t think I could have done this in a million years).

And yet I admire vulnerability. It’s an elusive lesson that has dogged me my whole life. My friend Lacey, who is frighteningly like me, woke up on moving day to find her truck with not one, but two flat tires and an empty bank account. I saw her two days later and she said, “It all turned out fine thanks to all my friends who came to my rescue, but damn I hate to be rescued! And I just wonder what I am supposed to be learning here.” I jumped right in, like I do, to explain how vulnerable we all are and how it’s hard for people like her (and me) to admit that by asking for help. Her eyes lit up and she thanked me for my take. I walked away and thought about how awful it must have been for her to make those calls, how much strength it takes to be vulnerable.

 Now to the point: I am here writing this, making myself vulnerable only because it is so damn hard and it takes so much f_ing strength to do it. I am here growing as a human and a writer because of the people who so beautifully and poetically trust me (and the world) enough to be vulnerable. I will pass this one to Elena and all my readers now. Thanks Aideen, Jeremy, Lacey! Lesson learned.

Read the Interview with Jen Hritz at:
See the photos of Jeremy as Ethan at:
Get Aideen’s Autobiography at:

No comments:

Post a Comment