Friday, October 19, 2012

Exposing my fleshy underbelly

We took Lily and Jovie to the National Aquarium in Baltimore today. Lily loves to watch the "shish" in   the children's section of Martin Library (plus she likes the "Octonauts)" so I thought she'd enjoy seeing shish on a larger scale (hehehe) and Brad had the day off today so it was the perfect opportunity what with all the man-on-baby coverage and all.

Brad, Lily and some shish.

The day as a whole went well -- despite the fact that just 20 minutes into our tour Lily asked to go home and see Mr. Snacks. (Adventures out with a toddler and an infant are deemed a success when all parties involved have on the same clothes they started off the day with and seem to have their sense of humor in tact.) I find these days that chances are, there's no way an entire outing will go seamlessly, and that -- as is with all of life -- I just have to suck the most joy I can out of even the simplest moments.

Like when Lily shrieked with glee at the sight of turtles paddling around a tank or when the dolphins leaped out of the water and pashed (splashed) the audience. Sometimes I suck so much joy out of these moments that the joy then comes seeping out of my eyes and makes my nose a little red. 

Yeah. I'm a happy crier. What of it?

My public display of tenderness reminded me of a video from a TED conference in Texas that my sister Sarah sent me back in August. The speaker, Dr. Brene´ Brown, a research professor in the graduate college of social work at the University of Houston, talks about living life whole-heartedly. You can watch it here. It's 20 minutes long, and it's a 20 minutes well spent IMHO.

Brown talks about how important connection is, but also how difficult it can be to connect with others because of the shame and fear that we're not worthy of connection.

She says that what underpins this shame is "excruciating vulnerability." That for many of us (most of us?) the trouble with making connections is that we have to allow ourselves to be seen, really seen -- you know, flaws and all.

This whole concept of vulnerability hit home for me as a writer. Of course, to be a successful writer I have to be vulnerable. I have to expose my fleshy underbelly because that's where reality and truth live. That's where I'll find connection with my readers.

But even for someone who weeps in public at toddlers laughing at turtles, I still struggle with vulnerability. 

Case in point, years ago I wrote a column for the Daily Record about how I cut myself. At the time, I felt both naked and liberated knowing 90,000 of my neighbors potentially knew about the darkest part of me. And even though that stage of my life is long past, I still hesitate about reintroducing this perfect example of vulnerability and connection.

In writing that piece I was not only able to purge some of my personal shame, but also connect with others who'd found unorthodox* methods of dealing with emotional pain.

And isn't that the reason writers write?

It's why artists art.

"Vulnerability is the birthplace of joy, creativity and belonging," Brown said.

But it's so hard. Even when if you've already been vulnerable. Even if you wear your heart on your sleeve. Just ask Van Gogh. 

I'm so glad Sarah shared the video with our family -- such a creative and vulnerable bunch. Even if they don't recognize it in themselves.

Laura posted this bit of poetry on Facebook today:
"I have nice memories of family life occurring while I was tucked away in my bedroom playing, resting, reading... whatever it is that children do as they while away quiet hours. Muffled conversation, the smell of my mother's cooking, the sound of dishes clanking, and the movement of the bedroom door as vacuums were created and destroyed as people moved about. Never have I felt so secure in this world, so at peace. I want to thank my little Bro for handing me a little taste of that world again was glorious."
I know, right?

I want to keep this in my pocket and pull it out periodically when I need to remember what it was like being little.

Just like I want to hang Sarah's gorgeous creations in my window:

Sorry Sarah - I stole your Instagram! picture.
Check out more of her work.

I think we're all capable of forming connections with the world at large through some medium or another -- whether we're aware we're doing it or not.

And when we're vulnerable -- when we expose our weaknesses -- I think our shared experience is richer. 

During her lecture, Brown talked about the root of the word courage:

"To tell the story of who you are with your whole heart."

Aren't those the only types of stories worth hearing anyway?

*Yes, that was a self-conscious attempt at irreverent humor 

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