What a loaded word that is for most of us. We associate it with fear, with weakness, with instability, with starting new things, with ending old things. We are all prey to vulnerability in our lives- you can’t love someone, including yourself without having to live with vulnerability.
Writers are incredibly well-acquainted with this particular emotion. I was once listening to Jack Whyte give a talk about what it is to be a writer- that a writer puts his soul into his own hands and offers it to the world, knowing that the world may well reject his/her soul. There’s not much in my life that makes me feel more vulnerable than putting out a new book- something I did very recently. I can only equate it to standing naked on a freeway at rush hour, without the option to run and hide. And then the reviews start to roll in- when I see new ones pop up on Amazon or Goodreads, I tend to shut one eye, or read the review through the buttonhole of my sweater (I’m not sure why I feel this will help with the possible emotional trauma of a bad review, but it’s also how I watched Kurt Browning in the Olympics many years ago, somehow it seems to cut the anxiety down a wee bit.)
The newest book is always the baby- as it is still, as my friend Roxanne once so astutely said, attached to your liver. 🙂 You hope readers will love it as much if not more than they did the first books, but then you feel sorry for the first books, as though they’ve suddenly been cast to the wayside.
The things that make me feel vulnerable are less than perfect reviews, though I actually think it looks better to have a few reviews that aren’t as glowing, otherwise everyone suspects you have only friends and people who owe you money posting reviews. 🙂 Book launches, book signings, interviews, and parties. Yes, this is my latest issue. A lovely lady here in town suggested to me that I ought to celebrate my new book being out, because until we celebrate our successes they are not real. So I thought it over and decided to be courageous and damn well do it. Well, the venue got booked, the cake was ordered, invites went out and then I found myself waking up to anxiety every morning- with the ‘uglies’ running through my head- who am I to have a party (I’m aware of how pathetic that sounds), I’m not successful enough to celebrate, what was I thinking, what if no one shows up (I already have a healthy amount of RSVPs, but nevertheless) what if I take an attack of the vapours (I love the Victorian emotions) and can’t read when I have to get up there, or can’t think of a thing to say, never mind something witty. (This is a legitimate fear. I was a speaker/coordinator at a writer’s conference once and part of my job was to go up and ask these famous writers if everything was to their liking. I went up to Terry Brooks, and suddenly had paralyzation of the throat- why, I don’t know. While he’s a perfectly nice gentleman I don’t actually read sci-fi, and wasn’t familiar with his work. He ended up taking me to sit down and ordered me a drink- not one of my prouder moments.)
I hesitated to even write this blog entry- because yes, to tell you these things, and give you a peek into the writer’s emotions is not really something I’m supposed to do. I’m supposed to remain somewhat mysterious, and not give out that behind the Emerald curtain even the most successful of writers feel this way. Peter Matthiessen once said he had terrific anxiety each time he started a new book- certain that it was all over, that he would never write anything decent again. I go through this exact scenario each time I begin something new- I doubt my ability to finish, to write a decent sentence ever again, never mind to move people to laughter and tears and frustration. Or what if people simply stop reading my work, buying my books? As I face starting my next book, I feel intensely vulnerable- and running away to Ireland to pull pints in a grotty bar for tourists, sounds utterly charming about now. (of course in this grotty bar my boss is someone who looks shockingly like Colin Farrell, or maybe Liam Neeson, it varies on whichever day I am entertaining this grotty bar dream).
Then I watched this video with Brene Brown- and she suggested embracing vulnerability- the idea kinda sounded like running out at the witching hour and kissing the bogeyman, because really he’s just a misunderstood figure… But then I understood what she was saying- vulnerability is part of our lives, it’s not going anywhere and it will be at its worst when we are doing the exact things we are supposed to- that which takes the most courage- even when we’re low on belief.
So for the next while I am going to practice kissing the bogeyman and see where it takes me. 🙂 How about you- what makes you feel vulnerable- love, money, children, job, the opinion of others? (I solve this one by realizing nobody is thinkin’ about me anywhere near as much as I might think they are. )
I guess what I realized, as I pondered this idea of vulnerability, is that it’s a strength and part of the human experience and if we learn to embrace it rather than fighting or running from it, who knows where it might take us?
And when I feel choked with anxiety, as a result of vulnerability, I think of Vincent Van Gogh who certainly knew what it meant to be vulnerable and yet through great personal pain and struggle gave us some of the world’s most treasured art works. He had to paint and so he painted through the pain and insecurity and mental illness and gave us such gifts to take our breath away. He and Carl Sagan showed me the stars in ways I had never seen them before, and I have never looked at them the same since. So I thank him for embracing his vulnerability and that he just painted through it, even if the bogeyman never really left him alone. That is courage of a sort I aspire to. Still I guarantee you that the minute I hit the publish button, I am going to feel vulnerable for talking about how vulnerable I often feel.