Vulnerability

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A question for Valentine’s Day

Tuesday, February 14th, 2017

My favorite song of the last year is Brandy Clark’s “Love Can Go to Hell.” If you haven’t heard it, please give yourself the sweet, melancholic gift of listening — if for no other reason than Brandy Clark is one of the smartest writers I’ve ever run across.

But lest my love of this song make you think otherwise, my heart is pretty soft these days, in the rawest sense. Recent events have left me feeling exposed and vulnerable. No need to get into the details, but I’ll tell you this: I feel like a stray dog who has spent the past several years hiding under a garage to avoid being kicked, and when finally coaxed out by kindness personified waiting across the street, I got hit by a car.

[Awkward and abrupt sidenote:
Speaking of terrified dogs,
check out what happened last
night in my own backyard!]

I’m okay. I really am. Just sad — which, if emotions were college subjects, is sort of my major. Sadness is my wheelhouse. I’m well-practiced in it to the point that it actually feels a little bit comfortable (said the Enneagram Four). And I would rather my heart be soft enough to hurt than safe to the point of numbness.

Because after all:
“To love at all is to be vulnerable. Love anything and your heart will be wrung and possibly broken. If you want to make sure of keeping it intact you must give it to no one, not even an animal. Wrap it carefully round with hobbies and little luxuries; avoid all entanglements. Lock it up safe in the casket or coffin of your selfishness. But in that casket, safe, dark, motionless, airless, it will change. It will not be broken; it will become unbreakable, impenetrable, irredeemable.” —C.S. Lewis

So here is my question, and it’s not a rhetorical one. I am truly interested in your answers, if you’d be brave enough to share.

How do you keep your heart soft in a hard world?

Because I have to believe a soft heart is worth fighting for.

A meandering take on honesty, vulnerability, and courage

Tuesday, February 24th, 2015

I hate conflict and I hate humiliation. If someone wants to have an honest conversation that would require me to say something that might hurt their feelings, I turn tail and run like a deer. I’m learning to be better, be braver – but I know that no matter how good I get at it, I’ll always have a hard time with the type of honesty called BRUTAL honesty.

I watched “The Voice” tonight, and anytime a singer would get a zero chair turn, I would have to mute the TV and look away. I can’t handle it. Heartbreak breaks my heart. And even if these people weren’t completely heartbroken, I was heartbroken.

As my sister-in-law recently pointed out, I am a professional empathizer. And maybe that’s my issue – I internalize events around me, for better and for worse.

A few months ago, I heard that an entire herd of elk fell through the ice of a reservoir in Pagosa Springs. All 20 of them were found the next day, frozen to death. I thought of their panic, however animalistic, and I cried.

A few days ago, I saw a 4-year old girl run full-force across an airport to jump into her grandma’s arms. I witnessed her beautiful and wholehearted freedom, and I cried.

I want to have it both ways. I want to block out the bad and experience the good, but that just isn’t possible. An open heart means that I accept the joy and the pain in equal measure.

I once heard an interview with J.K. Rowling in which she said something like, “Courage is the most important virtue, because it’s the only one we can’t fake.” Courage is strength IN THE FACE of one’s fear. I can pretend to be kind, pretend to be gracious – but courageous? The very definition acknowledges that we are not yet the thing that we hope to be – but we choose it anyway.

It takes courage to be honest and vulnerable. It takes courage to let your guard down and allow the world to beat at your heart. It takes courage to hear about animals dying and not want to die, or to witness absolute freedom and imagine your own self free.

ap_bw

Sunrise into day

Monday, September 23rd, 2013

Things look different here (you might need to refresh your browser). After 6 years, it was time.

I loved that photo, the one taken in a Kansas field, sun-drenched and vibrant and glamorous – because who wears heels in a meadow? That girl was a great girl, bold and impulsive. She had so many wonderful things ahead, things that she couldn’t have dreamed even if she tried. She was running full speed into the unknown, and the latter half of her 20s was sensational, to say the least.

She was happy, and she didn’t know it.

But then again, her life was censored. She didn’t know that, either.

The field was eventually plowed over, and townhomes went in. That flowered chair ripped apart, and so did her family. Her free spirit was trampled into the dirt. Her skinny thighs got a little bigger, while her confidence got a little smaller. And one night, the left stiletto on those red high heels snapped right off.

Uncensored reality can be ugly. If you’ve been reading for a while, you know that the last several years have been dark for me. You’ve tracked along with what I now know to have been seasons of crippling depression and despair. And when the struggle got to be too much, I just went on auto-pilot, choosing monotone over minor chords through a variety of anesthetics.

But Brené Brown says, “We cannot selectively numb emotions.” She’s right: when we numb the painful emotions, we also numb joy, love, and compassion. And what kind of a life is that?

So I’ve taken that idea to heart, and have spent the past year plowing forward into the darkness – which, by the way, has been about as fun as venturing into my spider-infested cellar with nothing but a Zippo. But at least I’m seeing things for what they really are, or at least closer to the way that they really are. These days, the veil is lifted, for worse and for better – and there is a “better.”

So it’s time for this space to be fresh.

Life is quiet these days, and largely uncomplicated. It’s also lonely, although that’s probably mostly by choice. If I told you the last time I went on a date, you would cringe. I have more questions than answers, and the things that are unresolved – the broken relationships, the questions of purpose, the nagging insecurities – peck at me from time to time.

But somehow, there’s an element of contentment. I am rooted – not necessarily geographically, but in who I am and what I’m willing (and not willing) to wait for. I can’t say exactly when it happened, but I feel a simple confidence that just like there are good things behind, there are good things ahead.

The light is soft, the colors gentle, and the good hair days abound.

Thanks for being here through the slow, slow changes. Here’s to more light and laughter in the midst of the quiet unknown.

Change comes slow,
And sometimes you don’t notice
The twilight into darkness,
The sunrise into day
-Jill Phillips, “If You Were Here”

Wanting

Wednesday, March 6th, 2013

There’s nothing like being on the brink of a major life decision to make a girl have a meltdown.

Over the weekend, I was working fast and furious toward something that I thought might materialize, only to find out that the dream was dead on arrival. On Monday night, I called my mom in tears – not so much about the thing not working out, but because I was crashing from the adrenalin rush of almost, almost making a significant change.

Big decisions are a big deal whether you’re making them alone or not, but I’m reminded that I don’t always like carrying the full weight of those decisions by myself. Sometimes you just want an arm around your shoulder.

It’s a scary thing to admit that you want something, because all of a sudden, you’re admitting that it matters. And once you admit that something matters, the potential for disappointment exists: if it doesn’t happen, it could hurt.

But these days, I’m wanting – I’m wanting a lot. And I’m learning to admit it. I don’t know where this wanting will lead, but whatever happens, I would rather want and risk pain than be safe but numb.

Today, I’m flying to LA for a crazy-busy few days of work. My hair is looking okay and I’ve done a great job packing my suitcase, which is always a personal victory. I’ll be back in blogging action next week – until then, channel your inner Ariel and don’t be afraid to want something.

Irony, sarcasm, and vulnerability

Wednesday, December 5th, 2012

Perhaps you saw Christy Wampole’s New York Times article “How to Live Without Irony,” published in mid-November. While I believe Ms. Wampole makes a mistake in mass-labeling so-called hipsters as insincere narcissists (because I know plenty of people that fit the “hipster” bill who are both genuine and generous), I do think she’s accurately pinpointed a larger cultural norm.

From the outside looking in, I am the furthest thing from a hipster; I like my jeans flared and my house Pottery Barned. But I recognize my use of irony and sarcasm as shields against vulnerability – and I know that I’m not alone. I see it all around me, in people of all ages, in all sorts of clothing, with all sorts of hobbies, and all manner of facial hair. Irony is not reserved for the mustached.

In light of that article (which is worth the read), I hope you’ll watch this TED talk by Brené Brown about the importance of vulnerability. You may have seen it already (6 million have), but I revisit it often, particularly when I feel my armor start to go up. I could go on about all of the reasons I love this talk, but really, you should just take the 20 minutes to watch it.

The fear of scarcity

Tuesday, December 4th, 2012

I have recently come to the realization that I am a hoarder.

Now, please don’t confuse “hoarder” with “packrat.” I do not live in squalor. I don’t stack my living room floor with old newspapers and crocheted doilies and ashtrays. I regularly take sacks of clothing, shoes, and books to Goodwill. I shred and recycle unnecessary documents. I’m not overly sentimental; if it doesn’t serve a regular use in my daily life, I typically get rid of it. Let it be known far and wide that I don’t own a single Christmas decoration – NOT ONE. (Somewhere, a reindeer just died.)

But I live in a near constant fear of scarcity: that I will not have enough, that I am not safe enough, that I am not good enough. And this fear tempts me to hoard, to stockpile, whether it’s to my bank account or to my refrigerator or to my pride. If I can just secure everything that I’m sure I’ll ever need, then I will never be left vulnerable.

We live in a culture of such abundance, it’s odd that the fear of scarcity is so prevalent. But I see it everywhere I look – in global politics (“We’re out of oil”), in Black Friday shoppers (“I can’t miss a deal”), in economics (“FISCAL CLIFF”).

And don’t get me wrong – I’m just as concerned about this world as anyone else. I’m alarmed at the state of the environment, the way our government has hemorrhaged money, and the realities of the food system in America. This movie gave me nightmares. If I owned land, you’d find me preparing for the apocalypse with solar panels, a gigantic garden, and a bomb shelter.

But living in the fear of scarcity is a sign that I believe in the greedy lie that there is not enough, and its lonely stepsister, no one will take care of me. It focuses on the future, taking me out of the present moment – which is dangerous, since according to Eugene Peterson, “The only opportunity you will ever have to live by faith is in the circumstances you are provided this very day: this house you live in, this family you find yourself in, this job you have been given, the weather conditions that prevail at the moment.”

Living in the present does leave us vulnerable, because it takes the future out of our hands. It removes our sense of control.

But that sense of control was an illusion to begin with. And vulnerability is a chance to trust in something bigger than ourselves, which is the most beautiful of opportunities.

Now, this isn’t an excuse to be stupid. I’m going to continue attempting to make responsible decisions with my money, because I don’t want to end up destitute. I’m going to continue working hard toward my personal goals, because I don’t want to have unnecessary regrets. I’m going to continue carrying a snack in my purse, because I don’t want to wind up at a McDonald’s drive-thru (heaven forbid).

But when I try to hoard my money, my possessions, my achievements, they will rot like manna.

There is enough – for you, for me, for exactly what we’ll need, when we’ll need it. I want to live and give freely. Don’t you?

Girl, interrupted

Sunday, December 2nd, 2012

… and we’re back.

I thought about making a video to give a glimpse into my life in November, but if I had, it would have been full of long, drawn out silences and artsy frames of my face staring off into nowhere.  Trust me, I respect you more than to put you through that. The month was fairly quiet, nothing exploded, and I crossed off each day in my calendar as it passed.

It’s an odd thing we do, this virtual sharing of our lives. The internet is still a new frontier, and WE are the ones determining the etiquette – how much to tell, how vulnerable to be, what is meaningful, what isn’t. In real time, we are succeeding and failing and flying and flailing – and we’re often giving hundreds (if not thousands) of people a front row seat.

When it’s great, it’s really great. But when it’s not, it’s magnified.

As far as this blog is concerned, I’ve been playing it safe. Having once written from a very authentic place, I’ve been sharing less and less – and what I do share is surface-level, at best. I’ve wanted to maintain an image of having it all together – of being fine, even when I’m not. I’ve wanted to be cool and smart and witty; I’ve wanted you to like me. There, I said it.

I have spent years chasing excitement, adventure, and change – looking to validate my existence with various and sundry admirable feats. I’ve sought interruptions to the mundane, and solicited drama to avoid being bored with my life (or, more exactly, disappointed with my life).

But it turns out that what I’ve needed has not been an interruption of circumstances, but an interruption at the core of who I am.

These days, my sense of self is being torn apart in the best possible way. Oh, sure, it can feel like being put through a cheese grater, painful and terrifying, like the pieces could never possibly be put back together (unless they were melted in a microwave) (which doesn’t sound much better).

But it’s been SO GOOD, you guys. Humbling. Necessary. And it’s leading to good things.

In fact, Greta, who knows me better than just about anyone in the world, recently wrote to me, “I just feel like you’re leaving this very safe, very small, very familiar square of space and heading out into the biting air – and now you’re WALKING and FEELING and seeing things. I see you MOVING right now, more than you have in years.” What an encouragement to have someone who can recognize the things that we’re too close to see.

And how ironic that the acceptance of what I’ve historically thought of as an “ordinary” life could actually lead to much greater truths: freedom, clarity, peace.

I am still very much in process. I have jack-nothing figured out. But I am tired of holding my breath, hiding beneath the surface-level words posted in this space. I am ready to come up for air, no matter what it might look like, no matter who might see the inevitable thrashing (and you know there will be thrashing).

So thank you for being here, whoever you are. Your presence, even virtual, makes a difference to me. Our stories are meant to be shared – and I’m grateful to have a chance to share mine with you.