Wednesday, January 9, 2013

On Vulnerability

I watch them as they climb on top of the washing machine to find dog bones in higher cabinets, their socks slipping and then tiny legs dangling as they throw treats to Lola. "We like you because you believe in magical things," Sophia says. I am startled by this, because these eight and five year old girls have known me for only  an hour and yet they are as candid as children can be. I had forgotten what this is like, looking into the imaginative eyes of children while they work something out in their heads. They proceed to tell me that they are story-tellers, and under-appreciated at that. Elena tells me I am like them, that they can be who they are and she knows I will be who I am, too, and that they like who I am. I begin to think how profound this conversation is and I feel accepted. They present me with a crown and I tell them we can be ruling queens together. I see their eyes widen when I pose silly for a portrait, because I play in their world. It never ceases to amaze me how genuine this world is, how children can invent games and stories, how they see the things around them come to life. I begin to remember it in slivers of crayons and glitter. I consider the ways we grow into new skin, leaving the keys to childhood behind. Sometimes the most harrowing moments are those when we discover we have become strangers to the child we were, and sincerity or candid moments grow heavy and hard to grasp. There is an opaqueness that develops over time, like old film that becomes low in color saturation and high in noise and grain. We forget how to be raw in our interactions with people. We grow isolated with our online shopping and self-check outs. We are self-conscious and demand validation in all things, and we try to impress.

It's a recycled notion. Everyone understands "childlike innocence." But watching these girls turn ideas over in their heads allowed me to see more clearly, and I feel I have scratched the surface of something monumental in my life - something buried deep below the dull, messy places of my heart. I feel as though I have discovered an old clock buried in a junk yard, one that when exposed reveals much more than it's mechanical pieces. Later on, I read a chapter in a beloved writing book about the old maxim write what you know. I am relieved as I keep reading that the author believes that while the advice has merit, it's not the whole truth. He continues on about how we must write what ignites our interests, how the fictional version of you does not have to be the whole story or any part of the story. We can observe the things outside ourselves to be story-tellers, and there is something entirely voyeuristic and thrilling about "guessing the unseen from the seen" as Henry James puts it. There is an art to taking secret peeks into the lives of others, in writing about your passions, and when presented with the question "what do you love most and what do you hate most" I am hit over the head with something quite alarming.

What I love and hate are both largely encompassed by vulnerability. It is the fuel and the block, it both paralyzes and inspires me. The books and movies and conversations I tuck away and hold dear are those that involve raw, honest, human interactions. I love to read about them and love to cherish them in my own life. Vulnerable conversations are magnetic, and I truly hunger for those moments that are redemptive or stripped of socially awkward reactions because we are in sync with some aspect of the shared human condition. At the same time, I've developed a sort of paralysis when given the opportunity to be vulnerable and often real with people (strangers) and I shy away from them, dodging conversation because, well, it's easier. I want to avoid an awkward question about my political beliefs, what I 'do,' what books I like to read, or anything that would suggest I'm an expert in my own life because, point blank? I'm afraid of what you'll think. I never believed I could be "this" sort of person. I was always that kid who didn't care what people thought about me - so unaware of any type of social ladder... but moving to a new place strips you of who you thought you were, and that is the truth. These interactions suddenly feel like an interview and my palms are sweaty. I don't trust myself, perhaps, to be interesting or passionate enough for you or your question, and even if I am, I fear you won't see it the way it needs to be seen so I better leave myself to myself. I'd also love to know you and the life stories you carry, but I'm too afraid to make you feel uncomfortable or set up any type of situation that is awkward. It's like even a hint of vulnerability demands an answer and it is too much pressure. I honestly feel like a Sims character with two large, red minus signs plastered on my head, meaning one of us made a social faux pas, and if we're ever in a coffee shop don't ask me what I'm writing about in my journal. Why do I act this way? Why do I prefer to be left alone when I truly believe real relationships are to be sought after and held close? I know the answer has to do with fear, pride, identity issues, an unhealthy idolizing of approval, and a self-consciousness I caught like the flu that is so awkward I honestly don't know what to do with it. Regardless, I am encouraged to have realized this about myself and have decided to finally take action by the obvious and truly transforming solution of prayer. I have also decided to write until this paralysis is exposed and cornered. I will talk about this with y'all some more later, but there is a plan in the mix involving letters to strangers and ending a neglect of vulnerable potential. I'd love to hear your thoughts on this, especially if you are anything like me and don't want to be an ant anymore (see clip below).

clip from the movie Waking Life


  1. letters to strangers. sounds awesome already.

  2. yes! it's going to be epic. Hoping it inspires creativity in some shape or form.


"Pleasant words are [like] honeycomb, sweet to the soul and healing to the bones." Proverbs 16:24