Be Brilliant, Be Vulnerable

Contradictions and shifted perspectives open us up to a deeper understanding of ourselves and allow us to rise above mediocrity for a more profound and imaginative existence.

Photo by UnShuttered Soul via Flickr

True art requires true honesty, which means that for our art’s sake, as much as for our own, we must learn the skill of vulnerability. 
Julia Cameron

Vulnerability requires that we contradict ourselves,” Cameron assures us. “It requires that we change our minds. It requires that our perspective shift. Vulnerability, which is honesty’s shy younger sister, is the part of ourselves that renders us capable of great art, art that enters and explores the heart.”

Listen, I’m going to give it to you straight. If you want to make great art, if you want to live a truly authentic life, you’re going to have to tear those walls down and shine a light on all those dark little corners you dutifully ignore. It’s going to take a lot of courage, even willful delusion. But I’m telling you, the only way you’re ever going to break through mediocrity and push your creative life to the next level is to embrace the part of you that’s scary and vulnerable.

You must not just allow vulnerability to seep into what you create, but you must wholeheartedly invite it to take a seat at the table; anoint it a valued advisor and let it inform your choices and point you in new and interesting directions.

I’ve spent a lot of time musing on the importance of being both truthful and brutally honest in my writing and in my quest to live a more artful, fulfilling life. As I’ve advised before, when you approach any creative effort, you must “say what you mean, and write it as it is, not as you wish it were.”

Sometimes we lose the thread and meander precisely because we get distracted by the golden ideal of what we desire and expect, when – as the pundits and philosophers always shout from the mountaintops – the journey is the real prize and reaching the final destination is nothing more than a rest stop between adventures.

You have the power of creation behind you when you write with honesty and compassion, not just about your characters, but also in relation to yourself and the personal experience tinting and shading your words. I’ve found the best beacon to guide me through my endeavors includes a deep and unwavering commitment to my current reality AND how I’ve viewed (and reacted to) experiences in my past.

The more you know yourself, the less judgmental you become. 
Aniekee Tochukwu Ezekiel

We are, all of us, pulling from deep within ourselves when we begin writing. You cannot be agnostic about it – you are coming from a particular point of view, you are bringing your own set of beliefs, you are bringing some aspect of “you.”

And at some point, you’ll quiver at that imagined exposure. Your pen will stop, blossoming ink on the page, as you weigh the gamble of pulling back the curtain of your own smoke and mirror pageantry. Your fingers will pause above the keyboard as you wonder, “if I say this…what will everybody think?!”

“Think about your lowest moment and your best experience,” advises Chuck Sambuchino. “I know it’s scary, but if you want your stories to have power, you have to be willing to be vulnerable. You have to be willing to translate your emotions and experiences into ink and paper.”

What makes you vulnerable makes you beautiful.
Brené Brown.

When you grab that flashlight and wade into those closet skeletons, you might find yourself experiencing a sort of “flip-book” of all your previous incarnations. Most of the time, we feel like we have a pretty good grasp on who we are, but identity is fluid, and our interpretations are always influenced by context.

While we might still remember what it was like to be 16 and in love with the boy next door, when we bump into that teenage crush 20 years later, nostalgia battles with reality as we try to synthesize the new wrinkles and thinning hair with the golden memory of youth and freedom and fearlessness. Your younger self could be dazzled by the smile and the easy charisma, but the older you feels a more tempered reaction. Within those dual realities lies a conflict, a deeper understanding of love and self-delusion. Somewhere in all of that mess is a truer version of who you were and who you are now. That conflict and tension is what informs and elevates your writing.

We may think we know how we’ll react in a given situation – what’ll make us sad or angry or joyful – and those predictions are based not just on previous experience but also expectation. We’d like to think we’d stare fearlessly into the face of high school infatuation and coldly recognize past rejections have no power over the present. Or maybe we’re self-aware enough to anticipate a complete unraveling when young, unrequited love alights, perching on the branches like Poe’s raven, whispering “never-was, never-could-be, never-will-be.”

Or, you could end up feeling nothing at all – the scariest outcome because it almost negates all that past emotion. It’s as if the struggles and the angst were wasted efforts.

Love is not love until love’s vulnerable.
Theodore Roethke

“If only I knew then what I know now,” you ruminate as your middle-aged first love ambles down the frozen food aisle, a little less dynamic than he seemed decades ago. What WAS the fuss all about, you puzzle. You feel a little silly, embarrassed for that younger version of yourself as you picture her endless journal entries and sad-song sobbing. I know I sometimes wish I could hug the younger version of me and assure her it will all work out in the end – but something tells me she’d just roll her eyes; after all…she owns her experiences as wholly and completely as I own mine.

“We believe ‘I am this kind of person, not that kind,’” writes Julia Cameron in The Right to Write. “Then something happens, something jostles us, and we begin, begin, uncomfortably, vulnerably, to wonder, ‘Maybe I am not so much this sort of person. Maybe I am a little more that sort of person.’”

“Vulnerability requires that we contradict ourselves,” Cameron assures us. “It requires that we change our minds. It requires that our perspective shift. Vulnerability, which is honesty’s shy younger sister, is the part of ourselves that renders us capable of great art, art that enters and explores the heart.”

To share your weakness is to make yourself vulnerable; to make yourself vulnerable is to show your strength.
Criss Jami

Believe it or not, having an identity crisis is fantastic grist for a writer looking to add a little more magic and energy to the page. When you’re startled by the contrast between who you were and who you are, you can start to access new levels of personal narrative and tap into a wealth of emotion

“Emotion is what will carry your story to the end and leave your readers with a lasting impression,” writes Sambuchino. “If you can make someone laugh, cry, or ache, you have done your job as a novelist. You have made them feel.”

Don’t fear vulnerability – embrace it. If you’re uncomfortable with what you’re writing, you’re on the right track.

“My particular rule for writing—If it doesn’t scare me, there’s no power,” concludes Sambuchino.

“When what you’re writing scares you, it’s usually a sign that you’re being real. When you start to worry about what others will think, that is the writing that will affect people the most. The only way to achieve that is by going to your most vulnerable places.”


Cover photo by Anita Ritenour via Flickr

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