I write a lot about pain. I always have. Writing moves the pain through me and moves me through it. Some of that pain-processing stays in my journal, but a lot of it ends up in my newsletters, blogs, social media posts, essays, and books. Over the years people have asked me why I would be willing to be so vulnerable on the page. If you knew me when I was a child, you wouldn’t ask that question. You’d simply (but not necessarily conveniently) know that’s just how I roll. I get deep satisfaction from speaking my truth and seeing how it gives others permission to do the same. I long for that real and raw connection. I’m allergic to convenient niceties. In other words, if you run into me in the grocery store, don’t ask me how I am unless you really want to know.
When I was in high school, I used to say, “If you’re not willing to be vulnerable, I don’t want to be your friend.” Which either confused or repelled people. Now I get asked to give speeches on the power and necessity of vulnerability. I’m not sure how it happened, (Brene Brown likely had a lot to do with it), but vulnerability is du jour. And it’s good for us. Very very good for us. Here’s proof: the number one comment I get in regard to my writing is this: “Thank you for helping me know that I’m not alone.” When I read those words, and I am lucky enough to read them often, it gives me great calm and purpose too. Yes, it’s scary being vulnerable. It’s scary saying the thing that you’re thinking and feeling, especially when you know that it might leave you judged, misunderstood, disliked. But I have always valued human connection more than popularity. People in my industry have asked me, “What’s your brand? What are you an expert in?” And I always smile and say, “Vulnerability. And maybe perseverance.” I often get a blank stare. But the ones who get it…get it.
Admitting to your inconvenient truths/nasty bits can be a threat, a liability, a weak-link. For the most part, I’ve been lucky enough to be treated with kindness and gratitude for it, and whatever criticism might come my way is usually done behind my back, which is better for both of us. (I’m pretty sure I’m an ugly crier. And my skin is about as thick as a Communion wafer). I love feeling like I’m doing good in this world by being vulnerable. Modelling it for others. Showing that it doesn’t make you weak, but rather quite the opposite.
But lately I’ve felt the deep need to draw into myself and “chest my cards” as my grandmother used to say. I’m about to go into hard core book launch, and it will likely consume the next year of my life. I will be out there on the road from coast to coast and in-between in March, and while I’m not the main character in the book this time, promoting its messages will require deep vulnerability. The book stars four women who are engaging in deeply vulnerable conversation in a place far outside their comfort zone. Each is at a major crossroads in her life. None of these women is me. None of these women is anyone I know. All of them are us. And that means…people are going to love it. And hate it. And my little world of women that I’ve lived with for six years, is going to be out in the wide-world with people counting its fingers and toes and deciding if it looks like Yoda or Eisenhower or my great-aunt Eleanor. It’s going to take a lot of energy and courage and self-preservation and stamina and everything that is required of an author on book tour.
So in anticipation of it all…I decided to do a personal experiment for the last six weeks. I sequestered myself at home. Mission: to stare myself down, face-to-face, and see who that woman is these days. It’s one thing to do what I did last year at this time– go to Morocco solo for a month to re-introduce myself to my wonder and sense of adventure. But to do it at home? Alone? I haven’t really tried that. The adventures of an empty, quiet, house with just me, myself, and I, and two adorable loving dogs– (thank God for them)? That sounds much scarier than crossing the ocean and not being able to speak the language. What about the language of self? I wondered: Do I even know what that language is these days, outside of my daily roles?
That’s why I knew I needed to do it. For six weeks I’ve drawn in. I’ve muted myself. I’ve taken to my journal for me and me only. I’ve forced a sort of gag order on myself in public. Which means that I’ve been a social recluse. And it also means that I’ve hardly written a thing professionally… which means that I’ve had to learn how to breathe differently. Suffice it to say that I’ve stayed away from the grocery store. I’ve said no to most every invitation. I spent Thanksgiving in what I called “sacred solitude,” but believe me—there was a lot of Netflix. I hardly touched social media. I let the phone ring and voicemail pick up. I didn’t chat up the Culligan guy. Or the UPS driver. I didn’t really leave my house at all. I went fallow. In other words: I didn’t do no good for nobody. Except for myself. I guess you could say that I was entirely selfish.
It was brutally disorienting. But probably brutally necessary. I needed to get to know myself again. To be vulnerable for just me. Without my usual roles– in-between all things Haven and all things book and all things family…I was dazed and confused. My website is under re-construction. I’m not helping anyone find their voice, write a book, trust a community of kindreds. I’m not exposing myself for any sort of greater good. And frankly…the woman in my living room…was sort of disgusting. I ate what I wanted when I wanted. Mostly, I ate a lot of toast with butter. Lots of butter. I stayed up late and slept in late. There was wine involved. I felt sorry for myself. I felt proud of myself. I felt scared and small and even pathetic. And I felt brave and powerful. At times invisible. And at times too visible. It was like low tide, when you find the flip flop you lost last summer, the untethered lobster pot, the tiny bubbles that tell you that there’s a clam in the mud. And you dig in and scoop it all up. I found a lot of my forgotten self in these last weeks. I was deeply real with myself. I saw my most naked self for only me. I highly recommend it.
And then one night, I just said “Enough. I can’t take it anymore. I need human connection. I need my community! I’m going into town. And I’m going to PLAY!”
I felt like George Bailey in It’s a Wonderful Life. Everything was technicolor and new. I felt like dancing and singing in the streets and a few times, I did. Joy to the World! All the Christmas lights were up—the same ones that are in the movie, in fact! Every lamppost was festooned in wreaths and snowflakes. Town was bustling with people in restaurants, and the shops were open late. It all looked like an Advent calendar, with windows you want to open all at once because you know that there’s something special inside. I opened a lot of those windows that night. Ran into all sorts of friends—old and new. Belly-laughed. Asked and answered a lot of How are you’s. Entered the land of the living and was grateful for my community connection in a way I haven’t been for a long time.
Turns out, I had to radically refuel myself, against all my usual instincts, in order to find my way back to my place on earth. And at the end of this brilliant night on the town, when I came home to my home—my place of sacred solitude—and my sweet dogs…I felt a deep relief. A deep sense of inner quiet. A sense of deep inner knowing. A sense of deep self-acceptance. And a deep knowing that I can go back into my roles as a writer, an author, a teacher, and a mother with the roots of an inner home.
May this holiday bring you that rooting, wherever you are—with the connections that matter most, especially with yourself.
Here is one of the “windows” I opened that night. Going to use it as my holiday card. Trying to find the right caption. Taking suggestions.
So far these come to mind:
My Hot Flash made me do it!
Elf on the shelf
Chestnuts roasting over an open fire
Ho ho no!
Pre-order my new novel, “Willa’s Grove,” from your local bookseller or here. It’s a great gift for the holidays and will arrive hot-off-the-press on March 3rd! This is a book for ANYONE asking the pressing question we all ask many times in our life: So Now What?
Come join me in Montana and find your voice! Write your book! Court your muse…all under the big sky. You do not have to be a writer to come to Haven. Just a seeker…longing for community, inspiration, support, and YOUR unique form of self-expression using your love of the written word!
Haven 2020 Schedule:
February 5-9 (full with wait list)
October 28-November 1
Go here for more info and to set up a call with Laura!