In Brene Brown’s book “Daring Greatly” she begins with a quote from Theodore Roosevelt’s speech “Citizenship in a Republic.” The speech is often referred to as The Man in the Arena speech because its message reminds the listener that the person who is brave enough to jump into the arena and make the attempt (at whatever it is they are trying to accomplish) is the worthy one – not the critic who sits on the sidelines delivering judgement and critical report. “The credit belongs to the man who…strives valiantly, who errs…who at best knows in the end the triumph of great achievement, and who at worst, if he fails, at least fails while daring greatly.”
I want to be that person. The kind of person that dares greatly. And lately, I begin to wonder if I’ve got what it takes. If I’m cut from the right cloth that will allow me to dive in, again and again, despite the outcome. Releasing your work into the world has a way of challenging you in brand new and unexpected ways – ways that can be more than uncomfortable, and often times, decidedly painful. To be an artist, a writer, a sculptor, a film maker, a poet, a painter, etc…these pursuits demand an exposure of the internal kind. We who embark on this path must be willing to stand naked before our audience while they judge us, our work, our talent; throw confetti or banana peels, shout praise or hurl insults, commend us or belittle our attempts. It is what it is, I get that. But this journey of releasing yourself, exposing yourself, does run the risk of making those who tell our stories, who paint the heavens, who release granite into wonder, who send our ears and hearts soaring with song…less willing to be vulnerable…which thus limits the entire act of creating.
There is a tendency to view vulnerability as a weakness, a failing somehow, as though it is something we must hide from others, out of shame. I don’t see it this way, and neither does Brown. Brown reveals how vulnerability allows a person to access internal strength, courage, and truth. I agree, through my own personal experience. I would add also, that vulnerability is a portal, the beautiful doorway that allows us to feel connection. To be vulnerable is to be open. To create is to be open and hence, vulnerable. It is the artist saying “I am willing to show you myself” and the viewer saying “Yes, I want to see.” And in the best of all worlds, through this exchange, a transformation takes place: a larger window from which to view and understand the world. Connection is our tenuous, invisible, gossamer string that reminds us that we are each other, and that we are nothing without each other. And the arts heighten and elevate this truth, removing it from the abstract, to a place of tangible meaning, and form.
Just recently, I self-published my first novel. It was an accomplishment, and one that I took (and take) pride in. But, to my surprise, a few weeks after publication, I began to feel something else. The discomfort of feeling exposed. People I knew were beginning to read my book – a book that I lived with for nearly a decade, and…suddenly, it felt like a decade long naked chunk of me was out in the world ready to be dissected by anyone who cared to have at it, toss it to the wolves, tear it to pieces…or worst yet, say nothing about it at all. It’s been a challenge really, in truth, and I’ve felt a bit of myself slip.
To help me regain perspective, I re-watched Elizabeth Gilbert, of Eat, Pray, Love, and her brilliant and inspiring talk on TED about the creative act, and the pressure/fear of its demand. There are so many examples of “genius” artists that have gone off the deep end – it’s such a common demise for artists that we’ve come to accept it as “normal” and hardly bat an eye when they take their own lives, or drown themselves in a river of toxication. As a writer, an artist, I don’t want that to be my tollbooth, I don’t want that to be the carved path that my foot must ultimately trod. Must creating be a painful act? (or for me, the release of the work into the world!) Must we scourge our souls to bring into light the depths of what it means to be human? Gilbert explores this in a gracefully methodical way – and what she discovers is like a warm welcome light that can shine in our work spaces and studios and remind us that we are not alone, and that creating does not need to be our end. I highly encourage you to click on the TED link above and watch her presentation…she is reaching out, to you, me, to all artists, throwing out a line of connection.
For now, I’m going back to what matters – the process. Waking each morning, getting my kids ready and off to school, and coming home to meet the page. That’s my job, that’s where my focus needs to return. I’m going to continue to do what I can to market my book, to get it out there, to get it read by as many people as I can. But – I’m going to remove myself from expectations (as best I can) about friends and family that haven’t read it yet, how it’s selling, what people have to say about it, or not say about it. I wrote the best book I could write, and now it’s time to move forward. So that’s my truth :) I am afraid my book will fail, that people I care about and love, will not love it…(meaning, love me?) and that is something I will try to learn how to let go. I did my job, I showed up, for years, and I wrote, and I listened, and I wrote more….
…now it’s time to write again. And perhaps, it’s time for you as well:)