Sunday, April 3, 2016

The Courage To Be Vulnerable





This blog is about vulnerability and how it connects with the creative process.   We’ve all had people in our lives so guarded we rarely see beyond their masks.  Occasionally, perhaps at times of great sorrow, rage, or joy, we get a glimpse, a spark, a piece of something we recognize as genuine.  Many guarded people see vulnerability as a weakness, as leaving themselves without defense and open to attack. I disagree.

What is often thought of as vulnerability is really strength. Sharing our deepest fears and regrets is a courageous and unifying act. Our vulnerabilities, not our strengths, connect us as human beings and help us to avoid the aloneness of never being known. Most of us have made discoveries about a dead loved one and wished we could have known this while they were alive. When I was going through my mother’s things, I discovered a box of poems she’d written. I was 29-years-old, had written poetry my entire life, and had no idea my mother wrote, too. I was stunned. And a bit hurt, as I thought I knew her better than anyone. Why hadn’t she shared them with me? I suspect she was afraid to be that vulnerable. But her fear was misplaced. It would have been a great gift and inspiration to me to hear those poems in her voice.

Readers of my blogs often comment or question the way I go deep into human emotions. They talk about the courage it takes to be vulnerable. And perhaps they are right. Perhaps vulnerable people are brave enough to be honest and true to both their hearts and their convictions. In this era of so many different modes of communication—Facebook, Google Plus, Twitter, Instagram, etc.—we select bits and pieces of ourselves for public exposure—more concerned with our presentation than with our true selves. And while I understand the necessity of a certain anonymity for public media, I can also see the inherent dangers in terms of self-knowledge.

Making any kind of art takes tenacity, a deep need to create, a belief you have something to say and, above all, the courage to say it. Perhaps all good art is an expression of vulnerability and suffering because of the way it opens the mind and heart to newness. For writers, making our characters vulnerable means we give them courage to show up and be seen. It is the most authentic state of being—this place where you are open to the darkness, the light, and all the shades and shadows in between. Being vulnerable allows you to write deeper, more emotional characters. How many times as writers have we gotten rejected by an agent or editor because, “I just couldn’t connect with your character.” Discover your most authentic self. Write about fear, pain, resentment and heartache—dig deep into your own emotions—and your prose characters will come alive. Readers will feel the connection.

One of the most effective ways for a writer to gain sympathy for a character is to expose his wounds. Vulnerability is the gateway to that exposure. Sharing deep fears and regrets can and does make us feel vulnerable, but it is an ultimately unifying act and will connect our fictional characters to our readers. When a person or a character is open, he begins to heal both himself and others. And so I challenge you to have to courage to be vulnerable in your lives and in your writing. Go forth and be BRAVE. 



Susan Clayton-Goldner was born in New Castle, Delaware and grew up with four brothers along the banks of the Delaware River. She is a graduate of the University of Arizona's Creative Writing Program. Susan has been writing most of her life. Her novels have been finalists for The Hemingway Award, the Heeken Foundation Fellowship, the Writers Foundation and the Publishing On-line Contest where she received a thousand dollar prize. Susan won the National Writers' Association Novel Award twice for unpublished novels and one of her poems was nominated for a Pushcart Prize.

Her poetry has appeared in numerous literary journals and anthologies including Animals as Teachers and Healers, published by Ballantine Books, Our Mothers/Ourselves, by the Greenwood Publishing Group, The Hawaii Pacific Review-Best of a Decade, and New Millennium Writings

Susan shares a life in Grants Pass, Oregon with her husband, Andreas, a blue-eyed feline named Topaz, her fictional characters, and more poetry books than one person could count. 




1 comment :

Sue Coletta said...

What a wonderful post, CP. I miss our talks.