Vulnerability: The Art of Falling Forward

The state of being a writer is sometimes a mercenary one. Everything is material, even the most raw moments of one’s life. Over the last seven and a half years, I’ve exploited myself, without mercy, to write posts about the many (many!) lessons I’m learning just being alive as a human.

canstockphoto40288322I took a hike yesterday morning on a regional park trail. Five feet from the trail stood a young doe, busily munching away at foliage. Her head jerked up and she looked at me with dark eyes, her long ears flicking. I stood stock still. She went back to eating. I crept a little closer and stood still again. She glanced in my direction and continued snacking away. It felt like a reward for patience, to be allowed to stand there and watch her.

It occurred to me, for just a second, to pull out my phone and take a picture. There was a choice here: to fully have the experience or to try and create a facsimile of it, likely sending the doe running off into the woods. It wasn’t a hard choice. Pictures rarely re-create an experience and what was the point? On the road behind me the park shuttle, with its open cars, began to pass by. The doe remained despite the shrieks of the shuttle’s passengers. Ooh, get a picture!

Writing is my version of getting a picture, but with more lenses at my disposal. I can shape a narrative, cut out the boring bits, use this word or that. It is still an attempt to capture time, but the very process is a safari. What I discover is usually the point of it for me, not the subject itself.

At times, this blog has felt like a confessional and at others, a practice in seeing the lesson in every nook and cranny, to redeem moments that may seem bereft of any usefulness. The intent was always to sharpen my writing skills and writing here has done that to some extent, but it has also made me fearful that I am incapable of writing anything else.

Fear has been a big player in my mind lately. It’s been a tough eight months. My mother-in-law died, I had a health scare, we had to euthanize a pet, and then there was a medical crisis with my daughter. When it comes to life stressors, I’m racking up some frequent flyer miles. It’s left me open – tears in front of strangers, writing raw words in public, a sense that I am always in recovery from something. And the constant interaction with friends and family and medical professionals, while necessary and/or appreciated, has laid waste to my inner sanctum of solitude and quiet.

canstockphoto82616Part of me wants to close up shop for the season, shutter the windows, batten down the hatches – emerging only when I have my shit together, my composure composed, my armor firmly in place. But I know that is a feeling born of fear – a fear that I somehow won’t be regarded a serious writer or person, because I have shown vulnerability.

Not to feel exasperated, or defeated, or despondent because your days aren’t packed with wise and moral actions. But to get back up when you fail, to celebrate behaving like a human—however imperfectly—and fully embrace the pursuit that you’ve embarked on.

Marcus Aurelius, Meditations

If there is anything I find intolerable these days, it’s living a life based on fear.

We see the outcomes all around us, when people live fearful lives. Our entire culture is a feeding frenzy of fear and anxiety. Our politicians exploit them. Advertisers feed them and sell us the “cure”. The wannabe sociopaths see opportunities for gain. I’ve lived a tight, quiet life of barely controlled fear and anxiety for decades, but I tend to do a lot of things that cause me more anxiety on purpose, in the hopes that I’ll become less sensitive to shame and self-consciousness. No dice thus far, but vulnerability is a habit now and somehow, I have to believe that it is a good thing.

…and that visibility which makes us most vulnerable is that which also is the source of our greatest strength.

Audre Lorde

It is my usual way, after a life event, to evaluate how I should move forward – as if I can prevent the next crisis by living a better life, being a better person. It’s a superstitious behavior on my part that has no impact on the random nature of life. I am also tempted to isolate myself, to regain a sense of privacy and decorum, but I know that’s a long ago voice in my head whispering protect yourself, don’t let anyone in, don’t get hurt, be invulnerable.

I know that it’s in my best interest to stand still, to not indulge distractions, to not steamroll my emotions, or ignore the bruising nature of being open. I recognize my fears, but I refuse to engage on their behalf. I feel the creeping anxiety of not being seen canstockphoto13006520as fearless or strong or serious or professional, the very same defense that would prevent creativity, connection, and compassion. Self-protection, taken too far, becomes a prison.

Life is improv. It only gets better if you stay open, say yes, follow new threads, stay in the moment. You will look foolish, seem silly at times, perhaps lose the respect from those who prefer non-messy humans. But you will be living, in the words of Brené Brown, with your whole heart.

32 thoughts on “Vulnerability: The Art of Falling Forward

  1. Michelle,
    Yes, absolutely. Wishing you the support and solitude you need, and at least some moments of peace. Thank you for sharing your stories with us. You help us all live more wholeheartedly, too. ❤️

    Liked by 1 person

  2. You are brave. I can’t explain it — I just know what I see right now, and this post shows signs of bravery. It will expand if you give it a chance (you probably know this). That’s been my experience with vulnerability and showing one’s self in a blog/journal. I hope the rewards of your opening up have been at least as good as mine.

    Liked by 2 people

    1. Thanks. I think there are often unseen rewards. One of them, of course, is that when you acknowledge your own vulnerabilities, you are better able to understand those of others. At least that’s what I hope – for something bigger than just staring at my own navel.


  3. You are so right about staying open, but as in all I respect moderation. I too am having a very tough year including things I can’t write about me because of others.

    Liked by 1 person

    1. It’s a fine line, as a writer, to know what to leave in and what to leave out. Brene Brown talks about the fact that vulnerability without boundaries doesn’t work. I have some limitations in what I’ll write about, but I’ve also learned to be less “precious” about my life – so many things we universally share as humans. What those boundaries are, we each have to decide for ourselves.

      I’m sorry that you’ve been having a very tough year, Luanne, and I hope that you have a good support network of friends and family to help you through. Perhaps the belief that has solidified in my head over the last year is that everything, for good or for ill, is transitory and we have to take from it what we can – hopefully something of redemptive value. But when you’re in the middle of the maelstrom, it’s sometimes hard to see.

      Liked by 3 people

      1. I am the type that puts her head down and keeps on trudging through the mud, but I’m getting old and it makes me awfully tired! My best support is that my daughter lives in town now. Other than that I wouldn’t say my support system is particularly great, except for blog readers ;)!

        Liked by 1 person

  4. I understand the grip fear can have, but it tends to feed on itself. As you let go of fear, you become an inspiration for others, as this blog shows. That deer wasn’t afraid. I think of the contrast between human angst and the spontaneity of nature and wildlife, which take things as they come.

    The constant stress of fear and worry is a major cause of the chronic health problems so many people face today. If the body is in a perpetual “fight-or-flight” defensive mode, the hyper-arousal eventually wears it down. So be sure to claim your alone, reflection time, too. It fuels creativity and palliates the fear.

    Liked by 1 person

    1. I often turn to sources of inspiration when I’m trying to get myself together and Brene Brown is my source this time. She talks about “foreboding joy” which I think can be likened to keeping your body in a fight-or-flight mode. I’ve found that the biggest need for recouping my sense of self has been sleep, the foundation for all things and that, along with reading has been very palliative. I just have to be patient.

      Liked by 1 person

  5. I regard you as a serious writer and person precisely *because* you show vulnerability. At the same time I understand your fears. I know I’ve gulped, more than once, when I’ve pressed the publish button on a particularly self-revealing post. It’s hard to put yourself out there warts and all. (Oh the humanity!) I’ve always admired your willingness to do that. And found your writing more interesting because of it.

    Liked by 2 people

    1. Thanks, Allison. I think we are simply conditioned to protect ourselves – beyond what is healthy and good for us. A lot of that is due to the nature of social media. Vulnerability with boundaries is a juggling act. I’m finding that if I always wear protective armor, my world gets so small and that just seems untenable to me.

      Liked by 1 person

  6. I have been contemplating starting a blog, yours is the most closely relate-able I have ever seen. Being new to the scene, I would like to say thank you. I understand the fear that has held me back from writing for years while casually observing other writers. The fear of being too raw or the fear of being good or bad. I have always loved to write but for the last 4 years I have been writing only papers for college and letters to friends and family. Seeing how I graduate in a few months, I think I will start back writing for fun and part of that has to do with knowing because of you and your commentators , I’m not the only one. Thank you all.


    1. What I’ve learned is that too much of my life has been defined by my fears. There is a balance between living fearlessly and living recklessly and what is tolerable for one person is not for another. With blogging, it’s a nicer place to practice writing than on other platforms – a slower pace, a more invested community (other bloggers), and something where the rules are your own. Best wishes to you on your writing journey!

      Liked by 1 person

  7. A fertile mix of reflection, quotation, personal experience, speculation and observation – very brave of you to write that way about adversity but very heartening to others as writers and, yes, people. Ha, writers are people, who knew? 🙂 All the best to you and yours …


  8. Just know, your vulnerability lifts me. It assists me to rise. It makes me think deep. It reminds me I am not alone. Your vulnerability is beautiful. Your process in becoming is remarkable. Your ability to speak your truths out loud, despite what’s happening within is admirable. Don’t let fear win, you have no idea the length and depth of your reach. I enjoyed your piece. Thank you!


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