This morning I awoke from a disturbing dream: I had left my MAC with some friends in a computer lab in Mexico City and needed to communicate. When I finally made it across the city, I found my equipment disconnected and not where I left it. The attendant of the computer room turned out to be Fernando, one of my Spanish teachers from the language school I’d attended in Mexico City. Fernando had been a sweet, easy-going fellow. In my dream, he had turned manipulative and controlling. He spoke politely, I had committed some error and I was not going to use a computer, and no way was I going to collect and carry away my own equipment. In fact, he planned to take it—he wanted to suppress my voice. I woke up frustrated and feeling very vulnerable. I haven’t thought of Fernando in eighteen years. What could this possibly mean?
I turned to my journal, wrote down everything I could remember about the dream and assessed everything I was feeling. As Julia Cameron says, “Writing it out, I stepped back to safety. Writing it out, I experienced my vulnerability and used it to find strength.” As I wrote something shifted. I left my morning pages feeling positive and ready to face the day.
But that isn’t all. I began to uncover meaning. I’m not in Mexico, and I don’t have connection to people from my school anymore except through my memory and my writing, but I’ve got the right to speak! Don’t I? I used Amber Lea Starfire’s prompt #6 under the chapter, Authenticity, in Week by Week to explore my feelings: Free write for ten minutes about the fears you have about doing what you think you’d love to do. What might happen? Is it okay to be happy? Why or why not? Write about the worst and best that could happen….
In my memoir, Saints and Skeletons, I’m talking about some things that some people, including me, may not want to share with the world. I’m writing about things that make me vulnerable, but that’s good. If I write from a place of vulnerability, I’ll be speaking honestly. I will practice in my journal. The journal will allow me to break out of my patterns and create myself in a new way, using the vulnerability and honest talk as a tool to describe my life and direct it. I’ll clear out some of the brush that hides the truth about me and my life—in this case, about my life in Mexico. I’ll use the journal to make myself brave enough to stand up to the Fernandos of the world, and tell it like it was, openly and compassionately when I get to the ‘for publication’ pages.
I’m discovering that as I write to my vulnerabilities, I make myself more transparent—to myself—and more open to what it is to be human on earth now. In a way, I’m developing a greater depth of compassion for myself through journaling, a compassion that spills over to my fellow humans (I never lacked animal compassion!) Julia claims that if she writes it, she begins to practice it, and ‘it’ is more empathy for people—a fine skill for a writer to embrace.
The idea of writing from a place of vulnerability can be frightening. It can leave the writer exposed and uncomfortable. I’m no different but I’ve noticed that once I write about something and let it go, I don’t own it any more, or maybe in the writing, I’ve dialed down my vulnerability and I don’t feel so uncomfortable. Maybe it’s easier when I remember that I want to express myself, and to do that I must poke around inside to find out what I feel and why. Practicing in my journal is my first step to creating the art I want Saints and Skeletons to be. I can embarrass myself, contradict myself, and change my mind in long hand until I find my authentic, honest voice. Then I can take it to the computer, yes, the confiscated MAC, and imbue my work with my tender, vulnerable heart. Fernando won’t be able to take that away.
Class prompt: Julia Cameron’s Honesty Initiation Tool from The Right to Write
I call this tool the “Flashlight.” Putting things in black and white gives us a flashlight to find our way through the gray. We begin by honestly asking questions. We answer until we arrive at honest answers. The writing itself is the clue to when we are on the right trail. When we are writing honestly, the writing heats up and we can feel that. When we get cold feet about the truth, our prose goes cold as well. The we need to pry the icy surface and see what we can dig up. We can try sentences like:
“If I let myself admit it, I…”
“If it weren’t so risky, I’d…”
“If it didn’t scare me, I…”
“If it weren’t so stupid, I’d…”
Under the surface we find our conflicting feelings, the “yes” and “no,” the “I love him but…” specificity of emotional honesty. We can trick ourselves by word games into self-disclosure when we are stymied:
What animal is he?
What season is it?
What kind of music?
Using language, there are a hundred different ways to excavate our buried truths, to arrive at our difficult knowings.
“If it weren’t so threatening, I’d admit…”
“If I let myself know it I feel…”
“If I let myself feel it I should…”
“If I let myself entertain the thought, I should…”
“I’m not ready yet, but eventually I need to…”
Any of these gentle prods moves us closer to honesty. When we arrive at internal honesty, internal clarity, it becomes far easier to take external actions. It is a matter of breaking down actions into very small, do-able increments. The page is an ideal place for lists, for brainstorming, for venting and inventing.
Assignment for class: Work with Julia’s prompt. Focus on some unresolved anger. After you’ve asked and answered your questions and feel you have a grasp of this anger, write a rant! It may be a song, poem, short fiction, personal memoir, or a scene in you current project. How much energy, honesty, and vulnerability can you pack into your rant? Bring it to class and let us hear your vulnerable, honest voice.
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