Tag Archives: Vulnerability

Why we need more memoirists.

10 Nov

In the right hands, a memoir is the flecks of gold panned out of a great, muddy river. A memoir is those flecks melted down into a shapable liquid that can be molded and hammered into a single bright band to be worn on a finger, something you could point to and say, “This? Oh, this is my life.” Everyone has a muddy river, but very few have the vision, patience, and talent to turn it into something so beautiful. That is why the writer matters, so that we can not only learn from her experience but find a way to shape our own. -Ann Patchett, afterword of Autobiography of a Face

Though I do love everything about this quote from the afterword of Lucy Grealy’s Autobiography of a Face, the last line of the quote is what really speaks to me. Since I am in the process of writing my own memoir, over the past few months I’ve vowed to read more memoirs to gain a greater understanding of the genre I’m trying to be a part of. Spending more time reading memoirs rather than fiction, I’ve begun to realize what’s so appealing about them. Memoirs tell the stories of people…they dive deep into the love, pain, fear, excitement, love, and joy that has filled each and every one of those stories. People love reading about people. That’s a fact. However, more than that, I think memoirs allow readers to find pieces of themselves in the memoirist, even though the understanding behind those pieces may feel unclear. Either way, those pieces, however different, provide connection…a sense of belonging that was otherwise lacking.

It may seem obvious that the desire for more memoirists in our society is strong. However, though that may be true, the fact of the matter is that writing about one’s own life isn’t easy. It’s hard. Really, really hard. It’s the process of stripping away every mask that you’ve hidden behind for much of your life. It’s what happens when you force your true self out into the harsh light of day, continually resisting the urge to look away in shame. In my opinion, writing a memoir shows vulnerability. It shows courage, strength, and every emotion that we experience throughout our lives. Through vulnerability, it shows authenticity in its rarest form, and that in itself is truly miraculous.

Through reading Lucy Grealy’s memoir, Autobiography of a Face, I’ve started to understand just what memoirists can offer. Other than providing us with the obvious pieces that connect to form a complete, living, breathing life, memoirists give us the opportunity to embrace our own vulnerabilities rather than shrinking behind them. They allow us to come face to face with the contentment that results from being able to face your past, scars and all, head on. They give us the chance to find our true selves, no matter how frightening or foreign that part of us may be. They present us with the opportunity to love ourselves, which in turn allows others to love us just as much, if not more.

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The finding place of my words.

20 Oct

“A tough life needs a tough language – and that is what poetry is. That is what literature offers – a language powerful enough to say how it is. It isn’t a hiding place. It is a finding place.”

The above quote is from Jeanette Winterson’s memoir, Why Be Happy When You Could Be Normal?, and when I came across it this morning while on GoodReads, it really stuck with me. Maybe it’s because I know after reading Jeanette Winterson’s memoir that she had a really tough life. Maybe it’s because I am reminded that even though I persevere and trudge on, I have a tough life. Like Jeanette, I have constantly continued to find myself not in other people or places…but in words.

However, I’m not referring to the idea that literature has acted as my only finding place. Although, I do believe that it all began with literature. At a young age, during the days that I would go inside my closet where I had pillows, blankets and a light, I’d close my closet door and pour over the words. I’d lose myself in the words that I thought only I felt: those words that signified loneliness, being different, feeling pain and not feeling like there was a place that I belonged. Over time, I found myself in those words as I realized that what I was feeling wasn’t just confined to my own situation. I saw myself mirrored in others who, though they didn’t have Cerebral Palsy, still felt some of the same emotions that I struggled with from the very beginning. Even though there aren’t necessarily specific literary characters that I remember feeling especially connected with, it never was about making specific connections. In terms of literature, many of us recognize pieces of ourselves in other characters, and the sense that we are able to relate to them on some level acts as a safety net, a blanket that keeps the cold out, even if only for a moment.

As I began experimenting with my own words and realizing that I too could express the emotions that I was feeling, my own words became my safety net. Even though other literature still had the same effect that it always did in terms of helping me to feel less alone, the discovery that I could use my own words to achieve the same effect was life-changing. Rather than immersing myself in literature that had pieces of myself woven throughout it, I created words that held every aspect of me. Instead of just bits and pieces, I was entirely present within my own words. Within my words, all the emotions were there, waiting to be uncovered. The loneliness, the fear, the pain, the tears, the feeling of being so different that there wasn’t a place that I fit. Within my own words, I made all the emotions visible. As I removed them from the dark places that they had been hiding in for so long, they became even more real. Instead of simply residing in my thoughts, they were given a heart, a way to live and breathe in an environment that was separate from me, and yet was an environment that I had completely created.

Today, not much has changed. If anything, my words have become much more authentic and honest. Instead of beating around the bush in terms of the emotions that I have felt and continue to feel, I have plunged right in. I’ve found myself spending hours sitting in the darkness of my emotions, trying to find the perfect way to give them life. Though uncovering every aspect of my emotions has been one of the hardest things I have ever done, my words continue to act as a finding place. I am the truest I have ever been to myself when I am writing. Because with words, I can’t hide. There’s nothing to hide behind. My words still reside in the place that they always have: inside me. Through giving them life and allowing them to breathe on their own, it’s as if I’m living in two places at once. I’m living my current life, but I’m also living in the words that are written down. If one day in the distant future you see a book by me on the bookshelves, I hope you find me there.

The books that saved me.

2 Oct

Due to Cassie’s most recent post, Dear Fear and Judgement:, I’ve been inspired to discuss the books that have changed my life. I’ve been reading for as long as I have had the ability to hold a book in one hand and a flashlight in the other. After all, all of us who love books know that even when darkness falls, we don’t necessarily put down the books that have grabbed us so strongly out of our reality. Sometimes the arrival of darkness forces us to grab a flashlight, get under the covers and escape into a world that seems just as real as the world in which we are living.

Pippi Longstocking is one of the first books I remember reading from cover to cover countless times. I don’t know if it was the independence Pippi portrayed due to being a nine year-old girl who lived without the constraints of adults or her red hair that she always wore in pigtails that caused me to be so drawn to her. Either way, I remember a particular summer in which Pippi went everywhere that I did. Even when I went on a week-long trip to Edisto beach with my family, Pippi came along for the trip. Though I didn’t take the book with me everywhere, it sat patiently on my nightstand every day, waiting for night to come so that the pages could be turned once more, causing Pippi’s world and my own to collide through something as simple as words.

 

Even though Halfway to the Sky was introduced to me much later than Pippi Longstocking, it was yet another book that became very well-worn in a relatively quick amount of time. Halfway to the Sky tells the story of Dani, a 13-year-old girl who runs away from home in order to escape the recent death of her brother and the break-up of her parents’ marriage. However, Dani doesn’t run just anywhere. She runs to a place that she believes her parents will never find her to do something amazing: hike the entire Appalachian Trail. Even now, I know why I loved this book so much. It involved hiking, which I did a lot of with my family growing up, and it involved the Blue Ridge Mountains, which is a place that I haven’t been able to fully appreciate until coming to live in Asheville last fall. However, Halfway to the Sky created the strong connection I’ve had to the mountains for so long. Even though I have been coming to the mountains ever since I was little, I definitely think that Halfway to the Sky is one of the main reasons that I have felt the desire to fully experience the mountains. There are days that I find myself driving on the Blue Ridge Parkway looking at the overlooks or hiking up to Max Patch Summit, which is an hour above Asheville, just to simply feel the mountain air in my lungs, and ultimately, feel alive.

 

It may seem strange that I’ve included The Bell Jar in the books that have saved me due to the fact that it is a very dark and depressing novel. However, I believe that it saved me in the sense of helping me realize that we all have our own inner struggles that we are battling, and therefore we shouldn’t be quick to judge others because we don’t know what they have to face on a daily basis. Also, since The Bell Jar is essentially the autobiography of Sylvia Plath’s plunge into madness, I think this book may have been one of the first examples of my desire to be a counselor. Even though I may not have realized how much I wanted to be a counselor during the time that I was reading The Bell Jar, I know that if I were to read it again now, it would most likely affect me in a completely different way due to my new-found passion for psychology and counseling.

 

John Green’s newest book, The Fault In Our Stars, came out in January of this year, so it is probably the most recent book that has deeply affected me. It is the story of Hazel, a 16 year-old cancer patient, who is forced to attend a support group where she meets and falls in love with 17 year-old Augustus Waters. Even though it would be easiest to say that this book saved me because the writing is simply amazing, that only scratches the surface of how this book has impacted my life. Through reading The Fault In Our Stars, I have learned what it means to love. However, more than that, I have begun to realize that a huge part of allowing yourself to be loved by someone else is by placing yourself in a vulnerable position. The concept of vulnerability has scared me my entire life because in my mind, it places you in a prime position to be emotionally hurt. However, over the past few months, I’ve realized that the road to love involves being vulnerable. It’s scary, but it’s the only way to truly let someone love you fully. The concept of vulnerability also applies to writing as well because the truest and most raw pieces of writing are those in which the writer is completely 100% vulnerable.

Even though these books may not have necessarily saved me, they each have helped me realize something new about myself that has helped me get closer to who I truly am. For as long as I can remember, books have been the one place where I can go to escape. However, I never realized that they’d end up helping me find myself. Yes, I’m the girl who reads all the time, the girl who always has a book with her no matter where she is, the girl who would rather curl up in bed with a book instead of going to a party. Words have taught me about love, strength, hope, pain, and adversity. However, they have also been the way that I have expressed all of those emotions as well, giving me a way to be as authentic as possible. They are something so simple. And yet, for me, words have always been enough.

 

True Writing Lies In Vulnerability.

29 Mar

“Your task is not to seek love, but to seek and find all the barriers within yourself that you have built against it.”-Rumi

I came across this quote by Rumi this morning, and for a while, I just sat and stared at it. Do you ever come across those quotes that seem to say what’s in your heart better than you’re able to say it yourself? Well, this quote did that for me this morning. Through the process of writing my book, I’ve broken down a lot of barriers inside myself. Barriers that housed the pain, the fear, the details of the really hard memories. Now that the barriers are slowly being bulldozed to the ground, my true self is showing. I kept so much hidden for so long, and now that everything’s being exposed, I feel so vulnerable. It’s scary to think that through my writing everyone will be able to see so much more. They’ll see all the pieces, rather than just the parts that are relatively put together.

Though allowing others to see all that I went through is a big part of writing this book, it means that I’m pouring out every memory, every ounce of pain and fear, to put myself in an extremely vulnerable position. Last year in my Freshman English class, my professor (Dr. Cox), who is now one of my writing mentors, pointed out that reaching the point of vulnerability in our writing was the best place to connect with others, and ultimately, who we truly are. Dr. Cox also told me that writing isn’t “true” unless it costs the writer something. Though I understand what Dr. Cox means, it’s scary to know that by sharing so many details of my life, strangers are going to get a picture of who I truly am, inside and out. Though I have no doubt that putting myself in a vulnerable position will allow others to better connect with who I truly am, I feel like I’ll no longer have certain memories that are mine and mine alone.

However, through this book, I want to connect. I want to show other kids and families that have kids with Cerebral Palsy that they are not alone. I want to show them that I’ve been there and I understand. However, to do that I must break down all these walls in order to share the memories that will put me in the most vulnerable position possible. However, though vulnerability is scary, it’s also raw, true and the most honest portrayal of myself I can provide to my readers.