Sunday, July 21, 2013

Vulnerability

What is the number which makes something a trend? And what makes a trend a simple truth?

In all of my reading, writing, and--more importantly--experiences of this summer, I've learned that it is vulnerability which allows for personal growth.

Most recently, I've been reading Stephen King's On Writing. (It's part of my summer goal to read books on writing by writers; I NEED for my students to shift their identity from students to writers.) King writes, on page 127 (Link to Amazon), "I'm convinced that fear is at the root of most bad writing." That's a bold, simple statement. The fear of knowing all the rules, the fear to share, the fear to reveal soul. There is just so much to fear when we write, but it appears, from King anyway, that overcoming the fear is the key to success.

King, by himself (no matter how powerful his voice), does NOT make a trend. I've also read Anne Lamott's Bird by Bird (Link to Amazon), though. And she's hitting on the same sentiment. On page 198-199, she writes this in regards to the author's voice:

"You can’t do this without discovering your own true voice, and you can’t find your true voice and peer behind the door and report honestly and clearly to us if your parents are reading over your shoulder. They are probably the ones who told you not to open that door in the first place. You can tell if they’re there because a small voice will say, 'Oh, whoops, don’t say that, that’s a secret,' or 'That’s a bad word,' or 'Don’t tell anyone you jack off. They’ll all start doing it.' So you have to breathe or pray or do therapy to send them away. Write as if your parents are dead.'"

So, there's another important writer suggesting that we must rid of our fear in order to write honestly, to write well. Lamott understands the power of vulnerability and she encourages it in others.

By participating in a month-long writing workshop called the Lake Michigan Writing Project (a branch of the National Writing Project), I was able to put these authors' thoughts to practice. Between blog posts, scribbled notes, and finished pieces, I played with vulnerability. I tried to reveal myself--even in the darkest places. It's there, in the darkness, where I grow. I wrote this poem about that very thing.

For the First Day
I grow in the dark
Unlike perfectly planted flowers.
No, I grow by discovering my cavernous self
By shining a light on monsters that hide within.

In the darkness, there IS truth
And school doesn’t really want you to know this.

We say–
“Here–let me tell you everything I know and you give it back to me.”
“Let’s do some meaningless worksheets.”
“Let’s do some note-taking where you find the definition around the boldface word.”
“Let’s do some work that doesn’t really matter, so you can sit with your friend in the hall and copy from each other.”
“Let me teach you, in EVERY class, about what the ACT expects, so we can keep our standard.”
“Let’s really DO nothing and pretend that it’s something great.”

But, that’s the light.
That’s the surface.
No growth there.
Just recycling,
Reusing.

The growth is in the darkness.
Over time, I’ve looked at my own darkness:

My children’s birth stories:
the ones that I know (three months premature for the twins–on the brink of death and life)
and the one I don’t know (where was Nia born? in a house? on a street? how DID her mother come to the decision of giving her up?)

My marriage disputes:
the ups and downs
the expectations and the falling short
the silent–
pauses–
which hold–
so–
much–
tension.

My weight:
the thing that frustrates me to NO end…
and I can’t see an end to this battle, so
every time I look in the mirror, I lose a little confidence, but I DO gain–
gain the knowledge that my life won’t be as long unless I do something about this.

And it’s in those dark corners
In those shadows
I grow
Because I share things that scare me.

Fear is my fertilizer.

And I need you, students–
To sit by my side
In the darkness
And grow.

Finally, the trend is complete thanks to my tribe of writers developed from the Lake Michigan Writing Project. It's not just King, Lamott, and me who believe in the power of vulnerability. When our group of seventeen decided on a t-shirt slogan to capture our month together, we went right to vulnerability, right to the quote we heard the most throughout the month: "I've never shared this with anyone..." We recognized that it was that fear of sharing things we never had before which allowed us to become so tight after just one month together.

Now, we have to get that vulnerability from our students. We have to show them that it is that vulnerability which will create more empathy, allowing all of us to be better writers. Ah, who am I kidding? If we can create more empathy, we won't just be better writers, we'll be better people.