V stands for veil, vulnerability, and valor


Because of you
I never strayed too far from the sidewalk
Because of you
I learned to play on the safe side
So I don’t get hurt  ~ Kelly Clarkson

Can you believe Kelly Clarkson was only 16 when she wrote the words to “Because of You”? The words in this song are so raw, so full of vulnerability.

Artists—musicians, poets, novelists, painters, sculptors, photographers, etc.— are naturally vulnerable. They slice open their veins just to let their emotions pour onto their art. They open their hearts and let people see what makes them ugly–and beautiful. Artists may hide themselves behind a thin veil of metaphors, symbols, or carefully designed wording, but they know the people who care to know will look behind the veil.

Kelly’s song resonates with me because as a kid I was terrified of everything, and as a result, I never learned how to open up to people, not even my family. People usually describe me as being “so nice.” And I try to be. But I don’t let people get too close. I’m too afraid.

I’ve always been afraid.

I came along after the birth of a stillborn child, so my parents were terrified something would happen to me too. They wouldn’t let anybody or anything get to me.  I didn’t date. I didn’t go to parties. I didn’t have friends over to my house.

And all of this not doing turned into not trusting–others and myself.

My dad loved cars, and we talked cars quite a bit. But when it came time for me to drive, I feared I would make a mistake. It wasn’t until I was an adult that I drove on the interstate. It wasn’t until I was an OLD adult that I drove in downtown Nashville.

Growing up, I lived in a anxiety-ridden world of what-ifs. My parents possessed multiple police scanners and knew every code for every potential disaster. Even when I married and had children of my own, my parents called every time they heard a 10-46 (code for an automobile accident with injuries). They had to make sure I wasn’t driving.

Spending so much time alone as only child, I became very sensitive to reading my parent’s body language and subtle facial features, so what I came to fear most, even more so than their wrath, was their fear. Thus, I avoided doing anything that could cause them fear. Their fear made me even more afraid.

When my first child was born, I didn’t tell my parents I was going to the hospital. I’m glad I didn’t. The birth of my first child was the most traumatic moment in my life because we both almost died. I don’t think I could have persevered through their second-hand fear. I had enough of my own.

When I was little kid, I didn’t want to go on Sunday drives to a little community in my county called Hoodoo because it seemed so far away–actually it was probably fewer than 30 miles from where we lived. I was afraid we would become lost and I wouldn’t make it back to school on time. I went all twelve years of school without missing a day or being late.

As I grew older, I stopped showing my emotions. The last time I “acted out” as a kid I was playing softball. It was my turn at bat, and I struck out. I became frustrated and threw the bat down. My parents chewed me out up and down for “showing myself.”

From that day on, I vowed never to “show myself” to anyone again.

And so I became a writer. How ironic.

I started out writing about other people’s lives. I still felt the sting of rejection when editors didn’t like the way I worded something, but it wasn’t until I started writing a novel and blogging that my artistic flair began its battle within.

I can count on one hand (a hand missing a few fingers) the people who know me. Writing makes me reveal part of my soul. I still keep most of myself closed off to most people, even family. Opening up is like giving myself away.

I do give my students a part of me that my colleagues don’t see. I do reserve a part of me just for them because I can empathize with their fears.  I teach a journalism staff of six students. None of them have extensive experience writing news articles, so I know when they get their first articles back with red ink smeared all over them, they will feel as though I have personally attacked their souls. I wish I could help them get through the pain.

If there is one thing I fear the most, it’s being rejected by somebody I finally open up to. And that’s why I empathize with my students. I have asked them to be very brave and to show me their best work, knowing I will tear it apart and hand it back to them. How will they ever trust me again?

I decided to put together a pep talk to pick them up after I knock them down. I hope it helps. And if you are a beginning writer–or a human being who is as afraid as I am–I hope these tidbits help you too.

  • So you feel vulnerable right now. Just remember vulnerability is a GOOD thing. If you were cold and calloused, people would never trust you. A tender heart just means you’re real. People prefer real over phony any day.
  • Take time to meditate upon WHY you feel sensitive right now. The answer may unveil a truth about yourself or about someone else who is important to you.
  • People who struggle with vulnerability issues are more likely to be PATIENT with other people who are afraid. Patience is a quality other people appreciate.
  • Vulnerability, at first, makes a person feel weak. But when people rise up after being hurt, they usually come back much stronger.
  • If you are vulnerable and scared, don’t show it. Fake confidence. No one else needs to know. The more you fake being strong, the easier it will be for you to make it through tough situtions.
  • Vulnerability is a GOOD thing because it prevents us from making the wrong move. When we become intimate with someone, we totally let down our guard and expose all vulnerabilities. Being reluctant to be vulnerable prevents us from being intimate with the wrong person.
  • Vulnerability is a GOOD thing for writers, especially, because it prevents us from saying the wrong thing. Once we lose the fear of rejection, we are more apt to print whatever comes to mind. It’s not always a good idea to print or say the first thing that comes to our minds.

Examine your own vulnerability both as a human being and as a writer. Please feel free to share your thoughts in the comment section.

“To love at all is to be vulnerable. Love anything and your heart will be wrung and possibly broken. If you want to make sure of keeping it intact, you must give it to no one, not even an animal. Wrap it carefully round with hobbies and little luxuries; avoid all entanglements. Lock it up safe in the casket or coffin of your selfishness. But in that casket, safe, dark, motionless, airless, it will change. It will not be broken; it will become unbreakable, impenetrable, irredeemable. To love is to be vulnerable.” ~ C. S. Lewis






12 thoughts on “V stands for veil, vulnerability, and valor

  1. Very Interesting Teresa, The part on Childbirth I think God spared you to make a difference in other people’s lives, Myself being new to Manchester starting over again I am so glad to call you my Friend meeting You and Kevin has made moving here alot brighter, I never played on any sports team as a kid< the one choce i made for myself was when i satrted High School i took JROTC instead of PE my family said it was a dumb thing but it is the only thing that kept me in school I was blessed with two wonderful teachers my Sargent in ROTC and my Graphic Arts instructor, Keep up the good work and I hope you make a difference for many years to Come

    • I’m so thankful to have you as a friend. You step right up to encourage others, especially me. People need encouragement. People need people like YOU!

  2. The more I read your blog posts the more I can see myself behind the written words.

    One of my college friends once told me that I was a very hard person to read. I keep myself closed off until I know people better. I try to be more open, but it’s hard to do when you’re safety net is to be polite, find a nice thing to say, and hope that person isn’t given a bad impression of me.

    Whenever I’m frustrated or angry or excited, I’ll write a poem or type up a piece to a story. It’s pure emotion, but those are the best pieces written.

    • I like to write songs when emotion hits me. But I have never once written my deepest, darkest feelings, for fear someone else would read them, myself included. I understand your safety net. “Nice” is mine too. Of course, in times of crisis, the net isn’t always there to hold you up. If you’re like me, you find yourself even more isolated. Just remember the people who love you see the side the everyday people can’t see. They love you for who you really are, not just an image you project. 🙂

  3. Aye, good twin. You write my soul. I think myself not so much “afraid” as maybe “resigned”. Coming from a childhood of mulit-generational schizophrenia and a socio-path sibling, I learned quickly that no one was to be trusted. I wasn’t afraid, well except for my life, I was more resigned to (accepting of) the fact that people WILL let you down. My motto for decades was, “Never ask nobody for nothing cause that’s exactly what you’ll get”.

    As i’ve grown older, and hopefully wiser, I have come to understand that my childhood experiences were, umhhh… unique, and not the way of the world. People needn’t know the horrific stories from my youth — perhaps THAT is what i fear writing about the most, people might learn my secrets — and I shan’t fear the past.

    Head spinning. Some places be too hard to go. For if’n we go there we might not return…
    Yes, dear friend, I honestly believe i know you better than you think. 😉 ♥

    • I don’t feel too much like deep waters. I’m not shallow, but I think my waters aren’t so murky. I try to be crystal clear and honest with my emotions. I don’t like games people play. I hate games people play. I really do think you should write a book. It’s not what people think it is, writing a book. It’s not easy. But you have a story, many stories. I am very seriously thinking about self-publishing a book of local folklore to sell in local shops around here. When I went to Salem, MA, I found some of the most interesting reads in self-published books, more like fold over, stapled booklets. This wouldn’t be like the mass-produced novels you see in Barnes and Noble. I digress. Your stories from your youth have a purpose. Why don’t you consider going to a memoir workshop with me some day. I don’t have a very interesting story about my life. (My stories are all in my head.) I haven’t done anything. 🙂 But you do have a story, and it’s worth sharing.

  4. I got chills reading this…in a good way. I loved the pep talk, it really helped me center myself and be open for another writing session. And the final thought about falling in love with someone…how true.

  5. I have trouble trusting and opening up to people, too. I’ve been hurt many times by use-you-then-lose-you types of people. I still have trouble dealing with the suspicion that a person is being nice to me just because they want something, not because they care about me. Writing and performing songs brings the heavily guarded parts of my soul out into the light. I often shake when I play or sing in front of people because I feel like they can see too much of me—I fear giving people insight that could be used to manipulate and hurt me. My comfort is in knowing that God is my refuge. I am trying to open up to people more. I am thankful for His love that gives me courage.

    • Well said. I feel the same way. I am the type of person who will go out of my way to help–not because I want a pat on the back or thank you, but because I want to help. But it sure feels so bad when I finally see the truth behind people’s actions. I feel foolish. God is our refuge. I think some people believe God will treat them the way other people have treated them. I know better, but sometimes I wonder if I still keep my guard up around God.

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