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






Conundrum of creativity

creative life

A conundrum, dear friends, is a dilemma, or in more complicated terms, a “paradoxical insoluble,” a  “logical postulation that evades resolution.” I’ve been evading resolution as long as I can remember. A conundrum is what I am and a conundrum forever I shall be.

So may it be with you.

I can’t help but think of Jamaica Kincaid’s short story, “Girl,” when I think about my life. “Girl” is a very long monologue that is a very short story, and while it seems to be from the mother’s point of view, I can hear Girl’s voice, speaking the words like her mama and seeing herself as she thinks her mama sees her.

Do all people, especially creative people, in moments of doubt, see themselves like that? Like characters in somebody’s else’s story? Reading the prescribed script? Playing the expected role?

Like Girl, I know the rules, when to do what and where. But I don’t hear my voice. I hear somebody else’s monologue. Don’t sing benna. Don’t play like a boy. Don’t pick people’s flowers.

There’s a part of me that wants to push past my fears to break the rules and to spit into the wind. But my fears won’t let me. Thus, resolution I can never find.

When my daddy was a little boy, his dog, a family pet, turned on him. Turns out, the dog had rabies, and the little boy who became my father had to go through rounds of shots in his stomach. And because of that bad experience, both my daddy and my mama warned me about ALL the dangers in the world.

And I listened, taking every precaution to avoid ANYTHING that could cause me harm.

I continue to listen. I’m very, very cautious. But creative people have a spirit within them that’s like a tornado. How can you tell the wind not to roar? The sun not to shine? The flowers not to bloom?

I grew up on the outskirts of town near a stock market where animals were bought and sold. My greatest desire as a little kid was to own a horse, and when one escaped from the market, I believed destiny had brought it to my door, or in this case, my backyard.

I remember it so well. My mama was literally hiding behind a tarnished picket fence, holding back the neighbor boy she used to babysit, and screaming at me, “Get back! Stay away!” And I was trying to catch it. I saw no dangers, just a horse.

Even though they mean well, sometimes there are people in our lives who warn us to get back or to stay away from the very thing God made us to be. I’m not saying we should trust our impulses. I’m saying we needed to lean on our instincts and discernment.

So, dear creative people, especially those of you who have a heart that desperately desires to use your talents for a greater purpose, here are words of encouragement.YOU are a writer, a painter, a musician, or a poet, you CREATE. Put down the coloring book and connect the dots, and find yourself fresh canvas, a blank sheet of paper, or a new day, fresh with morning dew. Then do what you do. Don’t be afraid.

I am a teacher, and I am a learner. And I have spent most of my life learning the rules and following them. Here is what I know.

  • You have to know the rules and master them before you break them. That goes for writing fiction, non-fiction, or song. A novice who marches into the industry with a first-attempt “masterpiece” that breaks all the rules will get NOWHERE. Fact is, you have to pay your dues, earn some respect. Bottom line–leave the arrogance at the door and slip into your humility. You’re going to need it if you’re going to fulfill your heart’s desire.
  • Once you truly know your skill, then you can try something new. Then, and only then, should you attempt to color outside the lines or to change the rhyme scheme. Choose your own metaphor here. You’re the artist. You know what works for you.

Once you learn the skill and pay your dues, let go of your fear and try something new. This is the part where you have to hush the monologue in your mind so you can hear your own voice. You may fail miserably, but you may succeed.

Isn’t it worth taking a chance?

The wise man in the storm prays to God, not for safety from danger, but for deliverance from fear.  ~ Ralph Waldo Emerson

There is no fear in love, but perfect love casts out fear. For fear has to do with punishment, and whoever fears has not been perfected in love.

“I hope you still feel small when you stand beside the ocean. Whenever one door closes, I hope one more opens. Promise me that you’ll give faith a fighting chance. And when you get the choice to sit it out or dance. I hope you dance.” ~ “I Hope You Dance,” recorded by Lee Ann Womack, written by Mark D. Sanders and Tia Sillers