Is it safe out here?

Writing, for me, always involves a confrontation with inner terror. At the same time that I harbor this compulsion to share the crystallized moments and epiphanies that make up the structure of my life, I also have a deep fear of self-exposition. Isn’t that neat? I’m a fan of paradox and irony, even when they use me as the butt of their jokes, which this certainly does.  Or maybe it’s just that we all get the tools to grow into ourselves, however those tools may arrange themselves in our lives.

So I try to use them, even though it’s only gotten slightly easier over time. Some of the easiest, most free-flowing writing I ever did was under a pseudonym. Since I began writing under my own name, the degree of difficulty has soared, and my productivity has plummeted. Clicking “publish” on this blog is always hard, and the simple act of sharing each post on Facebook is actually excruciating. But the older I get, the more invisibility chafes. I’d rather learn to put it all out there, the hurts and the vulnerabilities and the hopes, instead of papering over them with bravado or arrogance. I’d rather be whole.

Contrary to popular wisdom, my experience has not been that when we face our fears, they turn out to be overblown or imagined. Instead, I find that I usually get exactly what I feared. The lesson isn’t that our fears are somehow illusory; it’s that we can handle those things that terrify us. We can live through them, incorporate them into our existence, even grow from them.

I think that truth is built into the cellular structure of life, which may explain why I ended up with a brain that insists that I write about and photograph the world, and yet is so terrified of clicking “share.” My friend the ground squirrel and I have the same dilemma: you gotta leave your hole to live your life. There are hawks out there, but that doesn’t change the equation. You have to do it anyway.

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5 thoughts on “Fear: The ground squirrel’s dilemma

  1. I agree that opening up can be frightening. But it’s essential to making connections with other people. Sometimes sharing our fears and vulnerabilities helps us realize we’re not alone. And it can lead to relationships in unusual places (like on FB!).
    On a personal note, I wasn’t sure how much to put on FB about my current family situation. But the outpouring of love, understanding and support has touch my heart and eased the burden.
    Besides, Jen, you are a gifted writer.

    Donna

  2. Donna, thanks. I always value your thoughts, and I think you’re right about making connections. I know all of this intellectually, and yet, it’s an effort that must be made, a space that must be crossed, every time. Particularly with respect to Facebook, which is populated by people who have known me in vastly different ways and at all points of my life. For someone like me who has chosen toughness as a defense mechanism since approximately the age of five, that’s daunting. And yet, I’d rather be whole, and true.

    And as to your personal note, I’m so glad you shared, so the burden was lightened.

  3. You see, this is why I tell everybody that you are a genius. My guess is most people feel this way, creative people especially. I’ve done the same thing, in choosing a profession that requires me to expose myself daily, while at the same time going to great lengths to obfuscate my real self to avoid the hawks. I’ve just recently begun the process of climbing out of my hole, growing and moving forward. It’s terrifying, but liberating at the same time. And you’re right: shit DOES happen. I’m right there with you in the better “tough and angry” than “weepy and vulnerable” category, but opening that up can bring unexpected rewards as well, as difficult as that may be to do. And I don’t mean to say that I’m good at any of it. Just that I’m trying. So I appreciate your writing (as always) and understanding your struggle, because I’m right there in the trenches with you. xoxo

  4. I think allowing yourself to be vulnerable in front of people can open up your network in ways you didn’t fathom. At least that’s been my experience. It evens out the playing field a bit – because, in general, people who wear armor tend to be willing to help others but are less willing to accept help in return. It creates an imbalance in a relationship and sometimes that can make others uncomfortable. If you’re vulnerable with someone, then you’ve created an opportunity for them to be helpful to you. Essentially, to return the favor. People like to be able to return the favor. And yes, sometimes people are shitty with that opportunity and you get stomped on. But for the most part, I think people are good and they really do just want to help each other along. So creating an opportunity to be good and helpful for someone opens up both of you. Deepens the relationship as a whole – and then that just compounds interest on the whole being good people helping each other investment. Does that make any sense?

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