Recently, on Facebook, I wrote a status update as follows: “It is impossible to create without being resiliently vulnerable”. This statement elicited quite a response, most of which was positive. People also raised questions around the statement and though I don’t think I have any greater answers about vulnerability than anyone else, I thought I would try to address the whole idea of my version of vulnerability and put it out there. Much of this blog comes from a letter I sent to a friend a few days ago addressing this whole subject, so take this as nothing more than a letter to you, my reader.
It has been said that I express myself easily through my poetry – that I am able to effortlessly articulate certain emotions, political ideas or moments in time. I can state, without exception, that this is not true at all – it takes a great deal of time, effort, will and work to craft each piece I perform or publish. For each poem or story, I am forced to engage with myself, my history, my ability with language. It’s like starting with a block of steel and trying to hammer something into shape that reflects the beauty and ugliness that life is (that we are: the dichotomy of white vs black, good vs bad etc) and then present it as a sculpture my audience can relate to, can find beauty in or sometimes be repulsed by. What I’m trying to say is: this shit don’t come easy (and I’m not talking about work ethic either) – not for anyone, no matter who they are. If it did, it wouldn’t be powerful. It wouldn’t be beautiful. It wouldn’t move or inspire or stimulate conversations.
From my perspective, it all stems from a conscious understanding of my own vulnerabilities and the willingness to allow myself to be vulnerable. This idea cannot be explored without first exploring my own philosophy on suffering.
There is no gauge for suffering, but we have all suffered. Your pain and my pain are the same, though our experiences are different. Our pain is the same as all the other millions (billions?) around the world who suffer. This doesn’t lessen the validity of your pain (or mine or theirs), nor does it deny the traumatic experiences you (or I, or they) have suffered (however dramatic or not). In fact, I believe this philosophy makes pain a collective experience rather than a solitary experience. To make pain a collective experience then is to understand it all to be a shared suffering. If pain becomes a shared experience (rather than an individual experience) then the load is instantaneously lighter. I want to lessen the load further for myself and for others and so I choose to strip naked (as it were) in front of people and carve out new and old wounds as a way to say “look, when cut we bleed, all of us.”
There is no way to describe how terrifying it is to do this in a room full of people. Nor can I describe how painful it is to relive some of the worst moments of my life over and over again. However, I’m not painting myself as a martyr because there is of course absolute exhilaration from the connection with strangers – strangers who come up to me and tell me of their experiences. Strangers (who become much more than this by the very act of sharing) who I would not have connected with had I not allowed myself to be vulnerable. That human connection we actively seek to remind us that life (existence?) is more than simply this: eat, shit, breathe.
Imagine if I didn’t allow myself to be vulnerable – all the magic of existence I would miss out on! People, flesh and blood and of a species the same as me. Matter, atoms – created from the same stuff. One fucking universe and we’re all separated by our lack of vulnerability. Because we’ve been hurt before. Because we need to protect ourselves and from what? Ultimately – ourselves.
But that’s the stage right? Easy to be vulnerable on stage when accolades follow. So what about life? To people I give a shit about and want to know, I am always open and vulnerable. To the worst perpetrators of violence (physical/emotional/sexual) against me? I am (have been) open and vulnerable. There was a time when I wasn’t like this at all – and you know who suffered? Me. I suffered because by closing myself off from the world I restricted what meaningful relationships I could have with others. Why live like a stalk in a forrest? Why not be a tree with huge branches, millions of leaves. Of course there is the risk of fire, of axe men – but there are the same risks in being a stalk. In short – I believe it’s better to live vulnerable and open than closed and cut off, because when the hurt comes, it comes anyway.
And oh will the hurt flow. It will flow like lava through our veins into our volcanic hearts. We will explode with the pain that will come. But so will we explode with absolute joy. Yin and yang. Black and white. Good and bad. Beautiful and ugly. Because surely, if being vulnerable opens us up to greater risk of hurt and pain then the opposite is true too. Balance. Cohesiveness. Existence.
If we take the statement “there is only one truth – there are no absolute truths” to be true (a philosophical paradox I know!) then I have accepted these to be my truths: People are going to hurt me. Life is fucked up. I can’t help but love. People are going to love me. Life is beautiful. I want to love.
Here it’s important for me to tell you that I do not walk around with my heart on my sleeve – I don’t wear rose coloured glassed. I do, however, control my own vulnerabilities and I make choices of when the fortress needs to be in place (I wouldn’t survive otherwise) and at what moments I should allow myself to be vulnerable (for it is a risk each time). A lot of the time I fuck up in that I chose the wrong time to be vulnerable (if there is such a thing, and I’m still not sure there is) and the wrong time to keep up my defenses. But I’m not a god. I’m just a beating heart beneath ribs and being mortal means I fuck up. A lot. And will continue to do so. I’m willing to keep learning, changing, evolving, seeking, fucking up, loving, failing, living, asking. Falling. Standing. Falling. Standing. Falling. Falling. Falling. Standing.
Sometimes, the hardest thing about being vulnerable is that we become a mirror for others, and sometimes they don’t like the reflection. We, the actively vulnerable, will often fall/suffer for them. So it is true too that sometimes we cannot stand our own reflection, reflected back to us by others who are vulnerable. True vulnerability means that we allow others the opportunity to be vulnerable – even if this makes us uncomfortable.
Sometimes, we mistake vulnerability for weakness – I believe this to be the greatest contributor to what divides us.
This is my philosophy, to be resiliently vulnerable, as much as possible, and willing to accept the consequences of that vulnerability. There is no one right philosophy, idea, etc. This is not an instruction manual on how to be vulnerable (nor would I pretend to be able to write one). Rather, this is simply a description of how one artist/lover/daughter/sister/fighter/human tries to live a life vulnerable.