I have written for years but only recently started sharing again. After a recent post, a couple of girlfriends reached out to me on a group text, to ask how I had never shared this secret of mine. The answer is simple - vulnerability. Whether you have a knack for putting together words and structuring paragraphs or not, sharing your inner thoughts and how you process life in your head is very personal. It is why diaries come adorned with locks.
For a writer, the feeling of vulnerability isn't absent, it hopefully becomes overshadowed by the compulsion to take the words and sentences floating around in your head and the need to pour them out on paper and make sense of them. The way a photographer sees a sunset cast a shadow in a unique way and is compelled to grab a camera, or how I imagine a runner feels the need to run, even without a destination. The last one still boggles my mind because the only time I have ever been inclined to run is if one of my kids is about to dart into a street, but to each his own.
When asked why I was hesitant to share my writing, I responded by asking them to envision standing nude in a room filled with fully clothed people. Their response was "Get naked". Not, literally, in a weird Girls Gone Wild way, but figuratively, which can still feel just as weird and actually a little scarier for me.
Usually, I have my mom, husband, or best friend read over pieces before I publish. Generally, my mom cries, my best friend tells me how much she loves my writing, and my husband has a similar answer when he finally has a chance to read it, in between running our restaurant and being a dad. Having those closest to you believe the words floating out of your head are gold, is great. Everyone loves a compliment, but what I am usually seeking is a different type of feedback.
My high school creative writing teacher popped into my head the other day. “Wonder if he would be willing to read a few pieces and offer some guidance?”, I thought. A few days ago, after a quick search on Facebook, I sent him a message:
Dear Dr. Blankenburg,
My name is Shannon Armenis, previously Kearney. I took your creative writing class, as a sophmore in high school, about 25 years ago.
You probably will not remember me. To be honest, there was nothing memorable about the writing I submitted and shared in your class. I was much too busy hiding during my high school years, rather than displaying myself.
But you, you wore your pain and failures like a badge of honor. Proof that you had lived life, with no apologies and this has remained with me. All these years, I never stopped writing, although it did take many years to gain the courage to begin sharing and I have you to thank for that.
I am aware that you have mentored many writers over the years. Would you be willing to read over and critique a few pieces I have written? I do not have a writers’ circle, and I would be grateful for your input in any capacity.
Once a Comet, Always a Comet.
I was not alarmed when I did not receive a response the next day. However, I found out yesterday he had passed away, the day after I sent my message. Is it coincidental that I thought of him and sent him a message the day before he died? Absolutely. But I am a strong believer that, intuitively, we are somehow connected to the people that have had an imprint on our lives, whether they realize it or not. Dr. Blankenburg never knew how he had affected my life as a writer, but I did.
Vulnerability is not only the key to elevated writing. It is also the key to elevating the encounters we have with other people. When we open ourselves up and share our stories, with honesty, we may just reach someone. Many times we will not be aware of those hearts we have connected with. We may not receive a thank you note or a hug. We may not receive a like or a comment. A lack of response does not always indicate a lack of connection. Although not visible, the imprint we leave is still there.
Sometimes, it’s quiet eyes behind a computer.
Sometimes, it’s a struggling mom in a grocery check out.
Sometimes, it is a 15 year old girl trying to hide in a creative writing class 25 years ago.
"The greatest use of a life is to spend it for something that will outlast it."
- Willam James