I’m teasing you with that post title. I do want to talk about vulnerability, acknowledging from the get-go I can’t possibly address all the different kinds of vulnerability. There are costs and benefits for each type, but how we weigh them will be vastly different. We don’t get to eliminate vulnerability, I mean, we can avoid it, do our best to minimize exposure, but then when we feel super safe a gust of wind’ll sweep right in and reveal all. Perhaps if we each move forward acknowledging that all of us are walking around with exposed patches of vulnerability then we can be the tiniest bit kinder—I won’t say if I mean kinder to ourselves or to others because either would be grand.
Lately, I’ve been off, like a headache that won’t quite go away, but instead of pain, it’s a sense that I might break. I have aches and tweaked parts, irritability, and frustration that slips just out of reach of my vocabulary. Am I mad? Tired? Sad? Confuzzled? There is no one to blame and nothing in particular that I can say to people who love me when they ask, “What’s wrong?”
Enduring moments of vulnerability
A few days ago we were doing a photo shoot at Trampoline, my turn in front of the camera had finally come. There had been a steady stream of Tramps working to make whoever was being photographed feel comfortable. They’d fix stray hairs, make goofy faces from behind the lights, and do anything they could to distract from the fact that we were in the midst of a photo shoot. The photo below is early on in the process. I have about 15 pictures that Staci snapped, each more awkward than the last.
Let’s break it down:
My lips are pursed.
My eyes look scared.
I’m doing my go-to nervous finger-lock.
I bet behind the stool one foot is back like it’s trying to break on a roller skate.
I was terrified because when I am having my picture taken every awful picture comes rushing back like the flashback scene in Armageddon. The misshapen, mint green velour sweater and constipated face on my 3rd-grade class photo, the ill-advised navy turtleneck and high waisted pleated jeans and orange belt in that snap from my exchange year in Spain. I can hear the hair stylist who said, “You should always lead with your right side, no pictures from the left. Ever.”
I half expect photographers to pop their heads out from behind the camera and say, “Do you need a minute?”
Nope. Rob kept clicking away while giving me small notes, “Tilt your head a bit to the left, ok, now try straightening your shoulders.”
Vulnerability on any level is still vulnerability
I once wrote a post about my relationship with weight. A dear friend and woman I admire left a comment that began with admitting frustration I would rant about weight. It is an understandable reflex for any of us to look at someone or something and almost without thinking assign whether it or they are worthy of concern or pain. I don’t think we are particularly conditioned to go deeper than, “If you don’t have anything nice to say then don’t say anything at all.” We miss so much because I believe that, as my friend demonstrated in the rest of her comment, we gain immeasurably when we reframe how we perceive things to include perspectives other than our own.
My greatest vulnerability isn’t being in front of a camera, but it may be the one that most frequently presents itself. My guess is we all have long lists of things that expose our vulnerability. A few more of mine:
Singing out loud.
Talking about my reading list.
Speaking Spanish out loud.
Standing with other moms.
Trying to explain what I do.
Talking women’s rights.
I am trying to do all of it more, except maybe dancing.
Getting comfortable with myself means owning my lines
I am uncomfortable in front of the camera. It’s ok. The worst thing that can happen is I hate a picture, which can then be deleted. This particular vulnerability isn’t going to destroy me and I can choose who I really let in to see me like that. I’ll never forget how Artist Mom treated me during a private shoot at Mom2. She talked with me, asking me questions, and letting me know what was and wasn’t working and why—none of it was my shortcoming. She talked about the ways to let ourselves be present in the images that emerge. It was so foreign to enjoy myself as I did.
After a few minutes of shooting, Rob offered to let me look at the pictures. I cringed, my stomach fluttered, and my hands got a little clammy.
“Ok, let’s see them,” I said.
It wasn’t long before I was laughing with relief. I did not love them all, but I saw parts of myself that I liked on the screen. The magic of that particular moment was the gift that surfaces when you present your vulnerability. Sure, there will be assholes, loads of them in fact, but there will be people who are kind.
Vulnerability isn’t a weakness
We are going to have plenty of challenges lobbed at us, pitched at us at super high speeds in the dark. We’ll stumble and falter, or lash out with words we regret, that’s living. Apologizing for vulnerability or making it feel like it weakens you is something that you don’t have to do. I genuinely believe that these parts of us are things that can guide us in who to trust and when.
The truth is coming here to write has been something that has been incredibly easy for the past 14 or 15 years. This post is pushing through some thick trepidation. My words may meander, the posts may be spotty, but they are here and they’re mine. I choose to share them with you and I thank you.