As an introspective extrovert, my employment of first person pronouns was once inexhaustible. I didn’t mean to always take up more than my fair share of a conversation–I just had a lot that I wanted to share. Needed to share. Feelings and ideas would tumble out in a torrent. Some people really liked that about me. Some people really didn’t. In my defense, it came from a place of enthusiasm, not selfishness–like a four-year-old who brings everything from her room to show you, because that’s how much she likes you.
After my memoir came out, that urge to constantly reveal myself changed. Something–maybe a craving to be known and understood intimately– felt fulfilled. I had said everything I needed to say, as best as I could say it, and it was time to shut up and listen. It was so easy and satisfying to let other people talk about themselves for a change. I became a much better listener and–I hope–a much better friend.
Partly too, the publication of the book made me feel exposed in a way blogging never had. I’m not sure why that is, but privacy became intensely important for a little while. I’ve yet to regret anything I shared in the book, but I put a whole lot of myself into it, and it felt necessary to pull back for a while, and recharge.
Balance is not static–it’s an ongoing process of correction. We shift our weight from one side to the other, and so we move forward, sometimes smoothly, sometimes lurching.
I must have veered too far to one side, because one of my closest friends recently chided me, lovingly, for not being more open with her when I have my own struggles and problems. I was completely taken aback by her observation, because I thought I was doing everyone a favor these past few years by not burdening them with so much about me. But here was my friend telling me I’ve been withholding something vital to intimate relationships–vulnerability.
Even beyond that conversation, the idea of vulnerability and visibility has been coming up a lot for me in the past year. I’m attracted to those qualities in some people, and repelled by them in others, and I’m not sure I can say what makes the difference–why one person’s self-revelation blesses me, and another’s feels burdensome. Perhaps it comes down to expectations, real or perceived. Perhaps it doesn’t matter, and the important thing is to risk being known and seen; to connect intimately with someone, never mind the people who don’t get it. I don’t know, but I’m being nudged to reconsider my own boundaries with respect to being vulnerable and visible, to paint a new center line.
As a writer who frequently rails against toxic myths of creative success, I immediately loved Austin Kleon’s manifesto, Show Your Work! I know what a generous thing it is to be shown a work in progress, how reassuring and instructive to see the cycle of vision and revision, the stalling and starting, the lurching movement forward.
Maybe it’s just as important to see life in progress, and just as magnanimous to show it.