Being Vulnerable

I have been thinking about  what it means to be vulnerable and vulnerability.  Why is it so scary to be vulnerable?  I think one major reason is when you have been vulnerable and someone has hurt you during that time, you remember that pain.  The pain of being hurt when vulnerable is intense and is seared into your soul much like a burn leaves a scar upon your skin.

Another reason that it is scary to be vulnerable is because there are people in the world who prey on others vulnerability.  Just this week in the paper there was an article about a scam that preys on those looking for employment.  A couple years ago friend of mine was on a dating site and had to report a scam artist who had contacted her.  Just the other day I heard about a scam that calls and leaves a message saying you are about to be arrested unless you call a certain number in 24 hours.  The list of scams and scam artists is unending.

But this is not the type of vulnerability I am talking about.  I am talking about the kind of vulnerability that happens when we share our souls with someone else through our art, through relationships, through taking risks and/or by asking for help.

A good friend recently lost his cat due to illness.  He lives out-of-state, but when he was here, we would hang out, cook together and watch movies or TV.  The cat that passed away was called Mines.  Mines was very shy and did not bond with just anyone.  Well, I got along great with Mines.  When my friend moved, I have to confess that I missed Mines just as much as I missed my friend.  So when I got the phone call that Mines had died, I was so surprised.  Mines was only four years old.  I was saddened by the death of Mines and could feel the pain of my friend.  I also felt honored that my friend chose to call me and share his sorrow with me.  He was in a vulnerable place.  He needed someone he felt safe with to share his loss.

I have been in that place myself.  Where I have needed to share my pain in loosing someone or something important to me with someone who wouldn’t be judgmental and who would treat me and my feelings with respect.  Right now think about the people in your life.  Do you have people who you can lean on when you are feeling vulnerable?  I feel like I have several people in my life that I can be vulnerable with.

Why does it scare people to say that they need help?  What is it about sharing our weaknesses that terrifies us so?  I am the poster child of not wanting to ask for help.  I fear that people will see me as weak or stupid if I ask for help.  Being stubborn and not asking for help when I need it has caused me to get into some pretty stupid situations.  I have gotten better about this as I have gotten older, but; it is still a struggle.  There are times when you need to ask people you trust for their input.  When I first started writing posts for my blog, I would read them to friends when I was scared that the post sounded stupid and/or I wasn’t sure if the subject matter was appropriate for a blog on creativity.  None of the people I asked for help have treated me as stupid or see me as weak because I asked for their help.  In fact their help, guidance and encouragement has made me stronger and more confident.

Why is it important to be vulnerable?  I shared my pondering with one of my creativity classes.  One student said that it was important to be vulnerable.  That we needed to be vulnerable in order to push the limits of the box.  The idea intrigued me and I asked her to expand on it.  She said that if we do not experience new things, put ourselves out there and take risks, the box that is our world gets smaller and smaller.  Smaller box means there are fewer people we allow in and we don’t allow ourselves to participate in new experiences and activities.  But by taking risks, being vulnerable and trying new things we push the boundaries of the box and open up a world of possibilities for ourselves.

In February I was emailing a friend.  We started sharing some very personal experiences and feelings.  I don’t think that normally I would have shared these things but I felt very comfortable expressing myself to this person.  Well, the next day I didn’t hear from him.  I immediately felt that I had shared too much.  I felt extremely vulnerable.  I wondered if the relationship with this person was worth the vulnerability that I was feeling by taking a risk and sharing.  It turned out that my friend had a situation happening in his life and just wasn’t able to email me.  I felt a huge surge relief.  I do feel like this relationship is worth the risk of being vulnerable.

It’s not always easy to share very personal feelings or experiences.  It is scary to take risks that we know will change our lives forever.  It is nerve wrecking to share a new poem, our latest artwork, or song.  The possibility of rejection is out there.  But so is the possibility of acceptance.  By being vulnerable we give someone else the opportunity to say, “Hey, me too.” and/or “I understand what you are going through.” and/or “That’s really good.  Keep up the good work.”

Figure Yourself Out

Don’t ever tell someone else how they feel.  Ever.  Period.

Emotions are complicated.  Very complicated.  And sometimes I don’t understand all of the things that I am feeling.  It would be very presumptuous on my part to think that I could tell you how you are feeling.  Although I am pretty sure that I have been guilty of doing this on occasion myself.  But I try very hard not to because I know how frustrating it is when someone does this to me.

“No one else has lived your life, heard all of your jokes, experienced your disappointments, listened to the noise in your head.  As a result, no one else sees you (and your actions) quite the way you do.

And, to magnify the disconnect, every single person has their own narrative, so even when two people see you at the same time, they have different interpretations of what just happened, what was said.”  -Seth Godin, Seth’s Blog “The foggy Mirror”

While at art school in Seattle, Washington, I met many amazing creative people.  I was dating a guy that I’m going to call M.  He was a very creative artist, did stand-up comedy and was very good at telling me how he was feeling.  That was great.  But then M would tell me how I was feeling.

For example.  One Friday, he had a gig doing his stand up and he wanted me to go.  I had misunderstood the directions on a project for my color theory class and the professor was giving me until Monday to do it over and do it right.  Friday night was the only night (because I worked on the weekends to pay for my education) I had to do the project.  I told M that I couldn’t go because I had to do this assignment again.  He told me that I didn’t want to go because I was mad at him.  I asked him, why am I mad at you?  He said something about not having lunch with me.  That was also my choice.  I cancelled lunch in order to go on a class field trip to the Seattle Art Museum.  When I pointed that out.  He then told me I was jealous and that is why I wouldn’t support him.  I told him he was being ridiculous.   (Probably not the right thing to say.)

While I was working on my homework that night, I kept thinking about the interactions of that day.  I realized that this was a pattern with M.  We had only been dating a couple of weeks but he was constantly telling me how I was feeling.  M had no idea how I was feeling and it made me angry when he would tell me how I felt.  And I realized at that time, that this wasn’t going to change.  I broke up with M the next day.

I was discussing this behavior with a friend of mine.  He told me that his Mother does this to him all the time.  It started when he was young and continues to this day.  When he was younger he would try to tell her “no, that is not how I feel” but it would just cause arguments.  He has since realized that he cannot talk to her about what he is feeling.  Now when she tries to tell him how he is feeling he changes the subject.  He said that it is best to avoid these conversations with her altogether.

I have noticed a pattern with people in my life who tell me how I am feeling.  Frequently they don’t express their own emotions very well.  They often live in their own heads and project what they are feeling onto others because expressing their own feelings is terrifying.  I understand.  Emotions are complicated.  Puzzling out how I feel about something is hard enough without me telling you how you feel.

I try very hard not to tell someone else how they are feeling.  And I ask that others not do this to me.  Instead I suggest we ask each other, “How are you feeling today?”

Meant to Inspire

The choice to teach outside the set structure of an educational institution or museum was not an easy one.  But I did not want an organization dictating the parameters of “creativity.”  The other thing that concerned me was that there are so many people craving creativity/art classes who cannot afford the cost of institutionalized creativity/art classes.  So in 2008 with a creative friend who is a writer and film maker, I began teaching creativity classes using the book The Artist Way by Julia Cameron.  By teaching outside the mainstream we could share the message of creativity at a reasonable price that anyone could afford.  After some life changes for both parties, in 2012, I started teaching on my own.

I have created curriculum for four levels of creativity classes.  These classes can help anyone on their creative journey.  It doesn’t matter if you are a photographer, writer, quilter, actor, metal smith, sculptor, pianist, film maker, poet, chef, explorer, painter, cartoonist, blogger, florist, musician, disc jockey, knitter, dancer, gallery owner, director, etc.  Using creativity boosting activities, journaling, projects, inspirational films, field trips and even an occasional “Art” trip, I challenge my students to look at creativity in new ways.  Always encouraging them to try new things.  Push boundaries and be true to themselves.

My theory about creativity is that every person on this planet is creative.  It is just through life experiences and happenings that some people are more in touch with their creativity and others have lost that connection to theirs.  I teach creativity classes in order to help people find their creativity, awaken sleeping creativity and be a positive example of what it means to live a creative life.  So often when I meet someone and say that I am an artist and creativity coach, I am told by the person I am meeting that they are not creative and they can’t draw a straight line.  My response, “Yes you are creative, you just haven’t discovered it yet and rulers are for drawing straight lines.”

“Thousands of candles can be lit from a single candle, and the life of the candle will not be shortened.  Happiness never decreases by being shared.” – Buddha

I find making art to be an act of sheer joy.  When I am working on one of my boxes, a series of collages, a post for my blog, lessons for a creativity class, or any of my creative pursuits I feel alive, whole and complete.  I am uplifted by the creative work.  Creating inspires me to keep going, making new things and challenging myself.

I strive to be a positive creative force in the universe.  But I also need to hear inspiring messages from others on the creative path.  I am, just like you, striving to learn and improve myself every day.  The point that I am trying to make is, we are meant to inspire each other.

It is sad and quite disheartening when political, religious, and influential people from all over the globe teach or shout messages of hate.  It is even sadder and more disheartening when a local high school teacher degrades and humiliates a student and their artwork in front of other students.  This “teacher” has caused a creative block that will take years if not decades for the person she humiliated to work through.

I had a student who was in her seventies when she took the my creativity class.  She shared a story about one of her creative blocks.  She had always been very tall for her age.  In her school choir classes she would stand in the back row and sing with her whole heart. When she was 12 or 13 a teacher told her that she shouldn’t sing.  That she should just mouth the words instead.  My student was devastated.  She never sang out loud again.  The words of one person had the power to quite literally silence a voice.

My student shared that she still wished to sing.  We talked about the fact that the teacher who said that had become her internal critic when it came to making a joyful noise.  We talked about ways to silence this critic.  We talked about ways that she could sing and feel comfortable.  Her church choir was recruiting “new songbirds.”  She auditioned and was accepted.  She was finally singing again.  After sixty years of thinking that she couldn’t sing, she had auditioned and was accepted in a choir.

I hear these kind of stories over and over.  Believe it or not, when a teacher, mentor,  employer, person says these kinds of things it is not personally directed at you.  I know, it feels like it is.  It feels like a verbal slap to the face.  But it really has nothing to do with you.  It is all about them.  When we tear someone down it is to satisfy our own insecurities.

I want to make it very clear that I am not talking about when someone tells you something to be helpful (they let you know your pants are unzipped) or warn you (you are going the wrong way on a one way street).  I am talking about things that are said purposefully in order to inflict pain and suffering.  I have talked about the power of words in a previous post.  The things that we say to each other have the power to inspire or hurt others.  Are you saying something to help build someone up?  Or are you saying it to tear them down?

A friend shared an experience she had with unsolicited advice.  Our local library has really branched out by offering foreign films, art exhibitions, volunteer presentations on travel by local individuals, TED talks, and other educational opportunities.  My friend did a presentation on a trip she had taken to Ireland, Wales, England and France.  She is not fond of public speaking, so this was an incredibly brave step for her.  She gave her presentation and felt it went well and was glad to have had the experience.

A couple of days later, in a public place, a woman, who thinks that she is of status in the community and who attended my friends presentation, approached my friend and proceeded to critique her presentation and give her advice about speaking in public.  My friend did not ask for this woman’s advice nor solicit her comments in any way.  This woman’s behavior and unkind words hurt my friend.

I don’t care who you are or who you think you are…. I can postulate that you are a pompous ass to just go up to someone and critique them or give them unsolicited advice.  Do not give someone advice unless they ask for it.  Do not critique someone unless they request your opinion.  When you critique someone or give them advice that they have not requested what you are doing is NOT helpful.  It is harmful.

This woman who felt compelled to critique my friend is dealing with demons of her own.  I often find people who are pompous asses to be incredibly insecure and terrified that others will see them for the small people they see themselves as.  This fear drives them to be bullies and bullies thrive on inflicting pain and fear.  This woman deserves our pity, not our fear.

If you feel compelled to tell someone something, try giving someone you don’t know a complement.  A complement when said earnestly and honestly can have the power to make someone’s day.  Words are very powerful.  They have the power to bring joy or cause harm.

Remember as you go about your day, YOU are amazing and YOU are meant to inspire.  And inspiration looks really good on you.