Friday, January 27, 2012

Vulnerability

In the most simplistic terms, vulnerability is the state of openness to the experience of being hurt.  The hurt may be physical, emotional, or both. Some individuals who have experienced physical or emotional hurt have developed protective shields, calluses, if you will, or a warning system that keeps them from reengaging the same experience that produced the original pain.

Many times the individual callus is a detachment from personal relationships or an extreme work ethic that consciously or unconsciously screens out the necessary responses and reactions so often associated with deep personal relationships.  Such individuals can provide an excellent armature of personality about which to wrap personality traits for characters in story.  The reader, upon recognizing such a character, will expect that person to be thrust into a circumstance that forces the character back into the fear of hurt.  The writer is in on the conspiracy, recognizing a good dramatic situation when it is presented.

How profitable is it then for a writer to begin compiling a personal list of vulnerabilities?  Your contribution to the conversation is the belief that the profitability rate of return is high.  Where to begin, then, as a tentative, toe-in-the-water approach to considering your own vulnerability index, more or less in a small, desktop Moleskine notebook, close at hand when new characters are being cast in a new story?

Begin with a list of characters memorable to you, men, and women of all ages who have experienced such emotional hurts as loss, abandonment, extreme consequences from acting out anger, unrequited love, smothering love, the suffocation of control freaks, and multitudes of humiliations, real and imagined in the home, school, and workplace.

These ought to get you going because, you argue, you became aware of these individuals and identified with them in the first place because of your own vulnerabilities or—and this is significant—your fears of vulnerabilities regarding situations and circumstances you were on the cusp of entering yourself.

You believe the creative individual needs awareness of personal vulnerability in order to be open to it, which is probably a more poorly organized way of saying you wish to remain open to as much as possible in the way of experience and thoughts outside your present orbit.  Some of these moments of openness may cause you emotions of discomfort or disorientation or downright pain and regret, but the potential benefits of going forth without calluses or body armor or emotional detachment seem worth the risk in terms of things experienced in fuller fashion.  The risks:  you may get a crush on someone who does not reciprocate.  You might take that one or more steps beyond to the shores of lust and desires for connection.  You frequently get crushes on ideas.  You often spend considerable time wooing an idea, thinking you’ve a relationship going, when it decides you’ve begun taking it for granted.  Or perhaps you’ve spent considerable time on something you find satisfying and no one else does.  Your vulnerability has been tested.  But in a better sense, you have developed calluses and defenses that allow you to the plateau of risk, the sandbox where the big kids get to play with their feelings and ideas.

For some reasons, when you were seven, you had the seven-year-old equivalent of a crush on a girl named Georgia, who was in the sixth grade, taller than you, and in possession of what you then considered unbeatable athletic activities.  For as long as you can remember, you challenged her to a game of tetherball.  Once or twice you were able to score a point, but more often than not, she beat you with a kind of mechanical grace that intrigued and impressed you to the point where, every day, when you saw her, you challenged her to a game.  The thing you see now in the retrospect of the decades is that she never so much as patronized you with a sigh or even questioned why you were so intent on being humiliated by the results.  You cannot recall so much as the briefest of conversations with you; it was always you, bringing the challenge to her and her striding to the tetherball pole, nodding at you to serve, then engaging.

In many ways, that is your first conscious memory of vulnerability.  Of course there were others, and more to come.  There is no thought of stopping now; the more you stand forth vulnerable, the more you will be able so stand again, at another time, in another circumstance, another situation, whether it is love, a new story, a new idea, abandoning some standard you once thought remarkable for its strength, parting from a loved one through death or disagreement or even the gradual sense of disinterest.

You cannot be in love or in friendship (which is surely love) or in a story or a classroom without allowing yourself the great luxury of being vulnerable.  It is unthinkable to hold back, and when you find yourself doing so, you realize you are turning away from risk, turning, as it were, away from the sight of Georgia, appearing in the schoolyard, in all ways unapproachable except for a game of tetherball.

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