Chip Away the Armor
This notion may sound counterintuitive. When you take off your armor, you turn yourself from rock to play-dough beneath daggers. Daggers of judgement. Rejection. Fear. All the things that we cower from as artists because, well, vulnerability is terrifying.
I’ve gone on stage wondering why anyone would listen to my spoken word about past trauma. I’ve submitted poetry for publishing, doubting it would get chosen because it was too “heavy.”
But then people came up to me and told me, “I really felt that. My parents did that too, so thank you for saying it.” And the poem I was most afraid of ended up getting published.
It’s okay to be afraid of opening up. But think about all the times where you were watching something, maybe it was a TED talk or even a book, and saying, “Wow, I felt that.”
Think about those people who affected you because they shared a part of their life that reminded you of a part of yours. I think about authors like John Green, who wrote into existence a character with OCD in Turtles All the Way Down, when he has OCD himself. I think about Yesika Salgado and when I heard her read a poem about sexual assault back in May 2018. I bought her book and when she signed it, I told her thank you with a tear-streaked face and something along the lines of “me too.” She gave me a big hug.
So please, when you have a story you want to share with the world, remember that it is scary, but it is even scarier feeling like you are the only one who feels the way you do.
You Can Only Break Through if You Want To
I am not telling you to write a memoir that tells your whole life story TODAY . . . unless you want to? When people share their stories, it’s because they are ready to. If you ever feel ready, I want to hear what you have to say. For now, how do you get to the point where you can feel vulnerable? How do you share your story to others?
No matter the form—spoken word, short stories, Instagram posts, or even video scripts—you need to start with yourself. By that, I mean, what is stopping you from sharing?
I never used to talk about my family in my art, ever. I felt so afraid of talking about my experience because I wasn’t ready to face it myself. I also didn’t want to embarrass them in any way. But then I took the time in therapy to go through the records of my mind: Be quiet at the table. No talking back. Get straight A’s. I learned how my unhealthy coping mechanisms developed from constantly being in survival mode and facing an immense pressure for perfection every day.
Facing all that took years of inner work. By my second year of college, I wrote out some moments in a journal. I read it aloud in small groups, like Poets’ Club, and only shared it in the circle when I felt ready. By the beginning of my third year, I could perform it on stage, hiding behind metaphors. By the end of that same year, I impersonated my dad in a spoken word piece, Daldal, and when he saw it, he wasn’t mad. He was proud. And I allowed myself to be proud too.
The healing process can take as long as it needs to.
No one can create this timeline of healing for you. Whatever your story is, it is up to you whether or not you are ready to tell it.
“Someone Else Can Write It Better”
Maybe. Maybe another person will have better syntax or grammar or whatever you’re worried about. But I definitely feel like those little reasons aren’t why you’re avoiding writing out your story.
Oh, I know, I’ve been there. I’ve had my fair share of imposter syndrome symptoms. I’m deathly afraid of recounting certain experiences too, but just because someone has gone through something similar to me, doesn’t discount what I went through.
Your story is no less in value than anyone else’s. We need your story. I can’t tell you exactly who needs it, but they do.
If you don’t feel confident in your abilities, practice and learning will always help. You cannot get better at something if you don’t try. I would suggest reading articles like this one, or going back to books, poetry, or prose that you liked and emulating that style. But no one can write like you do. No one has your mind. No one has your personality. You are truly one of a kind, so write like you know that.
Where to Go After the Breakthrough
So you’ve gone through the mental and emotional hurdles that come with embracing vulnerability. What now? Is there going to be some great KABOOM of inspiration and you’ll have an impressive work in a month? Maybe. But more often than not, the writing process can be as messy as the trip to opening up.
Something that I love about the Love Yourself Foundation is that we put an emphasis on how the unkempt, disorganized things can be a part of any process. When we clean our rooms, it can make the room messier than when we started. We have to take out all the boxes and sort through them. Trash bags and recycling containers are scattered across our floor. Clothes in one pile, electronics in the next. Before we know it, we have to step through a minefield just to get to our bed.
But you know what helps with that? Focusing on one corner. You focus on one corner first, finish it, and the mess can travel around the room in small doses.
Okay, but what does this have to do with writing? When we dig deep and go into those vulnerable parts of us, it can be messy, so start small with one corner of your mind.
Start with one page. It can be one page of a journal or even a loose leaf of paper. Write whatever it is that you want to get out. You don’t have to show everything in one go.
What’s most important is that you do what is best for you. If your goal is to write a single poem on the loss of a loved one, you can start with a stanza. If your goal is to write a short story that’s inspired by your fear of open water, start with a paragraph.
You don’t need to ever share these things with others. But don’t deny yourself free expression. If anyone should be kind to your vulnerability, it’s you.
Strength in Weakness
So let’s recap. To remember vulnerability as a strength, you should:
Write a list of TV shows, books, poems, articles, etc. that made you feel seen.
Trust that writing can be a part of your healing and/or reflection process.
Trust that your path will be unique to you.
Trust that your story holds just as much weight and value as anyone else’s, so write anyway.
Write small and for yourself.
There’s this quote by John Green in The Fault in Our Stars that I love because by the end of the book, the argument described in the quote is completely undermined.
The quote goes:
“‘Without pain, how could we know joy?’ This is an old argument in the field of thinking about suffering and its stupidity and lack of sophistication could be plumbed for centuries but suffice it to say that the existence of broccoli does not, in any way, affect the taste of chocolate.”
The argument depends on the notion that pain and joy don’t relate to one another in any way, but I would say that the contrast is what makes the relationship between these two significant.
Sure, broccoli’s existence doesn’t affect the taste of chocolate. But if you eat broccoli before chocolate or vice versa . . . you can’t tell me they don’t affect one another.
The existence of my story in no way affects the experience of yours, but my vulnerability can make you feel less alone, and the pain and suffering that came from getting to this point in my life is worth it. Because if I can help at least one person, as our director Monica puts it, “that’s one whole life.”
You have the power to affect someone. One. Whole. Life. All you have to do is give yourself the chance.
Remember. You are light and dark. You are multifaceted. Let yourself feel and be human.
Creative Works That’ll Make You Feel Less Alone:
Why It’s So Difficult to Write About Ourselves by Annie Mueller
Why Vulnerability is a Writer’s Most Powerful Tool by Jane Harkness
Corazón by Yesika Salgado
Well Played by Beau Sia
Hunger: A Memoir of (My) Body by Roxane Gay
Bo Burnham: INSIDE (Netflix Special) by Bo Burnham
About the Author
Mei-Mei is LYF's Executive Assistant, Event Coordinator, and Editor-in-Chief. She graduated from UC, Santa Barbara with a B.A. in English and a minor in German. She was the President of UCSB Poets' Club. She has traveled to 12 countries and counting, feeling lucky and cursed as an Army brat. In 2019, she moved for the 9th time from Santa Barbara to Las Vegas, where she put her love for writing, performing, advocating for mental health, and building communities into the Love Yourself Foundation. Thankfully she can choose when she moves now, so you'll see this jack-of-all-trades singing on stage and juggling open mic sign-up sheets, hoping to spread love in all the ways she can.