“Have you always been this open on your blog?”
A student asked me that yesterday, marvelling at my willingness to put myself out here on this “page” in such a vulnerable way, sharing intimate details of my life like my breast reduction surgery, my husband’s suicide attempt, and the stillbirth of my son.
“It’s partly just who I am,” I said. “I’m a bit of an open book and if people want to read it, that’s fine with me. It’s not always easy, but I’ve learned often enough in my life that if we share our stories, it helps other people who are going through similar stories.”
This conversation took place after a session in class when I’d asked them to do a free write around the question “If I were fearless, I would…” When I asked if people wanted to share, most people talked about their fear of things like base-jumping or swimming in water where there is fish, but one woman dug a little deeper and opened up about how she deals with depression and has actually stood at the edge of a bridge contemplating the jump. “I don’t normally talk about these things,” she said, taking a deep breath, “but… I feel safe here, so I’m going to share.”
“I’ve come through some horrible things and I want to share my stories,” she continued. “If I were fearless, I would figure out how to share my stories so they could help other people.”
“You’ve started right here in this classroom,” I said. “You’ve taken the first step and you’re going to figure out how to take the next one.”
Her words have stayed with me, as have the words of the women who spoke to me after class about my own experience of sharing my stories. “I’m so glad you’re writing a book,” one of them said.
“I’m glad too,” I said, and I am. SO glad these stories that have been burning inside me for ten years are finally finding their way to the page.
I have to tell you, though, there’s a whole other level of vulnerability that I’m having to peel away in order to adequately tell the stories that this book entails. I may be vulnerable and open on this blog, but there are still things that I choose not to share in this place – things that feel too shameful or too personal or too raw to be seen in the light of day. If I am to do this book justice, though, some of those things will have to emerge.
What am I talking about? Well, for starters, today I’m trying to work through some of the deeply spiritual things that happened for me in the hospital. I’m really struggling with how to share those pieces honestly, because some of it will make me sound a little “out there” and some of it doesn’t really fit in any kind of box I’ve gotten used to placing my spirituality in. I don’t know what to do with that yet, but I’m trying because I just have a sense that this is really important and needs to be shared.
Yesterday I re-read the following quote from Jean Shinoda Bolen:
To bring about a paradigm shift in the culture that will change assumptions and attitudes, a critical number of us have to tell the stories of our personal revelations and transformations.
Wow. That was just what I needed to hear. I wrote that quote on the whiteboard that sits in front of my desk. (And just now, as I re-read it again, I had a powerful sense of deja-vu, remembering reading something similar about paradigm shifts while I was in the hospital waiting for Matthew to arrive.)
These stories are important. Not just my stories, but YOUR stories and the stories of the students in my class. Sharing them brings about transformation and change. Sharing them changes us all.
Today on a Skype call, my wise friend Desiree said to me, after I’d shared with her some of the discussion in yesterday’s class, “it sounds like you need to teach a course about writing for social change.”
“Huh, you’re right! I hadn’t thought of that.” I love teaching the class I’m teaching now, but as you can tell, I’m not sticking to the traditional curriculum of Writing for Public Relations. I want to see my students emerge as writers who can impact change, not just get good jobs as spin doctors.
Writing for social change. That’s what we do when we share our stories. That’s what we need to do more of.
That, my friends, is why I’m writing a book, and that’s why I’m going to dig down deep and tell the stories that scare me and that might make me sound a little crazy.