Several people have told me how much they're enjoying Roller Derby Makes Me Brave, which makes me happy for several reasons. First of all, well, it's just nice to hear that people like what I write. My ego thanks you. On a deeper level, it's been gratifying to hear that a few of you have been inspired by my little acts of bravery and have embraced your own whispers of courage. One woman said she got up the nerve to start swimming in the mornings, in part because of my roller derby posts. She almost didn't tell me about it, she said, because she felt "silly." That's not silly. That's fabulous.
There are so many seemingly ordinary things that scare each one of us -- things that we see other people doing and long to try for ourselves. It may be swimming, getting on roller skates, public speaking, deciding to have a baby, or traveling to a foreign county by yourself. Maybe it's baking a cake from scratch or planting a garden or starting a business. If your heart is singing out for something big or small, and you choose to be brave for that thing, no matter how silly or scared you feel, well, that's fabulous. And it's been fabulous for me to hear about such things, because it feels good to inspire people.
If you hang around me long enough, you may hear me declare that I don't write to help people or to heal them. It's not that I don't care about people and their well-being, of course. It's just that I don't write with the explicit intent to help or to heal. Come to think of it, most of the time I don't even aim to inspire. I just write what I want or need to write. Even when I'm writing something meant to be overtly helpful or meant to "teach" something, such as a writing tips post or a lesson for one of my courses, I still don't think of myself as a helper or teacher. Mostly I consider myself a sharer: one who shares. So I don't aim to help, heal, teach, or inspire anyone. But if one of those things happens in the course of what I've written, that's a nice bonus. (I'm trying to write a longer post about this topic, so look for more to come in the near future. Maybe. Right now the draft starts, "I don't want to help you!", but I'm a little worried people might take that the wrong way.)
Knowing that I inspired someone also helps with the feeling of post-publication nudity that can creep up on me. I don't often think about how vulnerable I'm being in my writing until after the fact. If I do feel vulnerable while I'm writing, it's usually related to the art of writing, not to the subject matter. When I'm writing I can easily fret over whether I'm creating something interesting and engaging and beautiful. But it's mostly only after I've written something and put it out into the world that I'll have moments of, "Holy cow, that was honest." And then I might feel a wee bit sheepish and naked. Knowing that people who know me read my words freaks me out even more. I pretty much can't think about my parents reading my work without grimacing a little bit, even though I don't write much that's scandalous. (Hi, Dad! Hi, Mom!) But being honest about my own tiny fears and triumphs can feel scandalous. It can be shocking to see myself reflected back to me on the page.
But I keep doing it because that reflection is how I make sense of the world and my experience in it. For me, writing is a form of discovery. I learn this lesson again and again. For example, my last roller derby post took me days and days to write. I kept stalling out and boring myself with it. I didn't think it was going anywhere interesting. I thought for sure I was going to have to kill it and start over. I had no idea what it was really about or how it all worked together (as art or content) until I wrote the last line of it. And then I felt a warm golden glow with the hum of angels in the background, and it was an epiphany of the obvious (of which I have many). Ah, so that's what this post was about! Good to know.
There's a scene in the movie "Hook" in which Peter Pan, played by Robin Williams, comes back to Neverland as a grown man, and the Lost Boys don't quite recognize him. One of them, an adorable chocolate drop of a boy, pushes Peter's face around, trying to smooth out the wrinkles and figure out if he's still the same Peter that they knew. The boy finally pulls Peter's face into a smile and declares in wonder, "Oh, there you are, Peter!"
When I write something true, the writing itself is that little boy, pulling the corners of my heart into shape until I declare, "Oh, there I am!" I remember who I am and that, maybe -- like Peter Pan -- I can fly (or swim or skate). I rediscover my Neverland. I think the same thing happens when we read something that resonates with us. We see something of ourselves in another's words, and then we breathe a bit more easily, knowing, Oh, there we are.
And right now, it's happening again. I didn't start this post thinking about Peter Pan or the movie "Hook." But there it was. And here we are. Oh.