Connection is why we’re here

Today, we watched Brene Brown on TED… to think about connection because we’re getting connected to students at Oklahoma City University through our blogs and their wikispaces. “Connection is why we’re here,” says Dr. Brown. We’re down with that.

Embracing vulnerability is one way to make a connection that seems difficult to do in a society where we are all “connected” online, but in some ways, we’ve never been so disconnected. Substantially writing is one way of connecting.

Being a blogger in a writing class letting people know who we are–being seen is being vulnerable. It’s a hard thing to be seen. We can hide behind a 14-character Tweet, or a Facebook status update, but it’s hard to hide behind a big ‘ol blog for a class when you have to write a lot of posts and talk about things that are uncomfortable, or when you have to write what you really believe. It’s taking a risk, and that’s scary.

Will readers dismiss what we say or praise the words we write? Will readers believe we are worthy of their time? Will we feel we’re worthy? How do we get over the stage fright we all feel when others see our words? What will everyone in my class think about me as a person when they see my writing? Will that change how they see me?

Historically, a student writes, and only the teacher sees that writing. Sometimes, a writing class (I hope most of the time) is structured so that students see everyone’s writing, on a regular basis. Ideally, students should also have authentic audiences. I’ve seen students who are flattered by followers of their blogs–they’ve seen how they are worthy. Their writing matters. It matters not just for the teacher, or for peers, but for someone else in the world whom they do not know.

Being vulnerable as a writer is beautiful thing–what’s the point of writing unless there’s an audience? (Well, personal journal writing is great for writers. A writer’s notebook can be an amazing tool for producing writing, but it’s a private thing… until the writer chooses what parts to make public.)

Typically, writers want feedback–they want positive feedback, for sure–but they perhaps want to say something that makes a difference to someone and then hear about that. Even writers undertaking the forced march of writing in college classes want positive feedback–constructive criticism. (I remember giving my mother a draft of a 30 page paper I had written. I thought it was so great, so intriguing, so insightful, so well written. I was very proud and couldn’t wait to hear what she thought. After she finished reading, she said, “You have a typo on page one and a missing comma on page three. Other than that, it seems pretty good.” Huh?)

Or rather, people want connection; they want interaction (unless, of course, you’re Titus Andronicus). Writers are no different–it’s scary to admit we are vulnerable, that we might need others, and we are so OUT there with our writing on blogs. If we are rejected as not-worthy people, and especially as writers, what happens to us? We are pierced through our hearts and we bleed.

We might even be moved to say things like:

I hate writing.

English is/was my worst subject.

I have always been bad at writing.

I can’t write.

I’m no good at spelling.

Commas–nobody can understand those stupid rules.

We step out of the way of the thing that makes us feel like dirt, in this case, writing. We avoid it. We avoid having anyone see our writing because we don’t want to deal with that sort of ugly.

Blogging in a class–can’t get away from writing in public, can’t get away from having others read our writing, can’t get away from being vulnerable, can’t. We’re out there. We’re required to read our blogs, to make comments, to think, to respond, to share our own writing. It’s part of the class: required, mandatory, obligatory. No way out.

How hard is that?

Could be mighty hard, but it’s a good kind of hard. Brown said vulnerability, necessary in order to live a “wholehearted,” isn’t excruciating nor exhilarating for the wholehearted, but it is the thing that makes them beautiful.

Vulnerability is the connection.

Are we worthy? Of course we are. And how do we know that? We’ve proven it to each other by being our own readers, writing for ourselves. We did that.

We are the connection. And we are beautiful.

What have I done lately?

Lately, I watched some episodes of Firefly. I did dishes. I read some in a few books. I wrote a few posts to a few blogs. I talked on the phone to my dad. I took my son bowling. I emailed a few friends. I bought gorgeous tomatoes and ate them all. I swam and sat in the sun. I sneezed a lot.

And I opened my How to Be an Explorer of the World book by Keri Smith. I had picked some explorations I was going to do, but then I just opened the book, and there was an exploration that was perfect for me: #20.

So I kept track of my small, placid thoughts for a few days (since last Thursday). I write about this on my Exploration page in this blog, but why I’m talking about it here is this: I let Serendipity guide me to that particular Exploration Experience.

I’m a big fan of the idea of Serendipity (so much that I often will capitalize this word… out of respect for having experienced great things by accident–seemingly).

"Serendipity" is a word coined by Horace Walpole? How serendipitous.

Really? Serendipity is a word coined by Horace Walpole. Who’s the father of the gothic novel? Horace Walpole. What 18th century novelists do I love? A bunch, but Horace Walpole is near the top of that list. Which politician from the 18th century do I sort of like a lot? Horace Walpole.

I never looked up this word before. I knew what it meant, but I never knew where it came from. Now I do. I must read that fairy tale about the Persians princes (in translation, of course) and then rethink Horace Walpole–who is cooler now than ever before. Perhaps I need to re-read The Castle of Otranto. I remember really enjoying it.

I’m about to re-read Dracula. I am going to give a talk on the famous Bram Stoker book on Oct. 8 in the afternoon at the Alabama Shakespeare Festival’s Theater in the Mind series (ASF will be putting on a stage version). So I’m thinking several things are serendipitous right now:

  • I am open to new ways of thinking about the world because of this book we are using to explore the world.
  • I thought about how Serendipity may have guided my hand to this particular activity and bothered to look up the word for the first time in my life.
  • There was Horace Walpole, an acknowledged father of the gothic novel.
  • I’m talking about Dracula in a few weeks–it’s on my list of great gothic novels (from my two favorite centuries: the 18th and 19th…). That list starts with Walpole’s The Castle of Otranto.
  • In my exploration of #20, I realized at the end of my list when I asked myself what I was thinking just then… I was thinking about my friend, Carol, who loved the gothic and horror and would have been so proud of me for finding my way in the world where I was invited to talk about vampires in public. She would have been so so so very proud of me. She is not alive anymore, but she always lives in my heart.

Understanding that I was exploring a world without her struck me this way: it is a less-lovely world now, but a better one for her having been part of it once.

Never just one story

When I think about my own “Who I Am” story, I’m overwhelmed because there are so many. I could never just tell one anymore. I’m too old mature complex for any one thing to define me. And maybe I always was. We are never, really, ever just one thing. So it might not be an living-a-long-time thing but rather a human thing–each of us is complex and delicately put together in fine and elaborate ways. How could one story reveal who we are?

Yet each story that makes up who we are is important. That’s my takeaway from the Chimamanda Adichie video from Ted.com: “The Danger of a Single Story,” and the essay in Writing Spaces by Catherine Ramsdell. We need to understand that complexity exists in every person, every culture, embrace it, and encourage others to do all that, too.

There is never just one story, or rarely so. I like to think that if I knew someone all my life, I would never know everything about that person–always stories could inform how we knew one another. As humans, we try to define some things about ourselves everything we meet someone new–and are forced to do this in some educational situations. Each moment we attempt this, we may find out something new about ourselves. Hence, we write, we talk, we share, we draw, we snap photos, we paint, we draw, we see ourselves in art.

Now that is a benefit that supports my personal educational mission: know yourself, who you were, who you are, and all the possibilities for who you can be. And fight the powers that might dictate that you conform to being all about just one story.