I don’t know about you, but people—and by people, I generally mean other women—utter the words: You’re so brave! to me quite frequently. In past years, I would be called brave for travelling alone. It’s nothing, I’d say. Plus, if I waited for people to travel with, I’d still be sitting home on the couch, not having gone anywhere. I’d add that, invariably, I’d join a tour at my destination, so I wasn’t really alone. I could never do it, is the usual response, I’m not brave like you. What they mean is not that they aren’t brave, but that they aren’t prepared to take a risk and move out of their comfort zone into the unknown. There’s a big difference between being brave and being uncomfortable.
Nowadays, people—and by people, I generally mean other women—tell me I’m brave for writing what I write and publishing what I publish. That I don’t sugarcoat my feelings and experiences. That I tell it like it is. That it’s rare to read such honest writing. I am genuinely and sincerely flattered that what I write resonates with my readers. It is gratifying for me as a writer to know that my experiences—good, bad and ugly—help my readers feel not so alone as they traverse their own pot-holed and obstacle-strewn paths. I like to think that in some way, my writing is helpful to people who are struggling to make sense of their own lives, which is just about everyone on the planet.
Yet, I don’t think I’m brave with my writing. Honest, yes, and sometimes painfully so. Painful, because the pain is mine and it’s real. My best writing is writing that digs in deep and mines my experiences and perceptions to search for nuggets of truth and share them with the world as the rare gems they are. I am acutely aware that these gems and nuggets are my truths. Other actors in the play that is my life might have experienced things differently, viewed things differently. I can’t be responsible for their interpretation of events, though, only mine. Sometimes I am kinder than I should be, sometimes I am more guarded than I need to be, sometimes I am more truthful than is wise.
Coincidentally, the year that I used this blog to peel back the layers of myself and find out more about what makes me tick and why, and to make sense of this crazy world and my place in it… this was when I wrote my most amazing stuff
I approach my writing knowing that through the lens of honesty and pain—and the process and certainty of writing—I understand what I think, and why. This blog—and particularly my voice—has grown in depth and richness over the years. Last year I wrote like a motherfucker (to quote Cheryl Strayed, one of my favourite writers ever) and wrote some amazing stuff: stuff I’m so, so proud of. Stuff that when I read it back, I am shocked and proud and amazed that it came from me. And as a result of the amazing stuff that I’ve written, I’m publishing books and stories that I’m also so, so proud of. Coincidentally, the year that I used this blog to peel back the layers of myself and find out more about what makes me tick and why, and to make sense of this crazy world and my place in it… this was when I wrote my most amazing stuff. It’s this amazing stuff that people say is brave.
But it’s not bravery, not really. I’m simply allowing myself—giving myself permission, as it were—to be vulnerable, albeit in a public way. Of course, that’s not most people’s cup of tea. Most people would rather stick pins in their eyes before they disclose their inner most thoughts and feelings to the world. And the internet is littered with examples of people “putting it out there in a public way” only to be shot down in flames for their efforts. I, too, have experienced backlash from a couple of posts I’ve written. It’s scary when it happens. One post was an attempt to position myself as an expert and thus build up my consulting business, but I was pummeled for my effort; the other was me trying to understand what was happening at work, the contents of which was then used against me in a very unpleasant way. Both posts resulted in a nasty, frightening tsunami of responses that I could not have foreseen, but which demonstrated the power of words, and how interpretation is always subjective, especially when ego is involved. Both of those events made me feel more like an electronic martyr sacrificed on the pointy end of my sentences than a hero, and I ended up withdrawing both posts to ensure the persecution ceased. I was *that close* to giving up on blogging altogether.
It is only when I bring other people into the equation—and they feel threatened or insulted or ashamed by what I write—that these sorts of events happen. And these sorts of events are unpleasant and can feel relentless and unsettling, so one does what one needs to do to survive the onslaught.
In the scheme of things though, I’ve found that these sorts of backlashes are rare. I’ve published over two hundred posts and received hundreds of comments—on those posts and on social media—and people are more often kind with their words than not. And I learned a valuable lesson about backlashes: if I write about myself, people are disinclined to tell me I’m wrong about me. It is only when I bring other people into the equation—and they feel threatened or insulted or ashamed by what I write—that these sorts of events happen. And these sorts of events are unpleasant and can feel relentless and unsettling, so one does what one needs to do to survive the onslaught. A brave person doesn’t withdraw posts, but one interested in self-preservation does. My point is that I’m not brave. But I am interested in leaving a legacy, to make my mark on the world, even if it’s a small, tiny pen scratch of a mark.
Maybe because I don’t have a significant other to witness my life, I view my writing as evidence that I was here and I did count. Maybe because my own immediate family history is shrouded in secrecy and mystery, I want my daughter—and her children and their children—to know who I am, what I feel, what makes me tick. What sort of person I am, or was, or am in the process of becoming. I don’t want her or them to have to guess. And maybe, just maybe, I’m arrogant enough to think that I—and my writing—might be the subject of some digital archaeologist dig in the future. That I’m helping them with their task of understanding the world as it currently is from their vantage point centuries from here.
So, no. I’m not brave, but I am living.
Then how about buying me a glass of wine — or even two! — for writing such an awesome essay?