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#34 Sharing is caring
And the truth will set you free
Writing this newsletter has turned out to be an exercise in inoculating myself against a certain kind of fear. The fear of being vulnerable on the internet.
I hadn’t thought about it much until at dinner the other night, a dear friend said, “I don’t know how you do it”. Appraising me over the rim of her wine glass, she shuddered, “sometimes I read your writing, and I can’t imagine sharing those things about myself, especially online.”
The timing of this conversation was uncanny, little did she know that I’d been mulling over the effect of vulnerability for six whole weeks and trying to articulate why I have a penchant for people who are aren’t afraid to lay their shit bare.
Why do I tell everyone I know about this essay by Jean Garnett on the topic of opening up her marriage?
Or why I am so transfixed by this piece on writing, and trying, and not always succeeding, by Isabel Cowles Murphy?
And why exactly am I so thrilled by this raw meditation on female friendship by Laurie Stone?
Ah, I know what it is.
It’s the ability of each of these women to produce such a truthfully misshapen self-portrait. It’s ok that they are occasionally sad, mistake-making, or lonely.
Strange, but this kind of honesty has the effect of making me excited for the hard parts of life. Or rather, it gives me a renewed sense that a life with hard parts is just a life. The weirdness and complexity is the thing itself.
With every brave word, etched indelibly on the cave walls of the internet forever, these women liberate me from a desire for an easy and uncontroversial story. And they make me feel like a friend across the table.
As Laurie Stone writes, ‘I’m still in love with… the pleasure of sudden intimacy that makes you feel less alone in life, and that, in my case, gives you a life.’
A photo I took in Croatia of a woman living her life.
Months ago, now, on one of those Autumn days with watery sunlight and a whipping wind, I went to my friend’s birthday lunch. She held this lunch in the coolest way possible, on the traffic island out the front of her house. Buckets of sparkling wine and ice, a picnic table, and platters. Lots of her friends were there, suave thirty somethings with interesting jobs who know how to DJ. Some of them with plans to move to New York imminently.
I was nervous because I was late, possibly overdressed in a country mouse kind of a way, and about to see a bunch of people I hadn’t seen in years.
But almost instantly, people came to me grinning and with this kind of open sweetness I hadn’t felt in a long time. I recall a reception that felt akin to, in the loveliest way possible, a group of pound dogs, lying on their backs, thumping their tails and dog-grinning.
People were so nice. And warm. And interested.
Mostly though, people were unusually honest. I was so struck by the oddness of it that as I walked home afterwards under a creamy moon, I recalled the vignettes of truth serum-y-ness; an old friend’s eyes glittered as she spoke about a complicated loss. A new mother with a baby on her hip wiped a rivulet of snot from the baby’s upper lip, “motherhood can be fucking hard”. A woman I went to high school with reminded me that Instagram lives are mostly shimmering lies, even and maybe especially, hers.
It was the kind of vulnerability that you can’t usually count on from adults you barely know.
The thing is, we’re so naïve and easily tricked; we observe the lives of other people, who are the same as us, but who we somehow believe to be different. We think other people are wholly, dumbly happy; not suffering from anxiety, not suffering from indecision, not suffering from guilt, not suffering from a feeling that nothing really matters and what’s the point of it all anyway? We fail to hold it in our hands; we are all the same.
We need a friend (or a stranger) in real life (or on the internet) to take us by the shoulders and say, I’ve been questioning everything too.
Most of the time it’s me doing the sharing, as some wide-eyed person nods along. And I can attest, oversharing what’s in your chest of chests with strange people (or friends), especially after a few sloppily poured glasses of prosecco, can feel sickening. It is exactly the feeling of losing control and drying your guts in the sun. And the next day you feel like the worst supporting character from a Jane Austin novel; inane and big mouthed.
But whenever I’ve been the recipient of vulnerability, it’s been one of the most livening things in the world. And when it’s done with the intent of connection, however overzealous or blundering, or to sink down into someone’s darkness with them, then I don’t think it can be done wrong.
When the party was over, we all stood under the streetlight, pale faces stretched to grinning and saying how nice it was to see each other. A bunch of people were climbing into an uber, and I reached out to cup one woman’s cheek, “thank you for your vulnerability” I said. It sounds so saccharine or as though I was playing the part of an alien playing the part of a human. But I really meant it. I really meant, thank you for being honest about something. Thank you for crying a little bit in front of me at this party. Thank you for sharing some part of you that is soft and wounded when we’re all supposed to be pretending that we’re so good actually.
I’m not sure how that’s different to schadenfreude. But it is. I think.