More Risky Business

And the day came when the risk it took to remain tight inside the bud was more painful than the risk it took to blossom.
-Anais Nin

To write something, you have to risk making a fool of yourself.
Anne Rice

There are all kinds of risk-taking. You can lay the various scenarios out on a continuum from one to one hundred and arrange them in some kind of order: speaking before a large group, moving far away from the security of friends and family to start a new job or new career, zip lining, sky diving, running a marathon, writing a controversial book or article, sharing intimate or personal thoughts with a friend, running for an office, leaving your spouse or partner because the relationship has become toxic, admitting you are an addict and getting help (gambling, alcohol, drugs), coming out if you are gay, standing up to parents or family regarding a strongly held belief (one they don’t share), learning to play the piano at sixty five. And on and on. And each person, if surveyed, would arrange the various activities or scenarios in a different order. What might be easy for my friend might be scarier for me than entering a bat cave on a moonless night.

My biggest risk to date is to write these essays, articles, memoirs, musings and share them. Here and there I have included stuff I haven’t shared with many. As time goes on, I might share more. This is riskier for me than public speaking, one of my onetime big bugaboos, which I wrote about in my essay “Planting Magic Beans.” I was just starting out on my writing odyssey then, and now I’m a little further along, and I’m taking stock, a reality check, taking the pulse, seeing if any mid-course correction would be appropriate.

A “useful badger” (a mentor) is encouraging me to write with heart and humor. He considers these essential elements for meaningful writing, both for the writer and the audience. If my writing isn’t heartfelt, than it is just reporting, just the facts, just a summary snippet like you could read in any newspaper. Sharing both elements is risky. To have heart and write with heart means sharing some personal feelings and emotional reactions to various situations, current events, local happenings, personal experiences, books and novels, even politics and religion – those two most taboo of topics. Politics and religion are taboo simply because if you are too frank with a group of people you don’t know well, you might offend some sensibilities, step on some toes, upset the apple cart. And if you were raised to always be appropriate, then stirring up rancor, disagreement and hostility are the mortal sins of social decency and decorum. And I also risk people thinking my “revelations” are drivel, nonsense or a waste of time.

I am reminded of what a hornet’s nest can be disturbed by being honest, related to a book I’m reading, The Help, by Kathryn Stockett. It is a current best seller and I am reading it for a book group. It is set in the 1960s against the backdrop of racial discord and the civil rights movement in Mississippi. Several of the central characters take great personal risk in going against the conservatively held, and long valued, beliefs in “separate but equal segregation.” They publish a book exposing some of the atrocities perpetrated on black maids (domestics) by their white employers. Some of the details revealed should be an embarrassment to the human race. These women are risking their very lives, as jail sentences, beatings and other violent acts were often dealt out to activists of both races in that place and time. Alliances are shattered and friendships broken, lines drawn and stances taken, before the book ends. These are profiles in extreme courage, even though the book is fiction.

Compared to the events in this book, or compared to brave people in 1930s Germany, my personal risk is low on the scale. But on my own personal risk scale, well, I think it is above the midpoint. I’m just beginning to get a glimmer of what it is that writers get from writing and why they say “I have to write,” “it is who I am,” I can’t go more than a day or two without writing.” Those who speak these words may not ever be published, they may be journaling and have volumes that stretch over years, or they may blog, and maybe only a few people ever go to their blog site. They may write for a newsletter, or free lance, or belong to a writing/critique group. They write mostly for themselves, not to be published and not for accolades. They write for health and growth and self-development. And if a few of them are published, and if someone approves or resonates with the words on the page, then that is an extra added bonus. Some of their writings will be read years later, after they are dead, by their children and grandchildren. What kinds of legacies might they leave behind?

For many years, I set high value on being accepted, on being appropriate, being polite in social situations, and being careful what I said (for the most part). I would often try to start sentences with “I can see both sides of that issue,” or “I see a lot of shades of grey,” or “this isn’t at all clear cut.” This was my way of staying out the fray, not risking being shunned, excluded or blacklisted because I had taken an unpopular stance. I’m getting much closer to saying what I really think on most issues, though I try to frame my opinions as tactfully as I can. I’m not out to be downright nasty.

Then there is the humor aspect. I toss in a lot of quips and sarcasm in my daily conversations. And sometimes I find something appropriate to put down in writing, but it is sure easier in daily discourse. It doesn’t pour out of my keyboard like it does out of my mouth. That is something to work on. I’ve been reading Mark Twain, George Carlin and David Sedaris for some inspiration. But it will only sound real if it is mine. Time to give that English majorin’ a real test drive in the big bad world where homespun humor will get to meet armchair intellectualism and modern computerese. Or something like that.

I’ve always been eclectic about most things — my taste in reading, art, decorating, furniture, foods, fashion, places to travel, trivia. So it is not surprising – at least not to me — that I am exploring all kinds of topics, from catching ducks to spirituality. With that sort of range, I won’t soon run out of things to comment on, explore, dissect or criticize. If you read my blogs, you won’t know if the next post is likely to be about prayer, cats, the big bang, recycling, or the latest recipe for brownies. It is not so risky writing about recipes, but it is touch-and-go sharing my strongly held beliefs on the big issues regarding life, daily living, and death. And then, what if I change my mind down the line? Well, I’ll probably write about it and you can read about it. I think that is my prerogative – to change my mind if I think I have a good reason — and I will explain my rationale, and I will risk being labeled wishy-washy. Maybe. Or, maybe I will choose to call it brave. I’m learning that putting yourself out there isn’t for the squeamish. Speaking up and toughening up are riskier than buttoning up.