A theme in a lot of the things I’ve been reading lately is the importance of story across time and cultures. No matter how different cultures are, there has not been one that has existed without story. Most recently I read Gloria Steinem’s book My Life on the Road (5 stars, I highly recommend it), about the feminist movement and all of the amazing people she’s met throughout her life traveling and organizing.
When I first picked up the book, I was expecting it to feel more like a travel book. I was expecting to hear about places, but what I heard about was people. I realized that’s because that’s the important part of traveling and seeing new places: getting know the people who call the place home.
I also read Brene Brown’s Rising Strong recently (another winner) where she discusses the importance of owning our own stories in order to rise strong out of a painful or difficult experience. She also talks about how being vulnerable and sharing those stories with others can be a powerful form of expression and even helpful in getting through whatever it is you are trying to get through.
Somehow I find it okay to post my story on the internet for anyone to read, but I have a terrible time answering simple questions from people making a genuine effort to get to know me. It’s baffling, but the answer is is also staring me straight in the face: fear.
I don’t have to see the look on a reader’s face if he or she disagrees with what I’ve written. I don’t have to feel small or ashamed or vulnerable when someone dismisses my work by clicking the little x in the top of their web browser because I don’t have to see it.
Somehow I’ve convinced myself I’m not strong enough to handle that in real life, but lately I’ve been proving myself wrong about things I thought I wasn’t strong enough to do.
What’s the worst that happens if someone doesn’t agree with me or doesn’t like what I have to contribute? I’m not forced to continue conversation with them. At best, I learn a new perspective and what I know about the world gets challenged.
In her book, Steinem writes: “If there is one thing that these campus visits affirmed for me, it’s that the miraculous but impersonal internet is not enough…nothing can replace being in the same space.”
Steinem has a movement she’s passionate about to keep her traveling around and writing and speaking to others and making connections. I don’t have a movement or a message. Half the time I don’t know what I think or feel or believe. When I do figure anything out, it seems so painfully obvious that it’s almost embarrassing to admit I ever struggled with it. But I keep writing about things and sharing them here in the hopes that my words resonate with someone the way others’ words have resonated with me. This is the only way I know how to share my story.
I had a golden opportunity to make a connection with a stranger, to share with them a few weeks ago, but once again I opted not to.
We were on the train coming home from Munich a few weeks ago, and I had my nose in a book secretly hoping no one else would come sit in our little compartment. While I’m thinking this, I’m sitting across from my husband who is eager to talk to anyone who crosses his path. I don’t think he knows how much I admire that about him.
Anyways, eventually this woman walks in and sits down. She was wearing hiking boots and carrying a pack almost as big as she was and a brown bag full of flowers. Chris helped her with her bag and proceeded, in a very Christopher fashion, to make small talk with her. I reluctantly put down my book I was hoping to finish on the ride as to not be rude.
Chris learned that she’d been on holiday in the south of France, spent Easter weekend with her family and was now heading home. My mind started racing with all sorts of questions to ask about her trip to France, best places to go, how was the weather this time of year, things of that sort. I told Chris I wish he would’ve asked her, and he asked me why I didn’t just interject.
Good question, Christopher, good question.
Anyways, Chris told her about how we had just moved to Germany and a little bit about our adventures in Munich. Then she turned to look at me and said, “What do you do?”
Freezing up is a normal occurrence for me in almost any social situation, but I stared at the woman who was just asking an innocent question to be polite like she was a three headed alien. I gestured toward Sophie, looked frantically around the compartment like something would just pop out at me and made some sort of “muh, bluh, guh” nonsense noise.
I panicked, I was embarrassed. What do I do? I read books and day drink on trains, I guess. Chris swooped in and said “she’s a writer.”
I’d never heard him say that out loud before nor had I really defined myself as such without first qualifying it as “aspiring.” It was really nice for my efforts toward this seemingly impossible career to be validated. My husband rocks.
Anyways, what I really learned in that moment is that I hate talking to people because I’m afraid I’ll have nothing of substance to add to the conversation. I’ve settled into this role of wife and mother and this lifestyle where I’ve come to define myself by the other people in my life. I hate it. I’m not entirely comfortable being a wife and a stay at home mom. I have too much creative energy pumping through my body –it’s like an electric current this need to create and produce and write and connect. I’m working toward those things, but I still never know what to say when people ask me what I do. I’m afraid of sounding inferior to those who work or judgmental to those ho are happy to be stay at home wives and/or mothers. I am neither, but it is an interesting place to navigate.
I’ve been writing a lot and uncovering a lot of things about myself. One being that I am far too controlled by my fear of everything (I’ve got a great story about that one for another time). Another being that I have a fierce dedication to my work and an overwhelming passion for telling stories and getting words out there. A third is that I want to hear others’ stories as much as I want to tell my own.
I’ve got this insanely amazing opportunity of living abroad to meet all kinds of different people, but that’s impossible to do if I continue to allow myself to be content as a silent observer in my own life.