A Lesson In Vulnerability
If you don’t cry at your birthday, does it even count?
I’m a crier. I always have been. I’m the type of person who tries so hard to keep it together when she is upset but in the end, I break and tears flow freely and I can’t stop them. It pisses me off, especially in times where I don’t want to cry because it has such a negative connotation in certain situations such as when asking your nightmare boss for a raise and trying to explain you were STILL never given a raise though you did get a promotion and a promise it would happen plus someone below you was hired at a higher rate that she never checked on.
I cried at my birthday dinner. After telling my husband to put away his phone though he was very sweetly showing me messages from friends with birthday wishes, I wanted to be present and enjoy conversation with my close friends and make him do so as well. Shortly after, I pulled out my phone to take a picture of the bottle of wine we ordered and saw a notification of an email of a contest I had submitted for. It was a short story contest with a horror theme. I picked a story that I loved and was honestly a perfect fit for the prompt.
Naturally, I opened the email.
My story had been rejected.
Now, under normal circumstances, I would be fine with this. I’ve been rejected a shitload as an actor and now as a writer. It’s part of the process. But this one was a sword. Sometimes rejection is a sword, sometimes it is a knife. See, a sword cuts deep and long. A knife is a smaller cut with less bite.. A sword can kill you far faster and easier. So this sword sliced through me when I least expected it and I went to the bathroom and cried. And then I came back to the table of this beautiful restaurant my dear friend had chosen for me in New Orleans on this memorable trip and I attempted to hide it but I cried some more.
I don’t like being vulnerable in front of people, even my closest friends. It makes me feel uncomfortable and like I am stripping my skin off and everyone can see my insides and how they work. This was a moment of joy and celebration and I felt I was ruining it. I felt stupid for letting myself get to the point where I couldn’t keep my feelings in for a few more hours and then cry to my husband in our room later that night.
But I didn’t.
I felt I had let the heat, wine, and overwhelmingness of attention and kindness shown to me by my people open me up. I don’t do well in heat and I go a little Dark Phoenix if I am too hot and break down (yes, I know I was in New Orleans in June but the New Yorker souls of our group told us to walk everywhere and sit outside and we listened!). I tend to get uncomfortable and anxious with a lot of attention so while I love birthdays, I never feel I am grateful enough with my words and actions to tell everyone how much the love means to me. I also turned 35, an age that terrifies me, and I was heading home without a job (a choice I made but still a scary one). I am about to take a creative risk and I feel I am drifting out to sea.
I have been shut up for a few years now. As I’ve mentioned before, the years in Vermont I was hardly ever myself and I never let my vulnerability out to play. It has cabin fever and when it is triggered or stabbed with a sword like this tiny email that in the end does not matter, it freaks out. Much like I do when I feel sweat all over my body even though I am well aware that is what happens in 97 degree heat. I’m an asshole princess sometimes, what can I say?
I never know if my vulnerability makes people uncomfortable or changes their opinion of me. In my anxious brain, it does. They turn away and ignore me, starting a separate conversation that doesn’t involve a writer’s tears. They talk about me when I am out of earshot, saying how crazy and whiny I am. How sensitive I am. How annoying I am. Does any of this actually happen? I don’t think so. Even if it did, I should not be ashamed for having an emotional reaction to something I am proud of and was confident in. Something that is a piece of me more than an audition is. Something I shared and am taking a big risk in and want the validation I am doing the right thing.
Luckily, one of my best friends is in the same boat and we are not drowning but rather floating along trying to catch a good wind in our sails. He recently got a strong wind and shared with me a quote of a favorite filmmaker of ours: “You can’t lose them all.” Him and my husband sat on either side of me and let me be vulnerable. They let me open up the wound the sword left and let it bleed for a minute. Even as the tears dried up and a insanely delicious cake came out with a candle on it, they let me sit in my sadness. They told me to make my wish count and I surely did.
Looking up around the table, I was embarrassed I had let myself be so exposed. It is something I may only be comfortable with writing down instead of sharing it in front of others. As a writer and actor, I am not scared of vulnerability until it is all me, in person, eyes watching. I wasn’t hiding behind a blog or a monologue; it was a real moment of pain. It was a moment that I felt I had wasted on this silly little thing that I have not thought about beyond that night.
But it happened. And I shouldn’t feel this way. I am so bred to feel ashamed of crying in public and I don’t know where it came from. Society and being intensely bullied as a kid are my key suspects because it certainly wasn’t my family and friends. I do have days where I love myself and who I am and I am getting closer to accepting that I may cry at a birthday dinner or in a dressing room at Target or the subway or on the damn street.
I worry constantly about how other people view me when what matters is how I view myself.
I am allowed to be overwhelmed, angry, disappointed and scared. It may all hit me as I am also feeling happy, adventurous, grateful, and loved. I am a complicated flower at times. I can hate the heat but still love the sun. I can cry at both rejection and crawfish risotto. I hope someday the memory of this will stop stinging with regret and the wound that sword cut. I hope the pit in my stomach will dissolve and I can someday stop assuming what other people think of me when I take off my mask and show a part of myself that hides behind it.
I used to do a monologue for auditions about a girl who smiled all the time and that was what she was known for. Everyone relied on her to be happy all the time. Eventually, it drove her insane and she tried to kill herself and ended up in a mental institution. It’s a comedy, don’t worry (a dark one). I am nowhere near that character but I think about her a lot in times like these. It is okay to crack open. If I keep working at it, maybe one day I won’t be ashamed of my vulnerability. Maybe I will just let it happen and celebrate it when it does.