“Vulnerability is about showing up and being seen. It’s tough to do that when we’re terrified about what people might see or think.”~ Brene Brown
Please join me in welcoming Memoirist Janet Lombardi to Memoir Writer’s Journey. Janet and I are IWWG sisters and met at the summer conference. Her newly released memoir, Bankruptcy: A Love Story is a testament to the power of vulnerability in telling the stories of our hearts.
As Writers, We are Daredevils
“Go ahead,” urged Mrs. Braver, my second-grade teacher. “Read your composition aloud,” She had invited Mr. Feuerstein, our principal, to visit our class that day. I had written about a walk the class had taken earlier in the week walk on a sunny, March day. Mrs. Braver pointed out a bird in a bare tree teaching us about the birds filtering back to our Brooklyn neighborhood after winter. It was hard to see the bird with the sun in my eyes, even while shielding my forehead with my hand. I caught a glimpse of the bird (maybe it was red-winged blackbird!) before it flew off but kids around me complained they couldn’t see it because the sun was too bright.
When we got back to the classroom, Mrs. Braver instructed us to write a composition in our black marbleized composition notebooks about our walk. As I scribbled in pencil, I hesitated writing about the moment that some kids couldn’t see the bird. I knew I could stick to surface details: we walked around the block. It was sunny. We saw a tree. But to say “the sun was in our eyes and some kids couldn’t see the bird,” felt gratuitous, too personal. If I wrote to that level of detail would kids laugh? Make fun of me? Would the teacher ridicule the story? Or worse, dismiss it?
I went for it and included the phrase, “some kids couldn’t see the bird because of the sun in their eyes.” Today, as an adult writer, I view this as the act of delving below the surface of myself, “going deeper,” something my writing group urged me to do over and over as I wrote my memoir, Bankruptcy: A Love Story.
The willingness to take risk in one’s writing, the discomfort that comes at the moment of revealing something about oneself or the way one sees the world is nothing short of being a daredevil.
As writers, we are Evil Kneivel, the daredevil motorcycle rider who rode over the Colorado River. We calculate our risks, muster our bravery, and take the dive. We indulge in our self-expression, which some people in the world wouldn’t consider at any cost nor understand the reward.
The willingness to take risk comes with the possibility of exposing deeply held thoughts, ideas, perceptions, our very souls.
I read my composition aloud, including the part about the sun in everyone’s eyes, to express what I held in my 7-year-old life as the most important observation on the walk –not everyone got a chance. The teacher, principal, class applauded my efforts.
This was the moment I equated vulnerability with good writing.
That experience set the stage for me as a writer. I learned that risk and vulnerability are worthy companions in the pursuit of good writing.
I released my memoir, Bankruptcy: A Love Story (Heliotrope Books) in June of this year. It’s an intimate look at my failing marriage and what I and my family endured before and after my husband was prosecuted for a white collar crime and went to prison. The beginning of the book includes chapters about a romance I had with another woman, while married. The level of detail, I’ve been told, makes the book come alive. I chose to include intimate details about the woman—how she smelled, looked, and appeared to me and how I felt. With all the dramatic details that made up the story (my husband’s crime, visits to prison, our failed finances), the pages about Claire were the most vulnerable for me to reveal. Just like when I was in second grade, I had to ask myself before finishing the draft: what would people think? What would my children think? What would my co-workers think? What would the world think? Do I open myself up to reveal my infidelity and same sex experiences? Even today while the world expands acceptance of all gender types, my own fear railed against me.
Yet, I was willing in the end to reveal my most sacred self.
So, as writers do we pay enough attention to that quiet voice? That vulnerable place inside? Do we feel and plunge in bravely or do we skim the surface where things are safe?
What would have happened had I chosen to stay safe while writing my second-grade composition? No one would have known I was facing an artistic fork in the road. Perhaps I not have become a writer. Then, I would never have experienced the thrill of the daredevil.
Thank you, Janet for sharing how allowing yourself to be vulnerable enabled you to “reveal your most sacred self”. It’s an important reminder for all of us who feel called to tell our stories in a meaningful way.
More About the Author:
JANET LOMBARDI has written for salon.com, newsweek.com, Long Island Newsday, and others. She has appeared on Huffington Post live web and been featured a featured guest of numerous radio shows. The mother of two grown sons, Janet lives in Rockville Centre, NY. Bankruptcy: A Love Story is her first book.
Website: Janet Lombardi, Author
Janet Lombardi on Facebook
When Janet Lombardi phoned her financial advisor on a gray January day in 2007, she discovered something frightening. Her husband, Josh, an attorney, had emptied accounts without her knowledge. Her advisor spoke bluntly to her: Get yourself a good accountant, attorney, and private eye. Bankruptcy: A Love Story, Lombardi’s debut memoir, lays bare the financial and other infidelities in her marriage. It traces the story of her family’s plunge into economic turmoil as Josh faces prosecution and prison. Set against the backdrop of September 11th, the memoir roller coasters through sexual desire, addiction, financial collapse, and squandered love. As wife and mother, Lombardi confronts her own desires and demons as she travels the road to survival and navigates questions of love and redemption.
Bankruptcy: A Love Story adds a human face to the headlines and statistics about sub-prime mortgages and debt-financed living. In 2010, home foreclosures in the United States reached an all-time high with more than one million people losing their homes. Americans have suffered the effects of these tough economic times, but few have captured the frightening ride in such detail. Bankruptcy: A Love Story takes the reader down the well and back up into the light. Ultimately, that road back is lined with painful choices, desperate moves, and the knowledge that letting go provides the only real answer.
How about you? How would you answer Janet’s questions: “as writers do we pay enough attention to that quiet voice? That vulnerable place inside? Do we feel and plunge in bravely or do we skim the surface where things are safe?”
We’d love to hear your thoughts. Please join in the conversation below~
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