Monday, September 30, 2013

Last post of September: The courage to write

This is the final post of September. My commitment to post every day in September was ..... well, it was a failure, I suppose. I missed either 3 or 4 days. I don't care. Perfectionism is over-rated. I'm satisfied with the month's output, and I hope you are too.

One post in particular, "Censorship Down Under" -- a post I almost didn't publish -- got significant attention. A lot more people than usual responded to it on Facebook and in the comments section, and several people wanted to talk about it in real life.

And then late last night an editor at Blogher, a huge women's blogging network where I occasionally cross-post, picked it as the editor's choice on their Love and Sex page. I was so flattered and honored I blushed right here at my computer when I read the email from the editor telling me she'd chosen it.

I've answered a few comments there, and as of 2:45 am, the time I'm writing this, there were over 2500 reads. That's a shit-ton for me. Later this afternoon, she added the Great Wall of Vagina section of last night's post, which I uploaded this morning. I theorized if she liked one vagina post, she might like another. She did.

I will say it's odd having somebody else edit my writing, which she also did. She also took out the photo of naked vaginas that I agonized over including in that post, and used one that's not so graphic. But you know what? I was a magazine editor for 10 years. That's the way the business works. I'm just grateful that she highlighted that post, and not just because it made my ego swell up to the point I had to have an emergency brain drain put in, but because it started an important conversation with both women and men.

And that's what most writers pray for every night when we get on our knees beside our beds -- right after, "Please let me win the lottery let at least one person read what I wrote tonight."

I've been substitute teaching in a friend's creative writing class at a magnet school for the arts recently. I've taught there twice, and I'll be teaching another 11 days in the next month.

I teach both a senior and a junior class, and creative writing is like their major. It's what got them into the school, which requires an audition for the 7 magnets in the school.

Friday I had them write on an index card whether they felt safe -- because I think it's terribly important that students feel safe in a writing class. I asked them to tell me why they didn't feel safe if they answered no.

The senior class is small, only 9 kids: 7 boys and 2 girls. All of them said they felt safe. They are comfortable sharing their writing with each other and with me. They support each other, and so far, I haven't seen any bullying or mocking. Good-natured teasing, but no meanness.

The junior class -- 18 kids -- is just the opposite. Most of them said they don't feel safe. They are reluctant to share their writing in class or with each other in groups. They said they don't want anybody to see their vulnerability. Some of them will share, but many won't. I've heard some of the girls in the class are bullies. They don't pull any shit in front of me, but I probably know which ones would if they thought they could get away with it. I suspect they are intimidating even when they aren't doing anything. I know all to well how bullies function.

I told that class today if they didn't get over it, they would never make it as writers. Or actors or dancers or musicians or artists. I said if they couldn't get over their own fear of showing vulnerability through their words with their friends and family or their classmates or even with strangers, they would never make the connection people need to feel in order to invest their emotions in the writing.

I told them if they ever wanted to be writers, they had to learn not to give a shit about what other people think. Yeah, I'm a hypocrite, but the caring is why we do it and the not giving a shit is how we manage to put it out there one more day.

I was probably banging my head against a brick wall with most of them. That's what teaching is like. The ones who got it, probably already had it. The ones who are afraid will still be afraid.

Although I want to, I'm not sure whether to tell them about this experience -- partly because I'd have to talk about vaginas in a high school writing class. I'm not even sure if that's appropriate. Partly because they can google like nobody's business, and I'm not sure I want them reading my blog. Boundaries. It's not like I post photos of my own vagina -- although that was suggested today -- but I'd still feel a little funny if I knew they were reading here.

But I would like to tell them about how I took a risk, and it paid off. Not in dollars, but in emotional connection with people who read and understood. I want to tell them about how I couldn't sleep after I published that post in the middle of the night, because I had admitted I didn't really like looking at those naked vaginas, that they made me uncomfortable. And about how I worried I'd lose readers for posting the photos or for being a bad feminist or for writing about vaginas too often.

Not that I'm beating myself up about worrying. I'm not. Plenty of people understood and acknowledged why it was a risk.

I just want every one of those kids to write something uncomfortable and then share it -- with strangers, classmates, friends, family. I want them to experience cutting themselves open and examining their feelings and reactions in words, even when they don't like what they see. And even when they don't know how other people will react. And even when it hurts. Especially when it hurts.

I guess it's not something that can be forced. I just hope someday they get to experience writing something difficult, sharing it, and receiving back the gift of understanding, conversation, reassurance and connection like I did this week.

That will give them a reason to keep opening up and keep writing.

Thanks for reading this month. I'll probably take a break for a few days so I can get a couple of good night's sleep, but I'll be back soon enough. Stay tuned!

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