People ask me what I do. Every time I say I teach writing, I feel simultaneously giddy and like I’m going to be struck by lightening. I’ve been a writer forever but a few years ago I realized I’d like to pursue work around writing but wasn’t sure what that would be. Then a year ago, I completed a teacher training to learn to facilitate a process called Wild Writing with one of my writing teachers, Laurie Wagner. Wild Writing is a way to approach to writing with freedom, a practice that allows us to put our truth onto the page and helps us escape the grasp of that crafty critic in our head. It’s transformative. It’s healing. So now here I am now, teaching Wild Writing.
As much as I love teaching it, as much as I know this practice is healing and nurturing, something everyone should experience, I’m not great at promoting it. It’s an edge for me. Uncomfortable. Because I tell myself there are people out there who are more “qualified,” who have been published, who have an MFA in writing, . . . . But here’s the thing, I’m good at what I do. People love it and they come back for more.
I recently sat down to talk with Laurie about how to bust through my discomfort and share the classes, because as great as the practice is, I can’t share it with people if I don’t tell them about it.
As soon as I told her about my discomfort, she smiled and her eyes lit up. “Great—let’s find three ways to make you really uncomfortable in this area!“
I groaned and laughed. “Ugh! Really?”
It’s not as if I’ve had a shortage of discomfort in my life recently. I’ll spare you the details but just think aging, questions about my parenting ability as I try to help two teen boys into the world, the swirling on the domestic and world stages. Oh, and did I mention being married for a LONG time? Basically, the squirminess of being a person. Yes, I know something about being uncomfortable.
As much as I want to push away more discomfort, I know it’s only with this sort of stretching I’ll make any headway in any area of life. Lev Vygotsky, a psychologist who lived in the early 20th century, described what he called the Proximal Zone of Development (see image: https://goo.gl/images/W5B8cN.). Imagine a bullseye with three rings. In the middle are the things a person can currently do with out help. In the second ring are things a person could do with some support and guidance. The third and outer ring contains skills that are currently out of reach.
Ideally, we keep our eyes on the middle ring, that place that requires some stretch, some reach. And, yes, some discomfort. It’s both exciting and scary to lean out over that line, into those places of uncertainty, where I don’t yet feel competent. I mean, what if it doesn’t go well? What if I lean too far, lose my balance as it were, and fall in? Kerplunk. Soaking wet and sputtering. What if I don’t lean far enough and don’t make any progress? All just ways of asking, what if I fail? Specifically, what if no one signs up for my classes? What if people do come and don’t like it? What if, what if, what if?
Lately I’ve been reading and listening to the poet and philosopher, David Whyte (https://onbeing.org/programs/david-whyte-the-conversational-nature-of-reality-dec2018/). He speaks to this vulnerability we experience as humans. He says that if we are to live this life fully, we will inevitably experience heartbreak. Who wants that? Except that to build a wall around one’s heart, to refuse to be vulnerable, to refuse to feel anything less than what’s comfortable is another type of heartbreak. It’s the heartbreak of limiting your life, limiting your experience, limiting where you might go, who you might love, what you might do. Allowing fear and discomfort to cage you up.
Being human is tricky. If a fox goes after prey and doesn’t succeed, she’s just hungry and tries again. She doesn’t go back to her den feeling like a failure. Humans, on the other hand, often do. We have all those icky feelings to deal with. But as another mentor of mine frequently points out, they’re just feelings. They won’t kill you. Sometimes in the moment, I’m not convinced of that. Feelings can be overwhelming and threatening.
I have to keep making the choice every moment, every day. Do I stay nice and safe and comfy or do I reach and stretch myself out of my comfort zone and even possibly go KERPLUNK? This is my life. It’s worth getting wet.