an exercise in vulnerability

Do you remember password journals? It was a journal that locked and only opened by voice recognition using a pre-recorded password. My best friend growing up had one. During sleepovers we’d change the password to ridiculous words and phrases that we’d scream into the journal and then see if it would open when we tried to match the same ridiculous volume and tone of voice. Essentially is was just a sleepover with the two of us screaming all night into a purple plastic box with paper inside, fun times.

They say to look to your younger self to try and uncover your passions: the things you loved freely before the world started telling you who you should and should not be. I used to enjoy writing. In third grade I wrote a short story in which I wax and wane poetically about the trials and tribulations of the day I awoke as a furry little hamster and successfully defeated the antagonist (my mother) by sneakily maneuvering throughout the school day and returning home to my bed that night without her ever knowing. Despite it’s realistic qualities, this was a fictitious tale that, if I must say, landed me a perfect score on my SOL (humble brag). But at the time I didn’t write for a perfect score, I wrote because it was a creative outlet. Because it was fun. Because I liked it. (And also because it was a mandatory test, but that’s besides the point). But somewhere over the years that changed, and I became pen shy. It wasn’t until recently that I could even bring myself to write in a journal. My teens through my early twenties I would try. I would get the perfect notebook, the perfect pen, and I would write. But with a self-imposed standard of perfection, I wasn’t really writing. I was pretending to write. I was writing so that I sounded like someone who was writing. I was acting, playing the role of ‘journal writer’ in a scene where an angsty teenager retreats to her room and finds solace in words as her sparkly Gelly Roll pen glides effortlessly across her college-ruled spiral notebook. And when I stopped to take a breathe and looked down and read what I had written, I’d feel like I was naked in the middle of a high school auditorium (any high school auditorium, not just mine, because to be honest I still find most high schoolers a bit scary and intimidating). I would tear up the pages in a fit of shame — manually shredding them in fear of my mom piecing together the puzzle of my inner-most fabricated thoughts and feelings (I know, I know — v self-absorbed and v paranoid).

I feel this way about a lot of creative outlets: singing, dancing, cooking, poetry. Am I doing them? Or am I pretending to do them? Is it free? Is it an uninhibited action — simply existing, flowing freely from my soul? Or am I holding back — modeling behavior and doing it the way it’s ‘supposed to be’ done? I was once told, “don’t let good be the enemy of great.” A lifetime of seeking external validation, living in fear of rejection, and working towards the unrealistic goal of perfection has paralyzed me from writing something good in fear of it not being great. Which is all to say that writing is an exercise in vulnerability for me, and when I think about who may or may not read this I still get a twinge of high-school-auditorium-induced-anxiety.

When I left in January for Peace Corps service I resolved to write throughout my time in South Africa as a way to share my experience with friends and family back home (plus, goal three). Through this experience I’m gaining a new perspective, one that affords me the opportunity to reassess my understanding of myself, others, and this crazy yet fascinating world in which we live. It’s incredible and challenging, and perhaps it’s worth sharing bits and pieces of even if it feels a little self-indulgent. I’m growing and stepping outside of my comfort zone and trusting that in time I’ll feel less like someone who’s writing a post trying to sound like someone who’s writing a post and more just like myself, moving freely from that magical place within.

The content of this post is mine alone and does not necessarily reflect the views of the U.S. Government, the Peace Corps, or the South African Government.