This past weekend I was reminded—again—of the essential nature of community, and the vital importance of sharing our true selves. We are wired to seek out others with whom we feel like we “belong.” As Brené Brown says in Braving the Wilderness, “Belonging is the innate human desire to be part of something larger than us.”
Even those of us who are introverts want to feel that connection with others who get us and support us. Brown also says, “Never underestimate the power of being seen.” And yet, in order to truly feel like we belong, we have to show up as our authentic selves.
In a creative setting, where we’re putting out something we made, it can feel like we’re offering up a piece of our soul. I find that to be so risky emotionally. Brown agrees: “True belonging is not passive. It's not the belonging that comes with just joining a group. It's not fitting in or pretending or selling out because it's safer. It's a practice that requires us to be vulnerable, get uncomfortable, and learn how to be present with people without sacrificing who we are. We want true belonging, but it takes tremendous courage to knowingly walk into hard moments.”
But the rewards for that risk are great—when you’re accepted for who you are, or your work touches others, it’s deeply satisfying. I work at home and really miss the camaraderie of coworkers. Online groups fill part of the gap, but I also crave personal connection.
Last weekend I had the chance to go to the opening of an exhibit featuring a painting that includes one of my poems. And although it meant driving eight hours to Houston over on Friday and back again on Sunday—and I was nervous because I’d also have to read my poem aloud at the event (risk!)—I grabbed that chance. What made it even better was that I’d get to stay with one of my dearest friends, whom I hadn’t seen in over a year. To be able to spend uninterrupted time catching up with her is a rare treat, and immensely nourishing. (More connection!)
The exhibit was called Color:Story 2019, by amazing artists Leslie Gaworecki and Marlo Saucedo. I met Leslie at Lucky Star Art Camp. Last year she put out a request for words to feature in a collaborative work with Marlo, so I submitted my poem “What If.” I was thrilled when they chose it, and even more so when I saw the finished piece (pic below, and more on my Facebook page).
It felt amazing to be part of a collaboration like that. Then they decided to create more pieces along those lines, and were approved to exhibit them in a show. I figured the opening would be fun, and I knew it would meet my desire for connection, but I didn’t anticipate how very much it would fill my soul.
Their space is a huge warehouse subdivided into studios, and before the opening we were able to wander around and see all the other artists. Being in a place dedicated solely to creativity, I felt a special kind of energy that was inspiring and rejuvenating. (It also made my hands itch with the desire to grab a brush and start painting!!)
It was incredible to see my piece in person, and all the other beautiful pieces in the show. The other writers’ work was amazing. And then hearing that work read aloud, and feeling the appreciation of the crowd, brought a whole new level of energy.
It wasn’t quite enough energy to keep me from being increasingly nervous about my turn. But since my poem actually talks about feeling the fear and doing it anyway, I couldn’t possibly back down! I managed to read it all without losing my place or misspeaking—or tripping on the way up—and afterward, several people told me how much they liked it. That meant the world to me. Writers so often send our word babies out into the universe and don’t hear anything back…to get affirmation that our words touched someone makes all the effort, uncertainty, and fear worthwhile.
Seeing such a large group gathered to support the writers and artists was fantastic. It was like getting an infusion of love and appreciation. And seeing all of the artists gathered in that studio space, inspiring and encouraging each other, really brought home to me how important it is for creatives to have a community. Whether it’s “in real life” or virtual, having others who understand the challenges you face and can cheer you on is invaluable.
Especially when we’re starting out, that inner critic can really be loud, and can stop us before we have a chance to get going. Sharing with others who have been there before, who struggle with their own inner critics, really helps us keep going.
And then having others appreciate your work when it’s out there in the world—wow. We create because we have to—because there’s something inside of us that wants to be born, and if we don’t let it out, part of us withers away. We also create to bring joy, or solace, or inspiration to others. Our own pain or happiness, while personal in detail, is universal in feeling. Sharing it heals both the creator and the viewer. Everyone is lifted up. It’s magic, and I’m grateful to have finally gotten to a place in my life where I can experience it for myself.
If you’re feeling that urge to put something out there, remember this. If even one person is touched, it’s worth the vulnerability and the risk. The world needs your voice. Each of us has something unique to share, and someone else needs to hear it because it will benefit them. Don’t let fear keep your voice bottled up inside. Something that can really help you push past fear and doubt is the book The Artist’s Way. Read that, and find your community, and as Rumi says, “Be a lamp, or a lifeboat, or a ladder. Help someone’s soul heal.” The risk is great, but the reward is enormous.