Over-sharing or Radical Vulnerability?
If I had to choose one thing that I pondered more than anything else during the pandemic, I would say it was “radical vulnerability.” Early into the quarantine when friends were reconnecting via Zoom and Facetime in ways they hadn’t done since college, one of my friends mentioned his desire for radical vulnerability. I haven’t stopped thinking about it since.
When we are radically vulnerable, we not only work to heal ourselves, we are healing those around us. There is strength and beauty in being soft, and in using that softness as a weapon against a machine that tells us we are too sensitive or emotional.
That is what will pop up if you do a quick Google search for that phrase. It reminds me of Mardy Murie who is the “grandmother of the conservation movement.”
This is a picture of me with my dearest friends many years ago sitting with Mardy on her front porch celebrating her 100th birthday.
Mardy personifies radical vulnerability. She testified before Congress in 1977 saying,
“I am testifying as an emotional woman and I would like to ask you, gentlemen, what’s wrong with emotion? Beauty is a resource in and of itself. Alaska must be allowed to be Alaska, that is her greatest economy. I hope the United States of America is not so rich that she can afford to let these wildernesses pass by, or so poor she cannot afford to keep them.”
We wouldn’t have an Arctic National Wildlife Refuge if she had not been willing to be radically vulnerable. First physically by living, studying, and raising a family in the Arctic. She did this with her husband, Olaus, so that the wildlife there would have a voice among politicians. Second, of course, showing the vulnerability of being that voice. I love that. “I am testifying as an emotional woman, and I would like to ask you, gentlemen, what’s wrong with emotion?”
When I mentioned to the hubby that I had taken on this project (of course, he had noticed the Facebook posts!) he just had one quiet question which he is probably sick of asking me because it is a recurring theme. As I mentioned that I was seeking some self-awareness and hope that writing daily will lead to some sort of epiphany, he nodded and said, “Why does it have to be public?”
Ha! Why does it have to be public? Only an introvert with an internal locus of control would ask such a ridiculous question! I don’t know how to write if I’m not pretending there are thousands of people reading it! I know it is only five. We picked up a reader today! And, I love you five people for taking the time to read this, I do. My imagination, though, allows me to see millions of readers. And book deals and money and all the other things that most artists want but don’t say out loud.
Bo Burnham said it out loud. His new Netflix special, Inside, is going to stay inside me for a long time. I felt convicted by his song questioning why EVERYONE needs to say EVERYTHING to EVERYONE. I thought about this Year 49 project. “Uh oh. I think that is what I’m doing!” How do I know the difference between radical vulnerability and narcissistic over-sharing?
Oversharing is saying something personal or inappropriate in the wrong setting or to the wrong person. But it’s not always easy to tell when your child is actually doing that. You might think your child gives up way too much information. But younger people tend to share things more freely than adults do. (Google again)
The truth is. I don’t always know the difference. I’m a classic over-sharer. Here is an example. Keep in mind that in order to share the example, it means that I will be doing the very thing that I’m saying maybe shouldn’t be done. But, I think it is funny. You will likely find it ridiculous, but feel free to laugh at my expense.
I am not what one would call “experienced,” sexually speaking. I married hubby when I was 18 years old. In my twenties, I saw a new ObGyn for the usual annual once over. It was an older man and he casually said while examining me — down there, “Of course, you know you have genital warts.” Hold the phone! No sir. I did not know that. Later as I sat in his office trying to understand what this was he was diagnosing me with I said, “Sir, I’m married. And, my husband is the only person I’ve had sex with. AND, I am the only person my husband has had sex with. I don’t understand.” Looking over his glasses, smirking a bit, he said, “Well, have you been in a hot tub?”
Okay, please remember that I was young. I was naïve. I didn’t know shit. I took the treatment he gave which was absolutely horrific, but I will keep some details for your own imagination. I followed up as he ordered without ever wondering if he could be wrong.
That is just the background and already I’ve shared too much. That is a common thing I say too. “I’ve shared too much.”
Cut to some holiday at my Mama’s house. It was probably Thanksgiving. My entire family was sitting at her table eating and laughing and having the best time when I thought it would be an important WARNING for everyone for me to tell them to stay out of hot tubs because the doctor had said I caught genital warts from one.
I still can’t believe that they didn’t run me out of the room right then. I don’t remember what anyone said. I didn’t think much of it at the time because I was twenty-something, the baby of the family, and always an over-sharer. It mortifies me now that I did that.
And, yet, here I am writing it for what I HOPE will be gazillions of readers.
I know every woman who reads this is going to want to know. I ended up — much later- with a woman doctor who was shocked when I asked her about my diagnosis. She put my mind at ease about it explaining that it was not true. I had never had it. Not from a hot tub, not from anywhere. I never called that man or wrote a letter or gave him a bad Yelp review or anything. (Yelp reviews were not yet a thing.) I like to think if the same thing happened today, I would do a better job of taking care of myself.
See? That is a classic case of over-sharing. I’m sure my father almost choked on his turkey. And, I hope my mother has forgotten it. So, I don’t really want to do that anymore. I want to be a person who CAN shut the fuck up (as Bo Burnham suggests) but like him, I find myself needing something outside of myself to let me know I’m okay. And, I do think it is okay to be radically vulnerable.
I don’t just think it is okay. I think it is of the utmost importance. So, other than these quick Google definitions, how do we know the difference? How can we be radically vulnerable without being narcissistic over-sharers?
Somehow the difference is in grounding. Where are we grounded? Am I hoping to have everyone in the room look at me and think I’m cute and funny? (Almost always.) Or, am I seeking to engage with others in a way that will help them by knowing they are not alone? (When I’m at my best.)
Watch Bo Burnham’s special. You will see both of these. And, you will see a person who seems to be struggling to answer this question too. I watched it tonight because my fifteen year old told me to. I also watched it because my fifty year old friend (sorry, I know you aren’t quite there yet!) told me to. Both of them told me that it moved them in powerful ways. Both of them told me that they laughed. Both of them told me that they cried. My fifteen year old transgender kiddo who is chronically depressed connected with the story Burnham is telling in a way that he doesn’t often do. He was so excited when I told him that I had watched it. “I’m going to watch it again,” he said, “and I think I will cry even more next time.”
I know for some that is a weird thing to be happy about. For some who are not emotional like Mardy Murie and Bo Burnham, who haven’t struggled with their own mental health, who don’t need anyone else to tell them they are okay, it may be crazy. Watch it. He is crazy. In every way that creates beauty and brilliance and humor and insight. Crazy like Laurie Anderson. Crazy in the most wonderful way.
It takes a willingness to be radically vulnerable to share that kind of crazy with the world. And, it is true that some will dismiss it as over-sharing. There are those, though, who feel it deeper, who know it wider and who enter into those vulnerable places with you so that you don’t feel alone in the world. If you are still reading this, you are one of those people for me. And, for that, I say, “Thank you.”