2019 is teaching me a lesson about vulnerability. It is showing me again and again how much harder it is to stay open and vulnerable than it is to close off, shut down, not talk about it, but also how much more I can offer and be by fighting the urge to take the easier route.
To me, vulnerability looks like talking about the hard parts instead of just the highlights. It is saying ‘I struggle with crowds and too much social interaction’ instead of ‘I’m busy’ when someone asks me to do something I’m not up for. It is sharing the difficult days with my parent friends rather than just the cute photos of our kids. It is allowing myself to have sad, bad days instead of trying to find a positive angle to focus on. It is asking for help. It is prioritising self care. It is finding the hard, awkward, uncomfortable truth in my writing instead of trying to be funny or sarcastic or smart. It is even just talking about my work or myself and not changing the subject or turning conversations onto the other person to avoid the attention. It goes against my instincts of self-preservation, and I have to actively make the choice to be vulnerable every time.
One of the easiest ways to redirect myself towards vulnerability is through art. My favourite stories to consume are that perfect blend of funny/sad/vulnerable. This year it’s been Fleabag, Booksmart, ‘The Surprising Power of a Good Dumpling’ by Wai Chim, ‘Normal People’ by Sally Rooney, Derry Girls, ‘Stage Fright’ by Jenny Slate, ‘Better in Black’ by Thelma Plum, The First Time podcast, ‘The Gulf’ by Anna Spargo-Ryan, ‘Say Hello’ by Carly Findlay, The End of The Fxxxing World, The Heights, ‘All The Ways To Be Smart’ by Davina Bell, State of the Union, Eighth Grade, Bluey, Top End Wedding, The Hate U Give, ‘What I Like About Me’ by Jenna Guillaume, ‘Sensitive’ by Allayne Webster, any time Hannah Gadsby talks and more. Those stories are powerful and beautiful because they were created from an open, vulnerable place.
So with that in mind, here goes. The publication date for my debut YA novel ‘Please Don’t Hug Me’ got bumped back to May 2020. I found that out earlier in the year but I didn’t really feel like talking about it, let alone writing a blog post. I was disappointed, but it wasn’t personal. Just part of an industry I am very new to.
I’ve been working away on book 2 all year. In between rewrites I wrote a few feature pieces I thought would make publication. They didn’t. My journalist brain knows that I sent very little out into the world and rejections are part of the gig. It still stings, especially the times I didn’t even hear back. To be completely honest, I’m learning that I have a tendency to try to write something funny or wry or otherwise detached when I’m struggling with the emotions of something more vulnerable. It’s a diversion, a reprieve. Book 2 is that emotional, vulnerable thing. Book 2 is an exploration of autism and trauma. I’m writing about what it means not to perform grief in a way that is socially acceptable and how that can compound the grieving. I’m writing about delayed emotional response, compartmentalisation of grief, non-verbal periods after trauma, intergenerational trauma and how that can be hidden by shame and lack of communication. It’s also quite funny, or I think so at least.
Book 2 feels honest and vulnerable in the way ‘Please Don’t Hug Me’ felt writing it. It’s nowhere near publication ready just yet, but the bones are there. I feel completely elated that I have been given a chance to sharpen and polish this work with a Varuna 2020 Residential Fellowship. It is a privilege to be able to escape from real life and devote a whole block of time to a creative practice, especially with a small child in my life. It is a privilege to have a support network that will rally to help take over parenting duties. It is a privilege to do any of this. It doesn’t mean it doesn’t feel hard sometimes, but overwhelmingly I am feeling resilient, fortunate and ready. So now May seems like maybe it is the perfect date for debut publication after all.