Being in the Arena

Recently I watched Brene Brown’s Netflix special. This article talks about it.

Brene says that joy is the most vulnerable human emotion. We’re so afraid that if we let ourselves feel joy, something will come and take that away from us and we’ll be hit with pain, trauma, and loss. As a consequence, we try to “dress rehearse” tragedy to feel better prepared.

That “‘dress rehearse’ tragedy” is me. Possibly I learned to this from my mad childhood to my writer’s brain.

When you grow up with a mean, unpredictable adult in the house (in my case my dad’s second wife), you learn to prepare for pain, trauma, and loss just so you can get through the day. It’s a survival skill that you don’t leave behind because you’re out of the woods. After all, you don’t know what monster lurks there ready to take you by surprise.

To give a small example of life with my dad’s second wife, I’ll share this story. I was about 10, and we took a trip to Orlando to shop for school clothes. I saw a bracelet that I fell in love with. It had maybe twelve polished, heart-shaped stones dangling from a thin gold chain. When Christmas arrived, that bracelet waited for me under the tree. Such happiness I felt that my step-mother had given me this. It meant she noticed something I wanted and she’d taken the time to buy it and hide it until Christmas morning. I wore the bracelet as much as I could during the Christmas holiday, taking care to not wear it to play outside. Then of course came the day when she went into my room, searched through my things, and took it, telling me I was spoiled and didn’t need it. She gave it away, to her niece, I think. It was just something she did–give and then take away. Even gifts from others, she took. A blanket crocheted for me by my grandmother. Jewelry from my dad she threw in the trash. She even threw away my homework because I was working on it instead of cleaning the house. And will a teacher believe you when you tell them your step-mother threw away your homework? No. I can tell you, a teacher will not. A teacher will suspect you’re lying to get people to feel sorry for you and get attention. (I don’t know about you, but I grew up in a place where trying to get attention was a high crime.)

Plus, as a writer, I imagine terrible things all the time. What horrors can I inflict on my characters? [insert evil laugh] I can easily imagine a dozen horrifying what-ifs for fiction and real life.

When my novel, The Blue Jar, was published, I kept imagining terrible reactions from people, so much so, I had to stop myself from saying, “Oh, you don’t want to read that.” And this is no way to promote a book. I can’t keep doing that or I’ll never have a writing career.

We can’t be afraid of, as Brown would say it, being in the arena.

You can watch Brown’s TED Talk here.

5 thoughts on “Being in the Arena

  1. TammyB

    On the coat tails of another Brene Brown concept – thank you for sharing and being vulnerable in this post. We all have pain in our past but the shades of our own experiences are so different. To have these shadows of feelings follow you helps me understand you a bit better. Hugs to you my friend. Thank goodness for the writing we rely on.

  2. I’m afraid to fully feel joy because then I crash into depression and anxiety. Meds help, but I can’t break the habit of putting a lid on joy so I won’t plunge from a height. THE BLUE JAR? Wonderful book!

    1. Thank you for the lovely comment on my book! And thank you for commenting. I recently I got into “polite” argument with someone who insisted people who weren’t happy all the time were just choosing to not be happy. I really wanted to scream, “THAT’S NOT HOW IT WORKS!” Emotions and the brain are complicated.

      Glad you’re here. HUGS.

      1. That someone sounds like they’re in denial about their own emotions. You can certainly choose to dwell on things that make you happy/unhappy, and you can choose how you present to the world, but you can’t choose how you FEEL. SMH at that person. Wonder if they’ve read CANDIDE? Did you call them “Dr. Pangloss”?

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