I heard that from a friend the other day. He was talking about what this mentor of his used to tell him when he was first kind of coming out of his shell a few years ago.
This guy talks about how he was pretty shut down for a pretty long time. He had some hard knocks as a young kid and he set things up so that nothing was going to bother him ever again.
Except, everything did.
And the more things bothered him, the thicker and higher he had to make these walls he was building to keep out the hurt. After a while, looking around, he didn’t see anyone, couldn’t hear anything. Nothing was coming in, good or bad. Which is the problem with walls – they keep it all out.
This is perfectly obvious to everyone in abstract. We all know about walls – especially other people’s.
“He’s so closed off.”
“She should open up more, it’d be good for her.”
“He doesn’t let anyone in.”
But when it comes to ourselves, well, things are a little different. Because knocking down a wall to redo your kitchen is fun, but tearing down emotional walls is not. It requires you to pass through various – often serious – amounts of pain.
You gotta go through the bad to get the good, otherwise it isn’t even good.
Which is one of those annoying paradoxes of life, right, that so often you have to do the opposite of what seems to make sense at the time.
It doesn’t always mean you have to learn to GET hurt, though. A lot of people do that already, and do it quite well. For some people, getting hurt is their first, immediate, only reaction to anything. They build their walls out of hurt – their walls, their makeups, their very identities – and they play the perpetual victim, use their hurt manipulate people or justify really awful behavior.
I know because for a few years, that was my M.O. I couldn’t catch a break, nothing was going my way, everything was everybody else’s fault, wah wah wah, and so I numbed it all out. And then I realized that I was rather UNcomfortably numb, because I could still remember the good, somewhere back there, and I knew things could be different. That they had to be.
And this is where the learning HOW to hurt comes in. To hurt in proportion to the injury. To realize it’s not the end of the world. To hurt and then move on.
To realize there might not even be an injury.
This is also where these two slightly-different kind of Wall People converge: proportion. One’s afraid that any hurt at all is going to be the end of the world so he goes to every single length possible to avoid any possibility of hurt, and the other is absolutely sure that every single hurt he gets really is the end of the world and you’d-act-this-way-too-if-the-end-of-the-world-was-happening-to-you.
Getting out of that requires you become vulnerable. Which is part of what my buddy’s mentor had in mind, I imagine, when he’d say, “Learn to hurt, baby.”
Learn to get hurt if you need to, or learn how to hurt if that’s your thing. Either way, it’s about being vulnerable.
Vulnerability in the former circumstance is easy to understand – just allow it to happen. In the latter, it means laying yourself open to what comes instead of the hurt, or after the hurt, when you realize it wasn’t that bad, when you have to take responsibility for it and for all the things you didn’t do before.
Vulnerability is a different kind of hurt than the soul-evisceration of self-victimization. It can sting still, but it can also reward. And more importantly, what pain it entails is tempered by the optimism inherent “putting yourself out there.” Because you wouldn’t risk it if you didn’t think on some level that it will or at least could work out.
Case in point: I’ve been writing stories for 15 years, but I never sent one anywhere (for fear of rejection, fear of exposure-as-a-charlatan, for all kinds of reasons) until last summer. So I never got a rejection letter.
(Though I still felt victimized by the American publishing industry for not having a book deal. Seriously. That’s how I felt. I wrote about it. Several times. Thank god no one published that drivel.)
Well, I’ve gotten plenty of rejection letters now. And they suck. Every time.
But every time I get one and turn around and send the story somewhere else, I say c’est la vie. Because that really is life – especially a writer’s life. But it’s representative of this whole shift in attitude that I can even say that and mean it and not feel like I should see how long it takes to hit the water from the roadway of the Golden Gate.
And it’s being okay with that, allowing yourself to run the risk of that happening, that makes you a stronger person.
And we can always do better at that. Even if you’re not one of those Wall People, you can always find a way to loosen up, to open up, to lay yourself bare. I know, I know – “laying yourself bare” sounds awful. You’re doing fine just the way you are. But there’s always that part of you, in close relationships, in intimate interactions, when you know it’d probably be better if you said X or did Y, let the person know how you really feel.
Those moments when, if you’re like me, you think, “Get me the fuck outta here.” After which you breathe a huge sigh of relief because you maintained the integrity of your shell. That you think about for hours days weeks months years after and wish you’d just said or did whatever that soft part of your heart knew was the right thing to say or do.
I’m going to leave you with another motivational-quote meme that the internet says is attributed to Bruce Lee:
I’ve got a lot more to say on this. I was going to segue into a different vein that has to do with the Rolling Stones (hence the album cover up there), but I think maybe that’s its own thing. You’re probably happy to get outta here in closet to 1,000 words for once anyway.
Thanks for coming.