A couple of weeks ago I had an interesting conversation with a man I'd just met. Eventually the topic of yoga came up and he told me that although he's a triathlete, he could never do yoga.
"Why not?" I asked. "Have you ever tried it?"
"No," he admitted. "But it hurts doesn't it?"
"It shouldn't...why would you say that?"
"Because when my trainer stretches me out it hurts."
I explained how a yoga practice is designed to strengthen and relax muscles so that they're more pliable and easier to extend...and it should never hurt.
"What do you teach in your classes?" he asked.
"This year I've upped the game with my students and we're doing a lot of plank rotations and core work," I told him. Then I went on to describe many of the poses we've been practicing.
A slow smile crossed his face. "You're a little badass, aren't you?"
I laughed, "What does that mean?"
"You do all kinds of stuff in that little yoga room of yours that nobody sees," he replied. "You're pretty strong."
I shrugged. "I guess."
I wanted to tell him that I'm also a smart ass and a pain in the ass, and that he doesn't know that yet. But I didn't.
Of course, his description wasn't a surprise to me. I've never been accused of being fragile, in fact friends will often describe me as dedicated, focused, enduring, and determined. Still, I've never been called a "badass" before.
And I kinda liked it.
I suppose I come by it naturally. As a young child my literary heroes were Ramona Quimby and Pippi Longstocking. I climbed tall trees on a dare and tobogganed down Dead Man's Hill. I was fierce and I was loud and I was bold.
But underneath it all, I now realize that I was also terrified to be vulnerable and open. Afraid to be anything but self-sufficient because I had learned over time that to rely on someone meant I would eventually be disappointed or rejected. And so I built a hardened shell around myself, calling it "stubborn independence" or "autonomous authenticity" or whatever jargon best fit the moment. Over the years I've outgrown it, but not completely. And just recently, it's begun to feel a bit too constricting.
So I wonder...how do I allow myself to be a vulnerable badass? It's a conundrum to be sure. Perhaps it all begins with the willingness to want both sides of the coin, to embody both the strength to stand on my own and the honest realization that I can't do it all alone. Nor do I want to anymore.
A year ago I asked to be released from a contract with my literary agent as my books hadn't sold after three years of rejections and I wanted to try self-publishing. Yesterday I was contacted by a representative from NOOK press who wanted to speak to me about my experiences with both the digital and paperback creations of my books. It's not been a cake walk, and I've learned a lot in the past year and a half.
I had to admit to myself that I needed to ask for help from editors and techies and friends who know me very well. I've since figured out that to do so isn't a sign of weakness, but of faith. I had to push myself to open those doors, even though I've walked through them before in the past and always came out on the other side dejected and starting again at square one. But this time around, I've chosen wisely and with awareness, and have been gently surprised that my vulnerability has been met with incredible kindness and incomparable support.
As I was finishing the first draft of The Lace Makers manuscript yesterday, I called one of my editors for suggestions. I've known her for more than ten years, both as a yoga student and a friend, and in the course of our conversation, I revealed some significant moments from my past that she had surmised, yet never knew for certain. I found that it wasn't hard at all to share darker parts of my history that I've since brought into light, and in the process can see how very far I've come, particularly in the past year.
"You've probably been getting ready to write this story for a long time," my friend said.
"I'm sure that's true," I replied.
Even though The Lace Makers has nothing to do with my own life, I find that I'm continually telling my spiritual autobiography with every novel that I'm inspired to write. Perhaps this awareness is a huge leap into allowing myself to be vulnerable enough to reveal parts of who I am in the process, all the while being strong enough to focus and complete the task without getting sucked back into the past. I find I'm still able to remain curious enough to be open to whatever might come next...and determined enough to act on it.
It's a tender road on which to walk, this being strong and flexible, and like anything else, I'm never really done. There's a stack of paper waiting on my desk -- the first draft of The Lace Makers that I printed out before yoga class this morning. It's waiting for my eager editor's eye and a host of sticky notes that will allow me to polish the story into something better. But soon enough I'll have to say it's good enough and just let go.
It's a balancing act...to be a strong, independent woman and also embody the softer places that are only beginning to peek outside of the shell that's long since been cracked open. I have no idea what the future will bring, but I willingly embrace it all with a peaceful anticipation that everything is conspiring for the greatest good...for me and for everyone else in my life. I imagine that to stand in this unknown place with open hands, an open heart, and a clear mind is perhaps the best way to be a vulnerable badass.
So whenever I feel the compulsion to be a smart ass to protect myself, I can remember my softer side and know that to be vulnerable in healthy ways is to be beautiful.