…she's moving her body so brave and so free.
If I've got to remember that's a fine memory.
And I know…
That tonight will be fine,
Will be fine, will be fine, will be fine
For a while.
— Leonard Cohen, “Tonight Will Be Fine”
As a poet and a “mommy blogger,” I think a lot about over-sharing. Poets these days are not super fond of being called “confessional,” and anyone thoughtful who writes about their kids thinks a lot about their child’s right to a private life, now and in their online future.
So, as I write, I think… Do I really need to share this? Is it important to what I’m trying to say? Is it mine to share? Is it embarrassing? To someone else or just to me? Am I too mad or sad or whatever the non-alcoholic equivalent of drunk-texting would be?
But even with my filter, I know I share things other people can’t say out loud. Or wouldn’t.
And when I do this, I get called brave. It happens a lot, but still catches me off-guard.
Sometimes it sounds like relief, when people use that word—I can almost hear them breathe easier for a moment. Sometimes it sounds passive aggressive—Wow, that’s a very brave outfit you’re wearing! Sometimes it’s in the middle—a little uncomfortable but also grateful.
I’m not being cute or modest when I say that I don’t feel brave.
Brave—at least the definition my kids and I have agreed on, usually in relation to doctor visits involving shots—is being scared but doing it anyway.
That’s why I think it’s something not quite the same—I’m not brave to share, because I have no choice. If I tried not to share, I would be building myself a jail. If I tried to stop the words from leaving my body, they would brick up around me and I would die of it. If I didn’t tell the truth in public, I couldn’t be there. I’m sure it sounds exaggerated, but there are times when, if I didn’t speak, I couldn’t do anything. So it doesn’t feel like a choice. If I don’t write, say what I need to say, I am a wet mess.
I’m much more afraid to live a life where I don’t speak about the dark parts than to tell it like it is and let it all fall where it may. Would it be brave if I did that anyway? Kept my mouth closed? When I say what I need to say, I am building a scaffold around my body. It keeps me up when I might fall. When I say I have bad days, I don’t have to pretend, to hide something. And I don’t hide well. I think trying to hide would kill me.
I say the things I say because I want to be free. And I want other people to feel just a little more free. And because I believe storytelling saves lives.
Apparently, I learned recently, there’s a t-shirt for that: “Storytelling Saves Lives.” Not quite as provocative as “Ask me about my abortion,” but really, truly the same thing.
The shirts are the swag of an organization called This is My Brave. Their work skews a little on the Oprah side of things, but I hope they’re wildly successful. Their mission is essentially the reason I write about myself: “One day we will live in a world where we won’t have to call it “brave” when talking about mental illness. We’ll just call it talking.”
Every time someone tells me I am brave, I hear the lines from Leonard Cohen song above. I want to be this woman “moving her body so brave and so free.” That’s my ideal. I try for that. I try to throw off all the crap that keeps me from being free.
Last night, at bath time (too much information?), I watched as my six-year old daughter moved her naked self from her bedroom, where she undressed, to the bathroom with complete and total freedom. There are no thoughts that hold her back, no self-consciousness, no worries about who she is or how she looks. She just moves, from one room to another, totally free.
It’s almost shocking to me to watch it. How unburdened she is. How fully inhabited she is. Pure freedom. I can’t remember the last time I felt that way, naked or not. But I aspire. That’s where I want to be.
And to get anywhere near there, I need to tell you that I have hard days. That simple. Brave and free.