Roses and bullets

I’ve been thinking a lot about vulnerability over the last few weeks, namely how horrible I am at it and how that affects my quality of life.

My boundaries are wildly out of place. I’ll walk alone around dangerous neighborhoods at 2 am, but the thought of reaching out for emotional support when I need it is like chewing tinfoil; it’s an imposition I can’t bring myself to make. I try very hard to play the game of being tough enough and funny enough and entertaining enough (because these are the defense mechanisms that you learn, exhausting as they get), but it’s rare for a day to go by where I don’t end up paralyzed for an unreasonably long time over something that needs to be said, for fear of some backlash that never comes.

Even my therapist seems baffled by some of my choices, LARPing in particular. “But you don’t seem anxious at this game, even with the conflict,” she told me at one point. I had to explain that it’s a character, not me. People can yell horrific things, can take swings at me, and it doesn’t matter. When my group discussed our limits for physical roleplay, I found myself a bit surprised by how little would bother me. Because it’s not me, there’s a distance there that shelters me. It’s the same as using fiction writing as a shield, a way to deflect.

Even that’s been a losing game lately, though. My creative output is mostly stagnant. I feel like I have very little to draw on because even putting myself out in the middle of things is a struggle. Nothing gets written in a vacuum. Also, vulnerability comes into play again. I’m no shrinking violet; I’ve been through my share of critiques and rejections for my writing. I can handle that. Giving air to some of the ideas clogging up my head, and having others know they were there? That’s the hard part.

Now that I’ve finally put a name to the problem, it’s gotten easier to identify, if not always deal with. There are days where a long, drowsy, sunlit car ride and a sympathetic ear will get me to unpack secrets I’ve carefully avoided talking about for years. There are nights where I lie next to someone who could be more than a stranger but never will be, because I feel a bottomless pit of loneliness in my stomach when I’m around them and realize “this is probably not how it’s supposed to work, right?”

I keep thinking of Rhythm 0, a 1974 performance art piece by Marina Abramović (who I inevitably bring up as a counterpoint to any argument that all performance art sucks). She arranged 72 items ranging from roses to a gun and bullet on a table, then made herself a passive recipient of whatever bystanders wanted to do with them.

(warning: partial nudity)

Even thinking about it puts my heart in my throat, mostly from terror, but also with a bit of envy for such… bravery? Belief?

Is it possible to create without giving something or someone the power to destroy you?