Carole Vasta Folley

Carole Vasta Folley

I dreamt an alligator ate my dog whole. When I told my husband about my nightmare, he thought it was all about vulnerability. Or, more accurately, fear of vulnerability.

I told him, “Nope, no way! I’m afraid of alligators, silly, not vulnerability,” adding, “thanks a lot, Brené Brown!” My new nickname for said husband.

I mean why risk emotional exposure when you can dodge it, like the Road Runner perpetually escaping Wile E. Coyote as if he had an ACME vulnerability detection device? Well, that and TNT. Take it from me, it’s much easier to act like vulnerability doesn’t exist. Which is hysterical, of course, as it’s one of the main traits we humans have in common. Well, that and a love for French fries dipped in garlic aioli — oh wait a minute — is that just me?

Apparently, the remedy to such nightmares is to feel your vulnerability. But what about the decades I’ve spent honing my craft of ignoring my soft underbelly? Certainly, I’m not going to share out loud — in the open — this very thing we’re all hiding?

Frankly, the machinations I have gone through to conceal my sensitivities are both Herculean and Daliesque in equal proportions. I could be on fire, with flames shooting out of my ears, and I’d politely inquire, “How are you?” I could fall down a set of stairs only to apologize — to anyone around to hear. I could be over-my-head-swamped with work and would never ever use that four-letter-word. You know the one. Starts with an H. Ends with a P. Rhymes with yelp.

I prefer self-help. Where better to practice my vulnerability than with me? Brené Brown, aka husband, pointed out that’s missing the point. In my vulnerability, I wanted to shout, “Take a hike!” But instead, I did. After all, no one in nature is telling me to have my feelings. Well, except for that gorgeous cardinal that reminds me of my mom and that time she actually hugged me and now I’m crying. Damn you, nature! I thought the forest was a safe space to feel nothing?

I’m not naive. I know vulnerability matters. Because authenticity matters. The problem is you can’t get a degree in vulnerability and call it a day. I’ve checked. Instead, it’s an everlasting opportunity. Because this ability to be real, even in the messy moments, is where the gold is. It’s the profound connection between people that happens when no one’s hiding their soft spots. Perhaps humans are meant to share this inner, sometimes mushy, territory? Or else like a baby’s fontanelle, we would have closed up permanently, long ago.

The truth is, since I’m among the tribe of people who feel things deeply, I have a sublet in the mushy territory and visit often. The fences I built there in childhood are now coming down as I begin to dare vulnerability. It’s like a foreign language I practice with those I trust, both the coyote and the long-legged bird. Because it doesn’t matter if others understand what I’m sharing, it matters that I do.

Maybe I’ll make flashcards.

The conundrum is that it takes vulnerability to be vulnerable. So, I figure, at least when I practice being more vulnerable, then technically I am being vulnerable. I haven’t checked the guidelines on this. Frankly, I’ve lost my “How to be Human” instruction manual. I mean, we all get one of those at birth, don’t we?

Instead, I’ll refer to the ultimate guru, Brené Brown. Not my husband. Although, I think he has a handle on things. Maybe I’ll even admit that my dream wasn’t really about my (by the way, totally rational) fear of alligators.

As Brown writes, “Vulnerability is not weakness; it’s our greatest measure of courage.”


Carole Vasta Folley is a Vermont award-winning playwright and columnist. Contact her at carolevf.com.

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