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The Courage to Connect

“There can be no vulnerability without risk; there can be no community without vulnerability; there can be no peace, and ultimately no life, without community.”

- Scott Peck, Author of The Road Less Travelled

I’ve learned a great deal about building community from two people I know primarily through social media: a retired nurse from upstate New York and a marketing manager at a mortgage company in San Diego. Both have recently embarked on writing careers, and they blog regularly about their writing journeys.  They both demonstrate a quality that is fundamental to creating powerful relationships with others: they connect – not superficially, but in a grab-your-heart and-squeeze kind of way.

I discovered Molly Greene and Kathy Pooler on Twitter.  They have different backgrounds and writing styles. Molly lives in San Diego and has the split-personality existence of a marketing manager by day, writer and blogger by night. Her first fiction book, Mark of the Loon, was published last month, and now she’s busy writing the sequel, Rapunzel. Kathy is a retired Nurse Practitioner who lives in the foothills of the Adirondack Mountains and is writing a memoir that she hopes to complete later this year.

Molly GreeneSeveral months after I discovered Molly’s blog I read a guest post she wrote at Laura Zera’s blog, entitled “Not My First Rodeo: Molly Greene Talks Real Estate.” Molly writes about the trials and tribulations of buying a forty-acre farm in Northern California with her husband. The property had a rustic (real estate broker-ese for dilapidated) barn and a half-built house. They planned to live in a camper in the barn while they rebuilt the house. It wasn’t a project for sissies. There was no running water.  They used a latrine an acre away and a neighbor’s garden hose served as their shower. Molly found seasonal employment picking blackberries and her husband mended fences at a local cattle ranch.

The couple approached the project with youthful enthusiasm and a sense of adventure. Over time, the challenges became more daunting and the costs continued to escalate. They spent all their savings to drill a well that yielded no water. Without cash, they were forced to give up. The dream died. Molly lets us know that the marriage eventually ended as well.

Decades removed from the experience, Molly puts things in perspective: “That fresh-faced kid who thought she could do anything is still inside me.” Molly shares the wisdom she gained: “…I was awfully young to think I should be perfect, and it took a long time to let that expectation go. Now I’m happily far-less-than-perfect and conscious that each adventure rolls into the next. Each life choice populates the opportunities to come. Every relationship leaves us – if we choose it to be so – with better tools to navigate the next.”

Kathy PoolerI met Kathy Pooler at the 2012 Writer’s Digest Conference in New York shortly after beginning to follow her on Twitter. She was friendly, with a quiet grace, and an earnest approach to learning the writing game.  I subsequently started reading her blog, and enjoyed her perspectives and her helpfulness with writer resources. My impressions of Kathy were all in the Norman Rockwell / Frank Capra vein, when I read her guest post on Sonia Marsh’s blog, in a segment entitled “My Gutsy Story.”  Kathy’s post describes a confrontation with her son, then in the throes of alcoholism. The story was painful. Raw.

Kathy had suffered through a relationship with an alcoholic husband in a failed marriage, and had dealt with some of the same demons during her son’s decade-long struggle with alcoholism. In a powerful scene, a distraught Kathy tells her son that she loves him, but he cannot stay at her house and that he needs to go get help. I felt the anguish of a mother at wit’s end, and held my breath as I read her words:

“As I watched him walk out into that snowy night to his car, I wondered if I would ever see him alive again.

It was my darkest moment; my only choice and his only chance.”

Kathy believes that confronting her son when she did saved his life and she’s pleased to report that he is sober. She describes herself as someone who came out of the crucible a stronger person and through her faith, she now approaches life with a sense of hope, joy and empowerment.

Molly and Kathy described experiences that were very foreign to me, yet I had a similar reaction to both: I wanted to hug them and tell them it was going to be OK. I developed a big brother’s concern for their happiness.

Neither story was much more than a thousand words, but they both hooked me – for good. Now I don’t just “follow” them, I seek them out. I want their advice. I want their approval. And I want to read more from them.

Whoa, how did that happen?

According to Brene Brown, a research professor at the University of Houston, author, and TED.com rock star, connection is what gives meaning and purpose to our lives. Furthermore, what makes us connect with individuals is their willingness to be vulnerable. She describes the power that occurs as people demonstrate vulnerability by “letting go of who they should be in order to be who they are.” She believes that vulnerability is ‘the birthplace of joy, of creativity, of belonging, of love.” Not a bad way to build community.

It’s one thing to let people get a glimpse of your soul, and see your mistakes or imperfections on your own blog. But when you guest post on someone else’s blog, the stakes of poker are raised. You have exposure to new potential readers and followers. In the meantime, they’re strangers. I think it is natural to use the guest post to try to impress people. Personally, I want people to think I’m Aragorn. Or John Gault. Or Michael Jordan. But Molly and Kathy went on other people’s blogs and did just the opposite. They shared their weaknesses and admitted that their dreams didn’t come true.  They were vulnerable. They showed their human-ness. And in the process, they demonstrated great courage.

The Courage to ConnectThriller writer Barry Eisler starts his bio with the fact that he spent three years in covert operations for the CIA. You’re left with the impression that danger is his middle name, and he’s able to write great stories based on his experiences. I may buy his books, but I don’t really care to read his blog. Frankly, I haven’t even checked to see if he has one. Molly and Kathy write about the world that I live in. They let me know I’m not the only one whose life is a crooked path between here and there. They struggle at relationships. They’ve got scars. They’ve walked us over to the edge and described the view. But they learn. They grow. And they connect.

I’m grateful to Molly and Kathy and I admire their courage for “putting it out there.” I’m also thankful for another lesson they taught me: being vulnerable gets us to a place where real life occurs. It’s where the stories are.

 

You can read Molly’s story “Not My First Rodeo: Molly Greene Talks Real Estate” at http://laurazera.com/?p=574

 

You can read Kathy’s “My Gutsy Story: Choices and Chances” at http://soniamarsh.com/2012/05/my-gutsy-story-by-kathleen-pooler.html

 

12 Comments Post a comment
  1. Oh, gosh, Karl, how wonderful to see you give Kathy the credit and attention she so richly deserves!

    Kathy was a voice on the phone, just an email or tweet away, for over a year after we both took Dan Blank’s Author Platform class. We didn’t meet until we roomed together at WDC. I suspected she was good, but I had no idea how good until I started reading her blog. I was honored to be one of her guest bloggers, and to have her as my first guest blogger, too.

    You can’t overestimate the courage it takes to be so open, to write from such vulnerability. The willingness to share that is humbling, because it doesn’t come from a “see how wonderful I am” place. It comes from a “I’ve been through the wars and you can survive them, too” place.

    Thanks again for yet another masterful portrait!

    June 25, 2012
    • Karl Sprague #

      Viki, I’m glad you got to share the Dan Blank experience with Kathy. No one else needed to participate besides the three of you and it would be a fantastic class. Society is pretty superficial to begin with, and the internet gives everyone even a deeper cloak to hide behind – so it is refreshing to meet people like Molly and Kathy. I agree that Kathy’s writing talent was a pleasant surprise (that sounds wrong, but you know what I mean!), and her insights are always on target.

      June 26, 2012
  2. Karl, thank you for the gorgeous reminder that connection is everything. It took me decades to be comfortable in my own skin, but now I proudly wear the badge, “Yeah, I’m SO not perfect! What of it?” Thanks, Karl. Brene Brown rocks, and so do you.

    June 25, 2012
    • Karl Sprague #

      Molly, connection IS everything. There are far too many people who would have you believe they are perfect; they give us hollow humility, and admit that they made a mistake… once…back in the first grade. I’m glad you wear your SO-not-perfect badge proudly – it makes us want to follow you into battle, or maybe just to check in and see what’s on your mind. :)

      June 26, 2012
  3. Hi Everyone,

    I agree Molly, Karl does rock, right along with Brene Brown! So nice to meet you through this connection. I love your mantra, “I’m so NOT perfect! What of it?” Yes, that does take decades! I look forward to following your stories.

    Viki, Speaking of meaningful connections- between you and Karl I am so touched by your words. The Stecchino sparks are still flying from our magical time together in NYC! It’s amazing how bonded we can all be through our online activities and like-minded goals. Thank you for your kind thoughts. You describe vulnerability so clearly and I feel I am watching a brilliant fireworks display when I read your rapidly developing and awe-inspiring work on friendgrief. I’m watching you closely and taking lessons from you :-)

    Karl, What a beautiful tribute to the value of connections and the power of story. I feel so honored to be a part of your master storytelling. You inspire me to keep writing and power through those periods of self-doubt and questioning to share the heart of my story, vulnerabilities and all. Thank you.

    June 25, 2012
    • Karl Sprague #

      Kathy, I’ve been very conscious of the mutual support, angst, discovery and commiseration that occurs in the writing community – and it keeps us all coming back for more. Like you,I think the Stecchino magic continues to do its thing, and I get great satisfaction out of seeing the crew (you, Viki, Dan, Porter, and George) continue to grow and impact others. I think Molly must have been at an adjoining table – or at least there in spirit – because she really gets it! I’m glad the two of you got to meet here. – Karl

      June 26, 2012
  4. Wow, I love this: “Now I don’t just “follow” them, I seek them out. I want their advice. I want their approval. And I want to read more from them.”

    Really great reflection on what it means to truly connect with others. Thank you Karl.
    -Dan

    June 26, 2012
    • Karl Sprague #

      Dan, any comments from you about connecting is high praise indeed. Thank you. I’ve already shared my thoughts about connecting with you in “My New Best Friends.” You put people at ease, provide great insights, and make us feel like old and dear friends before we meet you in person. You also have one of the coolest kids on the planet. I don’t think it is an accident that Kathy took your Author Platform class and now connects like a pro with people all over the world. Well done.

      June 26, 2012
  5. I agree with all previous commenters about the vlue of vulnerability and the marvelous writers who exemplify it so well.

    Thanks to Kathy, I have now met Molly and you and the other people in this comment chain.

    I am reminded of E.M. Forester’s two-word command: “Only connect.”

    I also was honored to have Kathy as a guest blogger and to answer some of her questions on her blog.

    I too loved the sentence Dan Blank picked out of your post. Excellent.

    July 2, 2012
    • Karl Sprague #

      Shirley, I am pleased that Kathy put us together. She generates such trust that people immediately default to “any friend of Kathy’s is a friend of mine.” You could probably succeed in life letting Kathy Pooler and Dan Blank distill everything down to its core. I suspect you are in that category, between the simplicity of your E.M. Forster quote and the premise of your website: I have a story. What’s your story? – you boil it down as well. Fantastic.

      July 2, 2012
  6. Karl, what a great post about these two amazing women, and how their warmth and humanness reaches out across the page and the internet to create an authentic connection. And I love that Scott Peck quote. It’s pretty much my mantra! Finally, thanks for sharing Molly’s guest post on my blog.

    July 3, 2012
    • Karl Sprague #

      Laura, you’re right about the warmth and the humanness of Molly and Kathy – they could power a small city with those qualities. I want to thank you for spotlighting Molly on your blog – it led me to laurazera.com. It’s not surprising that the Scott Peck quote resonates with you: your blog connects people, and bonds us to you in the process. You, too, are willing to be vulnerable and I feel like you and Molly are kindred spirits. In my book that is a very cool thing.

      July 3, 2012

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