Wednesday, November 30, 2016

Guest Post: Carol Coven Grannick on Life, Writing & A Word In Praise of Emotional Safety

By Carol Coven Grannick
for Cynthia Leitich Smith's Cynsations

This morning I see a child on the early side of toddler, snuggled like a well-placed puzzle piece in his daddy’s arms.

He smiles at me, reaches out with one arm, as if I will be a wonderful new discovery. I reach back…

But, no. The minute I do, he pulls his hand away, squishing himself into the soft corners of a neck, shoulder, chest.

He’ll reach back when he’s ready. Right now I’m too new, too scary.

He’ll begin devoting a great proportion of his time to toddling out into the world, crawling or leaping into courageous experiences, taking risks, feeling exhilarated, yet vulnerable, and then scooting back into the safe spaces of his life for a rest, reassurance, and renewal.

Are we adults really much different?

For me, I’d say the answer is "no" – certainly not when it comes to needing a calm, comfortable, even neutral emotional space between encouraging myself to be courageous, vulnerable, emotionally and intellectually risk-taking in relationships and art.

A Culture of Courage

The concepts of finding the courage to make yourself vulnerable, break out of comfortable patterns and take risks, and create resilience and strength after failure, are not new – but have become increasingly familiar.

When I first heard this kind of language many decades ago in New York psychoanalytic circles, the concept of safety – AKA “comfortable” – was a pejorative term. Safety was a place to challenge, leave behind with other neurotic behaviors, cast aside as one leaped into learning to be vulnerable, take emotional, intellectual, job- and relationship-related risks.

I’d hear things like, You’re in a ‘safe’ job (not challenging yourself) and You’re in a ‘safe’ relationship (too comfortable) – as if there was something cowardly (or neurotic) about being in a certain kind of situation.

At the time, I didn’t have the courage to question this. But inside, I didn’t understand how the need for safety was “bad”. It puzzled me. I certainly understood it intellectually. But emotionally?

Not so much. I’d longed for a sense of safety as a child, and was even more aware of the need for it as an adult…That is, the feeling that I was protected, safe, comfortable – who could ask for more?

Upside/Downside

As I matured (and learned to trust my own beliefs, capacities, and strengths), I found and tried to sustain the courage to be vulnerable, take emotional and intellectual risks, and use disappointments and failures, in relationships and in my writing life, to grow stronger and clearer about myself and my work.

There’s no question that having the courage to experience vulnerability, take emotional and intellectual risks, work hard to find and maintain resilience after disappointments and failures, can be exhilarating, nourishing, deeply meaningful, and exquisitely rewarding.

It can also be terrifying, discouraging, and occasionally even depleting.

So in between the leaps into experiences that may frighten – but ultimately reward – us, I like to think that seeking safety or comfort is important, too.

I believe equally in the benefits of courageous vulnerability and risk-taking in our work and our lives, and the need for emotional safety. I try not to judge one as better than the other, but instead view them as a unit, better together than they are apart.

Don’t get me wrong. I’ve worked hard to be courageous and to be a risk-taker in my life and my work. I just don’t want to disregard, dismiss, or disparage, the need for safety, for comfort – between the minutes or days or months of being courageous.

Between "Over" and "Next"

I love those times of safety, during which I often focus on nourishing my spirit and intellect. I heard a replay of an NPR interview with the magnificent Norman Lear. Many of you may have heard or read the original interview.

“I think what I’m saying – and it’s something I’ve come to over a number of years – is I do enjoy the moment,” he continues. “There are two little words that couldn’t be more true – ‘over’ and ‘next.’

"When something is over, you gotta get used to knowing that it is over. Nothing is going to bring it back. It is just a memory. What about ‘next’?

If there’s a hammock in the middle, then that’s what they mean about living in the moment.

I think of that hammock as a safe, comforting place. A place to rock in between periods of intense, deep, vulnerable, and risk-taking work.

Not a place of denial of or defense against being courageous, but a place between.

And, like the little one I saw this morning, cuddling into his parent’s body, I embrace it.

I hold on as long as I need to, gazing out at what might be “next” – then, leap.

Cynsational Notes

More on Carol Coven Grannick
Carol Coven Grannick has been a writer since before her fourth grade teacher told her she was one. Her poetry, essays, and articles have appeared in numerous print and online venues.

She began writing for children in 1999, and her poetry and fiction have appeared in Highlights for Children, Ladybug, Cricket and Hunger Mountain. Her picture book manuscripts have won several awards, and her middle grade novel in verse manuscript, "Reeni’s Turn," was named a finalist in the 2014 Katherine Paterson Prize for YA and Children's Writing at Hunger Mountain.

Drawing from her skills and experience as a clinical social worker and consultant/educator, Carol also writes extensively about the psychological and emotional aspects of the writing journey, and the essential skills for creating and maintaining emotional resilience. Her column, "The Inside Story," appears regularly in the Illinois SCBWI Prairie Wind.

Carol lives with her husband in Chicagoland and treasures her family, friends, and work at an extraordinary early childhood center.

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