Let’s say someone you know knowingly put someone you love in danger. Knowingly made a choice that could have ended your loved one’s life. Not an accident, not a misstep…a deliberate decision, of course shrouded in denial and admittedly without true malice or evil intent, but a selfish calculation with consequences that were equally obvious and horrific.
And then, when confronted about that catastrophically bad choice, explained, I followed my heart.
Follow your heart. Follow your instincts.
It’s a frequent line of reasoning, advice, action.
But that self-centred – and self-centred can be a very good and grounded way to live – moral code will only work if it is also accompanied by an other-centred ethic of protection.
If you love someone, you protect her. You protect him. You protect them. You wake from a nightmare prepared for battle, because some shadowy imaginary figure threatened harm. You ride into the school on a white horse or in a white minivan and you slay dragons and bullies. You sometimes sacrifice your interests for the good of your loved one, loved ones, the greater good. You set the table for your enemies because good meals can bring about world peace and if not world peace at least familial peace and it would be good for him, for them, and therefore for you, too, for the family to come together, to forgive, to unite, to protect each other.
Because when you love someone, you follow your heart and you protect them.
This is a hard ethic for an artist to live. If, for example, you’re a writer, your life is your material and the most compelling, enduring relationship in your life has been with the page, there comes a moment when what you create endangers your relationships.
What you do can harm who you love.
So what do you do?
If you only follow your he/art, you publish it anyway. Because there is a truth to be told, there are consciences to inflame, there is world to change with your words.
If you protect your love, you hold it back. You hold back your truth-telling, life-altering and world-changing words.
Truth-telling? Life-altering? World-changing? This is not an overstatement or the grandious exaggeration of a self-important writer’s inflated ego. Even a seemingly humble blog post can change lives.
I once wrote a piece called “not ready but willing” that, truth be told, was about me and my man getting our heads around an unexpected pregnancy. We were not ready. We were not even willing. But we were willing to get ready to be willing. And now we have a baby boy and are more in love than ever and building a castle o’ love and an empire of aspiration together. Together. Forever.
Writing that piece helped me get my head and my heart right. And it helped other people, too.
One couple read not ready but willing while waiting for their take-out pizza and after years of come-here-go-away decided in the space of a few hundred heartfelt words to make the leap and move in together. And then e-mailed me and told me so.
And that was one of the most deeply rewarding days of my life. That is why I write.
So to hold things back…?
Mostly, I don’t hold back.
With one exception. It comes back to being an X-Rated Woman; to what committed parent, PhD, and neuroscience educator Mark Brady told me is another way to ordo amorum, order our loves; and to what memoirist Jillian Lauren explains is her moral pivotal point for deciding which intimate, revealing stories to release into the world.
She chooses who to protect.
Jillian Lauren wrote a memoir about her days as a sex worker and consort to Prince Jefri of Brunei and her parents were largely okay with that part of it. What they weren’t okay with: her frank accounts of physical abuse at her father’s hands. That doesn’t happen in nice middle-class Jewish families and if it does, it doesn’t get talked about. And so they don’t talk to her anymore.
She knew that was a potential consequence of her decision to write and publish her truth and she chose to tell it anyway. She decided to protect her truth over protecting her parents.
It might seem like her first allegiance is to her art. She protects it over her family.
But that’s not true. With each piece she writes or doesn’t write or publishes or doesn’t publish, she chooses who to protect, what to protect, which relationships to protect. And she protects her husband over everything:
There are certain relationships that I’m unwilling to lose in the world, that would trump me publishing something, and have. I have written a few things that he’s been very uncomfortable with, and so they haven’t made it out of the house. – Jillian Lauren in The Rumpus
And that’s it. When you follow your heart and your art, you must decide who and what to protect.
People – readers, clients, students – ask me all the time how can I be so brave? How do I get the guts to write naked stories and bare truths? How do I deal with the fallout from friends and family?
One part of my answer is fatalism. I get deadly fatal about the outcome of my revealing stories. I’m cheerlessly prepared. Any ensuing drama is of my own making. I accept it without wishing for miracles of acceptance. I accept the consequences of my actions, of my art, of following my heart.
And the other one part of my answer is an ethic of protection. Before I press publish, I choose who to protect.
My piece (“where the light gets in“) on Friday? A substitute for the one I planned to release, one that my loverloverman liked a lot but didn’t want the world to read.
And so no one read it except him.
Instead, I reworked my Pecha Kucha speech from November 2010, which I’m really proud of and meant to do for more than a year because I wanted it to have a wider audience, and re-released it into the wild. And the whole wide world – or at least everyone who e-mailed me or commented on it – loved it.
And I protected my love. I followed my heart.
Because that is what you do when you love. You protect.
This is the kind of thing I teach in my Artful, Heart-full Blogging course, so if you’re wanting to write brave and free and influential, please consider taking my class.