As an author, I dread one thing: radio Interviews. Especially live ones.
I'm not sure why I'm so afraid of them. Maybe it's because I'm a bit of an introvert. Each day, I spend at least three hours in solitude, sitting at the kitchen table with my laptop. My two daughters, both of them in their twenties, always roll their eyes when I'm writing. They know that I won't converse or even make eye contact with them. "Mom is in the zone," they often joke.
I'm not a researcher or a fact finder. It would be so much easier to write about how to succeed in business or where to buy the cheapest groceries. I'm an inspirational writer. I write about all the lessons that are learned from the imperfect stories of life.
At 55 years of age, my imperfect stories are many; raising a Down syndrome child, single motherhood, medical and financial strains, a painful divorce and the death of my handicapped child four years ago.
When I write, something amazing happens. New insights always emerge from the words that take shape on my screen. But inspirational writers can't always hide behind our computers. We sign contracts. We must say yes to marketing plans, speaking engagements and radio interviews.
Just last week, I was asked to do an interview for a radio station here in the Twin Cities area. The host of the morning show wanted to talk with me about a book I had just written -- a compilation of stories about my transition into the second half of life. "Sure, I'd be happy to talk with your listeners." I had said.
But on the night before the interview, I tossed and turned in my bed. Around 2 a.m., I turned on a nearby lamp and lifted my book from a bedside table. I felt so vulnerable... my private losses were inscribed on almost every page.
In chapter three, I had written about my divorce. I had spent weeks on that chapter, mostly because my ex-spouse was an equal shareholder in that story. Ten years earlier we had parted but now we shared a comfortable friendship. Before the book was published, I had given Don an opportunity to review the divorce chapter. After reading it, he called me and said: "I know this wasn't easy to write... It's good."
I buried my head in my pillow. Why on earth had I written about the divorce? As a couple, we had failed at the most fundamental relationship in our lives. Now, the last thing I wanted to do was to broadcast that failure to thousands of radio listeners.
Just before I fell asleep, I told myself that if the "D" question came up, I could easily steer the broadcaster into another direction. "I'll just be vague. I'll talk about how change is part of everyone's life," I said.
The next morning, the radio station called my home at 6:45, just as scheduled. Still dressed in my pajamas, I sat at my kitchen table surrounded by notes I had scribbled on index cards.
The broadcaster began asking me all the predictable questions. What is the book about? Why did you write it? How can people in the second half of life deal with change?
Everything seemed to be going along just fine. I gave my rehearsed twenty second summary about the book. I told some funny anecdotes about growing older. I talked about some of the unexpected insights I had gained on my journey through grief.
Then, I heard the broadcaster flipping through my book. "Let's see... In chapter three, you wrote about a reconciliation that happened between you and your ex-spouse. Can you tell us about that?"
I imagined a sea of nameless people, turning their ears to the radio, waiting for my answer.
I cleared my throat.
"After the divorce, Don and I came to a crossroads in our relationship" I said.
Even as I spoke the words I wanted to take them back. I used Don's name... SHOOT!
I talked about some of the stresses that we had faced as a married couple. "I think raising a handicapped child may have distracted us from the erosion that was taking place in our relationship," I said.
As I held the phone, I felt my face flush. I felt like a guilt-ridden politician who had just admitted a family secret to the public.
"Stop talking," I told myself. But I went on with the interview.
"We both knew our marriage could not be fixed. But in the end, we gave each other the next best thing: Acceptance."
"Thanks for your vulnerability," the host said.
Vulnerability. The word means weak, naked and exposed.
After the interview, I felt all the above.
As the morning light streamed in through the kitchen windows, I opened my laptop and began composing an email to my ex-husband.
I just had an interview on the radio. I talked about our divorce and I used your name. (I didn't mean to, sorry.) Anyway, I mentioned that we were still good friends. I hope that's okay.
He wrote back:
If your interview brought hope to even one person, then it was a good thing. Thanks for the heads up. Have a good day.
I closed my laptop. On the screen of my unedited thoughts, a new insight emerged.
"It's okay to be vulnerable..."
I started thinking about the interview.
I had shared a deeply personal failure with the world. But it was a failure that fifty percent of the population go through.
Like so many couples, Don and I had ended one chapter of our relationship. Yet, in the pages of our imperfect story came a lesson of acceptance and a gift of unexpected friendship.
It was okay to be vulnerable, to share that story aloud, and to offer it awkwardly to my unnamed radio friends. Because if the interview brought hope to even one person, it was a good thing.