Judy Clement Wall is a writer who writes about finding your north at Zebra Sounds and about loving fearlessly at A human thing. It was her Love Essays which captured my attention earlier this year when I was at home in Australia. I was curious about the year she spent loving fearlessly, and what that might look like. Talk about getting vulnerable!
Nestled in her Love Essays is a beautiful poem called ‘My Religion‘. I read it to a packed yoga class and was taken aback at the response people had to it. So many people wanted a copy of it. So, I reached out to Judy to let her know this, via Twitter, and from there, we connected.
Because Love is her topic of choice I knew she would have a bit to say about getting vulnerable and being open and…well….making connections. And I was right. I am very grateful she responded and said yes to this interview.
She is one of the Wholehearted because of her willingness to be open and honest and for teaching the world about what it means to choose love.
Lyn: Can you tell our readers who you are and what you do?
Judy Clement Wall: Sure! My name is Judy Clement Wall and I’m a writer. I’ve written for a lot of sites/publications, but you can always find me at my two sites: Zebra Sounds, where I write about living creatively and finding your North and A Human Thing where I write about the intersection of fearlessness and love.
Lyn: Have you always been a writer – as your career I mean?
Judy Clement Wall: No. I have a checkered past. I worked at Intel Corporation for many, many years, until my second child was born and I realized that being gone 12 hours a day was no way to get to know my children. So I quit, eventually returning to school and getting my creative writing degree.
Lyn: Had you always had the desire to be a writer? Was it a dream waiting to be born?
Judy Clement Wall: Yes, I think so. I wrote as a child, all the way through high school. But then I got hell-bent on moving out of my parents’ house and starting life on my own. I loved what I was doing (Systems Analyst) at Intel and when I went back to school I thought I’d go into programming. Then I took my first college-level creative writing course, and I never looked back.
Lyn: Was the decision to quit your job and change course a long drawn out decision? Were you scared of what was to come from it? Or was the need to be with your children more powerful than the fear of the unknown?
Judy Clement Wall: It wasn’t long and drawn out but it was wrenching. I truly loved what I was doing, but felt that someone else was raising my boys. I originally thought I’d stay home with them until they were both in school, but I couldn’t do it. I was so torn between this need to reach for a bigger me and the need to be closer to my kids. School allowed me to more or less do both things.
Lyn: Yes, it seems the same struggles so many mothers go through. Finding a connection to themselves AND their children. Do you think you’ve created that now? I mean, finding a bigger you and being closer to your children?
Judy Clement Wall: You’re so right. So many mother (and fathers too, I know) struggle with wanting to be the best, most present parent they can be, but also not wanting to give up on their own dreams. My dream, at that time wasn’t specific; I just knew I wanted to do more.
I think I’m finding my way. And so are my boys. I’ve always been very honest with them. I’ve told them how important I think it is that everyone finds their own North, the life they feel they were meant to live. It’s important for them to do it and it’s important for me too. I decided early that I’d rather have them see me struggle trying to fly than see me giving up everything for them. I never want them to give up everything for another person. Our best, biggest loves don’t require a loss of self like that.
Lyn: Ah so true – which sort of leads into a question about this (and I’m not going to be all about parenting, but I do think it’s important). Do you think it’s more important to be ‘present’ or simply be your most truest self, with your children? And I mean truest self, in the sense that it can also mean less ‘presence’ as one follows their dreams (does that make sense?)
Judy Clement Wall: Yes, that makes sense. It’s such a tricky place, right? Every mother has to figure out what’s right for her, what she can live with. For me, I definitely think less physical presence led to a bigger, fuller, truer (happier) me. So it seems like an argument could be made, I’ve been more present than I would have been otherwise.
Lyn: Parenting is so brave (I am not one, by the way!) Let’s talk about getting vulnerable – because, just based on your work, your writing, and specifically your year of fearless loving project, you really put yourself in the hot seat of showing up and being honest and open and vulnerable! Why were you compelled at that moment in time? Underneath the story of the text, which sparked the idea, were you aching, or needing something that bold?
Judy Clement Wall: Yes. Aching is a good word. My husband and I had not quite gotten through a very rocky time in our marriage, and I was feeling adrift. I think part of the reason I was so affected by that text was because I needed to be. Does that make sense? I needed to be jolted from that place of doubt and confusion and loneliness. I really think I needed to believe that fearless love was possible, that you could literally “choose love” and it would change you, change your world.
Lyn: Yeah! I am so convinced that love is everywhere but it’s up to us to choose it. Were you hesitant at times to write and publish what was happening? Did you worry a lot what others would think?
Judy Clement Wall: Yes! I worried what people would think all the time. Honestly, not so much about what was going on with me and my husband. I didn’t blog about that. I wouldn’t have known how. I was so raw, and I wouldn’t have been just exposing myself.
What I worried about, for the first several months, was that people would think what I was doing was silly and Pollyanna. That they would discount it because I wasn’t being hip or ironic. It took me a long, long time to get past that. But, while I didn’t write too much about my marriage, I was very honest about how I tackled the monthly tasks, how they challenged me, what they taught me. Still…
I wrote The Love Essays because I knew there was this whole other piece I hadn’t shared. I knew that doing the Fearless Love project had truly changed my life because of where I was when I went into it. Because of how deeply I was embracing it. I knew the only way to share the year would be to share more of myself than I had before. So… The Essays.
Lyn: I LOVE essays, I read the whole thing on the plane coming back from Australia after quite a journey and submersion in love. While you were experiencing this doubt and fear, what was it that made you hit the Publish button then?
Judy Clement Wall: Thank you for that – about The Essays. Since I published them as a collection (rather than as posts) I only had to hit “publish” once, but by then, it was more of a relief and an eagerness to share. The Essays took me months to write, and that’s where all my anguish came in. I’ve never written so close to the bone with the comforting label of “fiction.” Talk about feeling vulnerable and exposed. I really had to question myself all the time. What was my purpose? why was this a story I should tell? Would it serve people to read it? I read a lot of literary nonfiction writers during that time, brave women who were writing unflinchingly about their lives – Cheryl Strayed, Lidia Yuknavitch, and Chloe Caldwell. They are all braver than I am, but they helped me. I could see the value in their sharing. I could see how our stories connect us. How the details are different, but we are all wounded and healed and healing, and I truly believe that we are better for the things we share, better for our connectedness. We give each other permission to be flawed and human and still achingly beautiful.
Lyn: (I’m stumped – beautifully said). Ok, tell me, if there is a person out there reading right now, going through the thick of a breaking marriage/relationship. What is it you could tell them about love, and loving and holding on, or letting go? (is that too big?)
Judy Clement Wall: Wow. What would I say?… maybe that only they know. I really like your question even if I’m unsure how to answer. I often write about how sometimes love is about walking away from a bad relationship, letting go when it comes down to a choice of loving yourself or losing yourself. But in my case, at the moment of truth, I chose to stay. It was leap of faith. I’ve wondered so many times, how one decides, because even having decided, I couldn’t tell you. Except, and this is hard to explain, even at the time, it was if my body knew. My heart knew. I wrote about my hand reaching for his of its own accord. That happened. It was as though, unconsciously, I knew to lean into the crazy, messed up love. I knew it was still love.
Lyn: I fucking love that and I love that essay where you wrote about reaching out for each other’s hand even as all the questions were swirling. Where you were on the beach. In fact, I pulled a line out of it
“I wished there was a way to steer you clear of all the tiny endings in life that aren’t really tiny at all; they just look that way because we grownups have all mastered the art of the brave smile and the flippant, reveal-nothing response.
I wished you would never become good at pretending to be okay.”
Do you think you have mastered the art now of letting thing be NOT ok sometimes? And if so, how?
Judy Clement Wall: Yes! Although, I’ve never been one to pretend I’m okay when I’m not. I’m not really a “put on a brave face” person. But I have learned, during the love project, and since, the necessity of NOT doing that. What we don’t share festers, and I’ve learned it by sharing. Love really does, as Brene Brown says, hinge on our willingness to be vulnerable. I think that’s true in all our relationships, but in our marriages most of all. You have to be willing to open yourself up and risk being misunderstood, in order to be truly understood.
Lyn: Did your leap of faith pay off?
Judy Clement Wall: Yes. Everything feels different now. We’ve been through so much. We have both evolved, and we are better for all the awful, I know that. It’s a cruel truth that it is our failures and fuck-ups and hardships that grow us. I can’t quite say that I’d do it all again, but I can say that I’d rather be here in our relationship than anywhere we’ve been before.
Judy Clement Wall: Thank you. I definitely didn’t think we’d be talking about this, though I’m not sure why. Maybe because I feel so unqualified to give marriage advice. Hopefully no one will read it like that. I know that every relationship is different; everyone has to find their own way. (Laughing at my need for a disclaimer.)
Lyn: I know – I didn’t think we’d go there either – it just felt right. Somehow. Well, I know so many people feel the most vulnerable in relationships and because of that; they get out much quicker, perhaps. But, moving on. Who was Judy Clement Wall before the fearless love project, and who is she now? How do you embrace honesty and vulnerability differently?
Judy Clement Wall: I feel hugely different now. I feel it in my relationships, in my willingness to go to thorny, difficult places, and I feel it in my writing, my desire to be pushed out to my edges, be brave and trust that my community will form around me. Also, and you can tell me if this is true for you, I feel the more I push at the edges of fearlessness and vulnerability, the bigger my world gets. I experiment more, I adventure more, and I meet fascinating people like you. Have you found that’s happening with you as you delve more deeply into We Are The Wholehearted?
Lyn: ABSOLUTELY!!!! The more I’m willing to share and be real and open, and NOT care so much about whether I am good enough or not, the more people (interesting, creative people) and friends come to gather. It’s quite phenomenal.
Judy Clement Wall: Exactly! It’s as if there’s this movement and we’re part of it and we didn’t even know, right?
Lyn: Yes. And it’s a process, step by step. You give a little bit more each time, and you get more back. So you just keep giving more and then keep getting more. And true, there is a wildly loving movement right now. Brene talks about connection happening for those who believe they are worth it. Did you always feel worth it? I mean, was connection something really important to you that you were so willing to open up so much for it? Are you surprised by your becoming so open?
Judy Clement Wall: Ha! I’m fumbling about my answer!
Lyn: It’s ok – you don’t have to answer if it doesn’t feel right?
Judy Clement Wall: No it’s okay. It’s just that I’m struggling to define my own contradictions!
Judy Clement Wall: In the past I’ve been very shy. Sometimes debilitatingly so. But at my core, I don’t think I’ve doubted my worthiness. It was more that I doubted my ability to shine brightly in social situations. It was less about doubting my worth than doubting my ability to express it, if that makes sense. So, yes I’m surprised at my willingness to be open – every time I do it, I feel very brave and expanded. But I think the whole reason I’m able to do it is because what Brene Brown says is true. I believe (and always have) that I’m worthy of connection.
Lyn: I want to expand on this shyness a little bit, only because I know so many people who suffer from this. How did you overcome your shyness to… well…shine? What compelled you to put yourself out there like this?
Judy Clement Wall: At some point, I remember writing down in a notebook, “I feel like I live in a glass jar.” It’s not what I sat down to write and I was really struck by the observation, but I think it expressed a yearning I felt to be more present in the world. I’ve read that adults, after their children no longer need them to be watching 24/7 often feel the need to do something bigger, contribute to the world in some meaningful way. I think that sentence in the notebook was the beginning of it for me. And then, I’m very driven (and lucky to have chosen love as my means to getting out there).
And also, it’s no small thing that the fabulous interwebs and social networks take advantage of the very thing I’m most comfortable doing, which is writing. It was easier to be a little braver and a little braver when I was working in my favorite medium.
Lyn: Is writing your strongest means of making connection do you think? Or most comfortable?
Judy Clement Wall: Definitely my most comfortable. But over time, getting braver here has made me braver in my physical world too. And, of course, the Love Project monthly goals forced me way out of my comfort zone. I’m nowhere near as shy as I used to be.
Lyn: Well that’s great! Great for us. One last question – though I could go on. What do you want people to know about love and connection? What do you want them to REALLY know about it? Esp. those who might not feel worthy of it? Or, what is it that you know about it?
Judy Clement Wall: If I had to boil it down to one thing… I wouldn’t. I’d do two things. First, I truly believe that we choose how to live our lives,that every day we are given the choice to engage or withdraw, attempt understanding or write each other off, forgive or stay angry. So many more times than we realize, we have the opportunity to choose love. How amazing would it be if, in those moments of truth, we all chose love? Second, we are all connected. The ripple effects of what we do and say are so much greater than we realize. We do – for better and worse – hold each other’s hearts in our hands.
Lyn: Thank you Judy. Seriously! Thank you for your work and your courage. I am so inspired by it all. And so is my yoga community BTW!
Judy Clement Wall: Actually, I was over-the-moon happy when you originally tweeted me about sharing My Religion with your class. I felt like, “Holy cow, I couldn’t have possibly asked for a better audience!” Thank you for that, and for all you do too. I’m really honored that you asked me, and your questions were SO good. I feel that I want to write more in my notebooks about stuff we talked about.