Last week, I went to REP Studio in Ithaca to record passages from my book for National Public Radio’s Author’s Corner. I needed two takes of two readings, each 80-83 seconds. Peter Johnson of Author’s Corner gave me a telephone coaching session the day before.
“Read faster for radio. Let your feelings show,” he said. “Not somber, but spirited.” I practiced.
As I walked upstairs to the studio the next morning, I felt relaxed. In the soundproof booth, I read the first passage, holding the line between expressing feeling and dissolving into tears.
“That was great!” Nate Richardson, the Head Engineer at REP Studio, said leaning back in his chair with a big smile. I read the passage a second time. Thumbs up. Besides professional studio support, Nate and his assistant Josh became an encouraging audience.
Aha! That’s why I kept taking on scary challenges. I was growing a new social persona.
C.G. Jung calls our public face persona, a Roman word for the mask worn by actors. As children, we develop social identities in response to experiences and feedback from family and society. Later in life, our social self is often tied to our work or domestic life. A mature persona reveals deep layers of our authentic selves while protecting vulnerabilities when necessary.
When our persona gets clobbered, we need a new one. C.G. Jung says the dissolution of the persona is necessary for development of a fully integrated sense of wholeness. Ouch!
After my husband Vic’s death, my persona was demolished. For over forty years, I had been lover, wife, and mother. Then I lost my well-defined role, that familiar place to stand. I grieved the loss of my husband but also the loss of myself and my life.
Loss of persona happens to almost everyone. We lose a job with which we were identified or a relationship fails. We lose a home or our sense of place in the community. We lose who we thought we were and find ourselves confused and tongue-tied. We leave the nunnery or our teaching position. We are betrayed. We lose our health or our youth. A partner or close friend dies.
After Vic died, I still had a strong sense of my inner self or soul, but it was hard to navigate the everyday world. I didn’t know when to reveal feelings and when to protect them.
I focused on writing to remember and find meaning, but reading out loud in writing class exposed my grief. If I read, I wept and sobbed. Something in me kept trying. At early public readings in 2012, I trembled and struggled to stay afloat. I felt exposed and very young.
Why did I put myself through this? I felt compelled, although I wasn’t sure what drove me. Now I see I was going through the hard labor of constructing a new persona.
Two and half years ago, at my first visit to REP Studio, Tish Pearlman interviewed me for Out of Bounds Radio Show. I was anxious and afraid I would sob. My persona felt flimsy and unreliable. Growing deafness didn’t help. Tish’s skill made the interview easy.
After Leaning into Love was published, I said yes to talks, radio interviews, and workshops even though I felt vulnerable and inept. There were many opportunities, including a second interview with Tish. They’re all on my media page. I gave a TEDx talk with TEDxChemungRiver called Good Grief! What I Learned from Loss. After that trial by fire, I began trusting my new persona.
I’m still saying yes.
Please follow this link for my readings on Author’s Corner. Reading for NPR was a big enough gift, but on my birthday, I learned I would be on the same week as Jimmy Carter and PBS talk show host Tavis Smiley. Author’s Corner supports both new and established authors. You know what side of the fence I’m on. My readings were broadcast on participating NPR affiliates. They’re available at the website anytime.
Have you lost your social self once or many times? Have you thought about the role of persona in your life? For other articles about the psychology of book promotion, see A Love Note from Beyond or An IPPY Award and a Promise Kept. Thanks to Jill Swenson of Swenson Book Development for recommending Author’s Corner, laying the ground work, and providing tireless support in helping me find a strong voice.