In Praise of Selfish

I have a new escape route. It’s called, “I’m writing.” It puts space between me and the world, between me and demands, and between me and conversations I’m not eager to have. Sometimes it puts space between me and you, but don’t take it personally. If you called and I said I was writing, I really was.

The line is not an idle excuse. Writing is my new yoga. Without the body benefits.

After a week of explosive writing – quantity-wise, quality assessment to me determined – I’ve discovered that if I feel my mood shifting, if I feel the world intruding, if I don’t feel like writing, I reach for the laptop. And I force myself to type at least a few words, which turn into a paragraph and then morph into the start of something.

And my mood stays solid. The earth remains below my feet, a lofty accomplishment for a dreamer. And this discovery makes me feel as if I’ve found my way, or a part of my way, the beginning of my roadmap. It makes me feel as if I’m doing something right even if it’s a directionless float.

For me it’s writing, but we all have an “I’m writing” up our sleeves. The trick is finding yours, the song you must sing, the dance that soothes, the smile-producing dream.

A hint that you’re on the right path is that you feel guilty as you reach for your pleasure. You might sense you’re escaping. Or, like the all-inclusive horoscope, you might have the opposite reaction, the sense you don’t want to go there. But once you do, your breathing shifts and you know you’ve hit on something.

I used to grab a camera and leave home when I sought clarity. Simply looking through a narrow mechanical lens broadened my vision, a beautiful contradiction.

But now my tool for clear thinking has morphed to the written word, and on the days when I’m pulled away from writing, I start to cramp up, an emotional cramp that usually emerges as an explosion of sorts, a raise in my voice that my son greets with, “Why are you so mad??!!”

Mad. Crazy. The words are truly interchangeable in this case. The hardest thing is finding what calls to you. The second is being kept from it.

I’ve always worn the hat of helping others. Lately I feel torn because I want to assist unsettled folks find their emotional yoga, but at the same time, I want to leave behind the need to heal others. I want to stay inside my muse, to try on selfish for a bit.

After my husband and I split, his life fell apart. He’d been used to my help, my answering all his questions. And though we were no longer married, perhaps due to my guilt or my inability to handle seeing others in pain, I continued to advise him and often came to his rescue. I thought I was being a good person in this role. But my desire to help him also reeked of the fact that I didn’t trust him to help himself.

Things between us remained tense for years, and I felt bitter because I thought I was being so generous towards him. Finally, I said, ‘no more’ by changing my behavior, willing to listen if he had a problem, but not offering solutions. Once I got out of his way, he began to negotiate his life far better, and I felt much lighter. The tension between us vanished. By trusting someone else to find his own way, by getting selfish, I was being generous.

As I spoke with a friend yesterday, we talked about how the term ‘selfish’ gets such a bum rap.

“Is the novelist – let’s pretend someone like J.D Salinger – who hides indoors his whole life, refusing to interact with others, turning down requests, but penning beautiful books that move millions selfish?” I posed. “Isn’t that actually an incredibly generous act?”

Once a friend told me she didn’t want to have kids, that she was too selfish. I bet some would label her that for her decision. But why is knowing what we want and honoring our true self seen as selfish? Can we remember that generosity comes in many forms?

So if you’re one who struggles with making time for yourself, who thinks doing what you enjoy, what makes you smile, what takes you away from friends and family is selfish, please reconsider. Sharing your subsequent happiness is a much bigger gift than grimacing through an act of kindness.


WeLive.WeLearn. said...

Thank you for your post!

I completely agree. We need to recharge our batteries regularly to be the mamas, spouses, sisters, friends, human beings that we should be. Write on!

Willie Baronet said...

Standing and applauding.

Emily said...

Another great post! Great words, great insights! Keep writing!

Anonymous said...

I'm a big believer in selfish. When we're operating from a deficit because we never take care of ourselves, there's not much to give anyone else. Selfish, sometimes, is good. The alternative, to be constantly selfless, is a little depressing, don't you think? Without a self? Thanks for this post.