Monday, April 11, 2011

Do you feed yourself first? What feeds you?

Do you feed yourself?
On an airplane, the flight attendants tell you to put on your own oxygen mask before assisting others. This makes sense. If you’re passed out from lack of oxygen, you can’t help anyone else. 
In life, however, many of us forget this lesson and try to feed the world before ourselves. We go around the plane affixing oxygen masks while we slowly suffocate. That doesn’t sound very smart, does it? I mean even if you want to be a saint, surely saints could help more people if they didn’t collapse after helping ten?
Writer Johanna Harness once told me when she gets up at 5a.m. to write it makes her a better mother. She didn’t say, however, that she writes to be a better mother. My guess is, she writes because it feeds her in some way.
I’ve realized over the past few days of writing these posts that I could actually cull my values down to one--Spirit. Every other value on the list feeds my spirit. When my entire being is filled with the joy of friends and family, when I hum with the vitality of good health, when my heart overflows with happiness from laughter from fun, when I am humbled by gratitude or the profound breadth of all there is to learn, and when my very being brims with awe from the sight of something beautiful, then my spirit is full to bursting. 

It makes me want to pass it on. So, my top value is Spirit. My spirit. Because when that is full, I am at my best, I can be my best and I can give my best to the world.
And let’s be clear: my best today may be a different thing than my best tomorrow. Life is a work in progress, or WIP, as we writers call them. You have only to check in with the #amwriting hashtag on Twitter at any moment to see how writers are dealing with their WIPs. It covers the entire gamut of human experience--just like life. 
So what feeds you? And could you narrow your values down to just one?


  1. I had to read your words several times to understand the distinction you made when describing me. I think I understand, but it's an abstract understanding, not something I feel.

    Although I can describe the different roles I play in life--like I could describe different parts of my body--none of those roles exists outside the totality of who I am.

    Nourishing my writing without nourishing my children would be like eating good food to nourish my toes.

    There are overarching actions that are good for the totality of who I am, whether I'm caring for my writing or my children or my students or my mom or my husband or my community or my sheep or my garden or my friends.

    I don't think it's necessary to tease yourself into strands of being, each strand standing alone without the support of the whole. Integrate all those threads and you become a much stronger being--a rope rather than a collection of threads.

  2. Johanna, it's interesting you say that about the threads. I definitely don't feel like a rope. I have many totally separate identities, many of which are constantly in conflict with one another.

    I'm pretty much incapable of doing more than one thing at a time. Or being more than one thing at a time. If I don't keep track, I lose myself in the twists and turns. For instance, if I'm standing in a room and talking to someone, that's it. They are all that exist in the universe. I have to make very sure my kids are in a safe place or someone else is with them if I do *anything* other than watch them.

    Depending on who you ask, this is either a form of ADHD or a very common type of hyper-focus for highly creative types. Either way, since I'm absolutely NOT being a mother when I'm writing, it is very important to me to understand how that is still helping me be a better mother. Does that make sense?

  3. Jenn, It's so difficult for me to wrap my mind around this, but I don't think it's uncommon. It sounds like you are making the accommodations you need to make so you can focus in a way that feels organic to you.

    I'm trying to picture all these threads as separate from one another and I'm thinking about your word: spirit. Perhaps your spirit is the constant in each one, even if they are separate. If you strengthen your spirit, you strengthen each, even if they exist separately.

    Nourishing your spirit in one area of your life would then benefit all, since the same spirit exists in each.

  4. I clicked over here after reading Johanna's tweet: "Someone else comment so I won't feel so bad abt killing the discussion!" ... Perhaps I am missing something but I don't understand the confusion between nurturing one's spirit and being a better mother/person/freelancer, etc.

    As I creAtive, I can relate to Jennifer's comment about "one thing at a time" and hyper-focus. But having home-schooled three children through graduation while freelancing {and caring for extended family members} I *know* I was a "better" wife/mom/caregiver because of the wee hours of solitude, journaling and work activity I scheduled six days a week. ;)

  5. I use the stewardess/mask thing All The Time. Tres weird to see it here, I can tell you!

    Here is my odd little thought - when I am doing what I need to be doing, when I am in the place I need to be in time, or area, or in my head, or all of the above, I know it because it's the same feeling as placing a puzzle piece. The puzzle may not be complete yet - but the picture is growing, and I am the one making it grow.

  6. I think we're just bantering semantics, not sure there is a confusion so much as I didn't present my thought well. :)

    And Stargardener, you have my total awe and respect. I would not only not be able to do that, I would be filled with resentment.

    I think that's why I worry. I was used to a very self-centered life before my children. I love them desperately, but I crave long hours of solitude and find being with people all day, even my kids, very tough. Our family was most stable and happy before ToddlerDude when daughter went to school 5 days a week and I wrote full time.

    Of course, I didn't know I was going to have a child who didn't sleep for longer than an hour for two years. Over that time, my creative time and energy petered out to nothing but a trickle and I started to get very resentful and angry. Not helpful to any of us.

    I *still* feel guilty about it, though! So that's a journey in and of itself. :)

  7. Little Fluffy Cat ( I love the moniker), I love the idea of feeling like a puzzle piece that fits. I think you're right. When those things are working, everything just flows.

  8. Jennifer: Thank you for the kindness {but where were you when I was running so fast?? I needed someone like you to warn me! lol!} I would certainly never recommend my choices to anyone. No regrets — my travels with Resentment {my guide to the Land of Changed by Art} proved to have a silver lining ... And deliver me to the {fantastic!} Now.

  9. Yay! The conversation continues. :)

    So great to see your perspective, Stargardener!

    Little Fluffy Cat, I adore the puzzle analogy. I love the sense that the right action can feel right without needing to see the big picture.

    Jenn--you are so good to me. If I didn't think you'd feel guilty about my reprimand, I'd tell you to be nicer to yourself. I bow to the Queen of Guilt.