The idea of “self-care”- a term that has come into a strong cultural light of late- may seem illusive to writers. We’re so busy squeezing in our writing between work, family, and you name it, we may not take the time to indulge in the things that keep us whole. The irony is we need them that much more: the unending pressure of not caring for ourselves can make us feel plumb worn out. But by simply re-framing daily actions or even the work we do, small acts of self-care can make the writer’s life that much more worth living.
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Oh, writers: we’re notorious for being sweat-stained, frustrated, and a little thin in the soul. We used to drink; now we jog. Some lucky ducks good at time management do both.
Earnest Hemingway once famously said, “Writing is easy. All you have to do is open a vein.”
Now, on one hand, lighten up, dude!
On the other, he was kind of right, namely because there isn’t a lot of time for mucking around. If we want to write, we have to stuff it in between the cracks of our “real” lives: we awake at 5 a.m. before the toddler stirs or work calls, or we thunk down at the computer after long days of job and travel and care. Plus we still need to floss! It never ends!
Of course, we keep writing because it’s what makes us relevant. Because of all we have roiling around inside that needs to be realized in words. Because it’s our way of conversing with the world.
However, the downside is a person’s inner foundation can crack after years of such unyielding pressure, and left unchecked, it’s not long before everything tumbles down.
Start with Mindfulness
Recently, psychotherapist Vaishali Patel of Vaishali Patel Psychotherapy held a workshop at One Lit Place on the importance of self-care. She explained that there are gradients of self-care- from micro actions to intensive gestures- and all it takes to attend to the self is to frame the care so you’re conscious that you’re caring for yourself at any given moment.
This means that while spa days and vacations count, so do pausing to stretch, watching a kitten video, or having a great conversation with someone who understands you.
One could then go a bit further in that direction and say that simple mindfulness is self-care. If we take a moment as we go about our business to note the sky, take a deep breath, or celebrate the first paragraph of a book you thought was flipping brilliant with a fellow writer, that tiny amount of mindfulness may recharge us from within.
See, Socrates was on to something when he said the examined life is indeed worth living.
If these small gestures count, this is awesome news. We’re doing these things anyway, so now we’re doing it in the name of self care! (Don’t you already feel a bit better?)
It’s All in How We Frame It
One of the best examples of re-framing one’s reality is visual artist Lenka Clayton’s Artist Residency in Motherhood. When her son was one and a half years old, she decided that rather than find her child an impediment to her ability to create, she would instead seize upon her motherhood proactively as an artist and “roll with it” by making art with/from/amid/of her child.
In her manifesto, she states,
“I will undergo this self-imposed artist residency in order to fully experience and explore the fragmented focus, nap-length studio time, limited movement and resources and general upheaval that parenthood brings and allow it to shape the direction of my work, rather than try to work ‘despite it.’”
What a perfect example of giving in to one’s life with grace and making the best kind of lemonaid from a one-and-a half- year old lemon (kidding, children are beautiful. It’s just an expression). (Check out some of the fantastic and creative art that she made during her residency here– *you’ll need to scroll down a bit, but it’s very worth it).
Writing in and of Itself Is Self-Care
Self-care doesn’t have to be a break from the things we do; self-care can also be the actual doing of the things.
When I pause to consider it, I realize that when I write, I am caring for myself. I am paying attention to the needs of my inner landscape, the me inside that requires that conversation with the page. For me, doing what I need to do, giving it its time and protecting that time, is the ultimate gesture of self care.
I don’t have to write. I don’t have to get my 500 words in. I get to. Changing out those verbs changes everything. It’s all in the framing: we can dread our “arse in chair” time each day or we can celebrate that we are lucky enough to get to have it.
“Self-care is essential for everyone and everything that gives to others. Even machines have self-care; it is called maintenance. We cannot function long term without taking care of ourselves. Without it our health, our relationships, and our self-identity all suffer. Not only that, but we cannot be amazing at what we do if we don’t take superior care of ourselves. So, if we want to go out there and change the world, we NEED to invest time, energy, and resources in nurturing ourselves.”
~ Vaishali Patel
Self-Care as a Gateway to a Happier Life
Reframing our perspective toward caring for the self can be a gateway toward further gestures of self-care that will leave their positive mark, whether it’s taking a walk or participating in good works or just making sure we turn off our phones once a week. Once we get good at mindfully noticing how one positive event leaves its imprint, we will only get better and better at giving over to self-care, seeing that it makes us better people, and calmer, happier, better writers.
Then writers who experience feelings like those the inimitable Joyce Carol Oats once talked about, saying she writes even when she feels her “soul as thin as a playing card” will feel a bit more whole, a bit more filled in.
In such a state, one can then recognize that all that squeezing of what we do into the cracks of our lives becomes noble, meaningful, and relevant. It becomes a gift of caring for the self and others– even (or especially) when it gets to happen at 5 a.m.
For more info on caring for the self or for some inspirational thoughts from Vaishali, visit http://www.vaishalipatelpsychotherapy.com