The Sacred Arts,  This is Me,  Writing

Giving and Taking

Giving. It’s what most women are trained to do pretty much since birth. Here’s this dolly, nurture it. Here’s this house, it’s your job to make sure it’s welcoming and clean. Don’t you want to learn to cook so you can find a husband someday? Give of yourself, it is your job to make others comfortable.

Okay, maybe things have changed a little since I was a youngster (or at least I hope so), but women talk about guilt enough for it to be a pretty pervasive cultural condition. We feel guilty if our houses aren’t clean and well-decorated. We feel guilty sitting down to read, or watch TV, or paint our nails, or just be–there is so much grocery shopping, folding, dusting, scrubbing, washing to do. Every spare second must be occupied with bettering something material; something other than ourselves.

This condition is compounded when you’re a caregiver or teacher. You give a lot of yourself at work, often for little reward. At the end of this semester, I had a list of to-dos that would keep me busy until 2016, and I was going to do it all during my four-week winter break. This list included such items as landscape the entire front yard myself, make Christmas happen, and write my novel.

<insert image of me laughing>

So of course, I got sick. Like, really sick. The kind of two-week cold that reminds you that you’re human, thus you live in a human body, and that for most of human history these bodies died of illness all the time. I planted myself on the couch and put down roots, like a moss you can’t scrape from the side of your house.

This annoyed me a lot at first. I had so much to do! So much to get done! All the stuff was not getting done! But I had a stack of library books, enough tissue to get me through a fortnight, and time off work, so I settled in and paid my dues. It’s been almost two weeks, and I’m slowly easing back into the life of a living person. I’ve had a lot of time to think, a lot of time to veg, and I’ve decided that this is the best way I could’ve spent my time off.

It occurred to me today that maybe this was why I have been so uninspired to write for the past few months. I have been giving so much of myself at work and at home that there was nothing left. The Artist’s Way makes it pretty clear that an artist cannot keep emptying their creative reserves without taking in inspiration. Christian teaching, and probably that of other religions as well, also claims that in order to give, one’s spirit must be full, so she can pour out on others. You can’t give if you have nothing to spare.

I couldn’t give any more. I was empty.

So maybe there was a purpose to my two weeks of quality time spent with Buffy the Vampire Slayer and my stack of Irish mystery novels. I get the impression that I’m filling myself up for the semester to come. I’m not usually the couch potato type, but I think this is what I needed.

At least, that’s what I’m telling myself when the guilt creeps in. Then I flip on the TV and the guilt gets smothered by the sound of vampire ass-kicking.

Buffy with axe



  • Erica O

    You know what?
    When that guilt comes creeping in, throw a book at it and flip it off. It has no business here.

    I just went through the same thing. I was bitter because the five days I slept, I didn’t get to enjoy. That really pissed me off because I didn’t wake up feeling refreshed afterward, just beat up. How is that even fair?

    But you are 100% right. You can’t give if there’s nothing there to give in the first place. It’s horrible that your body took control and forced you into the relaxing position but it’s good that you were forced into the relaxing position, even if you had to feel like crap during that time.

  • Marian Jones

    Hi Cat Lady, I identified with your post absolutely. It is very difficult to get any respite in the caring and thinking professions and all to easy for us to get burnt-out. To rediscover the creative side that I had thought I had lost, actually it was just overwhelmed and curled quivering and bushy-tailed in a corner of my mind, I joined a creative writing class. It’s been great fun and so has my romp into the blogging world. I’ve been enjoying your posts. Thanks. I hope your cold is better and everyone in your world is giving you some deserved space, and attention in equal measure.
    Marian Jones recently posted…Daydreaming my way into 2015My Profile

  • Andrea

    Thanks for sharing your challenge with finding balance and inspiration and motivation to write. I am very much in a similar season and it is uncomfortable. Glad you gave yourself some much needed rest…and a chance to refill the tank.

  • soapie

    aww. hope you feel better soon!
    don’t feel guilty. in the social work world, i hear it’s called “self care.” it’s the concept that you have to take care of yourself, so that you can continue to face the many ongoing battles of caring for others. when my sister, a social worker, wasn’t advocating for children, on her rare down time she’d be getting her nails done. “self care time!” she called it. =)

    you need your self care time too! buffy and all.
    feel better soon!! drink lots of fluids =)
    soapie recently posted…I slept and dreamt… (2014, in Review)My Profile

  • Shailaja V

    *Chuckles* I am actually picturing you as Buffy, wielding that axe and daring inspiration to come back to you. Honestly, though, don’t sweat it. I think we all need some time off, to process our lives, our writing and our relationships. This thing called writing will always be there. Guaranteed.
    Shailaja V recently posted…If God exists and other dilemmasMy Profile

  • Gina

    There is so much of this post with which I relate, especially “I couldn’t give any more. I was empty.” Even though my kids are in there 20’s, they still require “stuff” from me and time is sucked right out. Interestingly enough, the pressure has been more manageable since I started working again. I’m not as available for the little things.

    I was sick in November for two weeks just as you described. Hadn’t been sick like that in years. I reminded me that things I can’t control can kick my butt. It totally sucked!

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