In a recent interview on NPR’s Fresh Air, esteemed author, Claire Messud, contemplated the writing life and concluded that a major challenge lies in the fact that writers must make life choices which enable them to create something that “doesn’t exist and nobody needs.” This may be especially true for women, she suggested, who have been acculturated to place the needs of others in front of their own. In other words, carving out time and space to pursue a writing practice requires a certain level of selfishness and not everyone, neither men nor women, always feel justified in doing so.
My time working in the mental health community verified that not only is it legitimate, but essential to nurture one’s spirit and creativity. Still, I often feel guilty and question the appropriate balance between everyone else's needs and my own. Even as I write this I am sitting on an overstuffed couch at a ski resort while my developmentally disabled (and seriously darling) five-year-old daughter sits beside me with a Kindle in her lap watching a program that is helping her learn sign language. My husband and two sons are skiing and I feel delinquent because I am neither skiing with the boys nor fully attending to my daughter’s needs. It’s difficult for me to quiet the omniscient voice of judgement in my head chastising me for not doing enough or not doing it right. I often experience a twinge of compunction as I spend my time pursuing an interest, hobby, divertissement, call it what you will, that has very little chance of making any kind of substantial contribution to my family, except for my own sanity which I don’t totally discount. I just don’t know how much to count it.
Ahhh to be a writer like Tolstoy! I’m not referring to his artistry mind you. No, what I envy is the ability he apparently possessed to spend his days tucked away in his study toiling over his craft while his spouse and 14 children catered to his every need. That sounds pretty darn good on those days when I can barely cobble together five minutes of solace without being yanked back to the “real world” by a seemingly endless stream of need, be it child, spouse, parent, friend, work, or neurotic, but lovable ninety pound dog.
So, my goal for 2014 is to quiet that voice and claim that space in the hope that my most basic instinct is correct; inviting a little more selfishness into my life to pursue my creativity will somehow contribute to the overall well being of my family. Besides, Claire Messud said I could. So there! See, I’m getting better at this already.