I spend a lot of time writing when I’m not actually writing. I wrote most of this post while emptying the dishwasher, doing laundry, drying my hair and taking the dog for a walk.
That’s what I LOVE about writing. It’s my constant companion. My source of energy. It fuels me. It makes me “me”.
Two Mondays ago, I talked about finding your play personality. Click here for that post. My dominant play personality is storyteller.
A huge advantage of discovering your play personality is that, in my experience, it’s also your source of energy. Win Win.
It’s counter-intuitive for most modern mothers to think that adding something to your life could be a good thing. Trust me, when I tell you that it is. If – and this is a huge “if” – if that thing fuels you. If it is a source of energy for you.
Over a decade ago, I started taking stand up comedy writing classes. I was pregnant with my oldest daughter, Eva, at the time and had already buried myself in a life that didn’t have much of me in it. I was a lawyer which was the closest I had come to a passion in my life as I hated it with a passion. It’s a perfectly wonderful career, I hasten to add, if you’re supposed to be a lawyer. I was not. At least not the kind of lawyer I was. Maybe a lawyer in a Law and Order episode but that’s sure as hell not what I was doing. If you can make Latin American reinsurance law exciting, you’re a better woman (man) than I am. The only part of being a lawyer that I did enjoy was the storytelling part – that is, the rewriting a story in your client’s favour.
Anywho, I digress …
My comedy class was on Mondays from 7pm to 10pm for ten weeks. I still remember how good that felt. To have three hours each week when I wasn’t a lawyer, wife, daughter or any other label. I was simply Sally.
It filled me up – with energy, with ideas, with creative juice. It filled me up with “me”.
Those three hours transformed the rest of my week.
Finding that kind of fuel when you’re a mother is even more important. As mothers, there are many mundane moments. Sleepless nights, incessant nappy/diaper changing (I’m becoming increasingly conscious of women reading this in the UK and the US and that we are, in fact, two countries divided by a common language), laundry, pushing pushchairs/strollers from playground to classes or playdates and back again. When I’m working on a writing project or simply writing on a regular basis, those mundane moments become pockets of time when my mind turns, unprompted, to writing. A phrase I’ve been wrestling with at the keyboard will appear perfectly-formed as if from nowhere. Some of my favourite lines have come to me on the 126 bus from Hoboken to New York.
In the book, “Play – How It Shapes the Brain, Opens the Imagination, and Invigorates the Soul” by Stuart Brown, M.D., the author talks about a woman called Laurel who had a successful career, happy marriage and children she adored. And yet, she felt like she was missing joy in her life. As she reconstructed her play history, she realised that horses had grabbed her from the first time she saw one. She decided to ride again after a long period of not doing. Brown comments:
“What surprises her most since she incorporated the pure play of riding back into her life is how complete and whole she now feels in all other areas of her life. The bloom of “irrational bliss” she experiences in the care of her horse, from riding it regularly, and even occasionally riding it in small local shows, has spilled over into her family and work lives. The little chores of daily living don’t seem so difficult anymore. … there is a kind of magic in play. What might seem like a frivolous or even childish pursuit is ultimately beneficial. It’s paradoxical that a little bit of “nonproductive” activity can make one enormously more productive and invigorated in other aspects of life. When an activity speaks to one’s deepest truth, as horseback riding did for Laurel, it is a catalyst, enlivening everything else.”
What activity or activities give you that feeling of “irrational bliss”? Are those activities a part of your life since you became a mother?
In the book “Life is a Verb”, there is a wonderful essay called “Put Your Own Mask on First”.
We’ve all been on flights where the flight attendants talk about putting your own oxygen mask on first. We all “get” that on an intellectual level. In the essay, Patti talks about being on a flight with her daughter and hearing the instruction. Here’s Patti’s observations on her reaction to that:
“Put your own mask on first,
It was as if I had never heard that before.
It you don’t put your own mask on first, you’ll be of no use to others who might need your help. There are only seventeen seconds of consciousness when the oxygen fails on a plane. Seventeen seconds, then you’re of no use to anyone.
Sometimes I wonder if taking care of others – saving others – isn’t simply a diversion from saving ourselves. If I focus on you, I don’t have to focus on myself. …
Nurturing my own self first in order to be better able to help others – what would that look like? Would I schedule time at the gym like I schedule taking my kids to tuba lessons and birthday parties? My oxygen mask might resemble a solitary trip to the library or a lunch with adults or a bubble bath without animals or children as rambunctious witnesses. Imagine.”
What would your oxygen mask look like?
For me, it’s writing and reading. I’m at my happiest when reading other people’s stories and when writing my own. Or when watching those stories being brought to life on stage or screen. For other’s, it’s a yoga class. One thing I know for sure is that my oxygen mask is not in a yoga class nor in a gym nor on a massage table. As my daughter Eva was quick to tell the gym representatives we met on the street handing out “one day free passes” to their club, “no thank you, yoga gives my Mummy a headache.”
I’m firmly with Tina Fey who commented “I’ll do grave yoga. Someone can come and stretch me in my grave.”
Again, don’t get me wrong. Yoga is a fabulous thing. If it is truly YOUR thing. As I said in last week’s post, just bring yourself. Someone else’s fuel might drain you.
You’ll find YOUR source of energy in the things that YOU love to do. Most likely in your play personality. If you are someone who is most themselves when moving (dancing, doing sports etc), that is your source of energy. If you’re an artist, you’ll fill yourself up by painting/sculpting/drawing.
All the other stuff – the stuff you do for other people or because you think you should/have to, that’s the stuff that depletes you. That’s the quicksand of shoulds. Don’t let yourself be sucked into it.
Mothers of our generation have taken “having it all” to mean “doing it all”. That tends to mean that we’re doing many things that drain us, things that in an ideal world, we wouldn’t be doing. The more things you are doing that deplete you, the more you need to discover the things that fuel you. Otherwise it’s highly likely that stress will be your constant companion. That is what your children will observe. Is that what you want them to see?
As mothers, we have SO little time that is just about us. The upside of that is there is no more margin for mediocrity. Don’t spend time (or relationships) with people you’re half-hearted about or doing things (or jobs) that drain your energy.
What fuels you? What fills you up with you? Imagine if that’s what your children saw. More of you.
As always, I love to receive your comments and thoughts.
Next time I take the dog for a walk, I’ll be mulling over next week’s Monday Mama Muse. I feel a surge of energy just thinking about it.
Have a great week!