Be kind, unwind
When I was in graduate coursework for my English degree it was “normal” to stay up reading and taking notes until 3 a.m., to shun social contact until all the work was done, to finish one book, take a “break” to cram a sandwich in my face and then crack open the next brain-bending text. If I did make it to a party or a lunch or a movie, I’d just mentally destroy myself for taking time away from studying. How many pages could I have read in those precious hours? How many papers could I have graded? Well practiced in self-denial, this grad school narrative though exacting, was familiar, and in that way comfortable. My family, my culture, my society have all taught me that I am to give, be humble, be sweet and sorry. Apologize, try harder, be better, but quietly. Be smaller, tighter, harder, faster. Be good — I excelled at being good, but being good is not always great for me.
I was at least three quarters of the way done with my classes when my friend Lauren told me that she takes one class session off from each course every semester. That she absolves herself from having to go in, sit on the hotseat, participate. She maybe lightly skims the text or reads without taking as thorough notes, or maybe skips a book completely(!) but then on class night, she just stays home and takes a bath, drinks wine, watches a movie.
My response to this: “Wha? No go school is possible?!”
Lauren: Yes. You have to take time for yourself to survive.
Me: *Blank stare*
Huh. So self care is a thing. A real thing that people do. And they enjoy it. And the pleasure of honoring oneself with even the smallest of gifts is healing. Imagine that. I was maybe 24 years old and the freeing concept of taking care of yourself was confusing and new. I tried out her little trick and my god was it glorious, satisfying, fulfilling. And here I am, now, at 31 still learning to fully accept self care and its political ramifications, working on understanding that our cultural constructions of selfishness and what is proper and what is right, what is appropriate or excessive, harden us and rob us of the ability to value ourselves, to expect or ask for more. While we recognize inequalities and speak and fight against unfair practices, it’s also powerful, and radical even, to show kindness to yourself.
Your gut reaction to this may be that this is wildly narcissistic and radically lazy. This is whiny baby hedonism from touchy-feely feminists, and it’s this kind of criticism that we automatically assume and internalize and it’s this authoritarian rhetoric that makes self care so difficult.
It is difficult and I’m still practicing. . .
Finding beauty in my eye sparkle.
Stopping to appreciate the brilliant architectural mind of a winter wiener dog as he drags the blankets to his nestled fort. He has a lot to teach us! Three pillows may not be enough.
It’s okay to save your delicate feet the grief of a rocky path — it’s okay to refuse it.
Slip on tights
that let your finger delight
Say, “fuck the rules,” for once.
Go fuck yourself (for twice) and/or get someone else to help you.
Asking the gentle yogi how to practice angry She-Hulk yoga is not a stupid question.
Practice boasting. Accept compliments as they are — resist revision.
Closely examine every puppy. In the world. Start conversations with them, pet their bellies, imagine where they’d most like to vacation and why.
It’s okay to block feeds that make you tired. To be quiet when you don’t want to speak.
To dress up for no reason or star in a naked parade.
To imagine that Buffy, and Jo March, and bell hooks are some of your best friends. . .
and to secretly know that they really are.
To write until your fingers bleed and sing all the words wrong.
Writing for The Idler is a form of self care. It pushes me to do something I love, to practice sharing my voice and it helps me create and find community. People tell me that I’m brave when I tell my stories and I respond with the truth, that it’s important for me to out myself as anxiety ridden, struggling with depression, recovering from eating disorders, learning how to NOT be a good quiet woman, learning how to negotiate my chicananess, my sexuality, my pretensions, my privileges. It’s important for me to tell what so often remains secret because we so need to talk about these things and not feel alone. Nothing changes if we don’t share these stories and we feel like isolated mutants when we don’t have access to portrayals of lives like our own.
But what do I think when someone tells me that I’m brave? I imagine that I’m a loser, a jerk, an idiot narcissist who tells her two bit tales to anyone who will pay her attention. I feel badly that people think I’m brave when I’m really not. I feel badly because what if people say I’m brave but are secretly judging?
And I shouldn’t have to do this and my go-to, automatic, comfortable and at-the-ready response shouldn’t be self hatred, or “I’m sorry,” or “I take it back.” This is why I need self care — to practice my way out of what’s taught me that I am small and of little value.
Accept compliments as they are — resist revision.
Practice, practice, practice.
For more on self care and the importance of community care see these awesome writings that inspired this piece: http://bossyfemme.com/2012/03/12/self-care-for-bossy-femmes-an-intro/ and
Ana Holguin writes PopHeart for The Idler.