Step one: Find something you want to do, eat, read, try, sing, experience, avoid, write, touch, smell, grow, cut, photograph, make, keep, throw out, and/or enjoy.
Step two: Do it.
Step three: Stone yourself with grief and recriminations for doing what you did until you’re emotionally broken and bloody, or soak in the satisfaction, smiling so wide your ears hurt.
Selfish is a cranky word, all spikes, hisses and barbed wire. I know very few women who haven’t – at some point – chewed their lip or hangnail, worried that they were being selfish. Not because they chatted to their eighty-five year old neighbour for ten minutes, but because they didn’t talk to her for longer (even though they had to pick up the kids from school, or get to work, or any number of equally necessary and/or important responsibilities). Selfish not because they donated money to the latest disaster fund appeal, but because they didn’t think to give more, and cancel the book they’d pre-ordered which was now waiting for them at the bookstore. Selfish for not going to the temple, Relief Society meeting, and Tupperware party this week when she was PMS’ing so badly the cat curdled, the milk molted and she snarled daggers at everyone who dared even breathe in her general direction, let alone suggested she was mixing her metaphors…
I know so many, myself included, who surmise that I/we are selfish for choosing Action X over Verb Y, when someone better – more righteous and Christlike and wonderful – would have obviously and cheerfully chosen both Y and Z and cured all forms of thrush at the same time. Like that woman from Proverbs, More Than Rubies. SHE would never be selfish. Too busy being productive, organised, always caring and working for the good of others, she obviously chose actions A through Z, and is commended publicly through the ages for it, right there in the scriptures. Frankly, reading about her makes me exhausted. If she gained satisfaction from it, chronic insomnia notwithstanding, I commend her, and return to contemplating if my floor can go another day (or two, or seven[teen]) without being mopped. The thought of which has usually occurred as I’m reaching down to unlace my work-boots, and somewhere around the time of wondering what it was I’d planned to cook for dinner. I’ve learned to have self-control when it comes to comparing abilities, although it can be incredibly difficult not to (especially when PMS’ing).
The fact is, for the great sweeping geography of it, the scale and variation between self and selfish is constantly changing and often wider than we let ourselves see. I’ve learnt that if I don’t practice some self-care, I become a malignant, growling ogre, as incapable of performing delicate heart-to-heart maintenance with my sons as a fish is of riding a bike. I’ve become self-aware of what recharges my batteries, of what brings me comfort and calm. My best friend makes quilts when life is full of challenges, changing decisions and frustrating days, because when she makes a quilt everything is in beautiful straight lines, exactly where she wants it, ordered and soft and lovely. Finding ways to self-medicate calm and relief is a powerful strength and refuge, not a selfish frivolity or useless pastime.
I imagine the same was true of More Than Rubies, (just for a moment making her a real, warm, fragile-skin-wrapped bundle of responsibilities, thoughts and emotions, just like us). I don’t doubt she had busy days; clothes to wash, meals to cook, choices to worry over, children to watch and yell at and kiss goodnight; but I have to say I think that for all that she accomplished, she must have added oil to her own lamp. Maybe the land she bought was found during early morning walks, fog and prayers mingling against her skin. Maybe the scarlet threads were her comfort and inspiration, a task made joy for nobody but her. Maybe – when the evening stained the hills a sweet, hazy lavender – she sat on her roof, watching the purple bloom into stars, and smiled.
Do you ever worry about being “selfish”? Do you allow yourself to do something you want? What do you do for self-care? Are you self-aware about what you need to do to avoid becoming an ogre? How do you recharge your batteries?