SELFISH BITCH

Why being selfish can not only good for YOU, but ultimately good for EVERYBODY.

I was nursing my first cup of coffee and poking around my blog stats this morning. (I know we’re not supposed to care, but come on–we all do it!) I found a link to a blog by Twisted Thicket, a gourd and rock artist.

I saw the title of the artist’s current post, “Being Selfish”; it stopped me dead in my tracks.

The artist wrote, “Do you ever feel the need to just pick up your paints and brushes and paint something, anything, just for you? I do. I need to let myself go and paint without boundaries and time constraints. It may seem selfish….”

It hit me hard because it cut so deep.

That word.

Selfish.

Twisted Thicket went on to talk about her latest work (yay!), but the train of thought she started carried me here.

‘Selfish’ is probably the worst thing you can call a woman. Especially a mother. Well….that, and the other word I used in the title.

Aren’t we supposed to be compassionate? Aren’t we supposed to be supportive? And giving? Giving, to the point of self-sacrifice? Don’t mother animals actually pull fur and feathers from their breast to make their nests for their young? Aren’t we supposed to be….

Nice?

I have no idea when or where, in what context or how often that word ‘selfish’ was applied to me as a young person. My parents are pretty nice people. As I go now through the difficult stage of parenting teens, I’m guessing I heard it most often when I was a teen.

Because that’s what teens are. That’s where their brains are at, developmentally. They are ‘selfish’, ‘self-centered’ and ‘self-absorbed’ at that age. I’m sure I heard those words pretty regularly during my young adulthood. I know I have to bite my tongue now to keep them from popping out when I’m dealing with my son.

I bite my tongue because I know those words have staying power. How do I know?

Because at some point in my teens (and I’m sure I deserved it) my mother, berating me for some stupid, selfish thing I said or did, said I had “a vile personality”.

And in my deepest, darkest moments of depression, I can still hear her saying that.

This is not to blame my mom, who is kind and generous person. I know she loves me and wants only good things for me. I’m sure I stretched her patience to the breaking point that day.

It’s about the fact that sometimes, the words we hear go far beyond that moment, and burn themselves into our hearts.

And never go away.

When I talk to other creative people–singers, writers, painters, designers, musicians–when I ask if they’ve set aside a separate space for their craft, or a time to practice it, I’m dismayed by how many do not.

They carefully explain how they can’t do that, because that would be selfish.

Whether they are just starting out or beginning to hit their stride as artists, I’m amazed how many have to carve tiny bits of time around their kids’ naps. Or work on a kitchen table, setting up and clearing away their projects every single day.

I remember a woman whose husband had an entire room for his cigar collection, but she painted on an easel in their bedroom.

I myself often chose the role of ‘rescuer’ to such women. I would give hours, entire days, to help someone deal with their latest crisis. And when I wasn’t needed any longer, I drifted on to some other drama I could play a part in, some other person who “needed” me.

It feels good to be needed, doesn’t it?

We give up our time, our space, our attention–willingly, unasked–because we think others deserve it, and we do not.

Here I am, after ten years of making good work, enjoying some success with my art, making good money (or was), finding it difficult to figure out what I want from all this.

Or rather, not what want–but what I want.

Because making time for ourselves, making space for ourselves, making art that pleases ourselves, seems….selfish.

What I’ve learned is, you can’t take care of others until you take care of yourself first.

That old flight attendant metaphor of putting your own oxygen mask on before you help kids on with theirs is a good one. Because it’s true.

The best way I can help my kids in their young adult years is to model the kind of person I hope they’ll be. Self-reliant. Confident. Open to change. Focused on what matters to them. Er…me. Creating good energy in the world by being….

Myself.

Caring for others, yes, but not at our own expense. Being there for our friends, but not losing ourselves in their issues. Encouraging our spouse, but not sitting in the back seat because we’re too afraid to drive the car ourselves.

Self-sacrifice should only involve a life-or-death situation–not your daily practice. (You have to ask, who would even want, or expect that from you on a daily basis??)

I’m told there comes a time where we will not care (so much?) what other people think of us.

I’m told that when a woman reaches menopause, her priorities shift. The years spent nurturing and supporting others ease off.

This will be the time when we step forward to claim what we want. A time to speak up with our voice.

We will not be judged any longer. We will only….be.

We will be the artist, the writer, the activist, the community organizer person, whatever we dream we were meant to be.

It can’t come soon enough.

I can’t wait to be a selfish bitch.

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12 Comments

Filed under art, courage, life, life with teenagers, selfishness

12 responses to “SELFISH BITCH

  1. Great article. I’m relatively new at being a mom, (my son is about to turn one) but I can already see how the guilt about taking time for yourself is a universal mom thing. I do work around nap schedules and after bedtime. But it’s not that I would feel selfish, I just can’t afford childcare so there’s nobody else to take care of the baby while I work. A couple of times a month, the baby and I visit my parents, and that’s when I get my “me” time. It’s a treat for them to take him on an outing and have some quality time, and I bring a project or two and get a few hours all to myself.

  2. Hi Luann,
    This is so true, so well written. I am 48, the mother of two almost grown men, and I think I went to the extreme of unselfish over the years. Now I am slowly finding my way back to myself. It’s not easy, but it is oh so worth it. In those little moments where I really do feel good being “selfish” and just being me, it is wonderful!

    I had a similar experience with the ‘other word’ as a teen, my father called me a bitch when I was 16, and I’ve never forgotten it. I’ve worked on it, and other memories, though, and the sting is gone now. I’d prefer to be a bitch in many ways, though I still do like to be ‘nice’ ;-). It’s about balance, I think.
    I posted a video on my blog a little while back about a movie about women artists, maybe you’ve seen it, but I’ll post the link anyway.

    http://alchemicaljourney.blogspot.com/2009/01/who-does-she-think-she-is.html

    I’d love to see this one day.

    Thanks for the great writing! (and p.s. I love your rubber stamp carving book!)

    Cindy

  3. I can think of – and have been called worse – than what you’ve put in the title. I completely agree with the need to be selfish to develop your art. After my second child was born, I found I could only work on projects that could be done in bursts of 10 minutes. Very frustrating. After years of working in a small corner, or on the floor of the living room, I now have a space of my own, and I love it. I’m enjoying following your journey :-)

    All the best
    Dianne

  4. Kim

    Hi Luann
    I tried to get here yesterday but, because of the snow storm, my internet kept going out so I decided to stop in today instead. I wanted to say thank you for mentioning me in your post. :)

    Your post is so right on. I still struggle to work through every day trying to ignore that nagging little voice from years ago telling me that being an artist is the equivalent of being a garbage man (no offense to any of our maintenance workers out there). It was my Mom’s way of trying to make a point that she wanted me to DO something with my life instead of drawing with my head in the clouds. Funny thing is, she was also a very good artist, and she has probably gone through life with the same little nagging voice.

    I have two older children now with families of their own and one, my youngest daughter (just 17) still at home. I went through having to do things around my children’s schedule, on the dining room table, and in the bedroom too. I now have my own shop that I made in my basement, but I still find myself dragging things upstairs to work on the dining room table….old habits die hard. lol

  5. I discovered my selfish gene a long time ago when I knew I didn’t want kids! I don’t have enough maternal instinct in me to out weigh my ME side, and I knew that some 35 years ago, thank goodness my child self listening to me back then.

  6. for those of you that have children remember that in making that choice, you have had the opportunity to experience the gift ( and I know when you have a grouchy teenager on your hands, it might not feel this way!) of a kind of profound love not easily found in life….sometimes having to ‘steal’ your creative time can force you to be more efficient with it!

  7. As always–balance. :^) Giving–AND getting–are good!

  8. “a kind of profound love not easily found in life” (kerin)
    I just love that phrase! It is so true, but nothing exists in a vacuum, and the path of a parent includes so much that we are not always prepared for. Balance is truly everything, and not always easy to achieve under pressure. It’s all a learning experience and well worth it every step of the way!

  9. Because of a medical condition I could not have children. My mother-in-law gave me wise advice; “Go With What You’ve Got”. SHe grew up in tough times and knew what she was talking about. I’ve always followed her advice. I look at what I have to offer, and create my life around this. And I have a VERy full life! We all have only so much time on this earth. I believe there has to be hundreds of ways to live a fulfilling life!
    Karen
    KJ Lyons Design

  10. love what you wrote…my kids are now grown and gone. I loved being a mom and yes I was one to work on the dining room table and then put it all away. I worked very hard at not being ‘selfish’. I remember I would only take courses that would finish in time for me to be home to make dinner. I ended up very angry and very depressed.

    It took me years to put ‘me’ first and it is still hard! When my last child moved out, I took her room and made it into my long waited studio. I love it. I relish in it. I sit in it. I think in it. I am just in it. I recently told my children that they cannot move back home as I am not willing to give up my studio. (2 bedroom condo).

    There is a part of me that calls me S.B. (selfish bitch), but another part, the louder part finially, is saying HOORAH! and giving me the high-five… It’s an eternal struggle, i think.

  11. Wow, did this push MY buttons too! I didn’t have Brendan until I was 35,but I can remember years earlier my mother telling me “you’re too selfish to have children” WTF? I know now that my way of being threatened her because I had chosen a different path, much more independent and more focus on what I wanted to do.

    she also was known (by me at least, she didn’t recall this when I finally asked her about it) to say that I was “as graceful as the bird they call the cow”, probably in reference to my teen body that grew five inches in five months when I was 12.

    And, she was/is a loving mom. One of my teachers just last week was talking about how once a word is out there, it’s out there and even if we apologize, it’s out there.

    Loving your blog, having just discovered it. Aren’t we great??? ;)

  12. guilt and selfishness,

    two words that women from my era were nurtured on. In the context of being selfish resulting in you guilt. Guilt is your punishment for being a bad female.

    I am very selfish now, I suppose I am a bad female. I think I have finally earned the right to be a bad female, or being selfish, and ignoring the guilt for the most part.

    You young ones out there, do not wait until you are old to realize you have a right to some selfishness and no guilt.

    Paint a painting for yourself, paint a wall purple if you want to.

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