November 29, 2016

Variations on Self-Care

When I saw the advertisement for a "soup subscription," I thought Yes! Soup. This is the right time of year for that. After the elections, a local poet-friend sent a note to all in which our need to gather, vex, and rally was entirely summed up in the statement: "I want to make soup for you." We gathered together at her place on a Friday night, drinking wine and eating eggplant soup; and when the eggplant soup was gone, she made lentils. 

So I signed up--happy to support a local businessNot until yesterday did I realize this is a soup cleanse. Twenty containers, cued sequentially right down to time of day. 

Not gonna happen. But the good new is, soup! Fresh, handmade, vegan, meticulously labeled. Well, except for that one container...which by process of elimination contains either 1) Brazilian Black Bean, or 2) an elaborate assassination attempt. 

Option #2 would be a waste of the side of rice I cooked in shallots and garlic.

Writers are a vocal group on social media, and I've seen many pronouncements in which radio silence is equated to "self-care." On one hand, you have to get the oxygen mask on yourself before you can help those around you. On the other hand, taking care of yourself can't be your excuse to opt out of painful dialogues. You're doing nothing to complicate your privilege if you think of worrying as something you can put aside for a day, versus having it be an involuntary part of your existence. A lot of people are eyeballing panicky white liberals and thinking, Oh, now you're upset?

Soup. Sleep. A vase of $5 tulips that stand ramrod straight one day, and swerve like drunkards the next. 43-minute workouts whenever I can (which is exactly the length of one Chopped episode.) Petting my cat in the morning, when she curls up beside my pillow and stares out the window. The cranes are erecting a building in the adjacent lot, one beam at a time. They're the strangest birds she has ever seen. 

I read the manuscript for a neighbor's brilliant nonfiction book, which will be published in 2017. I renewed my Politics & Prose membership. I subscribed for another year to three different literary journals. In defiance of all practical logistics, I will be hosting thirty women writers for lunch at the Arts Club of Washington this Friday. I worked for few days straight on a soon-to-be-revealed creative project in celebration of Count the Waves' paperback release on December 13.

I made a few donations. I made a few phone calls. But there is so much more to do. I can do so much more. All of these gestures of self-care are important, but the truth is that I feel strongest--no, I am strongest--when acting out of concern for others rather than myself. 

I've never been very good at half-measures. I'm a perfectionist, drawn to dramatic outcomes and absolutes. If I have three hours' worth of work to do, I'll wait until I've got three hours free. That means letting a lot of free hours go to waste in the meantime, rather than logically doing an hour here and an hour there until the work is done. 

But that's not how advocacy gains a foothold. You show up, even when no one is there to witness it. You chip away. You pester. You celebrate the two steps forward even as you're taking one step back. You don't aim to be perfect, you aim to be present. 

Much of the past few years, for me, has been about articulating the particular political and social concerns I have in the world. (Not that "liberty and justice for all" isn't a good start, but you have to get specific.) If I want to look back on this life with any kind of pride, I have to shelve my distaste for half-measures for the privilege it is, and center advocacy part of my daily practice. 

At the very least, I have the time to spare that it would have taken to make soup. 

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