Selfishness, For Now

On writing, or creating an all-compassing piece of art, craft, work:

“Embrace this selfishness, for now. Wrap it around you like a quilt made of air… Don’t leave that essential place. Be a good steward to your gifts.” -Dani Shapiro

When I read this, I was in bed. It was January, on a chilled but sunny afternoon with snow on the ground and the shades drawn up, up, way up. There were two puppies at my side and a balled-up duvet toward the foot of the bed, misshapen from a sleepless night prior. When I read this, there was a toddler napping one room over; a sink of ignored dishes down the hallway.

When I read this, I understood my views on writing.
When I read this, I understood my views on motherhood.

Writing – like early motherhood – is an intensely selfish act, but like all things, also carries various degrees of its opposite. On the outside – head down, phone off, in the trenches – writing appears self-absorbed, or unaffected. There are missed calls and cancelled plans and long hours spent in quiet coffee shops – corner table for one, please – and there is a price. There is a neglect of something, or a multitude of things ranging from insignificant (overgrown landscaping, belated oil changes) to ever-important (forgotten birthdays, lost opportunities).

Embrace this selfishness, for now.

There is also a most selfless thing happening. There are ideas, memories, universal truths skittering back and forth in our brain, searching for the most direct path to our fingertips in hopes they will emerge onto a page. It is good, hard work. It is emotional work. It is renewing and depleting, selfish and selfless. It is toiling now to bloom later.

Writing forces me to sit with my head for a bit. To process the week, the day, the moment. It forces me inside of myself to discover something outside of myself; to learn what I might perhaps carry with me – a few coins clinking together in my coat pocket – that I can offer the ones I love.

Wrap it around you like a quilt made of air.

Motherhood holds the same threads.

To be fair, it has made me crazy. There is a bowling alley in my brain, and at any given moment an image of my toddler – a sweet song or funny moment – will tumble down the alley of rational thought and knock over each and every pin. Bee: 10, Mama: 0. I have lost my wits to a pigtailed blonde.

And yet, motherhood has expanded me – a balloon growing, daily, with thinner skin and softened edges. The toddler has taken up residence in my mind, and my heart, and my soul, and as she has grows, there is less room for much else. It is good, hard work. It is emotional work. It is renewing and depleting, selfish and selfless. It is toiling now to bloom later.

It is all-encompassing, this work. It is not easy, but it is not forever.

Don’t leave that essential place.

Sometimes I feel like the bulk of my job – as a writer, as a mother, is simply to protect my time – to spew a series of No’s in order to allow Yes’s for the gifts I have been given, today.

To refuse, to accept.

No, I cannot meet you for coffee. My gift, today, is to mother.
No, I cannot attend your event. My gift, today, is to write.

In these seasons of emotional energy depletion – whether rearing toddlers or writing books – we are giving much. We are in the trenches of birthing, raising – and eventually, releasing – a being that bears our own fingerprints. One that we have been entrusted with. A story, a soul.

Be a good steward to your gifts.

  • Hey Erin!
    I stumbled upon your blog a week ago and started following it via bloglovin. I have to say, I love the way you write. I typically flip through a lot of blogs but I always end up reading your entire blog post. It’s a beautiful gift you have!! :)

  • I love this Erin. While I am not yet a mother [pray to God I get to be one day] I feel like I am always, always fighting with time. Too much, too little, how to use it, how to give it, how to keep it. It’s this ever revolving door of time & slowing down & speeding up & learning to say no when I really want to say YES. As a new writer to the blogging world, as a new wife, as a long-time dreamer praying that God shows me how He wants to use me next – I feel like I have to be selfish [a word I never, EVER thought I needed to be]. I have to be selfish to hear my heart, to love better, to “get inside my myself to discover outside myself” – YES, yes, a thousand times YES to that. Thank you for your words. Love your posts & honesty & heart. Thank you!

    • Ah, I loved your comment, Maeve – totally resonates with me. All my best to you dear!!!! :)

  • I loved this, Erin! I’m 7 months pregnant and have been feeling quite selfish, trying to take care of myself to take care of the growing bean. At times it’s been hard to deal with the guilt for all I’m not accomplishing right now, especially work wise, all the No’s I’ve had to say, feeling I’m letting others down… but I’m learning to let go of it and embrace this selfishness, for now :) This post is a great reminder of that. I love hearing the expansion motherhood has brought you. I can’t wait for all the changes it will bring into my life!

    • Ah, I hear ya! Keep on taking care of that growing baby sweet girl. Can’t wait to watch you become a mother! :)

  • You are a beautiful writer! I love to write, but have such troubles putting what I feel into words. And I also feel selfish when I take an hour or so to myself to get think and get my thoughts out. But I learned long ago it helps to keep me sane so this is just a reminder that it is okay! Just beautiful. Thank you!

  • I feel so similar some days. I’ve got a preschooler and baby who just occupy so much of my head these days.

    Quick question – I love that cardigan, but can’t find it on your list of 25. Where is it from?

  • Such an important message, and one that is so hard for us women to hear, I believe. Thank you for these words!

  • I have been dealing with some stress lately with moving on to another stage of life, and this was so good to read today. Such a simple yet awesome perspective. No need to feel guilt when nourishing your own gifts. Thank you for this!

  • Gosh, I feel I could have written this (just not as eloquently!). One of the reasons why I made a shift in blogging was so I could, in a way, “embrace selfishness,” as you say, and say “yes” to the things that matter the most.

    “Sometimes I feel like the bulk of my job – as a writer, as a mother, is simply to protect my time – to spew a series of No’s in order to allow Yes’s for the gifts I have been given, today.

    To refuse, to accept.

    No, I cannot meet you for coffee. My gift, today, is to mother.
    No, I cannot attend your event. My gift, today, is to write.”

    Boom. Yes. It feels good to know that I am not being selfish for my sake, but so that I can be who God made me to be, for this time and season.

    Thank you, Erin.

  • One of the hardest things for any woman to do is to be selfish. It just does not come naturally but is oh so important at times. Embrace those times as they will energize you and renew you for the times when selfish is just not in the cards.

    And sorry to say that your hard work as a mother to a toddler is forever…but it is a good forever. Their needs and wants will change over time and things will seem a bit easier but then the tween years hit and watch out! You begin the worry and helping and watching over of the toddler years all over again! But as you have discovered, it is worth every second. And seeing her jumping around on the sand makes me smile!

  • Beautiful words! So true especially the balance we try to get with writing around little ones! I loved the “no I can’t attend your event- must write!”

    When we give those gifts time
    And tlc then we can finally flourish:)

  • This is so good. I’m in my 33rd week of my first pregnancy and already having to learn that taking care of myself (and my child!) is important in all these new ways, most of which involve slowing down and protecting my time. It’s hard, but it’s good. Thank you for the reminder.

  • Lovely post! We’re leaving sunny Florida to return to the Upper Midwest today, too – we’ll miss the sun, but we miss our home, too!

  • Love this post and especially your pictures! Nothing like filling your soul with sunshine on a sub-zero day! Enjoy your time there…well deserved and never selfish to make good memories with those you love!

  • I can really relate to your meditations here on writing, Erin. So lovely, and so true . . . something always falls by the wayside when I’m in the act of writing/creating, and sometimes I feel guilty about that. But it helps to have a supportive partner who encourages me and jumps in to cook dinner/clean up/walk the dog when I’m right in the middle of my writing groove!

    I’m not a mother (yet!), but your comments on motherhood ring true in a universal way, reminding me that we get to decide what is primary each day, and to cleave to that and make it essential.

  • I’m currently happily blogging. Besides that, I journal daily. I have to write every day. But no one asks about it. It’s nice to be allowed this selfishness but at the same time, I wish I had some friends who were supportive of my writing. Anything but this, “Well, good for you!” sort of indifferent comments. Is that selfish to even desire though? As a writer, are you supposed to keep everything under wraps and your nose to the grindstone until you have written this complete novel/document/essay whatever fueled by some deep and disciplined ambition?

    • Ah, I can totally understand that. I hope that – with time – you find a tribe of supporters. In the mean time, I’m cheering you on from over here!!! :)

  • I’ve heard it said that as humans we are able to do many things, but we were made to do only a few things. I think if we tap into that we would say better yeses and better no’s.

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