Defying My Own Foolish Self-Defeating Rules

Rosa Parks, Image from the Southern Poverty Law Center
Rosa Parks, Image from the Southern Poverty Law Center

Well, my mind is made up.
No more convention papers, and not writing anything just to try to get it accepted somewhere, or because I think I must. When I think of the amount of time and words I’ve wasted through my job, producing excessive verbage for the sake of “being a part of the field,” I am wearied. My grandfather told me never to write unless I had something to say. I guess that is why I find more pleasure writing on Facebook sometimes than writing the majority of things that I must write for work. That sort of writing prevents me from working on what I really want to write, what I really need to write, what I really MUST write.

I write on Facebook because I can do so between those other mundane times of writing-for-work. It’s telling that I need to express myself after writing that somehow  feels as if it leads to compressing, not expressing, myself. And with major writing projects that are long-delayed, the large blocks of time I need in order to arrive and stay in the appropriate frame of mind are lacking.

So what is my solution? I suppose that it is to radically alter the underlying ethos for the way I have largely engaged my work and my life for a very long time–since getting my degrees. My work in the university has somehow worked together with the obligation I have so often felt to sacrifice my own desires and needs if someone else needed or wanted something from me. If I am hired to do something, it adds another layer of obligation. And if it’s a profession, as is my career, there is almost no portion of my life that is not “someone else’s. Whether it is my job, my students, my family, or my community, I was raised that it all comes first, because I was the first–first-born, that is.

I was fortunate to have grandparents and aunts and uncles and teachers as a child who gave me ample opportunity to express myself, my father and mother nurtured my love of the arts and learning, and travel. But I learned through religion and culture that despite these things, it was others who mattered more, and that to believe this was virtuous.

It’s amazing that I’ve written much at all, given this compunction in my life. I have many unfinished works that have been interrupted by putting myself second, third, or beyond. Add to that some challenges with memory and attention, and before you know it, it is only the need or person knocking on my door, texting my phone, or sending an email with a request, that will get my dutiful return to the page.

Yesterday, I listened to Cherrie L. Moraga speak about writing, and about our work as artists, performers, activists, teachers… She spoke (as she writes) as if reaching with a penetrating awareness into my core. And she stirred in me a pain that I must feel in order to return to my writing as my first love, not my work for hire, or servitude.

I bear the brunt of the responsibility for the way I’ve wasted my time. I must believe that this extended period of distracted incubation has its own purposes. And I must forgive myself and realize that the horse isn’t going to come back to me; no, I fell off (or jumped off) and just didn’t get back on. And so now, as I learned from my grandfather, I have to go out and find it, in the field somewhere…and that only happens by doing it.

It feels incredibly uncomfortable to dedicate myself to my own work. I can almost feel myself cringe, as if waiting for someone to scold me or tell me to “get back to work” or demand that I do something for them. I don’t have the time to spend another year of my life trying to learn how to ‘say no.’ I need to learn to feel comfortable doing and getting what I personally want, rather than accumulating a lifetime of memories and items that were somehow given to me as my dutiful clutter.

So I’m going to take that lonely and difficult trek out to get my horse, and I’m going to caress its face, and feel the strong muscles just the way I was taught as a child. Because a horse is like us, my grandfather told me. And it acts like we do, will do what we tell it to do, even when we aren’t aware we’re doing it. And my horse has become barn sour, leaving me out in the middle of nowhere. It’s time for me to unlearn some really bad habits, and to feel the discomfort of unlearning. And to write and learn to be selfish. Because no matter how much I do for others, if I’m not writing, I’m not doing what I’m supposed to be doing for others.

I’ve got to make my mind up that it’s more important than anything else in my life right now. Because it is. Even before I knew how to write, I wanted to spend all my time writing. And when I have written from that place within my body that has no doubts, it has always been something that has helped others. I can’t put it off any longer. Someone else can be on that committee, and if anyone’s upset I don’t show up…well, they’ll get over it. There. I’ve said it.

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