Feminism and Balance: Nobody Loves You Better Because You Used Yourself Up for Them

8 years ago

I was sitting in the audience at the Starr Community Conversation in Kansas City on Tuesday night when Gloria Feldt* said, "Nobody loves you better because you have used yourself up for them." 

Kind of makes a record scratch, doesn't it?

The panel -- featuring my friend Deborah Siegel of She Writes, my hero Gloria Feldt and Courtney E. Martin (who wrote, among many, many other things, a book about girls with eating disorders that is sitting here on my desk) -- broached the topic of feminism and work/life balance. The women are different ages and at different places in their careers. Some have kids, some don't. All are writers. I was intellectually blissed out for two hours.

Gloria, who spent 30 years at Planned Parenthood and the last ten or so as CEO, said at one point she wasn't sure where the job ended and she began. I've never had that problem with corporate jobs, but writing and blogging, yes. If I create this blog and these books, how is it not me? How can one ever draw a line? Am I not furthering my very life goals when I foster this part of my personality, when I hit publish or seek an audience for my work? How do I separate the writer from the woman?

I tend to lack a governor. I would write myself into an early grave if it weren't for my family.

Balance, which I've written about before, is tough whether or not you live with other people. I don't think for one minute that single people don't have balance issues -- in fact, if I were living alone, I would actually have more balance issues than I do now, because I would have to depend on myself to tear me away from the blinking screen that is wrecking my back and straining my eyes and doing nothing at all for my spreading ass.

I tried to write this post all day yesterday, but the job was crazy and then I had to get my hair cut and then there was my girl, whom I hadn't seen at all on Tuesday because I went to the panel and got home after she went to sleep. So again, I didn't write. I helped her with her homework and made dinner and gave her a bath and read her stories. And by that time, it was 9:30, and though I often go back to work at that point, I looked at the husband I didn't see all weekend after traveling for work for three nights and sat down on the couch next to him instead. I've worked the last eleven days straight, and I don't do that well.

I am trying lately to avoid using myself up.

There was a time not that long ago that I was working until ten or eleven at least three nights a week. And then I was working on my novel on top of that. I always stopped to do the dinner/bath/bed part -- well, almost always -- but somewhere in there I realized I never just looked out the window and watched the grass blow.

"For a writer who's used to being in her own head, being around other people all the time can feel like a loss of self." -- Gloria Feldt

The people in my life are constantly amused and annoyed at my lack of focus when I'm working on a post or chapter in my head. I've received lots of well-meaning advice from friends and family suggesting that maybe I get out of my head a little. I've never heard anyone else voice my feelings on this matter, and Gloria nailed it. I only have one life, and people telling me to get out of my head feels like people telling me to stop being me, to cease to exist for a little while. When I did live alone, I spent hours doing things to jump-start my thoughts: going through old possessions, looking at photo albums, taking long walks, reading good books. I don't wish to return to living alone -- I can't bear to think of any life without my family -- but I do realize it's difficult to find that time to live in my head when I have to work during the day and am surrounded by people at night. To my immense relief, my husband encouraged me to write during the evenings a night or two a week when he saw my stress over not having an outlet for my overflowing thoughts. We try to spend a lot of time together at night -- it's important to us -- and it's an extreme act of love to give the object of your affection time and space to feed her soul.

Sometimes when I sit down to write, it feels more like draining a wound than anything else -- the thoughts are all stuffed in there, threatening to infect me if I don't release them immediately.

"Be intentional about your life and what you want to accomplish, but understand there's no choice you make that you can't change." -- Gloria Feldt

When I was around seventeen years old, I had endometriosis. When the doctor did a surgical laparoscopy to cauterize my bleeding (and consequently discovered that I was anorexic during surgery), I asked him to tie my tubes while he was at it. I was afraid if I ever had kids I wouldn't be a writer.

Ironic, isn't it, that my first book is about parenting?

Obviously, the doctor had some ethics and refused to do such a thing to a seventeen-year-old. Who knows how my life might have been different if he'd actually tied them?

That was me as a teenager, though. I thought I had to make every decision then and that all decisions were binding. I grew paralyzed at the time standing at the forks in the road of my life. The older I get, the less seriously I take my decisions. Gloria's right -- there's very little you can't come back from, really. Make a bad decision with your career or financially or where to live and it'll be painful for a while, but eventually time passes and look! There you still are, still alive.

After the talk, I went over to say hello to Gloria, who spoke at BlogHer '10, and mentioned I sure wish I'd had Gloria Feldt to talk to when I was 15.

"I know," she said. "I wish I had Gloria Feldt when I was 15."

And therein lies the rub. We have to grow into our power. And we can't do that if we're so exhausted from balancing jobs and family that we have no time left for what's in our heads.

Feet on a Ferris Wheel

* I originally attributed this quote incorrectly to Kristal Brent Zook. I apologize!

Rita Arens authors Surrender Dorothy and is the editor of Sleep is for the Weak. She is BlogHer's assignment and syndication editor.

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