I justify my being by doing
Laundry, dishes, errands
Dusting. Why am I more
Valuable, less guilty, when
I do and do more and never
Be. For being is not enough.
Reflect, ponder, read, ponder
More. Being is not enough.
Doing makes me real.
I found this poem tucked away in my files and dug it out yesterday. I wrote a post about it that I promptly deleted. It was too fake, too crafted, like something I’d write for a class. (Yes, those same classes I ditched for the comfort of science.) I pretended that its meaning was deep and spiritual, and I juxtaposed staring into the faces of my husband and children to tell them how much they matter with staring into the mirror and still feeling empty. Bull. All of it. I’m not going to stare meaningfully into your face and impart a loving message. I’m going to tear my gaze from the TV and ask you to clean the litter box, or do the dishes. I’m going to sit here, reading my book or writing my blog, and feel just fine.
So where did this poem come from? Is there any truth in it? Yes, of course there is. It’s right there in the title: guilt. That’s the source, that’s the truth, and it’s just as valid today as when I wrote it. (While I don’t have the exact date at my finger tips, I know it was when my kids were younger and in school, and I was a stay-at-home mom.) I was spending time every day writing while no one was home, and I felt tremendous guilt about it. I wasn’t trying to get published, I was enjoying writing poems. And I was reading a lot of spiritual growth and self-help books. All lovely, unless you’re looking at yourself through the eyes of your workaholic husband.
Now, to be fair, I have to say that this interpretation of myself through his eyes had nothing at all to do with how he actually viewed me or my writing or reading or anything else I did with my day. We had made the choice together that I would stay home with the kids, and I always had his full support. The guilt I felt was entirely self-imposed, because I wasn’t happy with the job I was doing. (I’m a lousy housekeeper, I really am. I try, and I’m relatively clean, but I keep a very cluttered house. If you visit, the dishes will be done and the laundry put away, but there will be dust and piles of books and toys—lots of toys.)
The truth is, I would be as much of a workaholic as he is, if I had chosen a career outside the home. That side of myself roars to life when I’m employed, even if I’m working part-time. When I’m an employee, something in my psyche revs up, kicking my sense of responsibility into overdrive. Housework doesn’t have the same effect. The truth is, I like to read and ponder and think and putter. I don’t feel compelled to be physically active every second of the day like some people (hi, Sis).
But I do feel guilt. I think that’s why I was drawn to this poem. I’m trying to write every day again. I’ve got stacks of unread books on the table. I want to indulge myself, but I haven’t made peace with that. I want to move past feeling guilty about feeling fine with being. As I do so, I hope to find a balance between being and doing that benefits me as well as my family.