A Brand New Novel
Josephine Baker, the early-20th-century African-American dancer, comic, and singer–hugely famous in Paris. Did you know that she was also a spy for the French Resistance during WWII?
The man I love is a composer of classical music. He is also a music professor and conductor, which makes his time for writing very precious. “I guess I’m selfish in that way,” he said recently, as calmly — and non-judgmentally — as if he were discussing his hair color. I caught my breath. Selfishness, I suddenly realized, is not always a bad thing.
I wish I had $100 for every time a man in my life has called me “selfish.” One lover accused me of “neglecting the family” by sitting at my computer to write before going to work in the morning and in the evenings after dinner. I had to laugh: I had been doing this for less than a week. Another was hurt and angry when I asked him to please stop walking into my office to kiss my neck while I worked. “It pulls me out of the dream, and it’s not always easy for me to get back in,” I said. Another man could not give me even just one afternoon to myself in our tiny house so that I could write in solitude.
I could go on and on about this, but you get the point.
I read somewhere that, when someone calls you “selfish,” they really mean you’re not doing what they want you to do. So when I can’t drive you to the mechanic but ask you to take the bus so that I can write, I’m selfish. When I don’t make dinner for you because I’m writing, I’m self-centered. When I can’t stop talking about the characters in my new novel, I’m self-absorbed. And so on.
Sure, I have a selfish streak. Who doesn’t? Sometimes my ego interrupts my love flow. For instance, I don’t always do well with last-minute change. I might focus on my own feelings of disappointment, to the exclusion of everyone else’s needs, as acutely as if I were a little girl, which I am in that moment, I suppose. But some varieties of selfishness are positive — such as jealously guarding one’s creative time against the demands others want to place on it.
Another friend dislikes the term “selfish,” preferring “self care” instead. Whatever you call it, considering the needs of the self is crucial to producing anything truly self-expressive, which is the essence of art. If you believe, as I do, that art touches and enhances the soul, then the artist’s selfish insistence on a “room of one’s own” becomes an act of selflessness! As they tell us on airplanes, we’ve got to put the oxygen mask on our own faces first before we can help others with theirs.
A fellow creative soul, Bob doesn’t blink an eye when I tell him I need to write, and so can’t watch his daughter for him on a given morning, or when I don’t cook that dinner I promised because I got caught up in my novel again. On the other hand, he has canceled dates with me at the last minute because he was swept up in the creative flow, and we don’t sleep together as often as I might like because late nights are his most creative time.
Is it ever a struggle for me, being with another creative soul? Sometimes. On the other hand, it’s liberating, too. Bob’s claiming his time for his “inner life” gives me permission to do the same. As we gain opportunities to support each other’s creative lives, our spiritual bond grows stronger. And there is one thing, at least, about which I am completely certain: Bob will never call me selfish. Except, maybe, as a form of praise.