The Question

If you follow this blog at all, or follow me on Facebook or Twitter, you know that I have a corkboard over my desk. On it, I have several stickies on which I’ve written quotations that I want to remember. Here are a couple of them:

If you ever find yourself in the wrong story, leave. –Mo Williems

Do what I do: hold tight and pretend it’s a plan. –The Doctor

What would you do if you weren’t afraid?

(I don’t know who said that last one, but I know I read it on Terri Windling’s blog.)

I’m thinking of addinga  sticky to the corkboard, but what I want to write on it is such a self-help cliché that I’m hesitating. Which is silly. What I want to write is a question, and it’s an important question for me to remember, because it’s one I should be asking frequently. Here it is:

Am I loving myself?

Love is both a noun and a verb: it’s both an emotion and an action. To love someone means not just to feel love for them but to act lovingly toward them. The act itself is a manifestation of love. So when I ask, am I loving myself, I’m not just asking how I feel about myself. I’m asking how I’m treating myself, whether it’s with love.

Obviously, the answer is often no . . .

Often, I don’t in fact treat myself particularly well. I get mad at myself and tell myself all the ways in which I’ve failed, or I’m inadequate. I don’t give myself the things I need: time to rest or take long walks, nourishing food. I push myself too hard. I blame myself for not giving other people what they need or want, even when it’s not possible or would involve significant sacrifice.  Or I just make the sacrifice. (Is this a familiar list? I bet you’re nodding.)

What I need to do is treat myself as though I were in a relationship with myself. (In a sense, I am.) I need to take myself out, give myself treats, show myself that I care. Make sure that I’m taken care of. I’m not always so good at this . . .

That may seem selfish in that it’s self-ish, about the self, having to do with the self. But I think if we don’t love ourselves first, we end up not loving other people particularly well either. We start to resent them, because we know that we are missing something. We may expect them to supply that thing, but you should never depend on another person to supply the love that you aren’t giving yourself. That’s your job, not theirs.

So the question is there to remind me: I’m not going to useful, or productive, or loving, unless I love myself. And that’s an action, or rather the action is as important as the emotion. In fact, the emotion doesn’t need to be there for me to take action. Even when I don’t feel love for myself, I can act lovingly toward myself. I can buy myself flowers, take myself on a long walk, give myself time to rest. And then, often, the emotion will come — I will remember that I do love myself, despite how much trouble I can be sometimes.

I thought I would include two photographs in this blog post. The first is of me with the students at the Alpha Science Fiction, Fantasy, and Horror Workshop for Young Writers, where I was teaching last week. I had such a wonderful time at Alpha!


The second photo is of me with two lovely friends of mine, Nancy Hightower and Valya Dudycz Lupescu. This was taken at Readercon, the convention I attended last weekend.


I’m including them because loving myself also includes doing what I love: teaching wonderful students like those at Alpha, and spending time with my wonderful friends.  Those are gifts I give myself, like buying myself flowers.

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6 Responses to The Question

  1. Jon Awbrey says:

    I find myself in a constant struggle between a part of myself that is fascinated with the whole universe in every detail and a part of myself that refuses to let me feel good about anything. I’ve been spending a lot of time lately watching these two characters and trying to understand their dynamics.

  2. You taught the students so much! They’re finishing up their stories tonight and I can see your hand, guiding them. Thanks for sharing your life with us. As Helen would say for everybody, we love you<3

  3. Your posts always leave me more enlightened than before. It’s a good question I’d be asking myself henceforth…and now I’m thinking about it, another question comes up- how do I even know the line between loving myself and not? It could get blurry.

  4. lubkin says:

    In your musing, I hear the words of Hillel: “If I am not for myself, who will be? If I am only for myself, what am I? If not now, when?” The first sentence comes first. It’s like the flight attendant’s instruction to put your oxygen mask on before you try to help others. You have to start with caring for yourself, no matter how important others may be to you.

    And yet — if you’ve forgotten this, forgive yourself.

  5. Lauren says:

    I second the “we love you!” from Diane. It was an extraordinary two days when you were at Alpha, and I have so many new writerly and life-ly things to consider ❤

  6. MT says:

    How thoughtful a post! Thank you for reminding us of this important thing.

    These are things we all could have as a creed and it seems to me that it is the foundation of all other success in life. To be kind and forgiving of ourselves. In my book I have a chapter about how so many of us do not feel that we will ever been good enough. With this mantra running in our heads on a some times subconscious level, how can we get hip to it and stop these unkind things we say to ourselves? I often say to my students: if you would not say it to a friend, do not say it to yourself, OR if you would not say it out loud (for fear of people thinking you are crazy) why would you ever allow the luxury of saying it secretly to yourself. What is the difference between saying some hateful thing about yourself in your head as oppose to out loud? Out loud marks you as crazy, to yourself marks you as what? A tortured soul, crazy? Imagine if you were walking next to someone who had a dialog running out loud to the tune of: “why did you say that you idiot?” “you re so fat and ugly no one would want you” “you are so stupid you will never add up to much” etc…it has helped me with that negative self talk to bring it into this context. If you would not say it out loud, don’t poison your own mind with it!! Great post as always!!! You are wonderful!!

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