Tuesday, March 28, 2006

Expecting Respect? Then Demonstrate Respect.

How many times must I re-learn this simple lesson? If I don’t demonstrate respect for myself, my work, my dreams and goals, then how in the world can I expect anyone else too? And how can I expect to realize my dreams and goals, accomplish any meaningful work or even hold my head up while meeting my own eyes in the mirror if I am accommodating disrespectful attitudes toward my work from self or others, when I allow irritants, ill-manners or random temptations to derail my focus? In the post Breaking the Ice last week, I listed a number of irritants that kept me distracted including a ‘blue funk’ but I did not mention the one thing that was doing the most damage and that was the frequent interruption of my work by IM from someone very dear to me who was going through a rough time. Her story is not mine to tell so I am spare with the details. Besides, her story is not the point of this post. My story is. And more specifically it is the perennially relearned lesson that dreams cannot be realized without specific goals, goals cannot be reached without work, work cannot be accomplished without a significant investment of time and energy. But that time and energy must be set aside and treated as sacred, as not available for other use. When I allowed this person to monopolize my work-session time and energy night after night, I was disrespecting my own work and teaching her that it wasn’t worthy of respect.

Would I have allowed such intrusion if I were working for wages? Would she have even considered intruding then? Likely not. Would I have called my husband at work to fill his ears for hours with my angst? Hardly. That would be considered quite rude, not to mention a fire-worthy offence by any employer. So why did I let it continue for weeks, to the point that I dreaded and then avoided going online? Because I was buying into the theory that because my work was not yet making any money, it wasn’t worthy of the same respect as my husband’s job. Because I cared so deeply and empathized so profoundly with her and thought that it was my duty to ‘help’ her. And the impulse to retreat felt selfish. Until I realized that the more attention I gave her, the more she demanded and I suddenly understood that, far from being part of the solution, I was actually part of the problem. She had become addicted to my attention as to a drug and I had become addicted to offering her compassion and advice. But even after I realized this it took me awhile to put a stop to it because I was afraid to hurt her feelings, to make her feel abandoned, to doubt my love.

I should have given her more credit. As she is the only one among my family and off-line friends who shows any real interest in my work, who ask questions as to how it is going, who even holds me accountable for tending to it. She is the only one who reads my blog, the only one who pesters me for another of my stories or poems, willing even to see them in rough drafts. I should have known she would understand. But it took me a long time to confront her. When I finally did, over the weekend, she took it well and apologized sincerely and promised to respect the boundaries that I set. One of which was to treat my work-hours between 10pm and 5am as inviolable. I enforce this by turning on an away message on the IM that auto-responds to her IM that I am working and need peace and privacy for reading, writing and thinking. In exchange I tell her that I welcome as many emails as she wants to send and promise to reply if only briefly to at least one of them before I sign off at 5.

It seems that this act of respect for my work has invited it to bloom again. The words are flowing better already as are the ideas and the energy. I expect that I am going to be a bit rusty at technique and organization for awhile but I trust those to smooth out as I practice my craft and regain confidence. Meanwhile I am looking at other areas to see where else I am disrespecting my work or accepting the disrespect of others. Should I, for example, break my resentful silence at the dinner table where my husband and his mother regale each other with their exploits at work and grumble and gripe incessantly about their co-worker’s incompetence and their boss’s demands? Should I stop waiting for them to ask me about my work and volunteer a comment once in awhile? Is it possibly time, after twenty-seven years of marriage to her eldest son and four years of living in her home, to ask my mother-in-law, who is an avid reader herself, if she is interested in reading something I’ve written? Would she find that a gift or an imposition? How can either of us know before the offer is made and accepted at least once? Surely, after all this time and exposure to my eccentricities, she is at least curious. Nor do I need to fear offending any political or religious sensitivities as I do with my own family. Why does contemplating this make me so anxious? Is that evidence of disrespect for my work? Or simple fear of rejection? Is there a difference?

1 tell me a story:

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