Confessions of a Former Banister Polisher

you are so magnificent

“You Are So Magnificent” by Sarah Seidelmann Art is Available

Something odd happened the summer I went on sabbatical from my medical practice and began to explore writing/life-coaching and a more creative career for myself:  I began to think of dinners that my husband Mark might really like to eat and I actually tried to cook them.  Also, when Mark would get home at the end of each day, I would laugh awkwardly and try to justify to him what exactly it was I had been doing all day while we both scanned the disaster that was the house.  I apologetically tried to point out my accomplishments, “I know things are a mess and there’s no dinner, but I did take the kids up the shore to swim…..”, I’d offer meekly.  

I wasn’t used to the frustrating grind of stay at home parenting. The kids were getting more of my attention, but I let’s just say I wouldn’t have been nominated for any mother of the year awards either. While I did take the kids for many many outings to the zoo, the beach and the Children’s Museum, I didn’t always feel as if I was enriching their lives beyond measure. My midlife crisis did not transform me into Mary Poppins. Would they be better off with a nanny or day camp? 

Two full years later, I remember asking Mark nervously what he might like to eat for dinner.  He looked at me funny and said,  “I don’t understand,  you’re really acting weird- I don’t  require any kind of special dinner?”  That’s when I began to put two and two together.  I was no Barefoot Contessa!  Ina Garten loves feeding her Jeffrey the finest roast pork loin when he gets home from his emeritus meeting at Yale School of management. But, I had to admit that the only reason I longed to feed Mark the perfect dinner was because I was feeling horribly guilty that I wasn’t making any money. By this time, I was working day and night with clients, writing more books, and running retreats, but it was still less than profitable. 

Because of my lack of profit, I began to believe that I was just a “homemaker” ( I laugh at that word JUST-  as being a physician is 1,000% easier than actual real-time parenting).  In my distorted brain, I was STILL at risk of becoming homeless if I didn’t keep the man of the house happy.  I had become an odd version of a serf living in the master’s castle. How did this happen?? He might divorce me, I’d nervously fantasize…..if I don’t raise these youngsters properly!  

As I examined this odd internal development, I also had to admit how superior I had felt in the past (when I was working as a physician).  I felt empowered, and not shy about spending money (or my time!)  in any way that I chose. I (sometimes) even haughtily judged women/other mothers who were less “empowered” than I. 

Even though the master of the castle lovingly reassured me that he wasn’t planning on divorcing me for my ineffective homemaking skills, it’s taken me years to get over believing that my value is not directly tied to the amount of money I generate. Despite acquiring a literary agent and two legit book deals, writing books is typically a losing game. In most of the years of the decade since leaving medicine, I have lost money while exercising the wonderful privilege of making art, learning from sacred medicine people, publishing books, teaching workshops and seeing clients.  Who would do this? Am I insane? 

My colleague has a friend who also struggles to find the value in her own art.  She admits that she’s more comfortable polishing banisters than taking an afternoon to work on one of her breathtaking weaving pieces.  Her partner earns enough money to support them both.  She is also, as you might imagine, quite miserable.  Clarissa Pinkola Estés has something to say about this predicament, 

“I’ve seen women insist on cleaning everything in the house before they could sit down to write… and you know it’s a funny thing about house cleaning… it never comes to an end. Perfect way to stop a woman. A woman must be careful to not allow over-responsibility (or over-respectability) to steal her necessary creative rests, riffs, and raptures. She simply must put her foot down and say no to half of what she believes she “should” be doing. Art is not meant to be created in stolen moments only.”“

Though Dr. Estés’s words address those identifying as female,  I think her words apply to anybody who is NOT the primary breadwinner in a partnership (or even you make substantially less than your partner).  Dr. Estés’s words are also for anybody living in this century who has been marinating in the in the culture of “MONEY IS KING”.  

So, if you’re one half of a partnership where the other partner is earning way more than you OR you’re a stay at home parent with no income, and you are finding yourself trying to round up dust bunnies with an unnatural intensity or otherwise hustling awkwardly for your worthiness, please know that you and your work are valid and worthy.  There are so many great works of art (including kind and calm children who know their value) we would be without, had those who were financially supported by others refused to exercise their gifts.  Even if your efforts are never financially rewarded, I pray that you find the courage to create art anyway in lieu of applying stainless steel polish with a soft cloth to your appliances. 

Although my own bannister polishing period has now ended, I still sometimes wonder what the hell I’m thinking when I work on writing a new book when the last one is still 5,400 dollars in the hole (my first novel).  But, my soul quietly whispers to me that it’s so proud and happy for what I have done. She reminds me of the readers who’ve told me they cry or experience goosebumps of understanding when they read my words or see my art.  This feedback is my “residual check” that cannot be measured except in the heart.  

Do you exercise a form of banister polishing?  How does hustling for your worthiness show up?

Let’s dig deep and commit to our creative work.  Think of an artist or writer you know that you admire that is not commercially successful but keeps or keeps creating anyway (living or dead).  Hilma af Klindt? Zora Neale Hurston? Van Gough? H.P. Lovecraft? Monet? Degas? Emily Dickinson? Pin up their picture where you will see it. Wink at them daily as you head into your studio or office, hell bent on expressing the treasures of your soul.  I’m over in my happy place working away today.  With dust bunnies finding good footing and absolutely no f*cking idea what we are having for dinner.


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