When Work is Self-Care

How I survive this world is that I leave it, at least in my head


In support of my novel ROAD OUT OF WINTER, out now, I’m doing a virtual reading with syan jay and Charlotte Pence on WEDNESDAY 9/30 at 7pm EST. This reading is sponsored by The Sundress Reading Series and is free! Go here and use the password ‘safta.’

When Work is Self-Care

When there’s a basketball game on, my family has developed a pattern. My son and partner watch the game, and I take a bubble bath. We have an old, giant clawfoot tub upstairs in our house, likely original to the hundred+ year-old home. It’s the first bathtub I’ve had in years, and I could take a bath whenever I want. My partner is here to watch the child. 

But I like the routine of basketball bubble bath. I do feel better after taking a bath, just like I feel better when we go outside, especially into the mountains or woods. But when I feel best is after writing. 

Month 5 million of quarantine, I hear a lot of people advising us to slow down. Take it easy, be gentle with ourselves.

I understand and appreciate that. At the same time, artists aren’t like other people. And neither are those who have survived violence, including the violence of poverty, which impacts your brain in different ways. One way is that you have to get going, you’ve got to keep pushing. You have to work or your brain freaks out. What if the work stops coming? What if the money dries up and you can’t afford groceries? You have to keep moving. 

And I think some of the time that’s OK. Maybe most of the time. 

For me, the definition of an artist is someone who must keep going, keep trying, try something different, experiment. There’s a lot of overlap with the brain that survived and the brain that creates.

My son gets reprimanded at remote school for doodling. But doodling is how he listens, how he thinks.

People say take care of yourself. But essential to my self-care is that I lose myself in a world of my own making. How I survive this world is that I leave it, at least for a short while, at least in my own head. 

I have often described the process of writing a novel, my favorite kind of writing, to my non-novel writing friends as: like binge-watching your favorite TV show, but you control what happens.

Sort of. And the “sort-of” is part of the magic and restoration of art. It goes its own way. You get lost in it. Getting lost is good for you. I think most of us know it’s pretty healthy for our brains to be swept along in the “flow” of certain activities: playing music, making art, solving puzzles, writing.

I see a lot of shaming people for working, or telling them to slow down. But work isn’t always a means to an end, especially if that means is creative. And sometimes in order to slow, you need first to run, as fast and far as you can. 

My witch hair—plus a goat

Coconut Oil

It has been … over a year since my last haircut. I have thick, fine, wavy hair. It’s heading toward my waist now, well-past witch-length, the longest it’s been since high school, and it tangles right in the middle, a tendency my son inherited. He calls it “the Stine family tangle.” I’m not getting a haircut anytime soon, unless I make my partner do it (which is a possibility), so one way I handle the tangles is coconut oil. 

Coconut oil all over your hair can work as a deep conditioner, but it’s often hard to fully wash out. I put oil on the ends of my hair to smooth them and put oil on any tangles before trying to work them out with a comb. It helps soften the tangles. 

Coconut oil goes from solid to liquid back to solid pretty quickly, depending on the temperature. Any form is fine to use, though if it’s rock solid, you may want to warm a bit with the heat of your hands first. It can also help with dry skin. You can cook with it, of course, and when I was pregnant and for a few months after, I ate tablespoonfuls of raw coconut oil to help with brain development. My son still likes to eat it to this day.