Putting My House in Order: Some Thoughts on Self-Care

4 Aug

Toni Cade Bambara’s “On the Issue of Roles” is one of my all-time favorite essays and a particular passage has been on my mind a lot lately. Bambara writes:

Running off to mimeograph a fuck-whitey leaflet, leaving your mate to brood, is not revolutionary. Hopping on a plane to rap to someone else’s “community” while your son struggles alone with the Junior Scholastic  assignment on “The Dark Continent”  is not revolutionary. Sitting around murder-mouthing incorrect niggers while your father goes upside your mother’s head is not revolutionary. Mapping out a building  takeover when     your term paper is overdue and your scholarship is under review is not revolutionary. Talking about   moving against the Mafia while your nephew takes off old ladies at the subway stop is not revolutionary. If your house ain’t in order, you ain’t in order. (The Black Woman, 134-135; emphasis mine)

Talk about crunk. Bambara gives the side eye to the notion that you can attack capitalism, racism, or other systems of dominance out in the world without challenging those same systems (especially hetero-patriarchy) within one’s own relationships. That, in fact, leaving your own house “out of order” not only jeopardizes but it, in fact, undermines both your potential for good work and your potential for intimacy and happiness. Indeed, for me, Bambara’s call for us to essentially get our ish together charges us to recognize how important—how revolutionary—it is for us to love (and love on) each other and ourselves fiercely and fearlessly.

Family, I’ve been trying to get my own house in order.  The past few years have had a lot of joy, but they’ve had a lot of pain too.  Betrayals, disappointments, setbacks, and outright bad luck have played an all too prominent part of my life. At times it seemed like everything in my personal and professional life were conspiring together to get my pressure up.  I’ve been sick, tired, frustrated—you name it. Of course, I kept chugging along, smiling, showing up, doing my thing, but I was so over it. Where was my joy? I wondered.

One day I was in my office, checking Facebook between classes and an intriguing quote showed up in my newsfeed:

“‎If your compassion doesn’t include yourself, it is incomplete” ~Jack Kornfield

I remember sitting in my chair and becoming quite still. How was I trying to be this feminist teacher/scholar/activist/ mentor/daughter/sister/lover/homegirl when I didn’t (really) treat myself with the same loving kindness I was trying to put out into the world? Why wasn’t I extending the grace I tried to extend to others to myself?

The answer to that question is complicated, but, suffice it to say, the quote helped to catalyze some thoughts that had been swirling around in my mind for some time. Sitting at my desk that day, I typed up the phrase “Are you taking care of yourself?” and printed it out. I put the question all over my house. When I get up in the morning and go the bathroom “Are you taking care of yourself?” is pasted on the mirror so I can consider it as I brush my teeth or wash my face. The phrase is also pasted under the Ochun altar  I have in my bedroom so that when I light candles and meditate I don’t forget to think about how I am caring for myself.  The question is pasted on my front door so that as I am rushing out (invariably late for something or other) I can take a moment to check in with myself.

Asking myself this question, being compassionate to my own self, checking in with myself, my needs and my feelings, has not made me superhuman or super-selfish. I’m just more present to myself and to others because I am less drained by the consequences of ignoring my own happiness. Maybe I’m getting all New-Agey and touchy-feely. Ha. Maybe so.  But, I do know that being more intentional about my self-care has brought me a greater sense of joy, peace, and purpose. And that right there is revolutionary.

28 Responses to “Putting My House in Order: Some Thoughts on Self-Care”

  1. T. Dixon August 4, 2011 at 1:20 PM #

    this piece came at the exact right time; thank you for writing and sharing it.

  2. t olugbala August 4, 2011 at 1:40 PM #

    so true sis…so many of us have lived sister toni’s words as well as your experience far too many times. your honesty and openness is inspirational.

  3. Charlene A. Carruthers August 4, 2011 at 1:40 PM #

    Thank you for writing this. Love is a revolutionary act, how can I not be a part of my own revolution?

  4. Diaa August 4, 2011 at 1:50 PM #

    Interesting article and sorry if this is off topic but what on earth is a “fuck whitey leaflet”?

  5. Deanna Zandt August 4, 2011 at 3:29 PM #

    A-effing-men. Thanks for this.

  6. Cal B August 4, 2011 at 5:34 PM #

    That was a word right there. This entry is so coincidental, as my Aunt and I have been conversing about working on self first [and being selfish at least 90% of the time in that moment alone] before we can work on loving/caring/sharing with other people. This ties in so well with what both you and Toni Cade have been advocating for ever so effectively.

    Whatever your conviction: LOVE God. Love yourself. Love other people. It’s that simple.

    • Anna Renee August 6, 2011 at 7:48 PM #

      It’s that simple, but it’s difficult none the less. Sisters have to fight the tendency to flow with societal conditioning that says we simply don’t deserve to love ourselves.

  7. Staci August 4, 2011 at 8:10 PM #

    “If your house ain’t in order, you ain’t in order.”

    I hear that! This essay was excellent, and I love that the excerpt and you mentioned to remember yourself when getting your house in order.

  8. eeshap August 5, 2011 at 12:19 AM #

    Yes! Thanks for this brilliance.

  9. Edna August 5, 2011 at 2:42 AM #


  10. Hana Riaz August 5, 2011 at 3:35 AM #

    been discussing this with a young man recently and the necessity of holistic approach to challenging systems of domination coming from a space where we seek care, joy, happiness, love within very personal spaces precisely because systems of domination as say women of colour seek to undermine this! ‘you have to be the change you want to see in the world’ never leaves me! great piece

  11. Afia Kwateng August 5, 2011 at 3:49 AM #

    I agree. Loving yourself is not selfishness but a way to ensure you can get right with yourself before you go making an impact in the lives of others. We’re not perfect, but God works in us to love Him, love ourselves and love others which is the best way to make an impact. 🙂

    I’m glad you brought attention to this. 🙂

  12. Jennifer August 5, 2011 at 7:13 AM #

    “‎If your compassion doesn’t include yourself, it is incomplete” ~Jack Kornfield: is one of my favorite quotes. Thank you for sharing.

  13. Golda Addo August 5, 2011 at 11:51 AM #

    Lovely piece. I wish my comment would look as deep as the vibes I feel from this writing of yours, even as I say these words … lovely piece. Thank you.

  14. michelle scott August 5, 2011 at 12:09 PM #

    Perfect timing! Wonderful.

  15. emma August 5, 2011 at 3:11 PM #

    this just ran a shiver through me. thank you for speaking such important words.

  16. Zuri August 6, 2011 at 11:39 PM #

    I can’t express how much I needed to read this. Thank you sista, for this blessing.

  17. Jacqueline August 7, 2011 at 5:55 AM #

    This piece came at a time in my life that I really needed to hear that message. The Jack Kornfield quote is especially inspiring and intriguing. Thank you for sharing.

  18. L.D. August 7, 2011 at 3:35 PM #

    Thank you for letting Black women know that it’s ok not be there for other people 150% of the time.

  19. croberts5 August 8, 2011 at 12:08 AM #

    Can’t expect to uplift anyone else, if you haven’t first brought the uplift to self. Thanks for this post.

  20. Cheryl August 19, 2011 at 7:50 AM #

    Thanks, Linda, for this piece. Self- care has been weighing heavily on me lately, literally and figuratively. I must be a better friend to myself as well.

  21. JazzFest September 6, 2011 at 3:51 AM #

    Oh goodness. Thank you. It is not simple as much as it is crucial. I needed to hear this again. In fact, I need a broken record of it…

    • Cal B September 8, 2011 at 12:28 AM #

      “I need a broken record of it…” Amen.


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