Wear a High Collar and Stink of Garlic

Czosnek_01This article was originally published at Amy Writes on January 7, 2011. I’m posting it here for the benefit of a good friend of mine, who shall remain nameless. 

The more I live, the more I’m convinced there is an energy exchange between people who spend time together. I don’t want to get all woo-woo, and I’m not going to postulate on how it works. (I’ll leave that to the experts out there.) All I can tell you is how it goes in this creative girl’s life.

In my experience, there are three kinds of people: those who inspire, those who drain and those who are neutral.

The inspirers are those whose company you enjoy, who recharge your batteries, who — after you’ve spent time with them — make you race back to your creative work. When you spend time with an inspirer, it’s like what happens when you rub a balloon on your head. It’s electric. You’re charged up with life.

The drainers are those who sap your energy, spin you around their center, turn you in circles until you’re dizzy and exhaust you with their incessance. When you spend time with a drainer, it’s like what happens when you let the air out of a balloon. You feel limp. Lifeless. Sans ambition. All you want to do is nap.

The neutrals are those people you interact with, say, at the store or pass in the hallways at school or work. You might smile or have a brief conversation, but there’s a distance there that keeps the exchange from having great effect.

A couple of weeks ago, I went out with a friend I don’t see very often. We headed out on a rainy afternoon for coffee, some quick boutique shopping and then to an art museum to see a fashion exhibit. Our conversation was at times light and fun, at other times serious and heartful. We finished off the evening with a light dinner, sharing life stories and memories. As I drove home, my creative self felt full, charged, itching to create. That evening, I painted seven watercolors and gave them away to friends, including the one I went out with. That friend is an inspirer.

I won’t go into details, but let’s suffice it to say I’ve spent time with enough drainers to know to run from them and not look back.

It’s like that great Mark Twain quote:

“Keep away from those who try to belittle your ambitions. Small people always do that, but the really great make you believe that you too can become great.”

The key, then, in caring for your creative soul is to spend more time with the inspirers (and learn to return the favor by being an inspirer yourself), and to severely limit the time you spend with drainers.

No brainer, right? Well, it took me years to get to this point.

Because a good friend always listens, right? A good friend is always there. A good friend gives up her time and energy to help. And who doesn’t want to be a good friend?

Yes. All true. But.

There is a difference between helping a friend, giving your time and energy out of love, and letting that person bleed you dry because they don’t know when to stop sucking your energy from you. They go away feeling energized. You, not so much. You’re left a limp, sad noodle.

A good (inspirer) friend of mine often reminds me to “wear a high collar and stink of garlic”.

So I’m learning to be aware of this exchange. To evaluate how I feel after spending time with people. And then decide if it’s good for my creative soul to continue spending time with them. If it isn’t, well then I’m conveniently busy, thanks.

And for those times I have no choice but to be around a drainer?

High collar.