Priming Your Pump

Vintage Valentines Greeting

“The privilege of a lifetime is being who you are.”

Joseph Campbell

What does “Priming Your Pump” mean?

Do you feel dry and stale sometimes?
Do you wake up wondering if something new will come in to your day to surprise you?
Do you wonder if your resources are running out?

This is normal, grossly normal, as we like to say here on Hollenbeck Avenue.

Icy Valentine's Heart

We are in deep winter here in the Berkshires. Our larders are plumbed for just the right snow day sustenance. Bean soup simmers here at my house. Butter is softening for Ginger Molasses cookies. Wash is drying on a rack.
Home chugs along in winter mode, I am stocking my inner fires with good music and tea breaks to watch horsetails of snow curl off the garage roof in the wind. I will make a snow angel today, I will, just let me lean on to the radiator a little while longer.

We are well in to winter comfort. I feel the sun on my back through several layers of wool and jump at the sound of a large mass of snow sloughing off the roof as the sun warms it too. Movement comes, but slowly in this deep winter cold.

The other night at my writing workshop at the Ramsdell Library in Housatonic,
we painted and doodled on small pieces of watercolor paper. These small palates of lines and color are appetizers for the creative voices of the women who gather to write at the library three times a month for an hour, on Wednesdays.

Serene Doodle 2014

Very often and sometimes for entire lifetimes, women feel pressed to duty. Our families, our professions, our relationships demand our attention and we freely give it. Women are wired for connection and we nurture these interactions with our full focus.

But, we also weary of doing for others to the detriment of our own nurturance. Taking time to write, to fuel the chilly hearths of our own voices, is necessary to building any creative practice. If you do a little something every single day, whether you dance in the morning to Lou Reed or you thread a needle and embroider or you mold a bit of clay, massaging your expression with warm hands, you are doing what I call “Priming Your Pump”.

Our creative expression has often been hiding out behind the clamor of busy lives, busy minds, busy bustling occupations that leave no room for singing at the top of our lungs, or weaving baskets. To begin, you must warm up. Like me leaning my entire frame against the radiator in the kitchen, absorbing it’s warmth in to my tissues before putting my boots on, I become ready to move.
Priming Your Pump is any small action of making that carves a path through the clutter of your mind to the place where your voice resides. Your inner castle door or as John O’Donohue calls your “Genesis Foyer”, is the place of beginning.

Priming the Pump

So, Joelle, to answer you literally, to prime a pump which is designed to draw water up from the ground as Ben is doing there and as I saw when hiking in the Alps with our Ursula this summer, you must lift the handle and pump it repeatedly to create suction that coaxes the water up and through the pipe and out the spout. To prime the pump of your creative voice, we engage in gentle slow attention building activities that settle our minds, clear the clutter from our thoughts and make way for a new beginning. We keep our inner pipes warm with small creative acts.

Priming Your Pump Alps

Yesterday, I wrote about The Rainbow Way by Lucy Pearce. Her book about nesting a creative life while mothering, she urges readers to begin. Lucy writes,“The only place to start is at the beginning-just start-and keep going! You can paint over it, rub it out, delete the words. You can start again, and again, and again, and no one dies.”  The women in my writing workshop begin by painting and doodling. We do small writing exercises to engage and enliven our imaginations, like making a list of all the words you can think of beginning with L and taking three of those and writing a small paragraph including those words. Just letting your making be playful. Your creative voice warms up, your visions find safe passage from your inner life to a page or pot.

Jan Phillips says, “We only have one lifetime under this name to speak our truths, to manifest in the world the supreme force of love that cannot be made explicit without our hands, our eyes, our voices and actions.”

You do only have this lifetime to tell your story. Grace Paley said, “The world is a better place for having its stories told.”

I urge you to live full out, to burn brightly today, as no one other than you, your one precious life lived is worth more than anything. Let your stories take form, however that works for you, but do not squander them.

Making things has always and ever been my life. Long before I contemplated motherhood, making was just what I did. I learned to sew when I was ten and began making my own clothing. I learned to make quiches and my friend Patty and I baked them for dinner parties as a way to make money. I worked all through my acting career in costume shops, making costumes for Martha Graham’s dance company and the Cabbage Patch Kids calendar.

When I became a mother, my making magnified.
Soup and cookies and jam became easy in my hands.
I learned to knit when Ben was a baby and dear soul, he has lived a life with wool socks and sweaters and itchy hats. Infant Catherine sat up easily, propped up by wool everything…she was a winter baby and the perfect model for my knitted dreams.

This entire making for others nourished me; my desire to create was well channeled and had practical value. Elizabeth Zimmerman, my knitting she-ro said, “Knit on with confidence and hope, through all crises” and I followed her instructions to a tee. Knitting and jamming and gardening comforted me while raising my children. These tasks fulfilled a very necessary part of our daily life, warmth, interesting meals and bountiful gardens producing edibles. I was fully occupied for the most part.

But this practical making, embellished daily making led me to wanting more. This is where the writing of Laundry Line Divine begins. This is the point in my life where this blog took form. FeMail came to being at this time. This is what led to teaching writing workshops and social media for authors and artists. This is what birthed Out of the Mouths of Babes: An Evening of Mothers Reading to Others, which led to An Anthology of Babes. You can read all about this genesis here.

What I want to get to you today is this: Take small steps toward what you desire. If it is writing, then prime your pump with doodles and dancing. I can only tell you what I know to be true for me and that is a daily practice of small creative acts keeps my winter pipes warm and flowing with inspired attention, reflection and expression.

Priming Your Pump Valentine's Day 2014 2

So here is the writing prompt we used on Wednesday.
Write in to this statement: “This is what you get today…” and shed light on the parts of you that might not be so glamorous or perfect. (another stumbling block to creative acts is waiting for things to be perfect. I invite you to celebrate
the places that aren’t so perfect. They are much more interesting!)
Mine was about my passion hoarding of colored pencils.
From that tidbit I then wrote this ode.

And so, in closing this Valentine’s Day post, I leave you with:

Ode to the Woman Who Loves Pencils

Oh, beloved scrivener of lead, wood, oil, gold embossed shafts of possibility.
You, who sing to the grrr, grrr, grrr, grrr of the Boston Champion sharpener,
the music of a sturdy color-tipped twig runs symphonic through your long fingers.
Gripping your deft collaborators, your short stubby yellow hexagonal sticks,
scratching fine lines with lean steel mechanicals to form nice architect-y flat-bottomed letters
who play as if a ruler, a long metal thwackable ruler butted under your pencil’s momentum
darting across large sheets of vellum.

Oh lover of where lead leads you, retire in to my arms.
Let this product of oak and oil surround you,
until you too become one of us: a perfect tool for tracing the lines of a life.
©Suzi Banks Baum February 12, 2014

Wishing you moments of apricity all day long,




PS Thank you Joelle, for asking for this post. You primed my pump! xoxoxo S

PPS Please share this post with a friend who needs a bit of warmth today. Share the Valentine’s Love!

PPPS The synchronicity is not lost on me here. Writing about priming our pumps on Valentine’s Day, which celebrates
our most precious of pumps, our hearts! Here is to each and every one of your hearts, much love!

Making #Valentines on a #SnowDay. XoxoS


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Showing 8 comments
  • ValPas

    When I was little, we had a pump for water (pre- and early WWII). Priming the pump meant adding a little water into the tube on top. This created a seal against air getting into the tube, and then the pump would work better. So priming the pump meant adding a little of what you want in order to get more of it.

    • Suzi Banks Baum

      Oh yes! When I was young, the water source at our cabin was a hand pump that you had to tip a little water in to, thus, as you say, priming the pump. I wish I had a photo of that pump to better illustrate this post. I can hear the sound, from under a mound of mothball scented quilts, of my mother tipping a dipper of cold water saved from the night before, in to the pump and the first squeaks of the pump handle as she drew up the water for coffee. Thank you for reminding me of this! xo S

  • Sandra Orrick

    As a young mother home schooling four children, I took to heart advice from a magazine columnist (whose identity must remain unknown) on combating stress. It was ADD JOY. It seems to me now that this is a concise way of priming the pump. You don’t need large chunks of time, just passion for whatever makes your heart sing and determination to honor your own spirit on a regular basis.

    • Suzi Banks Baum

      Sandra, you are absolutely right! That columnist lead you well. Adding joy, even in small doses completely shifts perspective and opens you to possibility. Oh, I have a great illustration for adding joy….see me toddle off to my studio to rummage around for an hour to find it. Will post. xo S

  • Kathy Drue

    A great way to put it–priming the pump. That is a good practice, Suzi. Our cottage on Lake Huron used to have one of those old-fashioned pumps. Such clear cold water came from the work of priming it. Our well here in the UP in 260 feet deep. No manual priming of it. P.S. It’s 42 here this afternoon. A miracle!

    • Suzi Banks Baum

      Yipppeee-a warming trend in the UP! Kathy you are such a great chronicler of winter, being that you are in the heart of it. This summer let’s find a pump to prime together. xo S

  • Joelle Kirch

    That is a great answer and a magnificent post!
    Love, Joelle

    • Suzi Banks Baum

      Oh thank you Joelle. I am thrilled you enjoyed it. Since writing this post, I am stuck in the memory of the sound of my Mom priming the water pump at our summer cabin in the woods. That sound signaled morning along with the bobolink. Happy day! xo S