Most people I know would know what I meant if I said “I’m all out of spoons” or “I wish I had the spoons for that”. I believe it has come to mean how much energy you have to do certain things. Say you (metaphorically, obviously) have 5 spoons that replenish themselves each day. But every day, you have commitments that take up 4 of them. You have room for one more thing, but no more, lest you become overexerted and real problems surface. I don’t think people have an actual number, it’s just a way of thinking about it and talking about it.
On a recent episode of ShopTalk, I kinda dunked on it for being such a strange metaphor. Like how did it become so successful as a cultural talking point despite being so random? It could have been balls of yarn, octopus tentacles, or cobs of corn. But it’s spoons, and spoons was somehow extremely perfect and everybody gets it.
Josh Collinsworth in the ShopTalk Discord mentioned that it does have a very specific origin: Christine Miserandino’s essay The Spoon Theory. I’ll plunk out some of the bits that get right to it:
[Christine’s friend] asked what it felt like, not physically, but what it felt like to be me, to be sick.
… I quickly grabbed every spoon on the table; hell I grabbed spoons off of the other tables. I looked at her in the eyes and said “Here you go, you have Lupus”
… I asked her to count her spoons. She asked why, and I explained that when you are healthy you expect to have a never-ending supply of “spoons”. But when you have to now plan your day, you need to know exactly how many “spoons” you are starting with.
… I asked her to list off the tasks of her day, including the most simple. As, she rattled off daily chores, orjust fun things to do; I explained how each one would cost her a spoon. When she jumped right into getting ready for work as her first task of the morning, I cut her off and took away a spoon.
… I then explained to her that she needed to choose the rest of her day wisely, since when your “spoons” are gone, they are gone.
It’s an extremely good essay about living with chronic illness.
I love that one of those classic moments, where you’re at a restaurant and you grab whatever is around you to visually illustrate something, has become a powerful metaphor for all of us. It’s so much better than that ones I normally see: Imagine this salt shaker is a Docker container and this rolled up napkin is a cloud function that talks to it. Wait is the ketchup the user or the browser? Well kinda both. You lost me at the malt vinegar.