The reality of being a mom, of being a creator and a mom, is not nearly as ideal as that dream. But then, neither is it as impossible as my father-- a filmmaker, photographer and artist-- told me it would be. When I was pregnant, I remember him telling me that he didn’t see how mothers could be artists. That motherhood was too demanding.
“No!” I denied. “It isn’t true,” as I fought back the panic inside of me, fought to hold onto that idyllic fantasy in my head.
In life, for me, being a mother and an artist ended up being somewhere between the two poles.
March 2nd (the day I am writing this) marks the second anniversary of my last child’s birth. It also marks about one year since Post Partum Depression released it’s hold on me. In those three years of pregnancy and nursing my two children, my father’s prediction was the one a lot closer to my life, but this last year has been one of recovering my creative spirit.
Perhaps, because I suffered through PPD and my creative dry spell, and I had to work so hard and consciously on getting it back, I can see all that it took for me to be an artist and a mom.
First of all, those fantasies and expectations had to fall by the wayside. I’m not just talking about the dream studio and pretty music playing, I’m also talking about the fantasies of being the perfect homemaker. I am not Martha Stewart. I am not Supermom. My kids watch a whole lotta cartoons and eat a whole lotta chicken nuggets. And that fantasy studio? It’s a corner desk in the playroom that I jealously guard from sticky peanut butter fingers while Dora the Explorer plays in the background and preschoolers attack me with imaginary laser pistols. But I’m still working, maybe not as quickly as I hoped for, but I’m working. And I’m still there for my kids, even though I don't do organized play as much as my master's in education would have me do in my dreams of being the perfect educator.
I pick and choose what I can do while the kids are around and what I have to save for nap time. I treasure my nap times. Even if the kids aren’t precisely sleeping, but playing with toys in their room, door closed. I encourage independent play. I sometimes need a beer before bedtime to calm me down about all I have to do and don’t seem to be able to get done at once. I plan projects according to my energy-- painting to relax at night after the kids go down, and writing during the day when I have more brain power. I am flexible with my set up, so I can bring it with me and work where ever I am, whenever I have the chance.
If I had my druthers, I’d be able to have more babysitting, and more time where I am not responsible for them, but free to get to my work. I have hopes that a new situation is about to open up to allow me more time to work-- but that’s one of the things about being a mom and artist. You can’t wait for the perfect situation, or for something to finally clear up and allow you time to work. You just have to do the work. At the kitchen table while dinner is cooking or while Dora’s on or after the kids finally fall asleep. Whenever and wherever. You just have to do the work.
Here’s the secret about being a mom and artist... it’s not really about being a mom. Oh, sure you have a specific set of issues you have to deal with what with childcare and PPD and whatever, but it doesn’t matter. If you didn’t have the mom issues to deal with, you would have some other issues-- paying the rent, family obligations, fear, perfectionism or a thousand more things. Because the real obstacle to being an artist is never the externals, it’s the self.
No matter your life situation, you have to work out where Art fits. You have to decide what size your art will be. You have to figure out what you will let go in order to be an artist, what you will put off to get that painting done or that essay written or that practice in. You have to juggle and sacrifice. Anything that you commit to needs this. But even more, when you are an artist, you will always have to struggle with your own psyche, your demons and inscecurities, long held ideas of self worth and insidious self doubt. This is what it means to work deep. This is what it means to be an artist.
In the past 20 or so years that I have been fighting the good fight, these are a few of the things I have learned.
* Get a routine going-- take your desires, inspiration, mood and well-being out of the picture. Don’t create when you feel like. Create when it’s time to work. Create every day at a certain time so that it becomes like a muscle memory and you can’t sit down without needing that act of creation to make you feel complete.
*Get into the conversation. Read other writers. Listen to other musicians. Look at other artist’s work. Join a group-- a class or a workshop or a blog challenge or a website where there are other people also in the conversation. Go on artist dates. Find another person working on their creativity. Set up external deadlines for your productivity and be accountable to someone else for that work. Find other people to support your creating, whether in real life or virtual.
* Forget perfect. Perfect situations, perfect timing. Forget later when you can get to it. Do it now. Don’t wait for it, but don’t let it go when it shows up, because it won’t stick around. Keep a notebook handy where you can write or sketch ideas. Use a taperecorder... do people use those anymore? what else? a blackberry? It doesn’t matter if you’re using a stick in dirt... get those ideas down. When you sit down to work later, you can pull up the notes and get back to that inspiration.
*Expand your idea of creativity. Try switching gears by painting when you are a writer. Or writing when you are a dancer. Listen to music during your creative time, or let a movie inspire your next dinner party. Use different parts of your brain. Explore different art forms, bring what you learn back to your work. And when you are working in your chosen medium, think up new solutions to your problems. Try a new paint technique or experiment with point of view. When something turns out rotten, go with it, instead of scrapping it, and find the beauty within the mistakes. Creativity isn’t the act of making a piece of art, it’s a way of thinking.... and it’s about the adventure, not about always getting something beautiful and perfect.
* Commit! Say yes to your art. Do it. Follow through. Develop it. Practice it. Finish it. Give your ideas a chance to grow. Try working on the same idea for a week or a month or a year. Have patience with your process, value it. Anyone can paint or write or dance. What makes you an artist is committing to the work and giving your time, thought, heart, soul and energy to the work. That’s what I’ve come to believe is the difference between a dabbler and a real artist-- not talent, not education, not getting paid-- commitment to the work and its development.
* Learn to say “no.” This is the other side of that “yes” from before. In order to say yes to what you really want, you have to say no to the things that would clutter up the field. There are so many wonderful ideas and opportunities, so many other things that you could do with your time and energy. But it’s a choice. If you really want to be an artist, then CHOOSE it, but you have to choose it over other lovely choices sometimes.
And the other thing I learned... don’t think being an artist, or being a mom or being a human being is whatever someone else says it is, even me. Some of this might help you. Go with it. Some might not make sense to your way of creating and living. Ignore that. You have to find your own path and figure it out on your own. Strangely, sometimes that might mean following someone else’s path for a while. Or not doing anything at all for a while. Or doing everything all at once.
There are no rules. There’s only what is and what you are doing.
Rowena has generously offered to giveaway any one of the Flying Girl prints that you see here. If you win, you get to pick your favorite one! I know...how can one choose, right? They are all magnificent!
To enter, please leave 1 creative tip along with your comment in the comments section of this post. Rowena would love to know one thing that you do to help keep the creative fires burning.
The giveaway begins today, March 3rd and ends at midnight on Sunday, March 8th. The winner will be chosen at random and announced on March 9th.
Thank you, Rowena, for sharing this amazing piece, all the tips and this fabulous giveaway. You are a phenomenal artist/writer and Mom. Thank you for being an endless inspiration and I can't wait till you open your own shop!
If you would like a little more Rowena in your world, please visit her at http://warriorgirl.blogspot.com/