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Brittany: Fall in New York

This is my favorite time of year. I love it when the leaves change color and the opressive heat (and sun) of the summer gives way to cooler temperatures. I feel energized in the cool (but not cold) weather, and my writing output attests to the fact that I am a seasonal writer — doing my best writing in the fall.

Fall is also a great time to be a mom, since I’m finding so many fun things to do with the boys right now. We’ve done the apple orchards and pumpkin patches — with the farm rides and corn mazes, fresh apple cider, and apple cider doughnuts. And this past week, Kira and I got pumpkins and had the boys paint them.

 

 

You can see one of the painted pumpkins beside John’s foot in this picture. The boys had a lot of fun with it, but honestly, so did I. I love that the boys are finally both old enough to do all of the activities I dreamed of doing before I became a mom. Easter egg hunts, painting/carving pumpkins at Halloween, making gingerbread men at Christmas, all of it is finally possible, for the most part.

I say for the most part because of the mixed success we had with another Halloween project I cooked up. I had some tomato stakes that were just lying around, and it occurred to me that they were the shape of ghosts. A (very ill-defined) plan for making some ghosts with the boys started forming in my head. I was going to buy some cotton or cheesecloth at the craft store, but then I found a huge roll of polyester quilt batting that I wasn’t likely to ever use in the basement, and grabbed the boys, their non-toxic washable paints, went outside, and tried to wing it.

That’s never a good idea with two boys, by the way…

So we went outside, wrapped the batting around the stakes, and I drew a rough outline of a mouth and eyes on each ghost so that Sam could paint the face. Except Sam thought the ghosts should have noses. And John, who didn’t understand the spirit of the project, thought the ghosts needed some random paint dabs everywhere.

This ghost turned out fairly well in spite of everything.

The ghost on the left… well, it looks like it had a bad run in with a Dematerializer. LOL

 

But the boys had fun with it, they expressed themselves (Lefty The Ghost has three noses and two circular arms on his head), the boys feel a sense of accomplishment about the experience, and really, that’s all that matters, right?

In the future, I might try to make different tomato stake ghosts like the ones described here. But that’ll have to wait until the fun of painting crazy ghosts wears off. And who knows? With our twisted sense of humor around here — the Halloween Paint-Your-Own-Crazy-Ghost thing could become an annual tradition.

[Cross-posted from Re-Writing Motherhood]

Art and Motherhood

Does blending art and motherhood = mission impossible? One recent response to this perennial question comes from Canadian painter Robert Genn, in his twice-weekly newsletter. While Genn writes about painting, his thoughts usually apply to any creative pursuit, including writing — and I have reposted his letters here before. Late this summer, Robert wrote a letter specific to making art as a mother. The letter garnered a TON of comments that are well-worth reading. Much inspiration and practical advice to be found. (Genn’s newsletter is reprinted here by permission. Thanks again, Bob.)

Yesterday, Cedar Lee of Ellicott City, MD, wrote, “I have a 10-month-old son. Before I had this child I never realized the level of freedom and time that I had. The demands are so all-consuming that they leave me with little if anything left to give to my work. I’m depressed about my career–at full speed a year ago, it’s now barely squeaking along. Do you have any advice for how to keep my creative flames burning, how to keep my professional image from slipping, and how to be productive during this time? What are the creative, financial, political, and practical dilemmas facing female artists with young children.”

Thanks, Cedar. Big order. Before I start in with my stuff about being more efficient, making time, getting help, etc., I need to ask you mothers to give me a hand with Cedar’s questions. Your best advice will be included in the next clickback. Live comments are welcome as well. FYI, we’ve put a short video of Cedar’s studio at the top of the current clickback.

Also, I want to mention the extreme expectations that current parents have for their children. Children have taken on a god-like role and have become the focus for everything from prepping for stellar futures to daily parental companionship. Parents sacrifice their own lives for the potential brilliance of kids. For better or for worse, raising kids well is the new religion.

Further, I wanted to say that letters like Cedar’s come in here like leaves from a shaken maple. I’m conscious that many artists, both male and female, use the advent of parenthood as a scapegoat for failing careers. Artists in this predicament need to examine their true motivation for this popular complaint.

It’s been my experience that dedicated artists will always find a way. I’m also happy to report that selfishness need not prevail, nor need the baby lie unchanged in its crib. The creative mind is always working, even during the application of nappies. Household workstations can be set up and work can continue between feedings and other downtimes. The intermittent business may actually benefit the art–for many of us, contemplation is a much needed ingredient to our progress.

Cedar, exhausted though you may be, there is always recourse to the DMWH (Daily Manic Working Hour). This can be programmed any time, perhaps early morning or late at night. When performed as regularly as baby-feeding, you might amaze yourself with how much you can get done when you focus hard for one lovely little hour.

Best regards,

Robert

PS: “You have no obligation other than to discover your real needs, to fulfill them, and to rejoice in doing so.” (Francois Rabelais)

Esoterica: There is an excellent book on the subject. The Divided Heart: Art and Motherhood by Rachel Power [reviewed at Studio Mothers]. It’s well researched with lots of references and historical evidence. An excerpt is here. There’s value in partnership. “To create art once you have children requires the commitment of more than one person,” she writes. “As novelist Eleanor Dark wrote, ‘The balance is elusive; the support crucial.’ “

To read the many responses to Robert’s letter, click here. Any pieces of advice that really stand out for you?

Robin: Wish.Play.Create. — Week 4

Welcome to Week 4 of Wish.Play.Create. Week 4 was taught by Mindy, THE ONE who DREAMED UP the WishStudio
This little one is my MENTOR when it comes to using color WITH ABANDON!
We used some fabric paint that we got on the cheap but didn’t have a chance to experiment with yet. The effect on the gesso was pretty cool. The colors took on a metallic feel.
I want to thank Mindy again for the generous gift of this class (I won this opportunity via Miranda of Studio Mothers).
I am now prepping for a new course offered in the Wish Studio taught by Christine Mason Miller in an effort to get myself in gear on a writing project that I need to work on. Anyone want to join me in The WishStudio?

Miranda: Psst…”creativity” does not contain the letters S, H, O, U, L, or D

So I have this other blog about my newbie Buddhist practice. In a recent post I wrote about motherhood and creativity, so I wanted to share that post here as well. Please share your thoughts.

Last month I attended “Mothers’ Plunge” in Boston, a one-day retreat for mothers led by Karen Maezen Miller, author of Momma Zen and Hand Wash Cold (two invaluable books about showing up for motherhood in your entirety — relevant for any mother, no Buddhist label required).

As the retreat was drawing to a close, Karen made time for a short Q&A session. My arm shot up. Yes, I did have a burning question. I explained that I understand the concept of paying attention to that which requires attention, of focusing on the matter at hand rather than fretting about stuff that isn’t within arm’s reach. I get that. But with so many people in my life and responsibilities to tend to, I could easily just turn from one urgent matter to the other and fill nearly every waking moment of every day without ever finding/making time for my own stuff, like finishing one of my manuscripts. Do I need to just make peace with that? Do I need to stop clinging to this idea (ideal?) of “being” a writer — for now?

Karen suggested that — despite my protests — it really does get easier, and that at some point the opportunity to write would present itself. Have faith. Write in bits and pieces. Make hay when the sun shines, even if it doesn’t seem like it shines very often. (My cheesy phrasing, not hers.) Let go. Trust. Everything in its own time.

I wanted Karen to have the answer, and I suspected that she did, if I could surrender to it. But I felt enormous resistance bubble up inside me. No. I will never be able to do what I really want to do without making a painful sacrifice somewhere else. My oldest child is nearly 20, my youngest child is only 2, and while the demands of motherhood change over time, the totality of five children and a freelance career is often overwhelming. I don’t want to wait until I’m 60 before I can count on a little “me” time — time to breathe, time to be creative, just time.

During the drive home, I started mulling all of this over — and over. I’ve devoted much of my life to the topic of motherhood and creativity, trying to figure out how to be a mother and an artist without completely messing up one or the other or both. I’m writing a book on the subject, for which have interviewed dozens of creative mothers, extracting commonly successful strategies. I have a blog — this blog — devoted to the community of creative mothers. I know firsthand how the need to be creative coupled with the seemingly inescapable roadblocks of motherhood can lead a woman to tears in the frozen food aisle. I get it. Is the answer really just letting it all go and accepting that the time for creativity will come when it’s time for creativity?

Under the tension of my growing resistance, somewhere along Route 3 a long-held knot popped open, untangling itself into clarity. I realized that when I decided to practice meditation on a regular basis, I started getting up every morning at 5:30 instead of 5:50 to sit for 20 minutes. It wasn’t a big deal. It was important to me, and I wanted to do it, so I made it happen. Sure, there are some mornings when I’m just too tired to get up or my youngest child wakes up exceptionally early and my sitting time is abandoned. But in general, it works. Why then, during all my years of complaining about not having time to write, didn’t I get up 20 minutes earlier to eke out a paragraph or two? There may have been a few early morning or late night attempts over the years, but the strategy never seemed sustainable. Admittedly, a “set” schedule isn’t feasible when you have a newborn or during some other major transition, but my littlest guy has been sleeping fairly predictably for at least a year now.

I realized that I’d fallen into the trap of my own “story.” I write for a living, but writing and editing for hire isn’t enough. I want very much to complete my own personal writing projects. But. (To borrow a Karen-ism.) Do I really want that? Was writing something that I wanted to do so desperately during all those years, or something that I thought I should want to do? Perhaps spending time on my personal writing projects was something I rarely made a regular commitment to because it’s hard, and not always gratifying, and maybe there were a lot of other things — like cleaning the kitchen grout with a Q-Tip — that seemed more important at the time.

It’s hard to make time for shoulds. The shoulds weigh us down and transform everyday life into a bone-wearying Sisyphus impersonation. Meanwhile, the things that we really want to do? We usually do them. A bit of compromise might be required, but if you are totally keyed up to write a haiku today, chances are, you will find 10 minutes to scribble down the draft floating around in your head. Conversely, if you think you should write a haiku today, you might discover that item #37 on your to-do list is so important that there’s simply no way that you can get to the notepad to pen a few lines. Just 10 minutes? Not a chance.

Maybe I wrapped myself up in a coat of creative deprivation just so that I would have something to hide behind. Maybe it really was as uncomplicated as my husband’s response to my martyring complaints, which he offered with a shrug of the shoulders: “If you want to write, write.” This used to infuriate me, but now I see the truth there — as annoying as that is to admit. No, I am not able to run off for six hours of solitary writing time. But. Even 20 minutes of writing time yields 20 minutes’ worth of words that I wouldn’t have otherwise. I know this from personal experience; I have 200 viable pages in my nonfiction manuscript and nearly as many in my most recent novel. These words were amassed in fits and starts rather in predictable, extended writing stints. (Note to self: Try to avoid forgetting all the things that you worked so hard to figure out.)

On my drive home from the retreat, I couldn’t sort out how this construct of beleaguered, suffering writer-mother had sustained me, or why I had bought into it so hard, but I did know that many things I had accepted as inescapable truths were suddenly swathed in question marks. Time to start all over again, with beginner’s mind.

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