Breakfast with Miranda
There are several weeks’ worth of Friday Breakfast interviews in the works, but being summertime, the wonderful women I’ve lined up were all just a little too busy to complete their interviews in time for posting this week. Yesterday at lunch, I mentioned this dilemma to my colleague, Marie, in hopes of choosing one of the other article options I had in mind. But before I could even enumerate those ideas, Marie promptly suggested that I feature myself for Breakfast in order to fill the gap if nothing else came through. This seemed a little self-serving—and I wasn’t sure that I actually met my own criteria for an interview subject, but the continuity appealed, and so here I am: Interviewing myself (hopefully not a new low in navel-gazing). Thanks for humoring me, and please stay tuned for our forthcoming interviews.
CC: Please give us an intro to who you are, what you do, and your family headcount.
MHH: I am a part-time freelance writer and editor. My business partner and I work under the umbrella of Pen and Press, a communications consulting company—and we both work from our homes. On the personal front, I am married and have five children, ages 17, 14, 12, 3, and 2 months old. We have a Newfoundland dog, although I am really more of a cat person. Meow.
CC: Tell us about your writing life. Any other creative pursuits?
MHH: I am one of those typical writers who has read books and written stories since early childhood. I love books. They are practically sacred objects to me. The smell of a book; the weight of a book in my hands—let’s just say that I’ll never be an e-book convert.
I have published nonfiction, short fiction, and poetry. At present I have two main projects in the works. One is a novel set in Cornwall, England, during World War II—loosely based on the circumstances that led to my mother’s birth. At 200 pages, I’ve shelved that manuscript for the moment in favor of my nonfiction project. That manuscript is about—surprise, surprise—creative mothers: how to keep the creative self alive during the intensive years of motherhood. About 18 months ago, in the midst of my own struggles, I decided to seek out successful, creative women and try to identify the “secrets” of their success. After two dozen interviews, I had (amazingly, to me) found clear commonalities among those who were most satisfied with their creative lives. These findings became the premise of the book, which is about halfway complete today.
I’m delighted to say that an agent in New York is currently shopping my book proposal to the handful of editors who may be interested in my project. If, in the end, we have no takers, I will probably self-publish. I feel I owe it to all the women I’ve interviewed, and to everyone else who told me “Yes! Yes! I need your book!” And of course, the reason that I started writing my book in the first place was so that I would be able to read it myself!
I also like to paint, draw, and make things (I’ve been into birds’ nests of late). I really enjoy digital photography—I have a good camera, but I’m still learning the basics. I wish I was a good knitter, but all I can do is the straight “knit” stitch. Since I don’t know how to cast off, I once knit a mohair scarf that ended up being ten feet long before my mother finally knit a finished edge for me.
CC: What prompted you to start a blog?
MHH: I started Creative Construction because I wanted to build a community of women who share similar experiences of creativity and motherhood. I wanted to explore the ideas in my book and find more women to interview. I wanted to create a place where I would be held accountable to my stated intentions. This blog has served all those purposes and many, many more.
CC: Where do you do your creative work?
MHH: At present, I work on a portable table (hospital-room style) in my living room. This is where I sit for my two days of freelance work every week (when a sitter comes to my house), and where I squeeze in a little more work on the off days, write my daily haiku, pay bills, and basically manage everything in my existence (I am heavily Outlook dependent). I used to work in office space above our garage, but that large room serves many purposes and I ultimately gave it up to the teenagers. I still have a desk up there, but I never use it. My very favorite place to be, however, is in bed. I love to read in bed, sketch in bed, journal in bed, work on my laptop in bed. I could pretty much live in my bed, if I had the option.
CC: Do you have a schedule for your creative work?
MHH: No. I want one, desperately. The last time that I experienced prolific output was before my 3-year-old was born. My older kids were all in school, so I had school hours to myself. I developed a routine of working on my novel for three hours every morning, and then doing my “work work” (the stuff I get paid for). It felt great to do the “important” work first, rather than trying to shoehorn it into the edges later on, which of course never happens. It will be a while before I have those “mothers hours” again, however. I’ve also tried getting in an hour every evening, or using a daily word-count quota. For me, any of those devices lead to more writing than just leaving it all to chance.
I’m trying to be easy on myself right now and give in to life with a newborn and four other children. My reality defies having a schedule. Come September, things will be a little different (I think) and I will add more structure into my life.
CC: What do you struggle with most?
MHH: I struggle most with simply having enough minutes in the day to do all the things I need and want to do. I’m also grappling with having a house on the market and other woes, having an infant on my lap while I work, and trying to figure out how to manage it all. Certainly, exercising and getting back in shape are serious challenges for me right now.
CC: How much does guilt factor in your life?
MHH: I’m sad to say that I often feel guilty about most everything, because I don’t measure up to the expectations I set for myself—expectations that others around me describe as unrealistically high. The focalpoint: I routinely feel guilty about not being the mother I want to be, even though my shortcomings are in part due to having a large number of children and not having enough time as I need. I do make a conscious point of connecting personally with each child every day. That may sound ridiculous to some people, but when you work, and have teenagers coming and going at all hours with friends in tow, a preschooler, and a newborn who’s glued to your chest 24/7, the old bumper sticker “have you hugged your child today” doesn’t actually seem so irrelevant. I also prepare a decent, home-cooked meal about five days a week. We all eat as a family (everyone who’s at home, that is), which always feel like an accomplishment. When I have time to cook, it feels creative and nurturing. When the baby is hungry, the preschooler is having a meltdown, and a teenager needs a ride somewhere, cooking becomes a stressful chore (more guilt).
CC: Where do you find inspiration?
MHH: I’m a visual person and I love going to museums and browsing through home decorating magazines. I also like dipping into poetry. Breathing deeply outdoors. Nothing inspires me more, however, than being in the presence of other people who are making their dreams into reality.
CC: What are your top five favorite blogs?
MHH: In my Google Reader, I actually subscribe to 48 blogs, and I read them all. I read the blogs of everyone who posts here at Creative Construction, and I keep tabs on many things that might be relevant to the readers here. I also subscribe to a bunch of design blogs that provide a feast of eye candy, and a handful that offer domestic inspiration. If I were forced to pick five non-CC bloggers, they would be:
- Desire to Inspire
- Design for Mankind (see CC post)
- My Polaroid Blog
- 3191 (see CC post)
- Simple Mom
- Chez Larsson
- EDM Superblog
(OK, so that was more than five…)
CC: What is your greatest indulgence?
MHH: I am not a very self-indulgent person. I don’t even like this question. Who came up with these damn questions, anyway? (I suppose a more reasonable response is that I spend too much money on clothes for myself.)
CC: What are you reading right now?
MHH: At present I’m reading Garden Spells by Sarah Addison Allen. It’s magical realism. The plot and characters are interesting thus far, but I need literary depth and a little poetry woven into the prose. I also started reading Astrid & Veronika by Linda Olsson, which Lisa of Bluestalking Reader reviewed. It promises to be everything that Garden Spells is not.
CC: What advice would you offer to other mothers struggling to be more creative?
MHH: Now this is a question that I can’t answer. Actually, I have a whole lot of advice to offer—advice gleaned from the experiences of the many women I’ve interviewed—but if I spill it all here, I won’t have much left to entice a publisher! So you’ll have to help me keep the faith in this project, which all of you have contributed to in wonderful ways.