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Brittany: Creative Journey

*cross-posted from my personal blog*

Today was a good day.

We all have runny noses around here, and since the weather is pouring-down-crappy and there’ve been confirmed cases of swine flu at the preschool, I decided that was reason enough to let Sam play hooky today.

After John took his morning nap, the three of us went to paint pottery at a nearby studio, which has quickly become my go-to activity with Sam. The boy has some untapped artistic abilities, and he really seems to enjoy it. Sam and John worked in tandem on a Christmas gift (I can’t say for who because they might read my blog on occasion) and I bounced back and forth between them, pouring more paint and encouraging them to go nuts.

When I pictured motherhood, this is not what I saw of myself, strangely enough. I know I probably come across as artsy fartsy and free-wheeling, but I really have a hard time with the whole “going nuts” aspect of life.

If you think about it, all my hobbies have pretty stringent rules. There’s writing, with enough rules regarding structure, grammar, and spelling to give anyone a migraine. Embroidery, with its color-only-in-the-lines patterns, as well as the edict from above that the back should look as seamless as the front. And although I’ve tried it a couple of times, I’ve never been able to pull off anything but a realistic-looking doll.

In my personal life, too, I can’t look back on any period of my life and say “I was totally out of control then.” I attempted, on a few rare occasions, to get drunk and throw caution to the wind, but my conscious, an internal-harping-elderly-kill-joy quickly badgered me into returning to the straight and narrow. I’m just not comfortable saying “Do whatever you like.”

But I did it today.

The pottery the boys made today is going to look gorgeous after it’s fired, and it is 100% their work. I have a strict “Mommy-Hands-Off” policy when it comes to their artwork. And that is why there are drool marks in the paint, handprints, finger-painted swirls, drips, streaks, brush strokes, sponged dabs, and streams of colors not found in nature.

There is a saying for teachers — “The one who’s doing the work is doing the learning,” which basically means that if you want someone to learn something, you as the teacher must facilitate the experience, but then take a step back, and let your students do it, explore it, internalize it and learn it for themselves.

In stepping back, I’m learning a lot from my boys. Little boys can make stunningly beautiful objects with minimal supervision. There are no bounds to their creativity. They know how to go nuts. And they do it spontaneously and joyfully, just like they do everything else in life when they are allowed to act freely. It makes me happy watching all that joy pour out of them. They are overflowing with pleasure and satisfaction and a sense of “I did that” without feeling constrained by any pre-conceived notions.

It’s a lesson I should put to use in my own work. Lately, even though I have a new-and-improved plot for my novel, I have a pre-conceived idea in my head of what it should look and sound like, and I can’t even get an outline written that will translate to the page. I wish I wasn’t so overburdened with plans and could just let go and write.

But even though my own creative output has currently slowed to a trickle, I can feed my need to create, at least vicariously, by facilitating the boys’ creativity. It gives me the same rush as if I’d done the art myself, because art is all about exploring possibilities, and wherever my boys go, my heart travels with them.

4 Comments Post a comment
  1. looks lik efun! what a lesson from the youngins.

    October 13, 2009
  2. Brittany, I know that you’ve sort of sworn off a commitment to writing, just for while the boys are so little. But clearly, your work is not that far from your mind. How are you able to navigate this landscape? Do you tell yourself, well, I’m not going to try to schedule anything or set up any specific goals, BUT, if opportunity strikes, I’ll take it?

    Just wondering. It is so difficult to get anything done with the small ones around (my two youngest are close to the ages of yours) and I well understand your coping strategy of “I can’t write at this time in my life.” And yet, you ARE writing; your work continues to percolate…..can you articulate the mindset (if there is one)?

    October 13, 2009
  3. How am I able to navigate this landscape?

    Good question, Miranda, and something I haven’t thought about consciously (if at all).

    What happened was I came to the conclusion that if I continued to persue writing in tandem with motherhood I was always going to feel like I was in a horse race with my children–constantly trying to get away from them, leave them in my dust, and create further and further distance from them so I could gain writing ground. And when I thought about it from their perspective, I knew that they were not going to have the happy childhoods I wanted for them if I was constantly trying to distance myself from them in favor of this abstract activity that meant absolutely nothing to them. (For a while there, I’m pretty sure they thought my laptop was actually an extension of my lap.)

    And when I thought about the type of mother I wanted to be, I didn’t want to be inaccessible and angry–which unfortunately had become the norm as I tried to finish my novel. I reached a breaking point one day when I found myself screaming at Sam (who wanted me to stop writing and dance with him) “Just go away and leave me alone! I’m busy!” And a little voice in my head piped up and asked, “Is this really worth it? Do you care so little about your child that you’re willing to ruin your relationship with him and his childhood over some dumb words on a page?” And of course, the answer was “no.”

    And I asked myself, “What did I have these kids for anyway?”

    The answer was simple. I wanted to mother them. I wanted to play with them, and explore the world with them, and dance to the Wiggles with them, and take them to the park to feed fries to squirrels. And I wasn’t doing any of that. I was being selfish and self-absorbed, giving my best to my laptop and leaving none of it for them.

    So I just said, “Enough,” and I put the writing away.

    And yes, the writing still percolates, because I’m not dead and ideas have always percolated–it’s who I am. It’s what I choose to do with them that matters right now, and right now, I choose to let them sit.

    October 13, 2009
  4. Amen, sister. I find that I’m letting more and more sit lately. I’ve cancelled all my Riverside Arts Market dates and am only sticking to my two big shows I have left this fall. This time is too precious.

    October 14, 2009

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