As found here. Happy Friday!
Suzi Banks Baum, writer and artist, is one of 13 contributors whose wisdom appears in the e-book The Creative Mother’s Guide: Six Creative Practices for the Early Years. If you’re not already reading Suzi’s blog, Laundry Line Divine, add it to your roster of regular reading, pronto. What follows is the gift of Suzi’s words as taken directly from the e-book. Enjoy!
When our son Ben was born, I was ready to simply focus on having a child. Prior to my pregnancy, I was pursuing my acting career and running a custom-made clothing business from our studio apartment. I would swipe away the fabric scraps to write every morning, then polish a monologue in the same space where we ate, lived, and carried on our married life. Adding Ben to the mix in that small space made it nearly impossible for me to do anything but care for him. I left off auditioning and doing readings completely. I wrote every morning. And, happily, had not much attention for anything else.
My husband Jonathan, from the first days of Ben’s life, made sure I took time to write. Journal keeping was my lifeline through the early years of mothering. If I did nothing else for myself, I wrote for 45 minutes. Jonathan’s support made it possible for me to keep those thin tethers to my private thoughts supple and alive. Without him, I might have grown resentful of the time I devoted to mothering.
I kept sewing small projects I knew I could do with a long deadline. And the most important thing I did was learn to knit. My best friend teases me to this day about her first visit to us when Ben was 5 months old. She would hold Ben and play with him and I would keep telling her, “Just let me finish this row.” Up to that point, knitting was one fiber art I had not studied. I leapt in fully and became an accomplished knitter. And I learned other creative things I could do with a child around me, like preserving, gardening, and other needlework.
The most specific mindset is to find things you can do in stages. Try projects — and this may be a new way of working as an artist — but do things that you can put down and pick up again a day or a week later. The newborn and baby years are not the time to start your master’s degree or commit to an engagement with immoveable deadlines.
My biggest piece of advice is this (and I know how hard this is to accept): During the early years of your kids’ lives, let yourself off the hook. Don’t try to accomplish so much that you make yourself nuts. As a new mom, you are susceptible to massive self-doubt. You will double your grief by holding yourself to standards you kept pre-baby. Just take a break. Nap. Dream. Navigate these waters of motherhood knowing that things will change.
As kindly and well as you care for your child’s needs, turn that same attention on yourself. Nap, feed, and clothe yourself with the same amount of care. Schedule art dates for yourself just as you schedule play times for your children. Choose your friends wisely. Spend time with mothers who are living as you’d like to live. Find common ground and dwell with them there.
If you’re an artist or writer with little ones, The Creative Mother’s Guide: Six Creative Practices for the Early Years is the essential survival guide written just for you. Concrete strategies for becoming more creative without adding stress and guilt. Filled with the wisdom of 13 insightful creative mothers; written by a certified creativity coach and mother of five. “Highly recommended.” ~Eric Maisel. 35 pages/$5.99. Available for download here.
Hello, my name is Michelle Norton and I’m about to become a full-time freelance writer.
I had to practice that. In front of a mirror for about 24 hours but then I sucked it up and went to my current boss to tell her I was quitting.
I’m a web designer and a single mom. Back when I went through my divorce, about nine years ago now, I quickly finished college and took the first job that came up. I put everything aside to care for my infant daughter. I went from housewife on welfare to single mom secretary in six months. And boy did it blow all kinds of bad things.
Between job changes, a looming house short sale, medical debt greater than what I make in a year, and pay cuts, 2009 has been a crazy year. This is the year that I became really sick and yet it was also the year that for the first time the opportunity to follow my dreams arose out of the ashes my past.
What I Do
As I said, I’m a full time web designer for a non-profit. I also do web design on the side and write. I never stopped writing in my spare time but it rarely got me anywhere. Most writing gigs were payed out in trade or some very low income. Some time in 2004 I started writing my own gaming modules for local conventions. People seemed like them. It really sparked the will to do more in me. In 2008 I had my first short story published by Transmitter magazine. People seemed to like that too.
What Started This
There’s one more thing I do with my free time, as copious it is not. That’s ML for NaNoWriMo. That is, I am one of the Municipal Liaisons for Denver for National Novel Writing Month. As something I really enjoy it has brought friendship and fun into my life. One of the guys who participates asked me to write a guest post on it for his blog. That went live in October 2009.
And then things got a little crazy.
Suddenly I was making money writing content. Enough to make me think I might be able to quit some day. Then I got sick.
Kidney stones aren’t fun. However, being homebound for a few days with nothing better to do than write showed me that I could support myself. I made back the money I was losing by staying home (I was out of sick days at work) and then some. By December I made the decision. I was going to quit my job and start freelancing full time. All my experience and a degree (I have a degree in Creative Writing) were finally paying off. I gave my boss notice.
So I am now one month away from leaving my full time job. I won’t have health insurance (that’s a whole ‘nother story), my daughter is excited to be able to come home after school instead of around six or seven at night and I’ll be working from home.
Am I scared to make the jump? Oh yes! But I’m committed to do it.
Shortly after blogging about Rachel Power’s important book The Divided Heart: Art and Motherhood, I came across a personal essay by Diana Cassar-Uhl that poignantly illustrates the pain of a “divided heart” that so many artist mothers experience. When you’re devoting time to your children, you’re alienated from your creative work. When you’re devoting time to your art, you’re alienated from your children. When your art is your profession and you’ve spent a lifetime becoming an artist, this dichotomy can be intense — as Diana expresses so beautifully in her essay, which appears below.
This essay originally appeared in ICView, the magazine of Ithaca College, and won second place in the magazine’s 2009 arts and literary contest. Reprinted with permission. (Many thanks to the author and ICView.)
Conflict of Interest
By Diana Cassar-Uhl
I’m contemplating ending my career as a clarinetist. It’s a choice I never expected to face. I thought I’d stay at my job until retirement. Music chose me. I know I could never have pursued anything else without feeling paralyzing regret.
I’m not sure how I got here. One might assume that giving birth to my first child was the turning point that ripped me from my commitment to music, but I experienced a career-defining performance when Anna was not yet eight months old.
About two years ago, at what might have been my last solo recital, another musician was amazed that I, a mother of two young children, could give a recital. I wanted to tell her that I wasn’t balancing my career with motherhood the way it seemed I was, that I was losing my mind and felt completely out of control.
My recital program spoke of my past, my present, and my future as a musician and as a human. I had no idea just how connected to that music I would feel until I was giving the performance. It was the first time in years that I wasn’t just playing the notes. I had a lot of things to say — about who I was, what I am going through, and what I desire.
I finished my recital with Appalachian Spring, and it was the stuff dreams are made of. My heart was on my sleeve during those 25 minutes of my life. There were exquisitely musical moments, and the big, sweeping statement of “Simple Gifts” told everyone what I really want — to be simple and free!
I sobbed, right there on the stage. I was filled with joy and sadness and direction and confusion all at once. I crave the simplicity of motherhood, without the shackles of all this “otherhood” . . . the tangible pain that has crept into my musical experience; the despair I feel to my core because I can’t ignore the dichotomy: there are instances of humanity and beauty in my job, but they are overshadowed by cynicism.
This is why I struggle with the difficulties of balancing my hard-sought career with my even harder-sought family. I can’t pretend to feel proud that I’m leaving my children. This negative force brings me frustration and illness. My children are infected with my anger.
I don’t know whether I’ll stay or go. Music has forever claimed a part of who I am. I don’t know whether I’ll find a way to satisfy that need, or if that part of me will go unanswered.
It’s hard to come up with words to ease Diana’s heartache, isn’t it? I think it takes another professional musician to speak with authority to Diana’s experience. About two years ago, I interviewed classical guitarist Berit Strong for the book I’m writing about artist mothers. Because Berit’s words might be of some comfort to Diana — and the rest of us, of course — here is an excerpt from that interview.
Berit Strong: Music and motherhood
Berit Strong, an award-winning classical guitarist, lives in Acton, Massachusetts, with her husband and two children, 10 and 12 years old. She has performed in hundreds of concerts around the world. She also teaches students at all levels, privately and at area organizations.
When her children were first born, Berit took a break from performing. But a few years later, when her children were 1 and 3, Berit received an invitation to play a concerto with a large orchestra. The piece was one of the hardest in the guitar repertoire, and one that Berit had dreamed of playing since she was a teenager — Joaquin Rodrigo’s Concierto de Aranjuez. Although it would take a year of preparation, she couldn’t say no.
With an infant and a toddler at home, Berit cobbled together practice time through part-time preschool, a few hours of day care, her husband, and capitalizing on any opportunity to pick up her guitar. Sometimes she’d take an evening “nap” and then get to up practice from midnight to 2:00 a.m., or wake up at 5:00 to get some time in before the children work up. “I needed time to memorize really hard music. I couldn’t get that time free of interruption otherwise. And sometimes I’d let them watch an hour of TV in the morning. I tried to be really strategic and practice during every moment of that time. When you want to keep your fingers in shape, just as a baseline, you need to practice your scales for 45 minutes a day. I think with writers, they say your daily output just to stay ‘in shape’ should be 1,000 words a day. It’s the same with any discipline.”
To find enough time in the day to practice scales, learn the new music, get it down perfectly, and memorize it, Berit made conscious concessions. “I got in the habit of doing the house and the dishes at 3:00 in the afternoon. I had this rule that I wouldn’t do any dishes until then. I had to make the most of my biorhythms. Once the kids were occupied, I would practice. I think that made me a better mom than being a goody-goody and doing the dishes in the morning.”
The intensity of Berit’s life during that period made her laugh at the idea of having it all. “When people used to ask me how I balanced my life, I would say ‘You must be kidding!’ There is no such thing as balance. The ancient Chinese didn’t believe in balance; you have to be really intense about your life. Certainly when I was preparing for that concert, balance was a ridiculous concept. I didn’t see anybody, I didn’t socialize. I was getting ready for a concerto. I was happy to sacrifice anything else. No time for jogging, I didn’t promote my career, this was the chance of a lifetime. I once lived in Italy for two years. They think that Americans are laughable in the concept of balance. You can’t have both — it’s really hard to have everything the way you want it.”
Despite the sacrifices, Berit made it work, and focused on the positives. “I didn’t feel guilty because I had really good daycare and my husband was really great. Well, maybe I had a little bit of guilt, but not much because I knew I was a better mom. I was watching them carefully, though, because they were so young, and if you have a workaholic mom, who knows what will happen. It was a finite amount of time, but it was really hard. My husband was really supportive, even though he’s not a musician. He has no vision of what I have to do and how much work I have to do. And there were times when the kids just wanted Mommy. I think there were a couple of instances when the kids were screaming and I had to practice. It was expensive, too. They paid me, but I had to get extra time at daycare. But it was worth it. It was an investment in my career.”
And then, after a year of work and stress, it was all over in a few hours. “When the concert was over, my life really did go back to normal, and I am more of a stay-at-home mom. Being a musician, you get depressed and sad when the concert is over — something you worked so hard for is over in 35 minutes. It was a great moment, but it was over. When you go to a museum, pieces hang there for years. But with a concert, that’s it.”
Today, Berit is still performing, but hasn’t advanced in her career as much as she might have. This was another conscious choice, and an adaption. “I haven’t gotten my first commercial recording out yet. I might be kind of burned out. It’s a wavy thing. It’s hard to keep going sometimes. How can I be a happy person and perform? Classical guitar is so detail oriented — I’d rather play something easier.”
So Berit has found a new outlets. “I keep dreaming of finding more time to be creative. I’m performing more on the viola de gamba now. I met this instrument in college — my husband got me one three years ago. It’s an early music instrument of the 1400s, sort of an early cello, but it has frets and six strings. It’s easier, in a way. I can sit down and sight read and have a blast — it’s really hard to do that on the guitar. I play in two early music groups. We have metal bass strings and gut strings, really gorgeous. When you’re in the guitar world for so many years, it’s nice to have to an instrument that I can sustain — a bow — there’s something about the sound that gives me strength, especially in dealing with my parents. It makes me feel very good. It’s important to have an instrument that you like. My dream is to be better at the gamba.”
For schedule, Berit can usually push for a finite period. “I can go really hard for two or three months. If I worked really hard, had a few concerts, I’ll take two or three weeks off because it’s better for my ear.”
Despite peer pressure, Berit is satisfied with the choices she’s made — for now. “I don’t think that fame is really important. Before children, I was performing in Europe and everywhere, but in terms of quality of life it’s pretty cool to hang out with your kids and watch them grow. I could have chosen to be all over the place, performing and recording constantly. I didn’t want to push myself like that. My colleagues are doing it, but I’d rather do a good job as a mom. I love traveling and meeting people, being taken to places that no tourists have ever gone to. I do want to go back to that, one day.”
For women in similar situations, who can’t travel and focus on a performance career in the way that they’d like, Berit recommends teaching. “I’ve been teaching for 18-20 years, and I think teaching is great. It’s a baseline for your creative identity. You don’t want to lose that completely. I make money, it keeps me in the music world, and I’m telling the students what I need to hear myself.”
Voices from the chorus? If you were Diana, might you feel buoyed by Berit’s story — or deflated?
Afterthought: I believe that my son, who is a freshman at Ithaca College School of Music — Diana’s alma mater — will probably never experience the division that Diana faces. One day he may have a child, but I don’t think he’ll ever consider hanging up his guitar, no matter how much he falls in love with his offspring. Somehow it’s just different for dads. Even artist fathers who are committed caregivers and are deeply involved in their children’s lives don’t seem to grapple with the “choice” that mothers must face. Men are for the most part “allowed” to follow their creative genius wherever it takes them without being accused of abandoning their children. They also don’t seem to feel that leaving their children behind “by choice” is frequently synonymous with having their hearts ripped out. And of course, they don’t seem to carry the blame when there are no clean socks and the fridge is empty.
Why is that?
[photo courtesy aussiegall under a Creative Commons license]
When my four-and-a-half-year-old son was a newborn, I remember my best friend asking me how I felt being a new mom. She asked if I thought it would interfere in my career. I think she was trying to find out if I was having postpartum depression.
I told her that having my beautiful son made me want to be the best person I could be and I had to pursue my dreams so he would learn to pursue his. I spoke the truth and I feel the same way now. But the difficulty often lies between the theoretical and the practical.
I have wanted to be a writer since I was in junior high. For my seventh grade English class, I wrote a dramatic tale about two lost children trying to find their way home. They meet many different people and animals along the way. My teacher even said I should try to get it published. I never did send it out but I knew then that writing was my passion.
In college I studied sociology and child development instead of English or journalism. I still wrote, filling up many tattered notebooks. But I just didn’t have the confidence to show other people my stories. Writing was the one thing I wanted to do and if I failed at that where would I be? So I just wouldn’t try…great logic I know.
By lucky circumstance, I got a job at a daily newspaper as a news assistant. I thought that I would just be writing calendar listings and sorting mail. One day the religion reporter said, “Georgia, will you cover this story for me.” And that was it. Soon I was writing almost 100% of the time. I started to pitch my own stories, even series of stories. I wrote a weekly entertainment column. I was a writer. I may not have been getting paid much and my title wasn’t “reporter.” But I was really a writer.
After working at the paper for a year I moved to Colorado with my then fiancé. Within a year I was married and pregnant. I got an office job at the local hospital. My own lack of self-confidence kept me from looking for a writing job. I guess that is why my friend asked me those questions.
I now live in a suburb of Chicago and I have found my way back to writing. I was a staff writer for a weekly newspaper based in the South Chicago neighborhood of Hyde Park, where President Obama lived before moving to Washington. I have even co-authored a book, it happens to only be printed in Japan…but hey it is a book. I decided to quit the newspaper job because it required being away from home many nights and weekends. I’m now trying to make a go of freelance writing.
Motherhood, I guess it’s about trying to be that “best person” while still having time to pick your son up after a fall, or taking time to play in the snow or watch another episode of Spiderman. The dirty laundry often trumps sending out brilliantly worded query letters, and it is near impossible to fit in that workout at the gym.
But hey, at least I can say with confidence now I’m a writer.