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Posts tagged ‘family’

Why You Need to Leave

MH_crowDespite our romantic fantasies of the tortured artist producing works of genius, creativity is supported by wholeness and authenticity. Just as the best crops grow in ground that has been appropriately prepared and fertilized, the fundamentals of how you live your life have an enormous impact on who you are as an artist and the degree to which you’re able to produce work you find satisfying.

Several months ago, I posted the piece below to my personal Facebook page. In addition to a warm embrace from my community, I received private messages from women in my distant network who wanted to share their struggles and thank me for my transparency.

I share this post with you today. If one person reading this blog reads the words she needs to hear, the public display will prove worthwhile. This piece also serves as an update for previous readers who wondered about the long silence. With love:

Understanding that Facebook is not the best place for emotional exposition and vulnerability, here goes.

If you’ve been jaded by years of difficult and/or abusive relationships, have faith. After two marriages spanning 25 years, I’d concluded that the harmony and deep affection I wanted in a relationship was simply a fairy tale. When I emerged from my second marriage in January 2015, I decided that I was done for good. If dealing with conflict in a relationship necessitated yelling, violence, and intentionally inflicting pain, I was ready to spend the second half of my life alone—and happily so.

But the universe had other plans. I’ve spent the last 18 months in a relationship with a man who wants, as I do, a relationship based on kindness, unfailing mutual respect, adoration, and delight. We’ve shouldered considerable difficulty and challenges during our time together—but everything that life throws our way brings us closer. We are not a study in the attraction of opposites; we have uncannily similar life views, sensibilities, and curiosities. I did not think it possible to be so fully myself and be so fully embraced for it.

Now we’re engaged. It will be a long while—years, most likely—before we tie the knot and cohabit fulltime. Our first priority is our kids (all seven of them!) and ensuring that our relationship continues to enhance, rather than disrupt. Until we meld households, we’re able to spend 60%-75% of each week together. And we wake up every morning feeling like we’ve won the lottery.

To my female friends, especially: Hold out for the person who adores you—and demonstrates that esteem through behavior, not just words. Hold out for the person who possesses deep integrity. Hold out for the person who is characterologically incapable of saying unkind things to you. Hold out for the person who treats you like the princess, goddess, and warrior that you are. Hold out for the person with whom you experience an intense physical, emotional, and intellectual attraction that only grows over time.

Relationships need not require walking on eggshells. You don’t have to origami yourself into a form so foreign that you no longer recognize yourself. You don’t have to withstand criticism, unkindness, or cruelty. You are not asking for too much. And for the love of god—if you have children and you’re subjecting them to your abusive partner—whether a biological parent or otherwise—just stop. You’re scared to leave, but staying is worse than any unknown. My single biggest regret is keeping my five kids (three from my first marriage and two from the second) in a highly toxic environment for so long. The pain and guilt I carry for failing to protect them is inexpressible. Please, don’t make the same terrible mistake.

Be you, dear friends—follow your truth, and wonderful things will happen. Everything fabulous depends upon you being who you really are.


How to turn your life on its head in 12 months or fewer

selfieSome of you have noticed that our sweet little blog has been neglected this summer. In retrospect, I should have scheduled and declared a short blog break, but I didn’t have the foresight to know how busy the last few months would become.

Now that I’m back, let’s have a little catch up.

In July 2014, my husband and I moved from Massachusetts to Washington State, relocating to a beautiful island due west of Seattle with our two sons (now 10 and 7). I immediately felt at home here, but it was disorienting to leave loved ones behind. I have three children from my first marriage; my two oldest sons (24 and 21) are in Boston and my daughter (19) is heading back to CU Boulder for her sophomore year. My mother lives in New Hampshire.

Life unfolded, as it does, and with the settling in came the understanding that a relocation and the passage of time would not heal the pain from years of conflict between my husband and my three oldest children. In January, after 14 rocky years together, I reached the end of my marital rope. The accumulation of hurt and resentment forced me to look in the mirror and own the many ways in which I’d failed my children — and myself. Of course, there were ways in which I’d failed my husband, too. I’m not an easy person to live with — I know that — and ultimately, I don’t think I’m capable of the compromises that marriage requires. But if I had to stamp a single label on our situation, I would have to go with “blended family fail.”

While we’d had a few dress rehearsals, it was — is — at times searingly painful to leave someone who you still love and are attracted to. The pain comes in waves, which is something I’d heard before but never quite understood. Over time, one learns to keep breathing when the waves hit. And they start to lose some of their crushing weight.

I no longer believe that love conquers all. But I do know that my priority of existence is this:

  1. Myself, because if I’m not taking care of my own needs, I’m of no use to anyone else.
  2. My five children, regardless of how old they are.

And that’s it. Everyone else — family, friends, acquaintances — are part of my life because they have a net positive impact on #1 and/or #2 above. It’s that simple.

Today, I am living in a lovely little rental cottage. I share my two youngest boys 50/50 with their dad. Our relationship is surprisingly friendly and cooperative. (I give my ex a lot of credit for that.) We’re both committed to staying here on the island and raising our boys as co-parents.

I am repairing my relationships with my older children. Every day, I am profoundly grateful that they didn’t give up on me. My daughter came for a visit last month, and it was an enormous gift to be able to spend time with her without the burden of ever-mounting guilt that I used to carry. The guilt from past mistakes doesn’t go away, of course — and there are some things I will never forgive myself for  — but at least I’m no longer adding to the inventory.

Moving twice in a year — including a cross-country relocation — and getting divorced adds up to rather a lot of recovery. But amidst this period of intense change I am finding myself. I am more “me” than I’ve ever been before. My life is full of new friends, new experiences, new places, new tattoos, and new men. (Don’t be alarmed — I’m not using new relationships to bury my emotional pain, but rather connecting with other people to rediscover and redefine myself.) There’s also the usual challenge of making enough time for my client work. That’s been a struggle given all of the other things I’m focused on.

As I find my feet, I am awash in creative energy. I fought for some time to maintain my creative practice before allowing myself to just do what I’m doing. As summer comes to a close, and I near turning 46, I’m preparing to reconnect with a structured practice — but until then, I have put down the whip of self-flagellation.

So, that’s where things are at on my end. I look forward to sharing on a more regular basis and supporting you in your creative work.

Much love.

Meme of the Week

If you marry meme....

Happy Friday.


Making Creative Hay Outside

Enjoy this seasonal reprint from the archives!

If it’s summertime in your part of the world — or if you live in a mild climate and enjoy fair weather more often than not — think about using outside resources to your creative advantage. When younger kids are out of school, making outdoor time a regular part of your routine can yield many benefits. We often end up spending time indoors just because it seems easier than setting up camp outside. But don’t let the force of habit inhibit your summertime fun and creativity.

If you have a yard of your own, make the most of this bonus. If you have a fenced-off space — even a small one — so much the better. Many mothers are able to sit on a lawn chair and write, read, or sketch while their kids play safely nearby. You can peruse that stack of magazines you haven’t read yet — any reading material that is easy to put down as needed. Outdoor time is also a great opportunity to take photographs of your kids or the world around you.

To stack the odds in your favor, use this four-pronged approach to outdoor (and indoor) downtime:

  1. Make sure everyone is well fed, watered, and toileted.
  2. Spend some time totally focused on the kids.
  3. When the kids seem engaged or playing independently after having some Mommy face time, turn to your creative work.
  4. Try to remain flexible. There will be days when the kids don’t want you staring at a notebook for even 30 seconds, and there will be other days when they’re happily immersed in their own worlds for 30 minutes. Go with the flow.

If your inventory of outdoor toys seems insufficient, yard sales and consignment shops are great places to pick up a few more. You might also send an e-mail to friends with older children to ask if they have anything hiding in their garages or attics that they no longer want.

Many toddlers and young children love to play with water. Consider filling a small kiddie pool with a few inches of water and a bunch of bath or beach toys — often good for at least 30 minutes of interest. For other outdoor play activities, do a bit of google searching and jot down the ideas you like best.

Food always seems to be more fun outdoors, too. Whether it’s just a snack in the backyard or a full-on picnic basket in the middle of a field, eating outside makes everyone happy.

When you’re headed to the park and your kids are old enough to play safely without constant supervision and won’t walk in front of the swings, don’t forget to bring a notepad, sketchbook, or something else to spend time with while you keep one eye on the children. You may find that it’s worth going out of your way to visit a playground that is fully enclosed and is equipped with a good amount of safe climbing structures to keep your kids entertained.

While you don’t want your kids to feel like you’re constantly on standby, waiting to bolt off to your own thing, you do want to be prepared to squeeze in some creative work when the opportunity arises. Over time, you’ll find the middle way that feels best for your and your family.

What works for you? Share your experience!

How to Do One Thing this Summer

kids' summer schedule planningIn the Northern Hemisphere, it’s warm and the days are long. The kids are out of school. We hope for leisurely days, hours spent outside, lots of reading, cooking on the grill, and hopefully a bit of actual time off — whether that means a staycation, an exotic getaway, or something in between.

Unfortunately, we still have to get crap done maintain some level of productivity.

If, like me, you work from a home office and have cobbled together a variety of childcare options for the next two months, your schedule may be turned on its head. Those with fulltime jobs outside the house must also navigate seasonal schedule changes. With the load of juggling that summer requires, it can seem near impossible to get through even a few things on your daily task list — despite the extra hours of sunshine. On top of your workload, you still have to maintain a vague semblance of functionality on the home front, keep everyone fed and clothed, and serve as cruise director. So we shoehorn the necessities into as few hours as possible in order to get the kids to the pool or go for a hike or spend some time working in the garden.

As you already know — all too well — when there’s a time crunch, the first thing to go is the stuff that matters only to you. Creative work, personal practices, personal care. The things you care about but that no one else particularly notices. There may be an indirect effect, as in, if you’re doing your creative work and meditating every morning you’re nicer to be around (as opposed to when you skip those things for too many days in a row and you morph into a raving lunatic get a little grouchy). But on the whole, these are the things that directly impact only one person when ignored: you.

morning freedom reminderDecide on One Thing that you’re going to focus on during the next two months. This could be a creative practice, such as writing or drawing for 30 minutes every day, or it could be that you’d like to complete a specific project during this timeframe. You might decide that your One Thing is a midsummer artist’s date; four hours on a Saturday afternoon to visit a museum by yourself, browse in a bookstore, or sit outside with an iced soy latte while you journal. Maybe you want to save one evening every week to enjoy that pile of magazines that never get read. Or you might be pulled to the self-care category: Perhaps you’d like to do yoga at home every morning. Whatever it is, pick One Thing that is important only to you, and claim it.

Can you pick more than One Thing? Of course. But One Thing, if chosen wisely, is accessible and doesn’t spawn overwhelm. Set yourself up for success. Make your One Thing something that is exciting and doable; realistic while pushing yourself just enough to feel your muscles stretching and strengthening. (I don’t recommend committing to write an 80K-word novel this summer, for example, unless your kids go to overnight camp for two months and you’re barring the door at a remote cabin. You get the idea.)

What’s my One Thing? At present my creative practice is rock solid (I haven’t missed my 500-word daily quota in more than six months), so I chose something that supports “focus,” one of my three words for 2013. I decided to enjoy my mornings and evenings without the distraction of social media and e-mail. This means no facebook, twitter, instagram, pinterest, or e-mail before 9:00 am or after 7:00 pm. Not on my iPhone, not on my laptop. When I adhere to this boundary, I avoid getting sucked into the vortex and have more time for things that matter. Social media is a amazing tool for connectivity — and I manage social media accounts for several clients, so actually get paid to be on facebook, ha ha — but on the personal front, idle social media usage that too easily too easily turns into an hour of wasted time. So the ban is essential — framed as something positive (which it is) as opposed to deprivation.

evening freedom reminderThe three steps to ensure that you do your One Thing:

  1. Put a stake in the ground: Write your One Thing in your calendar or daily schedule, as appropriate. If you have a project goal, decide how much time you’re going to devote to this work on a daily or weekly basis and add it to your calendar as you would an appointment.
  2. Create accountability: Since you already know how easy it is to skip out on what matters only to you, accountability is essential. Share your One Thing here as a comment. Then come back at the end of August and tell us how it went.
  3. Establish reminders: Write down your One Thing on sticky notes and place them in obvious locations around your house. Use reminders on your phone. Or use an app just for this purpose. I’m using the app Intention, which allows you to create visual reminders to keep you on track (the images that accompany this post are from the app; available for iPhone and iPad). The combination of intention with positive visuals is powerful. (For the record, I’m not a paid spokesperson.)

So pick your One Thing, follow the three steps, and enjoy the next two months.

I look forward to seeing what you chose for your One Thing, and supporting you in your success!


Three Words for 2013

The new year has begun. At the two-week mark I’m ready to get specific about how I want to approach the months ahead. At about this time last year, I posted my personal review of 2011, and then my intentions for 2012. Instead of goals, l preferred the word intentions, because so many of my priorities comprised an ongoing practice, rather than end points. If you follow our Monday Post you know that my weekly intentions rarely vary. My frame for the coming year is similar. But first, a brief review of 2012, because I like to appreciate where I’ve been before moving forward. Don’t you?

2012 Highlights

  • freshly pressedIn January my nonfiction writers’ group met for the first time. A year later, we’re still going strong — each of the six of us working on books (although we have since sidled into fiction too). We meet monthly in person and share our progress weekly via e-mail. This group is hugely important to me.
  • In January I also launched my first group coaching circle, which met monthly throughout the year. An invaluable experience that will continue into 2013.
  • In March I taught the first of multiple writers’ workshops at Open Studio — workshops that were well received by my students and informed my own writing practice.
  • In March Studio Mothers made the Circle of Moms Top 25 Blogs list.
  • In May my business partner Ellen Olson-Brown and I had our first “live” television appearance as guests on a local cable show, Around Town.
  • In June I had the pleasure of being a guest on Mark Lipinski’s internet radio show, Creative Mojo. Mark is an awesome guy, and the experience was terrific.
  • For Studio Mothers, without a doubt the highlight of the year was making the WordPress Freshly Pressed page in June. The ginormous traffic increase and bump in subscribers means that we’re now reaching a much wider audience.
  • On July 4, I finished and released my e-book, The Creative Mother’s Guide: Six Creative Practices for the Early Years. Amazingly satisfying.
  • In August I began a regular writing practice. It wasn’t every day — not at first — but I realized that 500 words a day was doable, even with I didn’t “have time” to write. Often, I’d write a lot more than 500 words. Now it’s a daily habit. This may be the most significant element of 2012.
  • In September I performed in a live yoga demo for at our town’s annual festival. Nothing like getting on stage in front of a crowd in your yoga kit!
  • In November I pushed the on-stage envelope even further by participating in a fashion-show fundraiser wearing a metal ensemble that Grace Jones might have envied.
  • Throughout the year, I co-hosted various events at Open Studio: art openings, workshops, and our weekly Creative Community Hours.
  • Although I didn’t enact the marketing plan for my coaching business that I created in 2011, I had a good year on the creativity coaching front, developing a roster of ongoing clients who are doing amazing things — and I’m honored to support them in their creative journeys.
  • My editorial business, Pen and Press, had a strong year. Wonderful new clients — two of whom have become friends.
  • On the personal side, my oldest son had a fantastic junior recital at Ithaca College and started his senior year; my second-oldest son graduated from high school and began his freshman year at Berklee College of Music; my 16-year-old daughter got her license and a job; my second-grader became an even more manic football fanatic (which seemed impossible); my youngest started his last preschool year at a Montessori school, which was a huge improvement for him — much happier. In all, the children had a great year. My husband started the year at a new job and ended the year without a job, so that’s been a challenge — but a unifying challenge, which has been positive.

Between the Lines

When I think through the highlights, I see that this year was very much about connecting with other people and becoming increasingly comfortable in front of a crowd, large or small. It’s no accident that our tagline for Open Studio was Connect, Create, Grow. (I used the past tense when referring to the studio. More here.)

When I look at the list of intentions I created for last year, I calculate about at 50% “success” rate. I’m okay with that.

Moving Forward

For this year, instead of another folio of intentions, I’m doing something different. I still have the same priorities, but one concrete goal tops the list: finish my fiction manuscript. I don’t know if this is within my reach, but I’m going to try. On top of that, I’ve identified three words that are my mantra for the year:

three words for 2013

Focus is for working on one thing until it’s done. Working with the wifi shut off and/or with my e-mail turned off. Not jumping from thing to thing in a ridiculous circle. Focus is for planning my day and following the plan. Focus is for my writing practice.

Kindness is for kindness to self. Being kind to others is not a struggle, but I tend to push myself too hard. I’m working on ways to be gentler, which means adjusting my personal expectations. Treating others and myself with empathy.

Delight is for doing less and enjoying it more. Delight is for slowing down and reconnecting with the natural childhood awe that used to be natural. Delight is for not running around like a maniac. Delight is for being here now, and not wanting to be anywhere else.

How about you? What are your intentions for 2013? If you have a word — or three — will you share?


The Artist at Work: Do You Welcome the Family, or Bar the Door?

The Daily WriterI enjoy starting my daily morning writing practice by reading a page in Fred White’s daybook The Daily Writer: 366 Meditations to Cultivate a Productive and Meaningful Writing Life. Today’s entry was particularly relevant to our scope here at Studio Mothers, whatever your medium. Here’s the excerpt:

August 30: Dealing with Family Interference

Writers mostly work at home, and that can pose a problem, especially if the writer has children. To ensure against quarrels or having the kids or the spouse feel neglected, the writer in the family needs to negotiate (not mandate like some dictator) ground rules. Another approach is to open your study to the kids. Introduce them to your work, explain your project to them in ways they’ll both understand and appreciate. You might even invite them to hang around and watch you working (about as unexciting as can be imagined for most children); it makes them feel more a part of you and gain more of an internal understanding of why you need to work uninterrupted. The opposite approach, making your study off limits, giving it the impression of being The Forbidden Zone, might prove just as effective superficially, but doesn’t do much to foster family togetherness.

Perhaps the best way to handle family interference is to let them interfere in the sense of making them feel welcome in your inner sanctum. There’s a memorable photograph of JFK at work in the Oval Office with four-year-old John-John frolicking at his feet. Children can better intuit how best to behave around a working parent once they feel that they’re included rather than excluded.

How about you? Do you include your children and/or your spouse in your creative work? What’s best for you and your family?

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