Thursday, June 19, 2008

They Are Why

When I first got pregnant, my creativity disappeared completely. I mean, gone. I didn't paint, I didn't write poetry. I didn't write fiction. I didn't even watch movies that would make my brain work. The strangest of all, I barely even cracked my journal.

I mean, for ME to not write in my journal, my constant companion of the previous twenty years, was almost incomprehensible. In fact, I couldn't comprehend this new state of my being, and fell into a funk. I have since learned that much of my experience was related to brain chemistry and hormones, and actual BRAIN SHRINKAGE (with actual scientific proof and all). But even knowing that, I was at a loss of identity. I did not know who I was outside of being creative. Never mind that I was creating a human being, I didn't understand why I wouldn't be able to create a collage.

As time passed on and the baby was born, life moved on to being about, well, the baby. And figuring out all it meant to be a mother, to take care of a baby, of a house, of a relationship, of myself (yeah, right, I pretty much ignored that.) And then, even before I finished nursing the first one, I got pregnant again. In some ways it was better because I wasn't so shocked at my transformation, and in other ways, it was worse, because I had to take care of a toddler while being pregnant. I did manage to write a first draft of a novel in the few months of the second trimester (thank you nanowrimo and the fear that the impending second baby would make it impossible to ever write again.) Except for that novel, my creativity was pretty lame, actually. I would try, but whatever came out was so dry and uninspired.

I held on to the hope that the magic would come back. Mothers who had been there and done that gave me the advice that it would indeed return. The truth is, it's hard to be the mom of a baby and remain creative. It's even harder to do it with two kids only 20 months apart.

So this is the bad news, kids. Having children makes it much harder to be an artist. You don't have the uninterrupted time to ruminate and be creative, you don't have unbroken nights of sleep. You hormones go wacky and mess with your head and your moods. It's more pressing to make chicken nuggets than it is to make sculptures. Your world shrinks down to the needs of one drooling, pooping, gummy smiling little being. The world is no longer just about you and your journal and your pen and your paints. Sorry.

But before you despair, before you decide to hang up your ovaries and close shop on mommyhood, there is a creative upside.

Sure, being the mom of babies is hard. But once you get past the hormonal upheaval of pregnancy, post partum and nursing, there is a light at the end of the tunnel. And it's a complicated, powerful light.

When you are a mom, you have a reason to do the things you do that extends beyond yourself. Your creativity is no longer simply about your own happiness, it is about your children, it is about the world, it is about the future. Because you are creating the world that your children will live in, and if creativity is important to you, then you will be motivated to make it a part of your world.

You learn how to utilize what little free time you have. No longer will you fritter away your long and uncommitted days, knowing that you can create later. Now, whenever you have a fifteen minute stretch of uninterrupted time, you will jump to your sketchbook, your computer, your art. And you will not dawdle. You will get to work.

You will be inspired by your children. By the things they do, the things the say. By the things you do to make them happy. By their responses to your own art work. By what they look at and how they look at the world. Having children opens up a whole new realm of humanity to you, one that you only saw from the outside before.

Children make you grow up. In a good way. So many of the little things that stopped you before will now seem silly. Like your own fears. Or what the neighbors think. Or the desire to be fabulous and party. You have a new understanding of the things that are important, and if art is important to you, then the unimportant things will no longer pose such a barrier.

I get the feeling that parenthood actually has unlimited benefits, along with its difficulties (maybe because of its difficulties). These are the the plusses I can grasp right now. Does anyone else see how having children has increased their creativity?


madness rivera said...

Hi, so do I find that my creativity has increased as a mami . . .I guess I never considered that question. I'd say it hasn't diminished but the ability to express it certainly has. The drive to be a great mom and a good artist are powerful forces and I personally don't always find the room for both. We can always wiggle time for anything, right? but when an artistic inspiration hits with full force, is it the time I'm able to manifest it into something? I've tried to train myself to write at certain times, like a schedule. This actually works sometimes. I train myself to work at it whether inspired or not. It feels like a vice sometimes though. But I have to try to fit it all in.

I grew up with a painter. My mother. She is a true and talented artist and it is the only thing she is really good at. But was she a good mother? She absolutely was not. She is interesting and out there and in her own world, and I love and appreciate that about her. But I don't like her as a mother. She is completely self absorbed. She made no bones about the resentment she felt having to inconveniently raise a kid when her canvas' beckoned. She was not supportive of any of my own creative endeavors and always called me The Athlete, which I was, but it undermined any other talents because she didn't want any artistic thunder taken from her.

Oookkkaaayyyy, sorry for the history dump, but it sheds better light on why I'm so sensitive to my own creativity vs. mothering. I won't ever surrender the creative force; it's impossible to anyway. But I cannot do anything artistic at the expense of the girls. I have learned as a mom to channel the creativity in a million ways; baking, painting, whatever. It's never the same as my true love Writing, but that's the only thing that takes complete concentration for me. I can't even have the girls in the room. Taking writing workshops has helped tremendously.

Lord have mercy . . .sorry for the spill, but I absolutely know what you're going through and I empathize highly. My only word of real advise especially since your babies are young and no one ever told me this part: The drive to be creative never goes away. It will wane, it will frustrate you. You'll want to hang it all up completely, but it is always there so it’s best to learn now not to deny that part of yourself. Don't ever think, oh that was my younger days and blah blah blah. Just figure out how to fit it all in with relation to your life. That is an exhausting prospect, and I won't admit easily that my craft has suffered for it, but for me, as a whole, this has been the most worthwhile.

D'Arcy said...

I am you pre-kids and I have feared what having kids would mean for my life and how I define myself as a creative artist.

But then again, to see things through the eyes of a child is nothing if not full of inspiration.

Rowena said...

Awesome, Madness. Loved your dump, thanks. My dad was an artist, too, a photographer and film maker and just as you described your mom. Even he has admitted that it's easier on a father to be an artist than a mother. And thanks for the reminder that it doesn't go away, though it does have waves. I'm trying to ride the waves.

d'arcy, see Madness' comment. It's tough, but worth it. I do wish I took advantage of all that lovely independence and time to attack my career while I had the chance, but I was just so afraid. Now I am less afraid, but have less time and energy. If you can manage it, take advantage of the opportunities while you have the chance.

Natasha said...

I wasted time before I had my daugther...I see that now...I wasted it on fears but having her changed everything...something inside drives me to create and stop goal now is to really experience life with that I find inspiration for my creativity...I dig that

Sugar said...

Thanks Rowena. Great post! I especially love the paragraph about children making you grow up. So true.

I have two sets of kids. The first set was subjected to my own squelching of art and beauty. I worked in Corporate America and hated it. Whenever I let myself go back to being a "free spirit," I was a better mom. They actually encouraged me because they saw how much better I was. Now, with Round Two of Mommyhood, I'm living a more creative lifestyle because I KNOW I'm a better mom and creative being with all of the facets of life.

It's not about carving out time to do one or the other. They are connected through our love for each. In my art, I find my children. In my children, I find my art.

I'm inspired by the new tapestry of motherhood that is being woven by all of you, even the pre-baby D'Arcy.

Barbara Hagerty said...

Well, I think you've figured this one out perfectly!! Funny how we (mothers) all have to do this on our own, but when we see the light, it really shines brightly!!

My trek back to myself after 2 kids 18 mos. apart came when I realized I was helping them by teaching them to not disturb me (for short periods of time) and by having them see me be creative and learn how important it is. It gave me permission and freed my guilt and ambiguous feelings. We all get there, somehow, on our own. And now I realize how much kids helped!! I have 2 (teenage) arts students, both serious about classical ballet and theater, one who draws and plays the piano beautifully, the other acts, choreographs, and has a voice that can do everything.

When people tell you it goes by quickly it's hard to believe, but the the truth is, the days are long, but the years are very, very short!

If you want to be not just an artist, but the best artist you can be, then you have to draw from life as it is, not as you would fancy it. Hard, but true. And very, very worth it!!

Jen Lee said...

I love this post!

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