While staying as the house guest of an artist friend and her daughter, I dwelled briefly in the onslaught of raising a human. “It’s like throwing a party all day, every day, for the rest of your life,” a mother-friend once told me when describing parenting. On top of her all-day celebrations, this particular six-year-old seemed to team with the insatiable creative mania of, well, a six-year-old, bolting between rainbow looms, songwriting, playwriting, sign painting and imaginary worlds. I watched her help herself to physical space — in the house, in the garden — and re-purpose the bedding, stuffies, food, furniture and my laptop. She cajoled the pets and neighbours into theatre characters, choir members and gallery-goers. She seemed to rejoice intuitively in who she was.
Not long ago her mother, too, had been an artist. When the baby came she pivoted, as most new parents do, morphing towards the all-consuming calling. The artist portion of herself was squeezed into supplemental minutes of choppy, panic-stricken hustle. She reported on the life-changing joy and insight and felt the gnawing guilt for stealing time for her ideas. “Kids,” joked Louis C.K., “they break your stuff and eat your dreams.”
“The goal is to remake the world so that our choices are not so stark,” wrote Naomi Wolf. But even with more balanced support, less stigma and better help, there remains a conflict of two internal worlds: Art is a vocation of solitude, privacy, rumination and patience. Parenting demands that we eschew solitude for nurturing. Those artists willing to leap and straddle the twin passions of art and motherhood blaze a trail with their defiance. “Motherhood,” said Gilda Radner, is “the biggest gamble in the world. It is the glorious life force. It’s huge and scary — it’s an act of infinite optimism.”
PS: “I am wearing dark glasses inside the house
To match my dark mood.
I have left all the sugar out of the pie.
My rage is a kind of domestic rage.
I learned it from my mother
Who learned it from her mother before her
And so on.
Surely the Greeks had a word for this.
Now surely the Germans do.
The more words a person knows
To describe her private sufferings
The more distantly she can perceive them.
I repeat the names of all the cities I’ve known
And watch an ant drag its crooked shadow home.
What does it mean to love the life we’ve been given?
To act well the part that’s been cast for us?
Wind. Light. Fire. Time.
A train whistles through the far hills.
One day I plan to be riding it.” (Suzanne Buffam, Enough)
Esoterica: Pamela Tanner Boll’s 2008 documentary, Who Does She Think She Is? follows the lives of five artists as they try to reconcile the disconnection of mothering and creating. Part of what is discovered is that the conflict between mothering and making art can serve as its own fuel and inspiration. These days domestic experience, ever more visible and a growing subject for art, is expanding in cultural value. “We’re fed by love. The multiplicity of our lives is, in the long run, going to enrich our work.” (Pamela Tanner Boll)
“You have no obligation other than to discover your real needs, to fulfill them, and to rejoice in doing so.” (Francois Rabelais)