Thursday, May 27, 2010

How do you do it?

OK, now I don’t want to compete with Reservoir Dad’s Most Mentally Sexy Dad comp (woops, I almost wrote “Most Sexually Mental then” — an entirely different contest, I should think…) but I have a little, non-competitive request for my wonderfully inspired and resourceful readers.

When I set out to write The Divided Heart, I was trying to be the next best thing to a fly on the wall. I wanted to know how other people “do it”, meaning maintain a creative life and raise a family (I really do mean to stay out of the bedroom with this post!).

People always ask me what I learned from meeting and talking to the artists in the book. And my usual answer is that, above all (and many of you will have heard me say this before):

YOU need to give yourself permission to be an artist (or creative worker of any kind). No one else is going to give you that permission — especially if you haven’t already staked a claim for it in your own heart and mind.

For mothers, this means being very strict with ourselves, which can be half the battle. It means carving out time, against all odds, to devote to our creative practice — because it’s the thing that connects us to ourselves.

For me, I only feel half alive if I’m not writing. When I’m not writing, I become horribly distracted, preoccupied and downright cranky — not very fun for anyone who has to live with me.

Unfortunately, that means I am all too regularly in this pent-up state, gazing longingly at my writing desk from what feels like a gaping, frustrating expanse. Most of the time I can't even see my laptop, it's so covered in a growing piles of bills, notes and press releases all vying for my attention...

It seems I am still failing that most basic domestic obstacle course. How to dodge the washing basket, unmade beds, grocery shopping, unread school notes, paid work, volunteering, exercise, waxing of a leg (or two)… and make a beeline for that desk, sit down and start wrestling with the blank page.


In the interests of sharing, I’d really love to hear from you about how/when/where you work. What has to be in order for you to get down to it? Or is it to hell with order — you just ignore the housework and get on with the creative stuff?

Do you involve the kids? Do you wake up at 4am (hopefully without the kids!)? Do you do most of your work in your head?

I really want to know what strategies other parents have for making time for their own creative work. Give me your best tips for keeping this little thing called art alive. In other words, HELP!!


Jetta's Nest said...

I've really struggled with this since having kids and realising that my need to create was almost as necessary as breathing for me. For ages I thought I'd just have to give it up for a while because when I paint, I like to paint...uninterrupted for hours on end but I've managed to find a great compromise and feel quite fulfilled creatively at the moment even with all the household chores (which I'm totally crap at) and the kids and everything else. I love to start the day drawing so now I get the kids breakfast and sit down with my coffee and doodle or sketch or quickly add something to a quick watercolour. Just 10 minutes or so to start my brain off! The rest of day I squeeze in what I can which is usually not much or maybe a bit of sewing or something...not my true love (painting) but still making. As soon as the kids are asleep that's my time. I don't do chores at night at all, it's when I get all my creating done and thankfully my husband is fully supportive of me and has interests of his own too so it all works quite well. Sorry for the epic comment, I just loved your book so much, it really opened my eyes to the fact that there's other people who feel the same way as me!


Unknown said...

Currently typing this one handed as I hold my sleeping 6 week old girl, her 5 year old brother playing on the trampoline outside.....I'm a footwear and accessories maker, a craftswoman, an artist and since Hazel was born I have hardly set foot in my studio.
I opened it up this afternoon and stood inside, inhaling the aroma of leather and said 'hello studio, I miss you'. Terribly sad, but my lil girl deserves a whole lotta cuddles from her Mum while she's so small.
Ironically I m getting more household chores done during this time, but I have such itchy fingers for crafting. My Mum is coming to stay next week and I intend on getting a heap of studio time in, can't wait!

screamish said...

it's a struggle- and I'm not good at it...I've tried scribbling notes in the half hour as the girls are in bed..or getting up at 5am...I think routine is the key, seeing it as work and sitting down and working working working...I admire anyone for achieving what you have, it's amazing...

Elisabeth said...

I write in the nooks and crannies of the day. Usually I write when I can find a moment to myself, and more recently I have sequestered a number of hours each weekend on both Saturday and Sunday mornings when I refuse all other engagements and commitments.

I can do this now, as my youngest daughter is sixteen. I could not do this when my children were young.

I would write every day if I could but I can’t, with work and familial responsibilities. What a dreadful expression, familial responsibilities.

But they swallow you up, unless you can be ‘selfish’ - another dreadful word.

Emma is at the beginning of a new life, and must 'sacrifice'- yet another dreadful word - her creative urgings for a time.

For me now even with young adult children the familial demands continue to pour in, though my children also help more now and are more willing to let their mother 'do her thing'.

Ruth Quibell said...

I don't find heaps of time, but continuity is the key for me. Two or three times a week, I go off early in the morning to a local cafe for an hour, forsaking my shower for writing.

But there are hiccups, and this doesn't happen all the time.

Having the same notebook helps. It is a place to come back to, to see progress marked as it fills, and then to finish and embark on another. This helps when there are days and occasional weeks where I do not write at all. And it sits in my bag, for when one of those wonderful spare moments arises.

Having said this, we've set up our life so that we share the parenting and housework, which eases the mental strain of things left undone. This makes it easier to leave in the morning to write, knowing that I'm not carrying the home-load alone.

Kate Moore said...

Sometimes I wonder and we're tired ... all the time. We've learned to live with that. (We being my partner and I). We're both fulltime, we both volunteer, me more so - between eight and 20hrs a week - I have a blog, my partner studies fulltime and we have two still at home. Granted one is 21, but let me tell you that having the one of the four who is extremely needy counts for multiples - she's hard work and doesn't assist or support the household. Again, we've learned to work around it. Two others are out of home, but close by and one still needs support because she's new at the out-of-home game. Those who know what having a newly flown the coup child know it can mean stopping everything for days at a time to help meet that child's immediate emotional needs.

Anyhoot, to the question.
We just plough on. We're organised. We don't tend to leave things that could be done. We do. We prioritise and we work to a study-like timetable. Parents of HSC students will be familiar with the planning. It's like budgeting, but with time.

Anonymous said...

My partner works from home and is self employed. Over the years I've learned a bit from him - he goes up to his computer and ignores the dishes/laundry/etc the same way you have to if you go out to an office with a boss. You can't ignore everything permanently, but if it's writing time, and you've only got limited writing time, you have to. Housework does tend to expand to fill the time available.

I go to work in an office four days a week at the moment. I need to get back into catching the train (rather than driving) because the train is the only drawing or writing time I can consistently make for myself.

Red Hen (dette) said...

I've been a single mum for 15 years since the kids were 3years and 18 months of age. I have had to balance the mortgage and bills (with child support that was regular but well below what was suggested by the child support agency) so I've had to work to support my kids but I did work part time for several years while they were at primary school. That gave me part of one day a week where the kids were at school so thaat I could do my own work. I still managed to get to assemblies on this day but I resented too much time taken from my art day!
When the kids were really little I set them up with their own craft cupboard so they could help themselves to what they needed, often giving them similar materials as those I was working with so that they worked alongside me, sometimes this could be a little distracting but better than a craft/art drought. I also made decisions about the medium I worked with that was able to be left safely about, wax or plasticine for sculpting or clay were all fairly safe, and acrylic and watercolour paints dry quickly and are not as toxic as oils or acids for etching etc.
I also taught them to use the toaster and butter bread very early- mostly because I suffered extreemely debilitating migraine headaches almost monthly at one stage and they needed to be self sufficient on those occasions. The upside was they could feed themselves quite easily and I could keep working a little longer!
I tend to work in a way where I ignore the housework for as long as possible or I ignore my creative needs for as long as I can when other things -like report writing/marking becomes a priority.
Fortunately I am a bit of an insomniac and stay up till rediculous hours to enjoy a bit of quiet time to draw/ paint etc. However as the kids have grown up this lovely art time has disappeared as they stay up later and later. And now that I'm teaching full time and getting a bit older I can't seem to manage the burning the candle at both ends anymore!!!!
I'm about to enrol in a painting cource at the local art centre- I don't care if it's for absolute beginners even though I've done painting at art school, I pay money to join and the hours are set. I get to go to a lovely old building and mix with other creative people and I get a bit of a boost and the impetus to continue after the course is done. I have gifted myself these at various times of my life when I have become overwelmed by the day to day work and 'should do's'. Because I've paid for it and it is timetabled I find a way to do it.
And I hold on to the thought that the difficulties I'm having a tough time at the moment getting time for art rather than just craft- knitting/ crochet and feeling stretched very thin today, it will improve!!
(Sorry long answer!!! maybe I should have done a post and linked it here! But you did ask.)

Rachel Power said...

I did ask. And I meant it! I love hearing these stories and each one gives me different ideas. Thank you for taking the time to write it all down. In my next post I will talk about all the different ways you are all negotiating these dilemmas.

Shelley Cartoons said...

I do two cartoons a week for a newspaper. I have a 3 year old and five year old. My husband works in the mornings and I work in the afternoons. I work in cafes as much as I can. It's too hard for me to ignore the kids at home...I do have to be home to scan my work or if a deadline is looming though. I turn on the radio. Loud.
We share the housework and childcare and live pretty frugally.
I've learnt to close the door on the mess and pedal down to the cafe, knowing it will feed me. (Curiously I've noted that I care less about the state of the house when I'm feeling very engaged with my creative work). I've (mostly) learnt to not freak out when I come home and the house looks a mess....and to appreciate that my husband rarely vacuums but does do all the grocery shopping. I've learnt that he parents and houseworks in a different way.
Having a regular gig with a newspaper really helped getting into a routine. Before that it was much trickier juggling freelance jobs.
It's a great tussle juggling small kids with artistic work and this is a great conversation. I think your book helped me make the decision to say to my husband "You need to quit full-time work. I'm slowly going mad."
I had a few months with very little work but it picked up and I'm such a happier camper now. We probably could earn more if my husband worked full time but neither of us wants that. Cheers to those who have the courage to accept a big dip in finances for happy spouses. Well worth it for us!