Wednesday, March 27, 2013

Does it matter enough?

Pic: Lucy Feagins.  Photo by Sean Fennessy
In response to the comments on my previous post, I just want to say a couple of things - things I wanted to say in my talk at the Big Hearted Business Conference but didn't find time/space for.

Firstly, that whole idea that if you want it enough - that if you are a "pure" or "true" enough artist - you will make it happen... Personally, I've never been completely sold on this.

In The Divided Heart, Sally Rippin mentions author Chester Eagle's statement that “If it matters, it'll get done. If it doesn't get done, it didn't matter enough.” I have since thought about this notion a lot!

For much of history, becoming an artist hasn't been an option for the vast majority of women. And so, if in order to become an artist a woman felt forced to abandon her children, or to avoid have any in the first place, it's not really fair measure of their desire to become an artist.

That may sound extreme, but even now women are overcoming the vestiges of that attitude (even if only within their own minds), and the biological instinct to put their children first. Of course I also know men who have struggled to hang on to their creative dreams once they have a family and feel the pressure to be chief breadwinner.

I feel like I've met many people over the years who could be great artists but just never managed to overcome their fears or their lack of confidence or the external barriers (real or imagined) to really give it a proper crack - and that to me is the ultimate tragedy. Because I know that it has and does matter to them.

These are the people I'm trying to speak to every time I talk about giving yourself permission to be creative!

Among the students I went to art school with, the ones who've made it have not necessarily been the most talented or the "truest" ones (though many were that too, of course, Clare Bowditch among them). They were generally the most confident, ambitious and determined ones. The ones who gave themselves permission - and who just got the work out there.

I couldn't help but notice how much Catherine Deveny's line "I'm not a perfectionist, I'm a completionist" resonated with people!

There are as many different ways to be creative as there are creative people. Not everyone has to be a capital-A artist (in the traditional mode), as the conference demonstrated so beautifully. Now, more than ever, art/craft can be done on any scale, and there are myriad ways of getting the work out there, sharing it around - and potentially a good living from it.

BHB speaker Lucy Feagins was also among those students I studied with back in the late '90s - and now she's one of the world's most successful and influential design bloggers. Not everyone has to be a practicing artist, as such. There are just as many creative careers based on a love of art made by others.

If the BHB conference reminded me of anything, it was the importance of living passionately, whatever we decide to do.

Monday, March 25, 2013

Art, motherhood and the Big Hearted Business Conference

Pic: Kylie Lewis
On the weekend I was lucky enough to be among the speakers at Clare Bowditch's Big Hearted Business Conference. What a mind-blowing experience!

When I wrote The Divided Heart almost five years ago, I could never have predicted that it would mean something to other people. As I said in my talk, I just wrote the book I needed to read.

I had no idea how to maintain my own creative life amid the competing demands from my children, partner, work, housework, parents, friends...

I still struggle with the feeling that creativity is a complete indulgence, especially when compared to the needs of my children. And I still question whether I am a good enough writer to make it worth all I have to ask of myself and my family in order to keep it up.

But as I tried to express in my talk, the most important reason to make art — the reason that trumps anything you could list in the "cons" column — is because you need to. Because it connects you to the world, because it makes you see things differently, because it makes you feel alive.

It was impossible not to notice how few men were at the conference (though bravo to the blokes, who generously participated in what was a fairly female-centric discussion). The room was packed to the brim with vibrant, animated, remarkable women, and as a result, the question of how to be an artist and a mother was a major theme.

Women are just so hungry for information about how to reconcile these two seemingly incompatible aspects of their life and identity: creativity and motherhood.

But much more than that, women need reassurance that they have a right to keep their own passions at the forefront of their lives.

So many women approached me throughout the day with tears in their eyes, concerned that their desire to be "more then just a mother" was hurting their family. The tie between women and their children is so intense, we seem hardwired for guilt!

Every speaker at the conference reminded us that what our kids need most is a mother who is living a passionate, fulfilled life.

I hope my talk on "Giving Yourself the Permission to be Creative" played some small part in helping women believe that keeping their own interests alive is the best thing they can do not just for themselves and their family, but also for the world at large.

For a lovely sense of the day, check out the extraordinary Lily Mae Martin's sketches on her blog, Berlin Domestic or Pip Lincolne (Meet Me at Mike's) wonderful photos, and join the BHB facebook page to stay in the loop on future events.

Wednesday, March 6, 2013

Just because. So there.

My response to Salsa's comment on the previous post was getting so long I thought I may as well write it as a post.

She said that she's at the point of considering giving up the idea of continuing with writing/editing while her son is young, especially when it's for dwindling pay or no pay at all, and with its the demands on her time and the "need for obsessive-level focus".

"I can't break through and I can't manage my life with a small child and a household on top of it all. I've worked for the last seven weeks and the house has descended into shit and I'm giving my son about 50%."

I can't even begin to express how much I can relate to this feeling! And, sadly, my kids are now 8 and 11 and I still feel this way.

It can be such a no-win situation for women trying to work, especially in low-paid jobs and/or jobs that demand a lot from us. I feel constantly frustrated that whenever I try to do my own work (especially the unpaid creative work that I do on top of my day job), everything else falls apart. The house turns to shit, the kids feel neglected and I start to resent... well, everything in turn: my family for making me feel guilty about my work; and my work for taking me away from my family.

The times that I give up on my creative work completely (which happen frequently), everything else seems to run so smoothly. Which then feels like a kind of punishment - a message that says: "See! Everything could be so wonderful if only you gave up on your own silly little dreams."

Sometimes I can go along like this quite happily for a long time, convincing myself that no book I could write could be worth tipping my life back into chaos - or more chaos than it's already in, even when I'm not writing!

But there's only so long I can carry on like this before I start feeling spiritually bereft. My life is all too full, but my soul (for want of a better word) is empty. It begins to feel like a literal grieving.

Now that I'm nearing 40, this grief of sorts has taken on an extra dimension. I can see my life rolling out in front of me. I can see how easily I could spend the next 20 years (if I'm lucky enough to have that time, touch wood) continuing to relegate my own desires to the bottom of the pile until it's too late.

That's why, when people tell me that they want to give up, I tell them that giving yourself permission to give up can be vital, for a time. It can be a necessary breather. But I also think it's really important to find some way to keep the flame flickering.

Yes, mothering and nurturing others are hugely important roles. But women have every right to want more than a life of housework, supermarkets and ballet/footy runs.

Amid all the intense demands that life throws at women - I think I've felt almost continually overwhelmed from the moment my first child was born! - we have to keep sight of our own needs.

Remember that everyone around us suffers when we're feeling deeply unsatisfied. And the world suffers as a whole when women decide to give up on their dreams because it seems easier to take the path of least resistance.

You can't let go of the things that make you feel alive - even when you can only visit them for 10 or 20 minutes a day. Of course we all have to be realistic, but we also need to guard against a wholesale downgrading of our expectations for our lives.

Even when 10 minutes a day is all we can claim for ourselves, at least it's sending out a message that says: "See - Crazy Domestic Life! I know you're doing everything in your power to make me give up, but here I am! I'm not going away and I don't owe you any justifications. I've got something I want to do with this life - JUST BECAUSE. Just for me. So there."

P.S. Happy Women's Day for March 8, friends! xx