Saturday, August 22, 2015

Stopping for a cupcake in a hurricane

Me, trying to draw with a
baby Griffin on my hip.
The first edition of The Divided Heart was published almost seven years ago now.

Since then, I've produced a second edition and been asked to speak on the subject of creatvity and motherhood for countless events, festival panels, radio interviews, articles, blogs and videos.

Sometimes -- regularly -- I lose my sense of what I want to say. In talking repeatedly on the topic, I have to re-find the core of my feelings over and over again, to make sure I'm speaking with fresh words and not just parroting what I've said before.

That gets particularly challenging when life has become so full of other responsibilities that I'm getting almost no writing done, bar the odd line scratched onto the back of an envelope while on the train to work, so that I literally forget what it means to be holding tight to that need to create.

There is sometimes a kind of liberation in this. A sense that it's been so long, I can give up on any loaded expectations of success and just rediscover writing for its own sake. As a form of play. Of describing the world to myself. Of clarifying my thoughts... But even that requires occasional access to a pen, a notebook and a spare hour or so! Too long away from the page and I start struggling to find meaning. In anything.

Tomorrow, when I speak at the Melbourne Writers Festival, I will be drawing on this exquisite essay by writer Sarah Menkedick, which has singlehandedly plunged me back into a full recognition of why needed to write The Divided Heart in the first place.

Not that anything has changed. Family life feels no less demanding and chaotic now as when my children were babies -- though perhaps the physical demands have been replaced by more emotional and practical ones. As Menkedick describes it, in trying to write, I still "might as well be stopping for a cupcake in a hurricane".

She describes perfectly the contradictory state imposed by mothering: the struggle to justify and to defend this ephemeral desire -- a need to write (or draw, or sing...) -- in the face of the most solid and significant job of all: keeping a "small, vulnerable human alive". And the way that forces us to stake a claim to the worth of art. But more than that -- far more confrontingly (for mothers, still working to shrug off the heavy baggage of guilt and self-sacrifice that is our historical inheritance) -- the worth of our art, at the very least to ourselves.

As Menkedick says:

It requires a terrible and terrific arrogance for me to claim three hours to hash out a half-coherent treatise on waiting and the gestation periods of walruses: an arrogance not only in the immediate domain of my family but in a larger, universal sense, to imagine that fitting life into language matters when I have now lived the reality of birth and the pressing need of a hot little mouth. 

The preciousness of that time, the fact that it is so contested and fraught with the weight of what is not being done with it, have forced my hand: I have to admit that I believe in art. Not as an abstract concept, and not as tangible and real salvation, but as a way of being. 

Read her full essay over at Vela, an online mag of women's writing.

And if you haven't discovered 'The New Normal' podcast yet, then you're missing out!

I had a great time chatting to Emma and Tess in Emma's kitchen (complete with dishwasher noises) -- all about combining creativity and motherhood, overcoming guilt and learning to love football!

You can listen to it here.