Monday, September 14, 2015

A fast track to honesty

When Marieke Hardy gave me the theme for the next Women of Letters session, and invited me to take part, I wasn't sure if I'd have anything to say. A letter to the Bridge I Burnt...? I'm not really a bridge-burner. But the theme has been percolating in the back of my mind over the past week - and now I'm struggling to choose between possible stories.

I'm actually pretty chuffed to have been asked to do something non-motherhood related. I've had the chance to be part of so many great panel discussions about creativity and motherhood lately, but I'm rarely asked to write or talk about other subjects, so it's a chance for me to break out!

On the creativity/mothering front, though - there's a few things I want to share.

I took part in a conversation as part of the Wheeler Centre's "F Word" series, along with Maxine Beneba Clarke, Liz Shield and Zakia Baig - all about feminism and parenting. If you're interested, you can watch it here.

You've probably heard about musician Amanda Palmer's response to a fan (and financial backer) who wrote to her concerned that Amanda's output is set to dwindle - and risk becoming mediocre - now that she is pregnant:

When you have this baby, either him/her/it will suffer, or your career will suffer. ...
Are your patrons paying for new music, or are they paying for a new baby?

I had mixed feelings about Amanda's response - she's working with her own set of assumptions about mothers...:

So no small wonder that as I approached my mid-thirties I entered a conflicted baby conundrum. If I had kids, would I turn into a boring, irrelevant, ignorable artist? Would I suddenly start writing songs about balance and shit? Would I have a sudden, terrifying, interest in the LUTE?

...But both the original letter and Amanda's response show the prevalence of those cliches - and the associated fears - about the risk motherhood poses to an artist's work and identity. Read her full response here.

Personally I find it kind of funny that people think parenthood will launch you into some soothing, sentimental state characterised by "acceptance, balance, meadows of wheat", as Amanda describes it. 


Yes, there are moments of great tenderness and joy. But for me, these exist as the flipside to the incredible angst and vulnerability that comes with raising children. Not true for everyone, I know. But as I told Amanda, motherhood has been the most confronting, raw, edgy, passionate state I have known. It exposes you to yourself like little else can. Yes, it can be a barrier to making art. But, if you can find a way to keep creating, it can also give your art an extraordinary edge. 

If Amanda Palmer's doubting fan is really that worried, she should check out this video about Suzannah Espie's latest album - and listen to her stunning album, Mother's Not Feeling Herself Today. As Suzannah says, motherhood has "been a fast track to some pretty major honesty".