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Hell Yeah, You Can Be Both Mother and Artist

There was a piece that came out earlier this year in New York Magazine's The Cut that asked: Is parenthood the enemy of creativity? Perhaps you remember this piece. It was wildly circulated online, especially this:

"The point of art is to unsettle, to question, to disturb what is comfortable and safe. And that shouldn't be anyone's goal as a parent."

I understood what the writer was saying when I first read the piece—I still do—but I also WHOLEHEARTEDLY disagree.

As a parent, my goal has always been to guide my children through the unsettled, to raise them to QUESTION everything they feel needs questioning and to fit them with the proper emotional, philosophical and intellectual tools so that they may feel ABLE in an uncomfortable and dangerous world.

I am not here to build a wall around my child. I believe that innocence is a virtue but ignorance is not. I also believe as a parent, in the same way I do as an artist, that TRUTH is power.

And the truth will never be comfortable and safe. Not in art. Not in life. Not in anything.

When did parenting become a safety net of fear and delusion? Life is a collection of failures and messes—all important to experience firsthand. And yet we CONTINUE to cut our children off from those experiences and the tolerance needed to become IMMUNE to failure/ABLE to independently succeed. Failure is far more important than success. One cannot grow from constant wins. Our children are not "valuables" to protect but human beings with developing minds, bodies and senses of self.

I bring this up today, all of these months later, because a friend (who I met through my Aunt Dot while in Ashland in the spring) sent me the following article titled "Why Motherhood Won't Hinder Your Career as an Artist." My ears immediately perked up. "Motherhood did not change my identity or curtail my ambition—it only reinforced it. While it did, of course, create logistical obstacles to navigate, it also made me more efficient with my time, and more motivated. I wasn't just working hard for myself anymore, but now for my son, too."

BAM, right? (To me, this was A GIANT YES.) I am a force of creative nature BECAUSE of my children—not in spite of them. They inspire me to look further into the bigger picture with more curiosity, to be more humble with criticism and to explore my independence as an EXAMPLE to them, AS WELL as myself. Motherhood has also taught me what it means to be a better (more strong-willed, vulnerable and compassionate) leader.

One cannot lead without listening. One cannot be trusted without trusting. One cannot influence without being flexible to change. I was 23 when I found myself pregnant with Archer. I was ambitious before his birth, but nowhere near as much as I am 12 years and 4 children later, because I have a need to provide for THEM as well as MYSELF. Financially, absolutely, but also creatively, introspectively, spiritually. In the NY Mag piece, the author doubles down on the idea that family life and art are in opposition to one another, writing:

"People make art ... for exactly the opposite reason they make families. Or, as Offill writes in 'Dept. of Speculation,' 'The reason to have a home is to keep certain people in and everyone else out.' It makes perfect sense, but for a writer intent on using language to break down boundaries, explore taboos, trespass over the line of what is polite and pleasant and suitable for discussion, how could building a wall around oneself and a few select others be anything but disastrous?"

And while I agree that a writer SHOULD ALWAYS feel intent on using language that breaks down boundaries, explores taboos and trespasses over the line of what is polite and pleasant and suitable for discussion, I also believe parents are to do the same. I am confused by this white-picket-fence, gated-community logic which doesn't exist for ANY artist I know, let alone any parent. (Which means I've found my people, clearly, but also, is this not the norm? Or, perhaps a better question would be: Is there a "norm" anymore?)

Being an artist requires an openness that is (in my opinion) as CRUCIAL to parenting as it is art. And while, I realize I can only speak (and write) from my own perspective, I think artists, by our very nature, are willing and able to build homes on unstable foundations RECOGNIZING that chaos is inevitable everywhere, ESPECIALLY with children.

I also think most artists recognize that great art doesn't come from peace and quiet. Domestic life is chaotic. So is creative life. The two are a perfect marriage, in my opinion.

This is not to say that I wasn't also extremely fortunate for the success I had early on. But I also hustled VERY HARD before my first child was born and, for me, having a baby made me 100 times more determined to keep hustling.

(Note: I was a parent very early on in my professional career and I also think there is something to be said for that. I never felt like anything was a sacrifice because I've never known any different. By the time I was thirty, I had four children and a career that allowed me to explore what it meant to be a mother, so I do realize I come from a very different place on this subject than, say, a painter whose family life does not relate to the themes of their work. My personal and professional lives have always overlapped. Even if/when I'm not writing about parenting.)

Anyway, I thought this piece was a wonderful antidote to the New York Mag piece and I'm grateful to my friend Amy for sending it along:

"My first year as a mother has been one of continuous transition—not to mention limited sleep, little personal time, and the anxieties that come with the responsibility of being a new parent. But the indescribable intensity of love and experience watching a human being grow exponentially in such a short period of time has impacted me, and my work, in a profoundly positive way. Every artist I spoke with for this story felt similarly—that having children benefited their work rather than detracted from it. 'My children are a source of love and satisfaction that I consider to be one of the only true markers of "success,"' says Donovan. 'I guess I have chosen to privilege my personal agenda over any agendas dictated by others, which I believe is a choice all successful people need to make.'"

I would also love to hear from you. How has parenting positively influenced your artist self? Or have you experienced the opposite? No judgment, either way. We all go about parenting differently in the same way we go about art differently. In my experience, that's what makes BOTH experiences so integral to each other.

For me, my creative self and my mother self will always be entwined.

Respect to ALL mothers AND artists for doing what you do. xo

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