Today Welcome Baby Care and It’s My Baby Blog are proud to feature a guest post by Lisa Catherine Harper.
Lisa Catherine Harper is the author of A Double Life, Discovering Motherhood, winner of the 2010 River Teeth Literary Nonfiction Prize. Publishers Weekly has called the book, which merges personal narrative with research “universal, moving, and relevant.” Her writing has appeared in places including San Francisco Chronicle, Poetry Foundation, Huffington Post, Babble, Glimmer Train, Literary Mama, Offsprung, Gastronomica,and Mama, PhD. She teaches creative writing in the MFA program at the University of San Francisco and lives in the San Francisco Bay Area with her husband, and their two children. You can find her online at www.LisaCatherineHarper.com.
Motherhood and Creativity: Making Connections
Common sense and the word on the street suggest that the life of an artist is antithetical to the work of motherhood. How can you find time, especially in those hard, early months, to nourish your imaginative soul, lose yourself in your subconscious, and dedicate even a fraction of yourself to the life of art? Very often, you can’t–at least not as often as you’d like. Many writing mothers still find themselves in the position of 17th century poet Anne Bradstreet, mother to 8, who wrote the first saleable book of poetry in America “in the fruit of some few hours, curtailed from her sleep and other refreshments.” In those first months after my daughter was born, I thought often of Bradstreet and the politics of motherhood and art. I understood for the first time the constraints and liberations of being a mother and writer. The work of the mind was challenged constantly by distractions, interruptions, worries. Sleepless nights made it hard to think.
And yet in many ways, becoming a mother was a watershed for me as a writer. When I was pregnant, my colleagues prophesied: you’ll never have writer’s block again. They were right, and not because motherhood would provide me with a wealth of material, but because becoming a mother changed my point of view. Motherhood filled me with what Emily Dickinson called “internal difference/Where the Meanings, are.” The biggest change is not that my life is now full of laundry and tantrums and schedules that are not my own. The biggest difference resides in how I see and understand the world, how I empathize with other people (or not), how I make connections between private life and public issues—and this all begins with my children. There are daily, enduring difficulties in mothering. But there are also many revelations.
Motherhood created a new sense of urgency about my creative life. I learned very quickly that I had no time to waste. If I did not write, and write productively, in those two hours when the baby napped, that time would be lost to me forever. There was no longer time for procrastination. I had to bring my whole self and my full attention to the page every time I sat down to write. Motherhood forced me to honor my writing time in a newly sacred way. If it took hours away from my art, it also made me more serious and intense in the few hours I had to devote to it. It is exactly this renewed commitment, a creative rebirth, as it were, that enabled me to write the bulk of my book during the first year of my daughter’s life. In this way, mothering and art are fully compatible, even good training for each other. Both require two basic things: show up, pay attention.
I also resigned myself to what Grace Paley called writing at “different paces.” I learned to accept that during certain periods—even months or years—I might get less work done. If I wanted to be present for my children, I had to accept that I might write less. This is a hard thing when you are hungry for that time to return to the creative place where you thrive as an artist. I’d be lying if I said this adjustment didn’t make me nervous and insecure at times. But I also knew that in the context of my life, my children would not need me so much for very long, and that eventually, more time would be returned to me. This has proven true, and Paley’s words have been the single most important piece of advice I have for other new mother writers.
In my book I write about the revelation I had early in my pregnancy that “expecting meant not expecting.” I couldn’t ever fully know what motherhood would bring me—only that it would bring great change. One of the biggest changes was accepting the significance of the life of the home and coming to understand that the life of the home is also imaginative work and it, too, can be reimagined. There are many things about motherhood that are drudgery. But there are countless things that are creative. Beginning with the very first things you must teach your baby–how to eat, how to sit, how to grab, walk, learn colors, talk–motherhood implicitly engages a creative part of your self. We often fail to recognize this. The way we design our homes, the activities we engage, the meals we cook, the projects we carry out (with and for our children)—of course these can be creative acts. But I’m talking about more.
Everyday life can be imbued with a creative spirit. We can remind ourselves to be artful observers and creative participants in our daily lives. We can—and should–make real connections between our private parenting and our public concerns. This is one of the great gifts of that shifting point of view all mothers encounter. The challenge is not to be overwhelmed (too often!) by the endless tasks of housework and childcare.
So with Mother’s Day approaching, instead of taking a day off, and sinking more deeply into a private and sentimental life, maybe it would do us good to honor the day by remembering the ways that motherhood feeds our creative selves, how it makes us pay attention newly, how it allows us to make connections between our private work and our public beliefs. Motherhood is not only private experience, but something attached to all the corners of life. How can you join the conversation more fully: in image, verse, prose, even volunteering….there are as many ways to participate as there are families. Ask yourself: what will feed your soul? What can you bring to the table? These things, too, are among the great gifts of motherhood.
And A Free GIVEAWAY!!!!
Welcome Baby Care is giving away a free copy of Lisa Catherine Harper’s book A Double Life, Discovering Motherhood.
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