No blueprint

Last month Christina Rosalie, in a beautiful post called there is no blueprint for being everything, asked “Is it possible to be great, to be a Creative in the broadest sense, to live deeply into the world, and still create the measured tempo of home, the rhythm of domesticity, the moments of daily bread and wonder?”

I’ve been thinking about that question ever since.  I think the answer is yes.  I hope the answer is yes.  But even if it is, that yes isn’t simple, and we don’t arrive at it without major trade-offs.  As I’ve shared before (ad nauseum), I wrote my college senior thesis on this very question.  Focusing specifically on mother-daughter relationship in the work and lives of three 20th century poets, I explored the tension between motherhood and creativity.  My ultimate conclusion was that the work of these poets was enriched profoundly by the experience of mothering their daughters (and other children).  But the questions raised in those long months in Firestone Library have echoed through my life in ways I could not possibly have anticipated.

It gives me goosebumps, in fact, to think back to my 21 year old self hunched in her small carrel in the library, writing about the questions that she would intimately inhabit 10 years later.  It’s extraordinary, isn’t it, how the perspective provided by the arc of years illuminates choices we made long ago?

The thing is, talking about the ‘choice’ between motherhood and creativity feels artificial to me.  Sure, there are tensions – and they exist on myriad levels, from the initial choice to birth children as well as art all the way through the daily trade-offs of trying to be present to both small people and demanding creative work.  But the whole dialog is predicated on the assumption that the measured tempo of home (as Christina so beautifully puts it) is somehow at odds with creativity.  I’m sure that is true for many: creativity is a many-colored object, a phoenix of such startling brightness that it cannot possibly be reined in by the quotidian demands of life as a mother.

But the thing is, for me, it is precisely in that rhythm of domesticity that I find creativity.  It wasn’t, truly, until I had sunk deeply into the mundane details of life with my small children that I really began to see the magnificence that is at the heart of anything you might call creative about me.  My subject chose me, as I’ve said over and over, and that subject was these daily moments of bread and wonder.  I guess this just says that my creativity, such as it is (and I have a hard time thinking of myself as a creative person, I admit, which may well be correlated) is a sparrow rather than a phoenix, dun-colored rather than replete with dazzling brightness.  The more I think about it, I think that is just fine with me.

Please read Christina’s beautiful thoughts on this matter.  I’d love to hear what you think, and how this tension plays out in your life?  Separately, are there places in your past where, with hindsight, you can see the present glinting through, even though you didn’t realize it at the time?

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  1. Posted September 13, 2012 at 5:50 am | Permalink

    I’m not going to lie, I’m struggling with this in a very large and real way right now. But ultimately, what I’m finding is that if I throw my hands up in the air and say no to any of the things I truly love (creativity, leaning more into the moments with my children) then I’m only skimming the surface of my life on a daily, hourly, basis. And that feels terribly shallow.
    But digging in, being all and more… there really isn’t a blueprint. And it is scary. And wild. And so full.

  2. Posted September 13, 2012 at 9:30 am | Permalink

    I really believe that motherhood is one of the most creative things out there, even if it is sometimes mundane by design in terms of the dailiness. I have made a choice more towards motherhood and less towards the work of creativity – i.e. sitting at the computer or getting actual work done, but it’s because motherhood is for such a short, short time. My oldest is in first grade and he’s gone for 7 hours a day, and in 2 years, my youngest will be in kindergarten and I think the hours will come back then.

    As usual, you pose these questions in such a graceful way with such beautiful writing!

  3. Posted September 13, 2012 at 1:19 pm | Permalink

    Love love LOVE this! I’m just coming off my sabbatical. Six weeks of playing with my kids, cooking for my family, catching up on laundry – I’ve never felt more creative!

    I’ve been rolling the idea of “having it all” over in my head. All in the great and domestic sense you speak of. It feels possible like never before. You articulated all that I have been feeling so so beautifully. Thank you.

  4. Posted September 13, 2012 at 2:06 pm | Permalink

    This is a topic that obsesses me (and somehow I either didn’t know or forgot that it was the topic of your thesis!): specifically the way that writers who are mothers balance their creative self and their mother self.

    Like you, I didn’t get in touch with my creative side until I became a mother. Now I struggle with how these two sides of my identity challenge and enhance each other. At the moment, I’m trying to take solace in something I once read about Madeline L’Engle, who wrote when her kids were young, but not, she said, according to another person’s schedule, but according to the schedule of her family.

  5. Posted September 13, 2012 at 2:55 pm | Permalink

    Um, this is weird. Because I just posted on this very topic. Today. Great minds?
    I homeschool. I write. My kids aren’t leaving any time soon. On paper, this doesn’t look good.
    Being happy, content, at peace with myself means I have a fullness of soul to pour out into my kids and my work. I’m happy with our life. Each creative person has to find that place of fullness, I think.
    But it’s hard to carve out time when time and attention are at at extraordinary premium.
    I’m doing it anyway. And I’m finding homeschooling is actually building up my creativity–much to my surprise.
    One other resource I talked about in my post: Ursula K. Le Guin’s essay “The Hand that Rocks the Cradle Writes the Book.”

  6. Posted September 13, 2012 at 3:14 pm | Permalink

    My two cents – yes, there is tension and conflict in trying to do it all. However, I find that the tempo and domesticity compel me harder to those moments of creativity – to be something for myself, not just for others.