Confluence: On Creativity and Motherhood

Last month, my e-friend and mothering and soapmaking mentor, Renee of FIMBY, published a wonderful e-book called Nurturing Creativity: A Guide for Busy Moms. This little book is my cup of tea: inspiring, rejuvenating, down to earth, and only three bucks. It’s like manna, royal jelly, and super blue green algae all mixed up into a power bar for the creative soul. Yup, that nourishing. She writes, “My dream for this book is to tend the garden of your creative spirit.” And it’s true. This book is like a rich load of compost followed by a long soaking rain (or a week of sun, for those of you non-desert dwellers). While she was writing this book, Renee asked me and a few other bloggers about our experience balancing creativity and motherhood. She was looking for about a hundred words on some specific questions, but once I started writing I found I had a great deal to say on the subject. This the gist of it:

Confluence

Before I had children, I spent much of my time crafting poetry and fiction and nonfiction. In those days, I believed that writing was the most creative and important thing I could do with my time. When I was pregnant for the first time and just wanted to sit and dreamily crochet granny squares for a baby blanket, it felt almost like a waste of my creative energy. Shouldn’t I be doing something “real” like writing a poem? A good friend reminded me that however lovely it was, my poem would be virtually unread, while the granny squares would keep an infant warm. “How could that be a waste of time?” she asked me. Eventually I made peace with the question by writing a poem about crocheting a blanket for my unborn babe.

In the years since I have become a mother my creative life exists in the confluence of two streams that seemingly contradict each other. Out here in the West we have hot springs that send warm water into cold rivers. Imagine it as kind of like that. Except one of these creative streams has been Letting Go, and one has been Holding On.

Letting Go

The Letting Go Stream has been the release of my old ideas of what it means to be creative. No longer can I accept the idea that to be a writer one must write every day, for a certain amount of time. Or that I am only legitimate when I write a poem every week, or a few hundred words a day. As I let go of those notions out of necessity, I found that motherhood opened up a vastly more creative world for me.

How could it not, when every act in my daily life—from birthing and nurturing two daughters, to cooking our daily sustenance from simple ingredients, to keeping our home beautiful, to actively creating a positive outlook and being curious about the world around me—is a creative act. In fact, I have a hunch that while I might have to wait a few more years to complete my next book (and I feel the pull to do that strong as ever, even if it is simmering on the back burner), I will remember these years with small children as the most creative in my life.

Holding On

Because I am (like you) a complex creature, the other stream flowing through my life in the last few years has been the Holding On Stream. This is the one that reminds me that This Is It—my one life to live. Having a child and then another made me realize that I couldn’t wait to someday sit down and write a book—it had to be something I made room for and nurtured, or else I was truly at risk of losing my voice. And while it may not always be possible to have a regular, steady practice of writing, I can nourish my writer self by reading great writing, by keeping a freehand journal when I can’t work at the computer, by letting creativity not be defined as only one thing, but as a way of life.

It hasn’t always seemed this way. I have felt at times like I was sacrificing my writing self for motherhood (never mind that my first book was conceived at the same time as my first child, and born the same month as my second). I had a lot of old ideas about how much I should write and how disciplined I should be. Looking back I see that they did very little to motivate me, and a lot to hold me back.

While I was feeling guilty for not writing poems or chapters in my half-done novel about a tree pruner in 19th century New Mexico, I was busy with all kinds of other things. I embraced the domestic arts—things women have done for ages to bring creativity and beauty into their lives. Things that can easily be done alongside a child. I have taught myself to sew and knit, and make much of my children’s clothing. I sing and tell stories. I make toys: dolls, stuffed animals, books. I write Old Recipe. I bring together a circle of friends for a mothers’ circle each month. I have grown into a much more holistic view of creativity, and see it flowering in every part of my life as a homemaker. Writing continues to be essential food for my soul, but the diet has become more varied.

Like a Garden’s Seasons

Creativity comes from the joy of creating. It is a natural outpouring of a healthy life. And, it should not be a constant. Like the earth itself, our creative energy needs time to rest and lie fallow, while new seeds germinate and begin to grow. And so I accept that the creative spirit will move me when it does, and be ready to receive it when it comes.

While I go through long periods of not even keeping a journal, I also have intense phases of writing thousands of words a day. I no longer judge either of these times as good or bad. I welcome them both for the gifts they bring. If I feel especially in alignment with my sense of purpose when writing, I trust that the times in between are fueling that creativity in essential ways.

Eventually, the little seeds inside me go in search of light. I am filled with ideas and inspiration, and move naturally back into a rhythm that includes space for me to work alone.

And slowly, I find myself surrounded by handmade things. Slowly, I find new stories coming to life, new ideas that want to be manifested. I find myself in the midst of a beautiful and surprising renaissance, where every act is a creative act.

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To read my simple technique for making time to be creative, you’ll have to get Nurturing Creativity. Which I assure you has much, much more to offer than my little bit of advice.

To see a little of my poetry in action, leave a comment in this giveaway for a new poetry anthology I am included in.

And do tell me, how has the confluence of creativity and motherhood shaped your life and work?

Springtime in the Soul

When I first began to embrace the seasonal celebrations embodied in Waldorf festivals, I was a very ambitious little mama. Armed with my copy of All Year Round and a host of inspiring blogs, I dreamed of making every wonderful project I got wind of. I wanted to do all the crafts and projects at once, to sit down and industriously—but peacefully! Don’t forget the peaceful part—whip out what I felt were the requisite adornments for whatever season we happened to be in.

If it was spring, well, that meant a bevy of flower fairies, wheat grass growing in a basket, eggs died with baths of cabbage and beets and onion skins. Spring meant knitted bunnies, paper windmills and kites, crowns with streaming ribbons in pastel colors, and bright new dresses to sew.

In addition to all this stuff to do there was the songs and fingerplays I wanted to learn, new recipes to try out, Easter and may-day parties to host or attend, and birthday presents to make. Oh, and garden beds to prepare for planting and seeds to start. It all seemed so good, so beautiful and fanciful. With so many possibilities laid out before me I felt compelled, nay, driven, to give it my all.

We live in a world so concerned with productivity and material achievement that it is easy to give myself over to how important and urgent all this feels.

Indeed, all of these things on my to-do list are well and good. Each has its place in bringing beauty and richness to life, to the slowly unfolding days. But to really feel the season moving in my soul, I have to slow way down. Almost to a stop.

When I release myself from that expectation of constant doing, I am able to connect more fully with the inner gesture of the season. From that stillness, I have found that the impulse we all have towards celebration and creativity comes bubbling up naturally enough. Things will get done. Not every thing, but the right things.

And so I’ve learned to chuck the springtime to-do list. Indeed, the natural world is busily taking care of the details—providing the perfect back drop of returning bird song, flowers poking up from the snow, rain bringing thaw and trees bursting into bloom. My dear friend scoffs at the idea of dying eggs. “Our goose just started laying again,” she says. “What could be more magical than that?”

Don’t get me wrong—we will be dying a few eggs. You bet we’ve got a nature table up with a basket of wheat grass and apple branches that refuse to bloom hung with Easter egg ornaments. And this was the year I finally got around to making a flower fairy. These are the small rituals that manifest my inner experience of renewal and beauty. Sometimes they even lead the way, nudging me like any good symbol does, towards the truth that is sometimes unseen.

I am learning, though, that the simpler, the better. That less is so much more. That I can save things for future years. That sometimes, what seems like a lovely idea, is really a big stress. And that my to-do list, no matter how Waldorfy, rushes me through the days, not just of Spring, but this brief season of life with my tiny children. And so I am reminding myself that it’s not simply what I do or make that brings meaning to anything. It is what lives in my heart and fills our days with grace. Attending to that is all I really need to do.

Our very small children are inherently reverent, in awe of the world they have so newly entered, and still connected to the divine place they come from. We can join them in that grace with our presence.

No knitted bunnies required.

Little Love Song to my Firstborn, Now Four.

Little wildflower blooming in the desert. Little drop of honey. Little chickadee singing in the lilac. Little egg still warm in the hand. Little strawberry with cream. Little smiling moon. Little dawn light on the mountain. Little arms around my neck. Little first rain of the year.

Little one, watching you grow into yourself is like watching a flower open, and open, and open again. Each petal unfurling brings us closer to the grace that is our lives, that spiral of love with no beginning and no end. Oh little sweet, how big you really are.

Happy birthday, my heart.

May all good things be yours.

March 11~Head, Heart, and Hands

Thinking:: a great deal about the new cooperative garden being created at the place where we already belong to a goat milking and chicken co-op. I am so excited that I’ve been making excel spreadsheets of seed starting calendars and a rotation for succession planting. As I plan the garden on paper, I am reminded of how other big dreams need to begin with a long gestation and a fair amount of thought. It’s happening in my journal, during conversations on the phone, at power lunches with other mamas with grand visions. Time alone will tell how much of this will flower and what the harvest might be.

Feeling:: full of love for a dear friend who passed away after a life filled with beauty and heart and hope. It is amazing how grief and gratitude can be two sides of the same coin. Feeling grateful for the drip drip of a recent snow melting into our rain barrels, and the hose channeling runoff  to the fruit trees. Feeling happy to be recovered from a day of flu, and also happy to have had a day of rest in which all I did was look deliriously at my children with delight and amazement. Feeling like it’s fine to accept the controlled mess that fills our home. It is a sign of life and joy and creativity. That we live here.

Doing:: deep cleaning, gathering with friends, visiting our favorite wetlands, singing spring songs, planning a birthday party, swapping meals, washing spring greens, and as ever, trying not to do too much of anything at all.

What are your head, heart, and hands up to? Please do tell!

Head, Heart, and Hands

Thinking about creativity, the mother’s journey, and the deep need each of us has for a sense of purpose. I’ve been really enjoying the audio interviews at the MAPP gathering that speak so wholeheartedly to this.

Feeling the rising energy of spring. Warm days and a little moisture make me wonder if it’s time to plant. Too early yet for the garden, so I turn my attention inwards. What is it in me that wants to be nurtured into being? Okay, is that too hokey? How about this: I’m feeling really satisfied by the time alone I nabbed to get some ideas manifested. The sap is running, friends.

Doing the usual: walks on the ridge and along the river, keeping house, tending children, writing in the quiet space of naptime. Also, neglecting my spring house cleaning to give some long overdue love to Old Recipe, and experiencing a bit of awe for all the things I’ve written here, all the people I have connected with through this space, and the way this journal is a record of my need to live mindfully and from the heart.

Grateful for all of you who join me here, for friends that inspire and motivate (especially you, Erin, for letting me copycat your beautiful Seeds and Stones), for my ability to both surrender and strive, for the full water tanks that are nurturing our garden, for the borrowed computer (thanks, ma!) that allowed me to spruce up this here Recipe Book in hours instead of days, for the snowpack in our mountains, for my family, for my life.

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If you are reading this as an email, do come see the changes. And I’d love to hear from you: Which of my categories represents best to you what Old Recipe is about, so I can order the list more meaningfully. You can read descriptions of each here.

Ski Date Love Song

Sometimes, the snow comes.

And the kids are sick.

And Grandma and Grandpa want to be with them.

Sometimes we are let loose, my love and I.

The land shimmers in it’s snow blanket, fresh and airy.

Shifting clouds, filtered light.

Everything is gliding motion.

Forest and snow.

Well worn trail, well-known love.

Skis and you.

Gliding along we go.

Waldorf 101: Notes from Parent Night

Here are some impressions and notes from a parent night at  Cora’s preschool this month. Yes, I’m the dork that takes notes at parent night. What can I say, I’ve been studying Waldorf early years stuff so intensely on my own, and finding such wisdom and inspiration in it, and also so much to be baffled by, that it is a huge relief to just sit back and have someone (our dear, wise teacher) who has been doing it for years give the straight dope. It went something like this:

In early childhood, two pairs of things are most important for educating the child.

The first pair is Rhythm and Repetition. These are the primary tools for teaching children under seven. I love to think of rhythm as pattern. The repeated rituals and acts of daily life that connect us to ourselves and the larger world.

The second pair is Imagination and Imitation. Healthy play springs from what children have seen and experienced, the impressions they take in from the world around them.

Our work as parents is to be worthy of this imitation, to be the best role models we can be. This is where parenting becomes a spiritual act, as we tend to our inner self in order to embody beauty, goodness, and truth. We can do this in part through our own self-education, by asking ourselves what we are doing to grow alongside our child. I can honestly say that I got hooked on Waldorf the moment I realized the extent to which it hinged on my own inner work.

The gestures of gratitude and thankfulness are the well from which all of this—rhythm, imitation, imagination—springs. The virtue of gratitude is instilled in the first 7 years of life, and lays the foundation for the later development of love and duty. Our expressions of gratitude in daily life at home are deeply nurturing to our young children. And ourselves.

That’s the gist of it, folks. Short, sweet, simple. And kind of deep, if you think about it.

I think whether you are into Waldorf or not, there’s a good chance this will seem like common sense. It’s kind of natural and intuitive for us to strive towards this in our mothering, isn’t it?

One Year Later: Remembering Birth

One year ago, around today, I was getting ready to have my second baby. Oh, I’d been waiting and waiting and waiting. Wanting that birth to come more than anything. And you know what? It just wasn’t coming.

My due date came and went. Then two more weeks passed by. I did everything I knew how, but my cervix was unbudging.

Acupuncture three times a week and hardly even a braxton hicks. In New Mexico, 42 weeks is as far as you can go and still have a homebirth. Oh, how I wanted a homebirth. Specifically, a homebirth after cesarean. Oh, how I grieved when I had to let go of that. And oh, how scared I was that another hospital birth would mean another cesarean.

My midwife called our local hospital and was told they wouldn’t induce me for a VBAC. It would pretty much be an automatic cesarean. So she called this Doc in Albuquerque who is known for delivering breech babies and other old school things. He said come on down. I was so happy for the glimmer of hope he offered. And so scared. Could I really be going to be induced again? The same procedure that had ended so disastrously last time?

 My dear friend had wise words for me then, about how this was not the same road leading to the same place I’d already been. She said, sometimes life gives us experiences that are remarkably like things we have been challenged by before, only we get to meet them with fresh wisdom and strength. I began to see this journey as one of healing as well as a birth. Whatever lay before me, I would rise to meet it as a love warrior, with an open and courageous heart.

Nevertheless, I whined to the doc, “My cervix is unpoenable!” He looked like a scruffy gnome with his long hair and beard and Navajo bolo. He was unphased. “It might take a few days, but I see no  hurry,” he said. And that was when I knew we were going to be okay (I wasn’t paying attention to the three days part).

It helped me to see myself not as a victim of pitocin, having an especially painful labor due to pharmaceutical augmentation. Instead, I just reminded myself I was in labor. This was my labor. Mine. And nobody said labor was easy (okay, maybe those hypnobirthing people do, but I wasn’t there for easy, I was there to have a baby!).

I stood swaying on my feet, leaning against a hospital table, moaning like a howler monkey. For oh, about 18 hours. Doctor checked me and said “Great news! You’re 3 cm!” And I did celebrate, just a little. After all, my cervix had never been 3 cm open before! But then I started doing labor math and figured out I had about 40 more hours to go, and began planning my epidural. But hey, if you can get through the first three years of motherhood without tv, then surely you can get through a 26 hour labor without an epidural, right? Not to be blithe about it, though, because I surely did scream for it after they broke my water and things got a-rolling for real.

My husband shooed away the anesthesiologist, pulled me back onto my feet, and we got down to the real work of having a baby. It was at that moment the tide shifted and I knew I was going to have this baby naturally, right there on my two feet. And I was so glad that hypnobirthing never worked for me because this was amazing. And harder than shit. I don’t like to curse, but it’s true. Birth is so hard and so so good.

The nurses kept telling me “You’re having your baby!” And I was like, oh, so that’s what’s happening. Because it just doesn’t seem possible that anyone could feel like that and survive. And to think every person ever to live on this planet was brought into the world in some way resembling this–it just boggles the mind. It felt amazing to be a part of all that. I was having my baby!

Things were cruising now. We were in, swept away and carried by the birth. Through transition, my body pushing of its own accord.

Doc asked, could a few med students come in and watch; they’d never seen a natural birth. Ha, this was not the candle lit water birth I’d dreamed of–this was better. It was my birth! Let them come in, I said. Let the whole world witness my might! My husband held me in a supported squat. The doctor knelt on the floor and delivered her onto blankets.

And so Maida was born.

 My child, bringing you into the world was the first gift you gave me.
My heart is full with you!

Finding Grace, Going Slow

Simple days, as ever.

Re-reading Mitten Strings for God and Simplicity Parenting.

These books just make me feel so good when I choose to forgo the many holiday activities going on, to not go overboard with the homemade gift thing, to not stay up till 3 am making an Advent calendar, to not go to the Holiday Faire, and all the many other things I Just Say No to.

Because that means there is so much left to say Yes to.

Yes to having time. Yes to being with my children, unhurried and unstressed.

Yes to walks in the snow.

Yes to letting things grow in their own way–our traditions as a young family, the beauty and meaning we find in celebrating the seasons and their festivals in the simplest ways.

Yes to creating out of inspiration and because the spirit fills us, not a sense of obligation.

~

 Of all the things I might think up to do, it’s what I feel, the richness within, that is most meaningful.

Things take on a depth and richness when I have time to enter them more fully.

There is a space for creativity to blossom, and to be received in a way that bears fruit.

For me, Advent is a time of quiet, and of making.

Keeping the computer off at night, sitting and entering the deeply creative space of crafting gifts. It reminds me of the girls in their play–intent, absorbed, and ultimately being nourished on the soul level. Finding meaning in our work of play and life.

This is grace.

Oh, there is so much to be grateful for!

Take care, friends. Wishing you slow days and nights, quiet joy, and the peace of stillness. What are you saying no–and yes–to these days?

::

PS Along these lines I was recently inspired by this post on Advent from Renee, and this one on Finding Time from Heather.

Days of Wonder

The glorious days of Autumn have been full in their simple way.

What do you say when old friends ask what you are up to and all you can think of is laundry and roasted chickens and the new bonnet you started knitting, and somehow, it just doesn’t seem like it will translate? I haven’t tried this yet, but next time I might simply say something like “Oh, just keeping the rhythm,” letting the unspoken “of the universe intact” part be merely implied.

To you I can also add that I’ve been occupied with finding balance in this complicated world, returning again and again to center in the midst of plentiful distraction. Finding gratitude for the great struggles I go through in my ongoing “birth pangs” of motherhood. Just as our children experience tension and disequilibrium in their growth, I’ve learned to see my own hard times as a catalyst for wonderful growth. (Thanks to posts like this one at The Parenting Passageway for bringing me back to myself once again!)

Sewing real jersey woolens and making recycled “sweater pants” is a fine way to stretch my fledgling skills as a seamstress. Thanks to Mama Ash Grove for the inspiration. Also, amazingly, I’ve just found my way back to writing after a long rest. I had to completely let go of my expectations of myself, of the half written novel draft started years ago, of the ordinary moments not celebrated in insightful poems. I trusted that for the time being, my creative work was in the mothering, the homemaking, the singing and cooking and knitting and yes, my journal and this blog a bit. I let go of my identity as a “Writer” and embraced my life as a mother and it was a great relief, a weight lifted from my shoulders. Happily, the two are once again converging as I spend all my quiet moments of late pouring out stories of our days, turning them into something artful that feels soulful and satisfying. Another reminder of the importance of how the fallow times inevitably give way to new growth and fecundity. 

See. Everything ripens in it’s time.In the meantime, I’m really working to bring the last light of the season with its brightly glowing trees inside. To light my inner fire, to blaze the spiritual fire that will carry us into the “season of light” coming round Solstice time. And yes, I’ll be singing and cooking and tending my girls as best I can. Learning just how the waist band on long underwear should be shaped, maybe getting a few lines down on paper now and then, learning (again) to say no to too much “fun” away from home, and hopefully putting the garden to bed with a few thick layers of compost and manure and mulch and a planting of winter rye .

In other words, just keeping the rhythm of the universe intact.

As are you, my friends!