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?

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.

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!