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.

::

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?

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9 thoughts on “Confluence: On Creativity and Motherhood

  1. Wonderful to read Kyce – I’ll have to check out that ebook. Spirit sent me a little poem yesterday morning – such a great way to start the day 🙂 Ella saw me writing furiously in a notebook and asked what I was doing. When I said, Writing a poem, she wanted me to read it to her, and then wanted to illustrate it for me. Such sweetness.

  2. Lovely. This is a beautiful philosophy. I definitely feel that motherhood has brought to the surface my creativity, which I had never before given the time or attention it needed. In fact, I didn’t take it seriously. Only after many (almost 11!) years of mothering, have I become comfortable enough to see myself as a creative person, to call myself a “writer” and nurture and tend that part of me. I think once you have children, you can be so easily overcome by just day-to-day survival that other sides of yourself are in danger of being buried forever. But for me, I found that I need to create–whether it is to paint a set of toddler chairs or sew or knit or (especially write)–in order to stay sane and happy.

    • It’s so interesting to me all the parts of ourselves we discover after we have children and have spent many years with them. The act of mothering and our children teach us so much about who we are and how we want to live. It’s such a balance between getting buried and flowering to our full potential. Both can happen in the same dirt pile.

  3. This is so resonant, Kyce. Despite the success of feminist movements, our culture still undervalues women’s work, be that inside or outside of the home. Because we are embedded in this culture, it is hard not to internalize and start to believe these ideas ourselves! When we honor the creativity inherent in homemaking and motherhood, we resist these notions and reclaim our power. Thank you for reminding me that my creative practice does not have to ‘look’ a certain way. It is up to me to define and value all that I do as a mother and a woman.

    • Indeed. Really, almost any word to do with identity and purpose could be used for “creativity.” I think homemaking actually brings us closer to many things that our culture neglects the care of–things like connecting spirituality with daily life, nurturing the values we want to see in the world by tending them at home, doing the radical householder thing, etc. This is why I can’t quite swallow the feminist critique of stay at home mothers. I feel far more liberated as a woman and human being since I’ve left my old ideas about work behind (which isn’t to say I won’t work again).

  4. thank you for sharing these wise words, kyce. i can identify with much of what you’ve written. i was working on my thesis for my MFA in children’s literature when i became pregnant with my daughter and finished the thesis and graduated just a month before she was born, and it was such a sharp transition to go from writing intensely to mothering and not writing at all for a time. my sense of myself as a writer and the goals that i have for myself have vastly changed in the three and a half years since she was born. i do still write, and i have been slowly but surely been publishing, but the fallow times are much longer now for me, and my creativity has branched into many different forms. i agree that mothering is such a creative work, and i have felt so much more compelled to work with my hands since becoming a mother. this work of the hands is not a new thing for me (i casually studied ceramics for many years before deciding to pursue my creative writing MFA) and in many ways feels like coming home. i think that, at least for me, my thoughts of what kind of a writer i should be and how much i should produce are so tied up in masculinist ideas of production and the overvaluation in our culture of work that produces goods for consumption. i think that one of the things that i love about mothering is that it has allowed me to step outside of these modes of production and to instead root myself in the more fertile ground of domestic work–work that is done not for the sake of production, but for the good and the health of the family unit. sewing, learning how to knit, gardening, and radical homemaking are all part of this good, creative work. they allow me to feel so much more human and well rounded. so, while there are times that i think that i write so much less now because i don’t have the time or the energy, mostly, i think that perhaps writing has just taken a more appropriate role in my life–one that is in balance with all of my other creative energies, instead of dominating them for the sake of one intense act of production. i am still trying to figure it all out and still wondering just what role writing will play in my life in the future (i too have some novel drafts that whisper to me at night), but i have decided to trust myself, to believe that things will become more clear with time, and to enjoy this fertile moment for what it is, in all its varied beauty.

  5. I like your words about holding on and letting go, creatively. I am heartened to see that as my kids age, balance shifts for all of us, and that there is more time for me to pursue creativity outside of mothering. The trick is staying patient and present.

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