Three pieces of advice from Amanda Wright of Wit and Whistle

Recently, I had the pleasure of visiting with Amanda Wright of Wit and Whistle, where she creates “pretty funny paper goods” and enamel pins.  Her work is just my style and is completely awesome!

We had a great interview regarding her roles as artist and mother to her 14 month old daughter.  The whole interview was great, which you can read in the book.  Here are a few key pieces of advice that I picked up on from her.

1.  When asked if having a child has changed her work.  She said:

I don’t think it has changed my work itself yet, but it has given me a sense of urgency when I’m creating. I try not to waste a single moment that I get to work. I know I’m a lot more efficient than I was pre-children.
I hear that!  I think it’s completely possible to have a set time to create, instead of waiting around the muse to come and visit.  Busy moms can’t wait for the muse.  We have to make the time for the muse.  I only have a few hours during weekday afternoon to work–creative work, not housework or mom work :).  Sometimes, if an idea hits me during a non-creative work time, I’ll jot down a note to I can visit it later.  I truly don’t believe in waiting around for creativity to strike.  It’s a lifestyle.  I’m constantly thinking and coming up with ideas and then I work on them as soon as I get the chance.
2.  When I asked her if she ever had to say no to a project because of her duties as a mother.  She said:
So far I haven’t had to pass up any projects, but it does take me a lot longer to complete my projects since work time is limited. Caring for my daughter is my top priority, but I’m being very intentional about making my work a priority too. I’ve worked hard to build my business, and it’s important to me that it continues to thrive.  I want to set an example for my daughter as I follow my dreams and build my career and family, too.
I think it’s so vitally important to set good examples for our children.  They pick up on every single thing they see us do and say.  I think a mom running a successful business from home sets an awesome example!
When I asked her what advice she had to pass along to other creative mothers, she said:
Sleep when the baby sleeps is a total fallacy—I say create when the baby sleeps!
It’s true.  Maybe not in the first few months of motherhood, when you are still trying to figure out which way is up.  But, when the world starts to make sense again, definitely.
Thank you so much to Amanda for the inspiring interview.  And, if you want more inspiration or a laugh or smile, visit her website or her Etsy shop.

I’m guilty too

I promised yesterday that some amazing interviews were coming soon.  And, it’s true.  I just got the pleasure of interviewing Kaylie Wallace of Mulberry Market Designs.  See her Etsy shop here and her website here.

Kaylie is the mother of two, who took leftover décor from her DIY backyard wedding back in 2012 and turned it into a successful business.  She was able to quit her corporate job after three months, and he husband joined their business full-time after one year.  How wonderful!  I love hearing stories about successful businesses just like this one.

Kaylie provided so much inspiration during our interview, and she also said something that really resonated with me.  When I asked her if she had any regrets as far as how motherhood and her creative work intersect, this is what she had to say:

The only regret I feel often is not disconnecting when I should. I love to play with my children and make time for them each day. Sometimes I find my mind drifting about work, or even checking things often on my phone. I would like to get better about shutting things off and being in the present when I am with them. 

Yep, I’m guilty of that too.  Sometimes I notice my mind wandering off when I’m playing something quiet with my kids, like building with blocks.  I’ll find myself thinking, “Oh, I need to change out the laundry” or “I need to reply to that email.”  I, too, need to disconnect and enjoy the moment.

Thank you, Kaylie, for that great reminder.  And, thank you for an awesome interview.  I look forward to sharing more from Kaylie’s interview in the book.

One things leads to another

A few days ago I contacted Devon Leger.  He is the founder of Hearth Music, which is the PR firm that represents Dori Freeman.  I contacted Mr. Leger in hopes of securing an interview with Ms. Freeman for the book.  I was introduced to her through this article, and I thought she’d be a great fit for my project.  Mr. Leger said he would forward my request on to her and her manager.  Great!  That’s really all I could ask for.  But, there’s more…

He sent me another email pretty quickly after the first telling me about his wife.  He thought I might be interested in interviewing her as well.  According to Leger, “She runs all of our graphic design, does poster and album art, does paper cuts and linocuts, performs French-Canadian music as a musician, runs a blog on Nordic culture in the Pacific Northwest, travels to festivals, and does these really cool old art performance pieces called ‘crankies’ (old-timey story scrolls). She’s one of the leaders in the crankie movement right now. All this with two daughters.”  Yes, I think she might be an excellent candidate for an interview for the book!

Also, here’s a link about Dejah and crankies.  I had never even heard of them before, but the entire video is very interesting.  I CANNOT wait to visit with Dejah!

Meagan Schultz brings people together

Recently I had the pleasure of speaking with Meagan Schultz.  You can read my previous posts about Meagan here and here.  She has so many great projects in the works and had lots of great things to share with me.  One of Meagan’s projects is hosting her retreats.  When I asked her about them, this is what she had to say:

I love bringing people together, and especially women. I love creating connections
between people and helping other people realize that they can do great things. These
things don’t have to be big or grand, great things can be small too. I suppose it’s my
way of leaving the world a better place. I believe people WANT to do good in this world, but don’t often know where to start. I hope my retreats can be a stepping stone. I also think the more we know each other, the more we understand each other. I have this theory that you can trace every single problem in the world back to a lack of connection somewhere, somehow, or with someone. I honestly believe that.
I’m a big fan of support systems and connections, and I think they are so vitally important to creative work.  Here are some thoughts from Brian Eno on what he calls “scenius.” Here’s a post from Austin Kleon on the topic.
I’ve discovered the hard way that a creatively connected group of like minded individuals doesn’t just happen.  You have to look for it or create it, and it’s not easy.  But, it is important.  Who wouldn’t love a creative group of people to bounce ideas off of?  I would, and I bet you would too.  Sometimes (most of the time… always…) we need someone in our creative corner to encourage us and remind us how awesome we are.
My advice to you is to get yourself out there and make some connections.  Attend a workshop or a retreat or conference.  Join a book club or a writing group.  And just know that there are others out there just like you who are looking to be a part of a scenius.
Many thanks to Meagan Schultz for a great interview.  I look forward to sharing more from her in my book.  In the meantime, please check out her website www.meaganschultz.com.

Portrait of the Artist as a Young Mother by Holly Arsenault

Portrait of the Artist as a Young Mother

Lots of artists have kids. But our popular concepts of what makes a good parent and what makes a good artist are at odds. We talk about a supposed tension between two competing identities, as if being a parent and being an artist are antipodes. Artists are supposed to be selfish, mercurial, drunk and, ideally, at least a little bit crazy. Parents are supposed to be selfless, reliable, sober and sane. One might hope to balance these two opposing selves, but never combine them.

Even if these stereotypes don’t reflect anyone’s reality, they fuel a powerful, if unspoken, perception: You can’t be both a good artist and a good parent. Because if you’re truly devoted to your art, how can there be space for familial devotion? And vice versa?

One particularly dumb essay on this topic, written by Lauren Sandler and published in The Atlantic last year, buys fully into the construct of dueling identities. It concludes that a successful writer may have one—but only one—child, without ceding too much of her artist self to the invading horde of motherhood. In a bald display of selective data gathering, the author cites Susan Sontag, Alice Walker, Margaret Atwood and Joan Didion—all parents of only children—as proof of her theory, conveniently omitting the legion of successful writers with multiple children, like Zadie Smith (who shot back a terrific rebuttal in the comments on the piece), Toni Morrison and Charles Dickens. (He had 10 kids, and, as Smith pointed out, nobody questioned whether his fatherliness diminished his writerliness…but that’s a topic for another essay.)

When people ask me about how I manage playwriting and parenting, they usually focus on the seeming logistical and financial impossibility of it, but that’s not really the mystery, is it? Lots of people work multiple, low-paying jobs in order to help support their families, as I do. That one of mine happens to be writing plays doesn’t distinguish it much from all the other kinds of work that parents do around the edges to make ends meet. Though it should be acknowledged that my ability to pursue something as time-intensive yet minimally compensated as playwriting and still have a kid depends on there being a second, wage-earning parent in our household.

I’m not saying it’s not hard. A room of one’s own is a rare commodity in the life of a parent, and for art to happen sometimes compromises are made. I’ll be playing trains with my son or sharing a meal with him, and a character will walk into my head and start talking. And I start listening. Whole scenes compose themselves in my brain while I’m ostensibly parenting. I never wrote seriously before he was born, so maybe this is just how my process works, or maybe it’s a neural adaptation to becoming a mother and a writer simultaneously. I find the time to write by stealing it from my son while I’m supposed to be playing with him. When I finally sit down at the computer after he’s gone to bed, it’s basically transcription.

I came into my identity as both an artist and a parent at the same time, and it wasn’t a coincidence. My artist identity is not subsumed by my mother identity. In fact, being a parent makes being an artist possible for me in a way it never was before my son was born.

This truth revealed itself at 3:45 in the morning, five weeks after I gave birth. I was sitting in the darkened dining room in our quiet house writing my first play. Bleary, sore and leaking, with one ear tuned to the baby monitor, I typed. My compulsion to write was a little sleep deprived and a little sadomasochistic (See! I am a real artist!), but mostly it was fueled by a motivation I’d never known before: the tiny person sleeping upstairs.

Before my son came along, I could always find a “good” reason to defer writing. Like a kid avoiding her homework, the effort I wasted on dodging my inner artist—because I was afraid of what might come out of her—could have produced an epic. Having a child forced me to get my artistic shit together. Because what was I going to say to him? “You should fearlessly pursue your dreams! I have no earthly idea how that’s done, but good luck!” No.

As parents, we’re compelled to try to teach our children what we’ve learned, futile though the effort may be. That happiness and fulfillment require walking toward fear is the hardest-won lesson of my life—a lesson I probably can’t pass on to my child, as much as I’d like to spare him the pain it took for me to get it. But, if I can teach him to embrace fear as a friendly, guiding force, it won’t be through anything I say to him. It will be through the extent to which I am willing to let him see me expose myself, over and over, to the near certainty of humiliation and failure.

My hope is that my son will grow up watching me struggle with my writing privately, fail publicly and, most importantly, continue on. I write for him, not in spite of him.

Holly Arsenault is a playwright and executive director of TeenTix.

More than just motherhood and creativity

When I started this blog, I simply wanted to post about motherhood and creativity and to chronicle the progress of writing a book about how the two intersect.  It was never my intention to post about much of anything else.  But, Dory’s got me thinking again.  (You can read my Dory-inspired post from yesterday here.)

I was thinking about all those things that I listed in that blog post.  Those things that happen in life that truly get in the way of our creativity.  There really is so much more to motherhood and creativity than JUST motherhood and creativity. Since yesterday, I’ve been thinking about that quick little list I jotted down, and I began to reflect on those things in my own life–those “Just Keep Swimming” moments.

I’ve realized I really have come quite a long way.  While I don’t claim to have it all figured out, I do have a few ideas that I’d like to share with you that might just help you reclaim some time, energy or sanity in your life so you can have more of those things to spend on your creative passion.

Over the next week or so, I’ll be posting a series of blog posts about some of those life things that can hinder our creativity and the solutions that have worked for me.  I look forward to sharing my “infinity wisdom” with you!

Need time to work on your creative project? Start a babysitting co-op!

I recently spoke to a mom who talked to me about making the transition from her full-time, outside-of-the-home job to working from home after her baby was born.  She’s a writer and editor.  She wanted to be able to work from home and raise her daughter, so full-time day care was not an option.  But, she still needed some time to work on her assignments and attend occasional meetings.  So, she started a babysitting co-op.

I’ve heard of them before, and I’ve always thought them to be a wonderful idea.  What mom doesn’t have the occasional “thing” (dentist appointment, doctor’s appointment, parent/teacher conference, etc.) come up that would just be easier if the little kids could stay behind?  Or, who doesn’t need a few hours here and there to work on that passion project?  I think a babysitting co-op could be the answer.

There is lots of info online about there, but here’s what I found at babycenter.com.

What’s a babysitting co-op?

The official definition of a co-op is an enterprise or institution owned and operated by the people who use its services. In practice, of course, babysitting co-ops are much more casual: Basically, a bunch of parents get together and agree to take turns watching each other’s children.

Many local moms’ clubs or other parenting groups have a babysitting co-op, so consider joining such a group if one exists in your area.

Why do I need one?

The main reason most parents join or start babysitting co-ops is to save money on sitters. It’s a trade instead of a paid service – you get free babysitting in return for providing free babysitting for others. And this can be easier than you think because watching other peoples’ kids is less of a stretch when you’re already home watching your own.

As your children get older, shared babysitting can actually feel more like trading playdates. The children are occupied playing together, which gives you more time to yourself.

More important, joining a co-op assures you that your child will be looked after by the best kind of sitter – another parent you know and trust. You don’t have to worry about hiring a teenager who’s essentially a stranger and might pay scant attention to your kids or do things in your home you don’t entirely approve of.

“The best thing about the co-op, besides not having to pay, is that our kids know each other and play together,” says Marie desJardins, a mother of two in Menlo Park, California. “So in some ways, it’s actually better than having a babysitter come over because it’s a treat for the kids to get to visit a friend’s house. Plus, we know that these are experienced parents, and over time, the parents have become close friends too.”

How do I set one up?

Take the initiative. Talk to other parents in your neighborhood and see whether they like the idea. If you’re new to the area, or just haven’t met many parents, consider posting fliers at a local gathering spot – the corner cafe, the gym, the baby products store down the street, or check online for a parenting group in your area.

Marie desJardins started her co-op after reading an article on the subject in a newsletter for stay-at-home moms. Shortly after, she placed an ad in her daycare newsletter asking interested parents to give her a call. Several of them did. The result? The group established a three-way trading system.

The participants set up their co-op using a point system. Every hour (or portion thereof) of babysitting time is worth a specific number of points. Parents get paid for babysitting time in poker chips, which represent these points.

For example, a half hour of sitting can be exchanged for a white chip, an hour exchanged for a red chip, and two hours exchanged for a blue chip. When members accumulate enough chips to “pay” for an upcoming outing, they ask another member to babysit.

“The thing about setting up the chip system is that when you run out of earned time, you have an incentive to babysit for the other parents in the co-op,” says desJardins, “which means that everybody ends up going out on a fairly regular basis.”

Of course, you can also use a much more informal system in which you simply keep track of the number of hours each member babysits and consider that the same number of free babysitting hours earned.

Once you’ve found a few willing participants, think about setting up some guidelines. Some issues to consider:

  • Compensation. Do you want to use a time-reward system like desJardins’s chip method? Or would you prefer that parents simply keep track of their time? Some groups even arrange things so parents get paid for their time, then use that money in turn to pay other parents for the service.
  • Pricing. How will you determine the value of babysitting hours? For instance, will households with more than one child pay a higher rate than single-child households? Will co-op members earn extra credits for sitting on holidays?
  • Scheduling. One approach is to set up a group email list and send out weekly schedule updates to make sure everyone knows what’s happening. Some co-ops find it’s best to ask one person to keep track of scheduling. The job can either rotate monthly or be held by someone who is compensated for her time with extra hours of babysitting.
  • Ground rules. Do you want to set rules about how far in advance a co-op member must schedule or cancel a babysitting appointment? And how far in the hole can a family get before they have to start returning babysitting services?
    Also, what should the policy be if members drop out of the group ­ should they be asked to make up any time “owed” before they leave? And will new members need to have a sponsor in the group in order to join the co-op, or can anyone join?

After you iron out the details, distribute a master list that includes each member’s contact information. Make sure to have everyone’s phone numbers, email addresses, and mailing addresses. Note the number of children in each family as well as their names, ages, and emergency contact information.

Websites like Babysitter Exchange and Sitting Around can help you set up and manage a co-op. You can also get some good advice from books like Babysitting Co-Op 101: a Win-Win Childcare Solution, by Samantha Fogg Nielsen and Rachel Tolman Terry, or Smart Mom’s Baby-Sitting Co-Op Handbook: How We Solved the Babysitter Puzzle, by Gary Myers.

Give it a try and let me know how it works out for you.  Just another way moms out there are making it work while staying home to raise their kids.