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Mothering your muse
This issue, we're exploring motherhood as a muse – how it can be a potential boomtime for creativity, a way to see the world in a fresh way, rewire our thinking, and not just be the creative desert we're often led to believe it is.
I share these stories not because I personally have found motherhood to be doorway to a creative awakening (I haven't), but because I want to believe that it can be. I love reading about projects inspired by motherhood because they serve as a reminder to not to write off this period in my life, to try and find pockets of time to do something – anything – just for its own sake, to see what happens.
Because motherhood is a big shift, and as with all change, it brings with it the opportunity to learn, grow and create in a new way.
Let's get stuck in.
The postpartum creative rollercoaster
As Anna Harrison points out in this great piece for Russh, motherhood and creativity can "connect, collude and draw from one another", but so often that's not what we see:
"For an enterprise that builds more resilience, demands more multi-tasking, calls on more inner resources and requires break-speed acquisition of new life skills, motherhood is generally treated by modern society as a kind of handicap, an obstacle to bridge in resuming a full and multifaceted life.
We see a mother’s laboured stride as she pushes a pram up a hill to the grocery store wearing a milk-stained T-shirt and a glazed, sleepless stare and what we see isn’t the force of a hurricane or the grace of a rainbow; in the most unjust of terms, what we see is mediocrity. Life at its most mundane, its most creatively and intellectually impoverished."
And yet for some, motherhood enabled them to dig into the depths and find something creative; take artist Ying Ang. Her beautiful Riso and offset printed handmade book, The Quickening, garnered rave reviews for its honest, yet still evocative and dreamy depictions of early motherhood.
Here's a review by IzabelaRadwanska Zhang for the British Journal of Photography:
“Ang’s depiction of matrescence is layered and complex. Her images blend the gentle and soft, with a strain and rawness that becomes all-consuming. Velvety skin is enveloped in warm, delicate light. But, motifs of that tenderness behind misted glass at once suggest fullness and a claustrophobic repetition. The narrative is textured and sensual; it mirrors the intensity of Ang’s lived experience."
In her essay, writer Emma Pattee doubles down on the idea that "the fog of new motherhood" can be a good time for creativity, asking "what if postpartum is one of the most magical, expansive, creative times of our life?"
"First off, creativity requires novelty, and new motherhood is the definition of a novel experience. Solitude and daydreaming are both key factors in creativity – and regular occurrences in postpartum.
It seems that trauma and creativity might have a relationship because trauma forces our perspectives to shift and our brains to rebuild, and therefore explore new avenues (and no matter how closely your birth matches your birth plan, I would say that birth itself and the identity shock of becoming a mother is the very definition of trauma)."
I love how she flips the traditional expectation – the infamous pram in the hall that scuppers all chance of creativity – and asks that we instead explore the potential of this period in our lives:
"(...) what if postpartum is one of the most magical, expansive, creative times of our life? A time when those of us who have birthing bodies have the ability to touch the birth-death continuum, to take the hormonal rollercoaster and turn it into a piece of art, to create meaning as a way of making sense of what we’ve just experienced. What if that was true? And if it was true, then how might that shift the narrative around mothers who are artists and writers? Instead of ‘Prepare to miss a year of writing,’ how about ‘Prepare to have some of the wildest ideas of your life.’ Instead of ‘For every baby you have, that’s a book you won’t write,’ how about ‘For every baby you have, that’s a new Pulitzer-prize-winning-neural-pathway that might get uncovered.’
Mama as maker
Ang talked about being “confused at the lack of meaningful exploration in literature, art and cinema” that motherhood receives, which is something echoed in this essay by Stephanie Hayes on harnessing the hero narrative of creative motherhood:
“My first thought after giving birth was, “Why aren’t history books filled with birth stories? Where are the epic poems and novels about bringing forth and raising a full human being?” The work is so intense, you cannot flee from it.”
Hayes started a collective with other mother artists, where they challenged each other to make, make, make. Not in spite of motherhood, but because of motherhood.
Every week the project participants submitted a video, photo, or piece of writing on Instagram, inspired by a collective prompt. This was a few years ago, but you can view some of them here (this one made me laugh out loud).
Similarly, artist Lenka Clayton created an artist-in-resident-in-motherhood in response to how closed the professional art world felt to her as a new mother:
"I aim to embrace the fragmented mental focus, exhaustion, nap-length studio time and countless distractions of parenthood as well as the absurd poetry of time spent with young children as my working materials and situation, rather than obstacles to be overcome."
The fruits of her labour include the wryly titled The Distance I Can Be From My Son video series and 63 Objects Taken from my Son's Mouth (above).
Something worth writing about
“The first things that she took from me were selfishness and sleep / She broke a thousand heirlooms I was never meant to keep / She filled my life with color, cancelled plans and trashed my car / But none of that is ever who we are”
Again, Carlile's experiences – as a gay mom who wasn’t the one to carry – are what help create what she describes as a “complicated thing, and a beautiful thing, and something worth writing about and something worth listening to."
Things I read and loved this month
"When I think of the women in 20th-century Ireland who spent their fertile years perpetually pregnant or nursing, I don’t feel inspired; I feel terrified." This 2018 Sally Rooney review of Sheila Heti's Motherhood (which is currently in my reading pile) struck a lot of chords.
“There is a whole world of objects pertaining to women, mothers and pregnant people that have been overlooked from the perspective of form and function, and unstudied in terms of how their designs came to be." I love the sound of Designing Motherhood, a new new book and exhibition series (lots of good stuff on their Insta acc too)
Stumbled across this post on the importance of a margin – in cupboards, in computers and life - and just love how simple and powerful it is.
"The truth is: I don’t want this for my kids. The deeper truth is: I don’t want this for myself, either." Design for Mankind's Erin Loechner putting beautiful, eloquent words to something I've been feeling more and more.
That’s it for this month. If you have any feedback, article recommendations or just want to say hi, I’d love to hear from you.
Thanks for reading, and see you next month,