I have recently become aware of a feeling within me that has been difficult to name or put my finger on. Unconscious of it’s growth, I have come to a point where I can no longer ignore it. Brewing within me uncomfortably, like yeast expanding in a small space, it sits in the background. Present in my days, I cannot shake it from the front or back of my mind. It looms and wants to be acknowledged, though until recently I have not had the words to shape or describe it. It has been affecting my being; my coming and going; my loving and helping; my general joy and peace of heart. ‘Shouty Mummy’ has been increasingly emerging – forget the children, I am currently the nutter in our household.
What, you say, can possibly be there matter? With two beautiful kids, and another on the way; the fittest and finest of husbands; the house; the happy extended family; the wonderful friends… I have it all in many ways. And I do. And I love it. There is nothing the matter, and there is everything the matter.
I recently discovered a book called ‘The Divided Heart: Art & Motherhood’ by Rachel Power (http://rachel-power.blogspot.co.uk) and suddenly it all made sense. Someone had put into words what I was feeling. I am a creative person at heart – a musician. And whilst I have managed to keep little things going alongside being a full time mother, it has been minimal. I teach from home in the evenings, work gigging or doing session work occasionally at the weekends, and do a few hours of Music Therapy every week. I keep my hand in and this headspace open – mainly to help pay the bills, but also because, although I personally feel very strongly about being a full time mother where possible in the early years, that is not all that I am. And it is not all that I want my children to know me as.
However, as musical as this work is, it is not creative. It is not an output for self expression. Before having children I used to spend hours writing or recording in studios, or at fellow writers homes, or in my own solitude. I would spend eons of time pouring over the details of lyrics, re-recording lines over and over again, rehearsing with musicians at anytime of the day and night until things sounded perfect. I was unaware of the precious nature of those minutes that I took for granted. And not just the minutes, but the freedom to do that at any time I so desired – to drop everything and wander through commentaries and thesauruses looking for that glimmer of the perfect lyric. To chew over; journey; ponder; wade through the depths of my soul in pursuit of my craft. To nurture, sculpt, and chip away at a song until it’s shape suddenly emerged from the stone and resonated with my eye and heart.
To feel something and express it.
Let the songbird fly.
To be myself is to make.
Not necessarily for a purpose but because it starts to hurt if I cannot let it out.
And so I find myself in this dilemma. Living in the tension between the beautiful call of motherhood, and the intrinsic call to create music. For who can really justify spending two hours writing a song when the dirty pots and pans cover the surfaces; when the laundry piles high and never seems to make it up the stairs; when the hungry little mouths call to be fed; and the grainy floors crunch under my feet like walking on the bottom of a toaster. The creation of a new song into the ether does not bring more money into the purse. It does not save lives or change the world. It does not change nappies or enable the cooking of dinner. And yet I need it. And crave it. I feel like my right hand is missing without it. And perhaps, it does somehow save me. Not just the creation but the expression. For what is an artist if not just a maker, but a public expresser of their art form? Writing only for the pleasure and viewing of the drawers that contain my journals is still creative but somehow lacks fullness if not fully released and heard by other ears – it’s journey is somehow not completed… like a grown up child who never leaves its mother.
I have learnt to adapt my writing for this new season. Song ideas are hastily jotted down on paper amidst the battleground of cooking dinner with children attached to my legs. I record snippets on my phone either in snatched moments whilst children sleep; or to the accompaniment of screaming, demanding voices, and shared instrument participation from tiny hands. I am pleased by this. It is something (although my recordings could not be understood by others).
When little heads hit their pillows I try to force my eyes to stay open and push through the tiredness of body and mind to write something. Anything. But to find the flow is hard. I have learnt to create in a stilted, jilted, unrelentingly jagged sort of a way. Gone are the days of finding momentum in a thought and running with it; of getting lost for hours in the resonant, all encompassing chords of a piano. I learn to snap myself out of the creative dreamland and push myself into the reality of the need of that mothering moment. To stash little ideas away – collecting them like shards of shiny, broken glass until at some point I can open the box and have time to put them all together. My pace is slower, my frustration higher. But it is something at least.
I have memories of breastfeeding my four month old daughter backstage in the dark before flinging her into the arms of a waiting grandparent and launching myself onto stage. I have found an ability to, somewhat jarringly, shift myself between these extremes. It seems pointless at times to put myself through this just for an art form. But surely the call is not give up what has always been the gift? I cannot just give up and let it walk away, even though the network of musicians I have worked with seems to ever walk further and further away from me. The gap increases. Their journey and ascent goes on to ever dizzying heights. I plod. And with my fingernails scrape together a creative offering that seems so small. And yet I am aware that motherhood has distilled it down. There is a focus and a fragrance to it that was lacking previously. An urgency and purity of form that is new. And surely this must be good? The loneliness and isolation of motherhood is my filter. I cannot now do everything, and so I now do only what I absolutely must. Only the finest work gets through the net. I catch it and treasure it. But is it enough?
Motherhood, like some huge sieve, drains me, but amongst the residue there is something of the best of me found too. Can I continue to live like this? Ever swinging from the demands of motherhood and into the guilty arms of the creative space. I have no choice but to try. To eek out the best creative life I possibly can, whilst ever working out how to be the ‘goodenough’ mother that Winnicott describes.
And who knows if I will ever be the ‘goodenough’ musician?
For what does ‘good’ mean anyway?
I must be more intentional. More expressive. More proactive. Be gone with the resenting of the sacrifice and figure out this new battleground. Surely it is possible to be and do both? To walk the tightrope of tension between motherhood and creativity? Guilt surround the two for many different reasons, but I cannot suffocate under the weight, responsibility and rigours of motherhood. I am a better mother when both parts of my life are expressed.
The practicalities of this overwhelm… but I shall keep trying. Keep dialoguing. Keep yearning. Keep crafting… solitude or no solitude. And I shall buy myself a piano. And write my clunky, not-quite-masterpieces as the kids run their cars up and down the ivory keys.
Click on ‘Menu’ to listen on the Media Player to the live acoustic recording of ‘Living in the Tension’ .