I am in pursuit. But my goal has changed. Three children in, I am learning that the pursuit of perfection is myth – as useful as worrying about finding a unicorn when you’re in a zoo. The artist-mother that I am getting used to being is learning to accept different aims. To embrace and to appreciate.
I was talking to a dancer-mother friend over well-earned, child-free drinks the other night. Her art form different, but desire the same. She summed it up for me without really realising it: “It’s not so much the stage I long for but the journey of getting to the stage”. Whilst washing up for the fourth time in a day she finds herself suddenly daydreaming of sitting at a lighted mirror putting on makeup for a show; or choreographing a mistaken trip into new dance repertoire. These little moments of flashback, once taken for granted, now so dear. They reflect in each washing-up bubble and together they shine into mundane routines of domesticity.
It is not so much about the finished product, but about the process.
The journey and the working-through, over the glossy end product.
Is that where the artistry really lies?
I was so debilitated in the past by pursuing ‘perfection’ in my art form that I could never really finish anything anyway, because it wouldn’t be ‘good enough’, or ‘right’. So scared of sounding ‘cheesy’; fearful of accepting what my own artistic voice sounded like; crippled by over-modesty and a mistaken sense of humility; over-influenced by others so that what I produced was not fully me. But raising grubby, honest, skinny, crazy-haired little children is teaching me lessons the hard way. ‘Perfect’ is a fools game. If my mothering expectation is perfect children, perfect house, perfect behaviour, perfect nights sleeping, the perfect family turn out, then my journey will be wrought with struggle and my aim goal act as jailer to us all.
There is joy to be found in submitting to the messy process of raising children – not driven by perfectionism, but drawn into it by a love of the moment. Joy in providing for the basic needs not the wants; in accepting that you cannot control what comes; in smiling at the weird clothing chosen that morning; or accepting another soaking wet pair of trousers derived from delirious puddle-jumping. Joy to be found in colouring outside of the lines, covering ones hands in pritt stick, or leaving the tap running for 20 minutes just so the toddler happily dreams as water flows over rosy skin.
Mothering will not be boxed up or submit to a golden standard.
This is helpful.
It forces me to approach my creativity in the same way. Not that quality is not important, but that perfect is not. It does not exist. And so I shall not be ruled by it. Instead I embrace the process that creates the finished product. I shall still aim to be a finisher, but a new kind of finisher. I shall throw myself into the journey and not mind the outcome. Listen to my heart, my beat, my voice, my environment, my good days and bad, my anger and my hope, my times when the music flows and the times when it doesn’t, working not to brief but to what my life is and says. All is equally valid. All is equally a part of my life and thus deserves a showing. This, I know, can feel awkward. Clunky. Not what I thought. But it is real. And I am shaped and improve as I run with what comes out of me.
I do not necessarily like it.
It may feel good today and crap the next.
The process may feel difficult – like wrestling a two year old, who has something of the octopus about her, into tights.
But to discard it is to give up on the gift.
It is to lie.
It is to make sweeping assumptions about what people want to hear.
I am creating something.
I do not need polish right now.
And I do not have the time.
Only the decision to own and accept the awkward, clunky pursuit of creativity in all its forms.
Tomorrow is a new day.
There will be time to shine both shoes and songs.
But right now I pursue the clunk.
It feels appropriate here to just mention a few people who have and are inspiring me in seeking out the pursuit of creativity in the delicate balance of motherhood and artistry; motherhood and other pursuits and gifts. Maybe in the future I shall talk in more detail about each of them (and others). But for now, if you’re interested, my thoughts are supported by places such as:
Studio Mothers. An online community of creative mothers of all sorts. A place to share creative intentions, struggles and everything in between. (Based in the US). https://studiomothers.com
The Rainbow Way: Cultivating Creativity in the Midst of Motherhood. A practical and self-reflective book exploring how to develop your creative potential within the constraints of motherhood. https://www.amazon.co.uk/Rainbow-Way-Cultivating-Creativity-Motherhood/dp/1782790284
The Fruits of Labour: Creativity, Self-Expression and Motherhood. Mother-artists of many different types write about their experience of motherhood and the balancing act it brings, both positively and negatively. https://www.amazon.co.uk/Fruits-Labour-Creativity-motherhood-self-expression/dp/070434629X
The Divided Heart: Art & Motherhood. The author interviews many respected Australian actors, writers and authors on the wrench between motherhood and artistic life. The honesty of the interviews are both funny and very moving in equal measures. https://www.amazon.com/Divided-Heart-Art-Motherhood/dp/1742591256
Sisterhood Camp. A beautiful collective of creative women, who run creative retreats, workshops and suppers for women. Much of their community and work is online and it began by wanting to gather like-minded women to support, encourage and develop one another. http://www.sisterhoodcamp.co.uk
That will do for now. Happy exploring x b