To be truly creative in the midst of crisis is something only a few can do. War poets, Picasso, Dylan Thomas: quite a few men that's for sure.
What difference does it make, I have been wondering, if the crisis is 'domestic'? What if you are, like most mums, responsible for the well-being of others? What if you're not? What even constitutes a crisis? What about months or years of just sheer hard emotional work? Does crisis inspire creativity for some and not others?
When my first child was born I was only eighteen months out of art college and considered myself an artist. I had probably thought that I'd be there, creating art in the middle of the nappies and bottles and happy baby muddle, a bit like I imagine Barbara Hepworth with her triplets, sculpting away while the littlies played in the woodshavings.
But that didn't happen. Our children were notoriously hard work: while others slept through the night or played peacefully with perfect skin, happy tummies and hardly a whimper, ours grew huge and heavy, needed constant entertainment, wouldn't sleep and were prone to eczema and ear infections. All thoughts of paint, paper or thread got shoved to the bottom of the nappy drawer. Other mums manage it, I know. I see you doing it all the time on your beautiful blogs. But I couldn't, and still can't.
You see, I found that I just couldn't separate out my various parts. When I am being creative and am absorbed in a project I get totally immersed, and snap savagely when required to stop, like a wolf interrupted eating its prey. When you have tinies to look after, you simply can't allow that to happen. So, I starved myself of art. I didn't even visit a gallery or a degree show or read an art book. I didn't dare to be tempted by inspiration. I found I could only really do one big thing at once.
Of course, on a day-to-day level we do hundreds of things at once: as mums and partners and friends and daughters and workers we stoically keep those balls up in the air, and some days they even start to make quite a nice display up there. But when it comes to real pen-and-ink, thread-and-needle, brush-and-paint creativity, as soon as something starts to gnaw at my emotions, or I am full of worry or tiredness or stress or even sometimes excitement, I simply cannot create. Even the thought of it panics me.
What I can do is maintain a sort of simple conversation with the creative world: photographing, gardening, cooking, looking, doing crochet, threading beads, sorting through fabric, arranging things. I can even manage quite intense bursts of energy at something I am already quite good at, like doing the tea and cake last weekend. But when my emotions and energy are already all used up, I find that original thought and visual inspiration trickles away to virtually nothing. It's very frustrating, and I sometimes think that if there was a way to burst through the bubble, the creative process in itself would start to turn the circle and create an energy itself. This is something I long to be able to work out how to do.
So this, of course, is how I'm feeling at the moment. Worn out with all the emotion involved in mothering, grandmothering and wifing. It's ok. We all get a bit of a pile-up from time to time, and it will pass. But I'm missing the making, the mess and the flow of ideas. It seems like a long time waiting for its return.
Do you ever feel like this? What do you do to balance things out at these times? Is it even possible? I'd love to know your thoughts.
All the photographs were taken two years ago in the beautiful walled garden at Croft Castle in Herefordshire. We spent the first part of our honeymoon here, before we got flooded out... Do you see the mistletoe growing on the apple tree? This was the first time I'd seen this and I thought it was beautiful.