a creative conundrum

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.


Gilly said...

You have had a lot to contend with, both physically and emotionally. You are doing wonders with your photography, showing your creative ability, and with writing. That may not be enough for you, but it brings a very great deal of pleasure to others.

As others take on their own responsibilities, which they will do, your creativity will expand, and your little bubble of mother/grandmother/wifehood will burst. You will still be all these things, but they won't be weighing on you so much.

Trust me, I'm your Mum!

Sue said...

Thank you Mum!

cocoa and blankets said...

I have emailed you Sue, because I realy do understand..love H

sea-blue-sky & abstracts said...

A first visit to your blog and what pleasure to read your 'soothing' commentary. Like the apron you made and the colours of your crochet speak to me. I'm going to follow. Best wishes.

sea-blue-sky & abstracts said...

Oh dear, I can't follow - please visit my blog and comment (if you get time) and then I can click the mousenotebook link to revisit your site.

Is there an easier way to do this?

Sue said...

Lesley (and anybody else having trouble with this) - it is easy to add any blog to your Followers list by simply copying the URL and pasting it into the 'Add Followers' gadget on your dashboard. Hope this helps :-)

Diane said...

Listen to your mum - she's right. I know how you feel. I sometimes feel that Ive spent all my energy, creativity etc on being a mum and wife and that there is nothing left of "Me". I'm 50 this year and I have promised myself that I am going to try and find "Me" again. Your photo's are really beautiful. I loved your previous post - next time, i'd like an invite. The garden, cakes, your pinny all look so lovely.

Jackie said...

Well first of all if that was your garden I'd never have spoken to you again. Second..its in an e mail.

Bobo Bun said...

I think true creative people do ebb and flow in their creativity. I have moments when I am truly immersed and others when I feel no inspiration whatsoever. I have found having a blog focuses some of my thinking, but real family life always takes first place as if creativity is simply a hobby.

Hope my response has made sense Sue. Really you put it so well and I am simply agreeing with you.

Take care of yourself. It will be your time again.


PG said...

It's why I never wanted children - I simply couldn't sacrifice my artistic career and I knew how selfless you have to be as a mother. The thought of not being able to paint or write because of an all night toothache emergency filled me with horror. I've never regretted it, as I pathologically need to work every day and I would have resented not being able to so much I would have been a rubbish mother. Which is why I have nothing but the highest respect for those of you who do manage - to ANY degree - to juggle both.

Pipany said...

What a wonderful mother, both of you. Your own mum speaks from experience and more importantly, with understanding. Talk to her if you don't already. It is an ebb and flow - seemingly endless times of shoving yourself away and brief times of you reappearing, but it does change, though I find the older children fill my mind more with the scarier worries of being an adult than the smaller yet more physical work of the younger. Doing what you do is the answer Sue - write it down, blog it out, photograph it. It all feeds the space you think has gone and will benefit the times when you can create. x

kate fern said...

Dear Sue, I read your post almost with relief. I am the same, I didn't paint for a couple of years after my first son was born. After I had twins I started to write a journal and later poetry because there was no time to paint, but time to jot down a few words.
These days they are at school and I have one day a week child and work free, I try to do a couple of hours of artwork then, but if it's school holidays or someone is sick it doesn't happen.
Being a mum is the hardest job I've done, and sometimes it does stretch us to the limit. Your blog is beautiful and heartfelt, I'm sure there will be much more when the time is right.
best wishes

jennyflower said...

Sometimes when people see what I have been making they ask 'how do you find time', my response? 'I neglect my children', the truth probably isn't far off. But if I don't make I am hell, I have a drive to make that I just don't have in the same way to nurture. It makes me feel bad sometimes.

Sarah said...

What an interesting post. As ever, you are intriguing and thought provoking, but with a gentleness.

I think it is the ebb and flow of life - some things come forward, while others take a back seat for a while. I find blogging and commenting so useful for "sorting" things out when my head feels muddled, and reading your thoughts helps with the muddle, thank you.

Frances said...

Sue, I think that your words, and those of your mom, are so eloquent.

I also appreciate what PG has written.

As you know, I have never had husband or children, and yet I too find an aspect of my life currently eating into my natural creative flow. It is The Job. The Job's appetite seems to be growing as the economy falters. I keep telling myself that this phase will ease, and that more calm will return.

Meanwhile, like you, I take my camera along with me, I make a few sketches, I play with yarn, and I write an occasional blog.

When I read beautifully written posts like yours, I truly take heart.


Kitschen Pink said...

And here's me thinking WOW this an amazingly creative space I have happened upon!
Just to be clear - Barbara Hepworths children were sent away at nursery age and then attended boarding schools. A different time!
For me I see motherhood as a pause. My experience of becoming a mum means that I cherish every moment and most interruptions! I am more than prepared to put other stuff in the background. I am still here. Creativity will find it's way like grass through cracks in a concrete pavement. It's just there. Like this blog. You can't help yourself!

Jo said...

I find I have to make time to be creative. I make myself sit down at the laptop and write/work on my novel, even if I don't feel like it. It's much harder to do this when I have a lot of family stuff going on or when I'm worried about the state of the house/ironing pile! There are certain times of the month when I feel much more creative generally, usually in the latter part of my cycle. Isn't that interesting? I wonder if most women are the same? I like nothing better, then, than to lie on the sofa with a single duvet, snuggled up with notebook and pen or a good book to read. I could stay there all day and hate having to emerge to deal with children, husband etc.

Sue, I think you're consistently creative! Your blog is a perfect example and the photos are beautiful.. always. Be kind to yourself!

Lorenza said...

Hi Sue! a very apt post as not long ago I blogged about 'ideas and creativity'. My 7 years of university and my every day work is all about ideas, creativity and making those ideas into something tangible, however lately I am so tired, knackered, that it's starting to affect my self confidence in believing in my ideas... I have so many travelling through my head but I seem to always find a reason for which they are 'not good enough' and let them stay just ideas in my head... I think we put so much pressure on ourselves as women, being great at our jobs, looking after a home so that it's cosy, clean and tidy as well as being a good partner to our 'other half'...

I am not a mum, I'd like to be one day, but it's daunting as it is, I worry how I would cope juggling even more important tasks like motherhood as well working/career, home, partner etc...

I think we need to be kinder to ourselves and accepting we can't do everything, then I think our creative energy can come back to us in all its strength :)

L x

little birds fly said...

I empathize with you from the very bottom of my heart. I have a 17 year old, a 13 year old and a 1 year old and not one day goes by that I don't feel like I've failed someone. It's like robbing Peter to pay Paul. I take time to create and someone or something else suffers. But I try to remind myself that it's the overall picture that counts...if everyone, including me, is more happy than not than I have to call that success. I really appreciate your blog. Thanks for sharing.