There are some revealing quotes in these links from a couple of famous writers and a musician about combining motherhood with artistic careers. It makes me think that the combination is still mostly a mess, really. But what refreshing quotes to read, because isn’t it the messiness we long to hear about as women?
This is from Lauren Sandler’s “The secret to being both a successful writer and a mother: Have just one kid” (as an aside, I think they might be right about the ‘one child’ thing) in The Atlantic:
Like many women, Hardwick found motherhood grueling, though rewarding. When writing about Sylvia Plath, who saw new motherhood as her muse, Hardwick coldly dismissed the notion that women somehow become infinitely more productive and creative upon the birth of a child. It surely didn’t help that Lowell himself was wrestling with psychological problems of the most dogged kind, living in and out of institutions as Hardwick attempted to raise young Harriet. When Harriet was three, and Lowell was in no state to parent alone, Hardwick found friends to care for their daughter while she took a two-month trip to Europe. She couldn’t abide the notion of canceling the trip in service of maternity, but she did feel an inner conflict. “I’m very excited about the trip, but very reluctant, nearly ill really to leave Harriet, and very reluctant to be flying about everywhere, risking her orphanage,” Hardwick wrote in a letter. “It is more myself, my own missing her, and wanting to get back safely that bothers me.” Harriet was fine. Hardwick never wrote about herself—overtly—after her doomed marriage to Lowell. Instead, she chose to discuss how other women writers were perplexingly shortchanged by domestic concerns. Its Hardwick’s literary criticism that exposes her frustrations with “the text of the family.”
Quintana once nailed a list of “Mom’s Sayings” to the garage door that read: “Brush your teeth, brush your hair, shush I’m working.” In reviews of Blue Nights, “shush I’m working” became a symbol of Didion’s maternal negligence. What’s wrong with “shush I’m working?”
And this is from an interview with Martha Wainwright by Alan Pedder in Wears the Trousers (thanks to Karen Pickering for the link):
With Arcangelo keeping you on your toes in the last couple of years do you feel like you’ve been forced to focus or write in ways that you maybe hadn’t done before?
What happened right after my mum died and we came home with Arcangelo, whenever I would try and pick up the guitar I would end up in a puddle on the floor because it was just too intense. After several months I knew I needed to get started with writing, because I always wanted to make another record relatively quickly. I didn’t want to be off the scene for too long after having a child. There is always a danger that a pregnancy might stop you from doing a lot of stuff, so I knew that I needed to keep working. I hired a babysitter to come in for three or four hours a day, just so I could go upstairs and make that separation. It was really enjoyable actually. I could just become who I was before, you know. I would light a cigarette and it would be like I was twenty-five again, sitting on the couch with the guitar being myself. And then I would go downstairs, make dinner, and that was that; like, “Now we’re doing home time.”
More from Wainwright:
There are a couple of songs on the album written from the perspective of a woman overcoming problems in her marriage, and knowing how honest you generally are in your songwriting people will no doubt assume you are singing about your relationship with Brad. Has it been hard for you to find a balance between being a mother and a wife and an artist?
As hard as for anybody else, even if I do sometimes say that other people have it easier [laughs]. Brad has always been behind me whatever I wanted to write, sing or talk about. With the first record, and even the second record to an extent, I was writing songs about other men – previous loves and things like that – so he’s sort of used to that level of honesty. I mean, to the extent that an artist will say whatever she thinks or feels. That being said, although he had heard some of the songs before, when I was writing, I don’t think he really played the record that much before we started doing shows for it. Then during one of the first shows we did together – he was playing bass with me on stage –I think he realised just at that moment that he was a little bit sad and a little bit freaked out about some of the lyrics. So I recognised that I had to talk to him and make sure that we’re alright, and that this is alright. I know that he doesn’t want to put any constraints on me, but it’s also very important for me to cherish and nurture the relationship. I think because we’re both children of divorce we’ve always wanted to stay married, but staying married is a challenge for a lot of people – to just stay in a relationship is difficult. So I think that’s what I am singing about. I’m sort of saying, “Yes, this is tough,” and it’s something I need to be able to do in my songs because I think if I were to feel as though I had to edit myself in my songs…well, you know.
And this is from a favourite old post of mine, ‘Though Hawaii sounds like fun’:
I’ve also just read a fantastic essay written by the late Marjorie Williams (she died in her 40′s with relatively young children), called Mommy at Her Desk. Try as I may, I can’t find a link to this essay on-line so if you’re interested you’ll have to buy her book. The essay is about seeing a picture her young daughter has drawn called – “Mommy at Her Desk”. As Williams examines the drawing she concludes that while the drawing could be viewed as an affirmation of her daughter’s awareness of women’s lives, that they are more than simply ‘mothers’, that they also have pursuits entirely of their own.. it is more likely that the picture represents an accusation – that her daughter, in fact, resents the time her mother spends working at her desk and consequently being unavailable to her.
Williams explores an inescapable trade-off for women between career and family goals and her own battle with the guilt that manifests. Her discussion climaxes with the quietly devastating but strangely liberating line -
”… I finally realized, my task was not to find out the one answer, but to learn how to live with the knowledge that in pursuing my work, I am in some degree acting selfishly.”
Maybe I never will resolve my guilt about being a working mother, maybe my family and I will grow through this stage of our lives before we ever sort it out. Maybe I have to suck it up, I’m a big girl now.
As Nora Ephron says (quoted also in Mommy at Her Desk) – Children would rather have a suicidal mother in the next room than a happy mother in Hawaii. But this doesn’t mean women shouldn’t ever be selfish either. Fathers are selfish at times and mothers should be able to be, too. Anyone experiencing resentment knows that selfishness, on occasion, can be a very healthy trait.