Oh look, a couple hours of spare time to blog. It was hiding behind the creative brief I brought home from the office, which was behind the dog’s dandruff shampoo, which was behind the heap of dirty laundry, which was behind an enormous sign that says YOU’RE FUCKED.
As a working mother with a writing racket on the side, I yak about that elusive work-family balance a lot. And I’m not the only one. You’re probably tired of all the yakking about it. (Blame Anne-Marie Slaughter; she started it.) I’m tired of all the yakking and I’m one of the yakkers. I’m pretty sure in my next life I’ll be coming back as a yak.
Something has occurred to me lately though: with my ongoing blog and upcoming blook, this is more than a work-family balance. It’s a work-family-art balance. (Yes, blogging is an art. Just go with it.) That’s three things to juggle, not two. Technically, two is not even juggling; it’s two things switching back and forth from one hand to the other, and that’s not so terrible unless you’re the drummer from Def Leppard.
Working and parenting is tricky enough, but when you also have to get your creative rocks off on the side – a kind of work that usually doesn’t pay the bills and if it did you wouldn’t need to have a “real job” at all and we wouldn’t be having this conversation – it gets even more insane in the membrane. A trifecta of fuckery. You have to squeeze your art into your crazy ass life somehow. Because sacrificing it for the family and the real job is not an option. You didn’t choose this passion. This is who you are. And if that part of you doesn’t see the light of day, the whole shebang goes to shit.
My art can’t be my real job. I’m not J.K. Rowling. I don’t even have any advertising on my website. I don’t have the luxury of just writing. Some best-selling authors don’t even have that luxury! I don’t have a big fat trust fund either, and my husband is not Donald Trump (thank christ). The arts is a tough place from which to bring home the bacon. Unless taxidermy is your art and pigs are your specialty. You know, because bacon.
At an event last Friday afternoon at LSPU Hall hosted by the St. John’s Women’s Film Festival, I listened to four women talk about their art: finding their voice, putting themselves out there, facing their fears. Two of them were singer-songwriters, two of them were filmmakers, all of them were creative, funny, and determined.
The topic of family came up, as it always does among breeders. Making a living in industries like music and film doesn’t quite jive with the schedule raising a family demands. So when you meet women who are rocking their creative careers, you have to wonder – how do you do it all?
Well, three of the four women didn’t have kids. And the one who did – I’m pretty sure she didn’t have the real job to complicate matters. They were all amazing and awesome and I will be stalking them henceforth, but technically they aren’t doing it all. I’m sure they’ve got their hands full, but they’re not juggling the trifecta of fuckery.
I got a couple nice chunks of wisdom from them on the matter nonetheless.
1. You don’t have to live your life in segments.
New York singer-songwriter-mother Amy Rigby has been rocking out for more than 30 years. When asked about being a musician and a mother at the same time, she replied: You just do it. Women often think they need to do the career thing first, she said, then stop all that to have the family. Why do we have to live our lives in segments? Why can’t we do it all at once? You just do it. Rigby had her daughter when she was in her twenties. She kept making music. She played with bands. She played solo. She persevered. Today, her daughter plays in her own band. Amy did it all, as a mom and an artist, without sacrificing one part of herself for the other.
Moderator Elisabeth de Mariaffi — award-winning author, mom and marketing maven at Breakwater Books (now that’s the trifecta I’m talkin’ ‘bout!) — added: You can’t separate the family and the work now. It’s all wrapped up in one. Our children come out of our bodies, but they’re forever attached.
2. Put the baby on your back and go.
Funny, these words stuck with me more than any others (hence the title of this post) and they came from one of the women who didn’t have kids – Bay d’ Espoir native and filmmaker Latonia Hartery. (Yes, Latonia, a beautiful white woman from Bay d’Espoir, swear to god.) But if she does have kids one day, she plans to do what the women in the north do, at least metaphorically – sling the baby on her back and go. Part of me was like: Bite your tongue, Shaniqua. Just wait until you get that wailing squawk-box in your arms, and the mastitis and hemorrhoids and broken vadge and sleep deprivation and depression take hold and see how your plans change. But that part of me needs to shut the fuck up. You go, Latonia. I had lots of post-baby problems and a dead dad to boot, and I came out fighting. When you go up to accept your Oscar one day, just pass it back to your baby to hold for you while you do two-handed fist pumps.
The other day, a coworker said to me, “I think you may be a robot.” I guess because I’m into so much, I couldn’t possibly be human. I wish I was a robot or a computer — something that could calculate a formula for balancing the real job, the family, and the writing racket. Alas, I am lowly human, so my formula is: hold on for dear life. I think the secret may be accepting imperfection: embracing the chaos, facing your fears – of rejection, of failure – and just going for it. And staying in the game no matter what or who comes along – like a little creature whose entire existence depends on you and your nipples. It’s a juggling act. You’re going to drop things. (Preferably not the baby.) But you pick up the pieces and keep going. You do it all, but accept the reality that you may not have it all. Maybe doing it all the best way you know how is having it all. Maybe I should stop talking now.
I will soon be editing my first book and I’m terrified. How am I going to find the time to perfect this thing? This thing that will be set in stone and OUTLIVE ME. Well, I’m not gonna. Beyond the real job and the parenting, there are only so many hours in the day. So I’ll bust my ass and do my best and have some fun with it and hope it’s good enough. And if it’s not, fuck it. This moment sponsored by the great philosopher, Jeff Bridges: “Live like you’re already dead, man. Have a good time. Do your best. Let is all come ripping right through you.”
Would I be a better writer if I had more time to write? Would I be a better mother if I spent more time with my son? I honestly don’t know if the answer to these questions is yes. Maybe there is a reciprocity there, one role feeding the other, amounting to this mediocrity you’re enjoying right now. (Thank you for being here, by the way. Really.) Maybe having a baby made Amy Rigby a better songwriter. Maybe Latonia Hartery’s back-pack baby will make her a better filmmaker. We think motherhood is stealing away the time we would have spent pursuing greatness, trying to keep up with the men. But maybe it automatically makes us greater. Maybe the baby on our back is actually a jet pack.