Monday, April 20, 2015

Mother + artist = privileged?

It does seem that you’ve made a bit of a pact with the devil by trying to be both a parent and a fully functional working woman. For a start, nobody else recognises the writing as work – at least, they don’t round my way – and you have to buy your time for yourself when you have a child to look after. You have to justify each minute you’ve organised to do anything other than take care of them. That’s how it can feel to me, anyway, sitting mired in the middle of it, with the end of neither job anywhere in sight.

You’ve got to keep pushing the words out, having something to show for it, to keep the guilt at bay. Whenever I’d bought myself that time – when my daughter went to childcare, which wasn’t much: two afternoons a week – I’d be fretting with a feeling akin to trying to write while there was a taxi waiting outside with its meter on.

These are among my favourite words in Motherhood & Creativity: The Divided Heart. That description of writing under pressure – when every minute costs and so so every minute counts – is so spot-on!

I loved interviewing Cate Kennedy, and Kill Your Darlings journal is running a longer excerpt from our conversation on its online blog here.

Motherhood & Creativity received a fairly lukewarm review from one of the major dailies over the weekend, containing many of the same criticisms the book received following the publication of the first edition. It upset me a lot more the first time around. This time I know that the book has its own audience and it doesn't have to mean something to everyone. Also, I think it always suffers from being read in one sitting – which is what a reviewer generally has to do.

One of the main misgivings I've encoutered time and again is that the book is nothing but a bunch of priveleged women complaining about their lot. This latest review repeated that sentiment, arguing: "That the women of this book are blessed with babies as well as the muse should make them a privileged species – certainly not members of a set-upon minority group."

While I don't think I've ever attempted to paint creative mothers as a "set-upon minority", neither do I understand why they should be deemed "privileged". More privileged than any other parent (man or woman) who pursues a career in their area of interest?

In my experience, most mothers are working their arses off to maintain their success, or working their arses off despite a lack of success – against the external (lack of income and support) and internal barriers (self-doubt, guilt, isolation) – within a culture that still wants women, and especially mothers, to above all be attractive, gracious and ego-less.

To have a child is to enter into a strange new set of negotiations with society, our partners, our family, ourselves. And so, the venture to be both artist and mother raises some of the biggest questions about how we choose to live and view the world: self vs society, partnering vs independence, feminism vs masculine, sacrifice vs self-interest, creativity vs economics...

It seems to me that the very nature of art feeds into the feminist debate in a unique way, precisely because art is an expression of the self – something women have been denied for much of history.

In the workplace, it is much easier to see where the inequities lie and what the barriers are. When it comes to art, the issues are not merely those of workers’ rights, or structural barriers, or even just of family conventions. Because of this, I think the experience of artist-mothers cuts through to the the heart of the feminism debate at a much more subtle and sensitive level.

The lack of guaranteed compensation and the self-driven nature of art – to assert the need to create; to carve out the time and space that art demands; to feel confident in the validity of what you have to say – requires a special kind of drive and determination for anyone.

For a mother – who not only confronts the societal expectation that she fulfill the archetypal role of mother (the giving, selfless, nurturing woman, with its inherent degree of self-denial), but also genuinely loves her children and wants to be with them – it can be particularly challenging.

Yes, it's a wonderous thing to have children. And we all deserve to live in a culture that offers the freedom and opportunity to pursue our vocations. But when a woman strives to do both, why should this be seen as a privilege?

Friday, April 17, 2015

Look who's launching 'Motherhood & Creativity'!


OK, it's finally official...

Musician Clare Bowditch will be launching Motherhood & Creativity: The Divided Heart at Readings Carlton on Wednesday, May 6 at 6.30pm.

You can get the details here.

Clare has been the most generous champion of this book since before it even existed in print -- as you'll know if you read her lovely Preface in the new edition. She's also one warm, funny and extremely entertaining speaker, so I couldn't hope for a better launcher, lucky me.

It'll also be a chance to meet some of the other wonderful artists in the book. So please come along and introduce yourselves.

The more friendly faces I see, the less nervous I'll feel on the night. Everyone welcome!

Wednesday, April 15, 2015

Girls and kids and bands

I had a revealing conversation with a friend the other night, while I was telling her my dream list of overseas artists should I ever be in a position to do an international version of Motherhood & Creativity.

I had always hoped I might one day get to interview Sonic Youth musician Kim Gordon, who has recently published her memoir, Girl in a Band.

Also on my list, predictably, was Patti Smith. Although Kim Gordon's book is repeatedly compared to Smith's Just Kids, the two women seem to have very different takes on the impact of having children on their creative lives and identities.

After Gordon's daughter Coco was born in 1994, the band toured with a porta-cot in the bus, though “dripping breast milk during a video shoot is not very rock,” she writes. (If you want the full nitty-gritty on the matter of touring with kids, you can find a great -- and very detailed -- conversation between Suzanne Vega and Kim Gordon here.)

Perhaps because she and her partner, Thurston Moore, were in the same band, Gordon could make a clear comparison between the impact of kids on her life versus his, and this appears to have played a strong part in defining her experience. As a result, she is quite open about the conflict she felt between parenting and maintaining a life of rock 'n' roll.

"...after Coco was born I realised we had never talked about what kind of parents or partners we wanted to be. I'd simply assumed Thurston was supportive of feminist issues, like equal participation in child care, equal responsibilities around the house, and so forth.

"Like most new mothers, I found that no matter how just and shared you expect the experience to be, or how equal the man thinks parenting should be, it isn't. It can’t be. Most child-raising falls on women’s shoulders. This doesn’t make men bad parents, though it can make women feel alone in what they’d hoped would be an equal division of labour."

As for Patti Smith... apparently, at a talk she did in Australia a few years back, there was a question from the floor from a woman who mentioned my book and asked Smith how she coped with putting her art aside in order to raise her children.

Obviously I can't quote her answer, but it seems the question was dismissed as irrelevant -- Smith's general argument being that there is no separation between art and life, it's all part of one big creative act, so why would there be a conflict?

Ah, to be Patti Smith...

So, knowing that, I don't suppose I'll be approaching the great punk poet laureate any time soon, though I certainly don't dismiss her sentiment outright. If anything, I'm not alone in admiring the big creative act that is Patti Smith's life, though I don't know if I could ever aspire to live that way.

In Motherhood & Creativity, actor Claudia Karvan says that she has sacrificed nothing and gained everything in becoming a mother -- and I love those words.

We all exist on a spectrum in terms of how readily we combine mothering and creativity in our lives -- and there are so many variables that support or detract from this. But like most issues of the heart, to personally find something easy is not a good reason to dismiss the experience of those who struggle.

Monday, April 13, 2015

Talking on the radio

I so enjoyed talking to musicians Leah Avene and Jess Fairfax today on their PBS 106.7 FM radio program "All Our Stories" today.

I don't think I'll ever stop finding radio appearances insanely nerve-wracking, but when it's all about engaging in a conversation like this, it's also a pleasure. You can listen to today's interview here.

It was also a great chance to hear some of the musos featured in Motherhood & Creativity. Hearing the voices of Deline Briscoe, Clare Bowditch and Holly Throsby warmed the cockles of my heart!

And to top it all off, it was the non-official launch of a new song written in direct response to the book -- yes, The Divided Heart has inspired a song! In fact a whole album! -- by Melbourne singer-songwriter Suzannah Espie. Read all about it on her website here.

What an incredibly humbling thing that is, and so lovely to hear phone-calls coming in as her song was playing, asking who the singer was. A big thank you to Suzannah for allowing us to play it live for the first time on air today. It was pretty darn special.

Monday, April 6, 2015

Launching creative women

March 8 was International Women’s Day, a day to celebrate and highlight the valuable contributions women make to our world.

Musician Rose Wintergreen decided that one day was not enough, so she is featuring a month-long series of posts celebrating female artists from Australia on her fabulous Launch Bubble site.

She was generous enough to include me in her line-up - and you can read our interview here.

Saturday, April 4, 2015

'Motherhood & Creativity' - upcoming events

MOTHERHOOD & CREATIVITY BOOK LAUNCH
Musician Clare Bowditch will launch Motherhood & Creativity: The Divided Heart at Readings bookstore.
When: Wednesday, May 6, 6.30pm
Where: Readings, 309 Lygon Street, Carlton
Check for full details here. 

SYDNEY WRITERS FESTIVAL
Join me, actor and producer Claudia Karvan, and writer, ad guru and broadcaster Jane Caro about the honest delights and difficulties of being creative and being ‘Mum’.
When: Sunday, May 24 2015, 3.00-4.00pm
Where: Pier 2/3 The Loft, Pier 2/3, Hickson Road, Walsh Bay
Book here. 

WILLIAMSTOWN LITERARY FESTIVAL
Artist Lily Mae Marton, writer/illustrator Sally Rippin and poet/author Lisa Gorton will join me in a panel discusssion as part of the Williamstown Literary Festival.
When: Saturday June 13, 10.30-11.30am
Where: The Chamber, Williamstown Town Hall

MELBOURNE WRITERS FESTIVAL
I will be taking part in the 2015 Melbourne Writers Festival in August.
Details TBC.

RADIO INTERVIEWS
PBS FM "All Our Stories" program - Monday April 13
Triple R Breakfasters - Friday April 1
ABC 774 "The Conversation Hour" with Jon Faine - March 25

Monday, March 30, 2015

Cate Blanchett in Vogue on art and motherhood

As you would imagine, I pretty desperately wanted Cate Blanchett to be in the first edition of The Divided Heart. She was an obvious choice.

I bugged her twice about it -- and her agent very politely declined on her behalf each time.

As I was nearing the deadline to get the manuscript to my publisher, my partner took the kids on a camping trip with a group of friends to give me the space and time to get it finished.

On the way back home they stopped at a small town for a drink and who should be the only other family in the cafe but Cate Blanchett, Andrew Upton and their kids!

They got to talking. My partner told them he was looking forward to seeing what the pair did with the Sydney Theatre Company (they were about to start their joint directorship), and Blanchett found some sensitive way to inquire where "Mum was".

"Funnily enough," my partner told her, "she's at home trying to finish her book -- on art and motherhood. A book she really wanted you to be in, actually."

To which Blanchett said something along the lines of: "Oh, that old 'art and motherhood are incompatible' idea...".

"Well, no, clearly not just that," he said, "since you're managing to do both."

My partner is a very charming man, but sadly nothing he said helped change her mind. Obviously she's not a woman swayed by the power of coincidence!

A few weeks ago, the Good Weekend published a lovely piece by author Anna Funder about Jessica Anderson's novel Tirra Lirra by the River (one of my favourite books of all time!).

In commenting on the novel's main character, Funder said:
...wanting life and art both -- desires that in Brisbane in the early 20th century could not speak their name, and that are probably pretty difficult to reconcile without a lot of collateral damage, in any life. Indeed as I write this, in time bought from a babysitter, bargained from my husband and stolen from my children, the risk of collateral damage feels closer than I'd like. 

Even Anna Funder -- an assured writer, and a critical and commercial success -- still confronts the feeling that time for writing is bought, borrowed and stolen from her family, at some risk.

It is Funder that Cate Blanchett has chosen to speak to on the subject of art and motherhood in the latest issue of Vogue -- you'll have to buy the mag for the real thing, but here's news.com.au's little write-up about it. No doubt Blanchett is (understandably) offering Vogue the definitive exclusive as some way of deflecting the onslaught of interest in her new baby girl.

And so I'm still a little bit sad that Blanchett didn't want to be in my book, but all power to the wonderful Anna Funder -- who'll no doubt conduct a fabulous interview, which I look forward to reading!

Oh - and there's an excerpt from my introduction of Creativity & Motherhood: The Divided Heart in ArtsHub today -- if you'd like to, you can read it here.