Leave the Dishes: Making Art While Raising Children

You Are Not Alone: Resources for Cultivating the Mother-Artist Life
by Claudia F. Savage

Although I have seven nieces and nephews, I was still completely unprepared for the way motherhood affected my artistic life. Resources about raising children hardly ever address problems that mother-writers and artists contend with daily: how do you access that necessary state where creativity lives? And, then, if you find that place, how can you create when you are interrupted a hundred times a day? Over the past two years, a small selection of books have provided me with solace and advice as I have struggled to keep creating while caretaking.

Temple by Kristen Case (writer and mother of one) is a glorious book of poems in which the author searches for the writer in the mother, the mother in the family, and her place the world, as in the poem, “Lactoexodus”: “For a time, my body made milk, and I wrote no poems./ For a time, I made milk, and my body wrote no poems.” (page 2)

Grave of Light by Alice Notley (an early poetry collection by the Ruth Lilly Prize winner mother of two) gets me with its alternating child-inspired dialogue and ramblings of the mother-poet, as in the poem, “January.” “I didn’t lose any weight today/ I had clean hair but I drove/ Ted nuts and spanked Anselm on/ the arm and wouldn’t converse/ with him about the letter C…” (page 50)

The Pedestrians by Rachel Zucker (writer and mother of three) is a series of frantic, sometimes whiny, pleas for a moment alone with her mind, as in this fragment from “mindful”: “a snowstorm so no school I cried & said/ Mayor Bloomberg should be scalded with hot/ cocoa when someone said Yay for snow! I’m/ cutting it too close Erin if a blizzard makes me/ cry…” (page 83)

Our Andromeda by Brenda Shaughnessy (writer and mother of two) is a fantastic, sometimes scathing dialogue between what we imagine a mother’s life to be and what it actually is, such as in the poem, “Liquid Flesh”: “Mother. Baby./ Chicken and egg. It’s so obnoxious/ of me: I was an egg/ who had an egg/ and now I’m chicken,/ as usual scooping up/ both possibilities,/ or what I used to call/ possibilities.” (page 25)

The Grand Permission: New Writings on Poetics and Motherhood edited by Patricia Dienstfrey and Brenda Hillman is a series of interview-essays about different mother-poets and their styles of dealing with motherhood and artistic creation. The poets chosen to be interviewed are phenomenal, from Carol Muske-Duke and Mei-Mei Berssenbrugge to Maxine Kumin and C.D. Wright. As C.D. Wright said, “When my husband and I met other couples with a baby, we joined heads and bored into their glowing faces to ask in abrupt, strained unison if ‘it’ slept. And if ‘it’ did, we shunned those people.” (page 195)

Strong Hearts, Inspired Minds: 21 Artists Who Are Mothers Tell Their Stories by Anne Mavor (visual artist and mother of one). In her introduction, Anne says, “The biggest shock was that I … couldn’t stay up late anymore and my artist friends dropped away …. Rowan was and is, of course, beautiful and smart and funny and amazing … but he cannot satisfy my artistic urge.” (introduction)

Bring Down the Little Birds: On Mothering, Art, Work, and Everything Else by Carmen Gimenez Smith (writer and mother of two). Smith’s book deals with her own issues as a writer and mother, as well as her relationship with her dying mother. Echoing the fragmentary style of Carole Maso’s Ava, it is a deeply reaffirming work about the changing landscape of the artist’s life and how we define mother within it.

Composing a Life by Mary Catherine Bateson (anthropologist, writer, and mother of one). One of my favorite books about life as a creative act. Some aspects of it will feel antiquated to younger feminists but it is still good to be reminded where we come from and the paths forged for us. Five women from diverse backgrounds and experiences in various professions, including writers and artists, focus on the way they still create when their energies are divided. Affirming gems such as: “Life is an improvisatory art … in which commitments are continually refocused and redefined.” (page 3)

May some of these allow you to hear your own story echoed, be renewed, and keep on.

Bibliography:

Bateson, Mary Catherine. Composing a Life (Grove Press: New York, 2001)

Edited by Patricia Dienstfrey and Brenda Hillman The Grand Permission: New Writings on Poetics and Motherhood (Wesleyan University Press: Middletown, CT, 2003)

Gimenez Smith, Carmen. Bring Down the Little Birds: On Mothering, Art, Work, and Everything Else (University of Arizona Press: Tucson, AZ , 2010)

Mavor, Anne. Strong Hearts, Inspired Minds: 21 Artists Who Are Mothers Tell Their Stories (Rowanberry Books: 1996)

Notley, Alice. Grave of Light (Wesleyan University Press: Middletown, Connecticut, 2006)

Shaughnessy, Brenda. Our Andromeda (Copper Canyon Press: Seattle, WA, 2012)

Zucker, Rachel. The Pedestrians (Wave Books: Seattle, WA 2014)

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VoiceCatcher deeply thanks Claudia F. Savage for contributing this meaningful, well-researched and well-written series on how to develop an artist-writer practice while raising children. We look forward to future collaborations with Claudia!
                                                                             –The Editors

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Claudia F. SavageClaudia F. Savage has been a chef for people recovering from illness, a book editor, and a teacher of poetry to young women in Appalachia, ranchers in Colorado, and urbanites in Portland. Her first book, The Limited Visibility of Bees, was named a finalist for the New Issues Press Poetry Prize. Her poetry and interview credits include CutBank, Nimrod, The Denver Quarterly, VoiceCatcher, Iron Horse, The Buddhist Poetry Review, and Bookslut. Her published chapbook is called The Last One Eaten: A Maligned Vegetable’s History. Savage is a member of the poetry/music duo, THrum, whose album came forth in spring 2015. This article is the final in her series for VoiceCatcher, Leave the Dishes: Making Art While Raising Children.

Leave the Dishes: Making Art While Raising Children

It May Be Worth It: Four Mother-Writers Share What Has Worked for Them
by Claudia F. Savage

Before the birth of my daughter, I emailed three friends who were recent mothers to get advice and commiserate. Below is similar wisdom from four successful Portland mother-writers who have maintained and deepened their practice: fiction writer Polly Dugan, poet Annie Lighthart, fiction writer Margaret Malone, and poet Alicia Jo Rabins.

How has your practice changed in terms of producing art since having children?

Polly Dugan

Polly Dugan

PD: I started working on stories in my kitchen when my sons were three and one, while they napped or after they were in bed for the night. Since then I have made writing a priority on our family’s list of other priorities. When I returned to a full-time job I wrote during my lunch hour. “Legacies” was written almost entirely during my lunch hour. Now, when the boys are in school all day, I have uninterrupted hours during the week when I can work.

Annie Lighthart

Annie Lighthart

AL: Oh, wow, wild changes. I remember sitting for hours and writing. Now, I write at the kitchen counter when my husband takes the littlest boy to drop off our older boy at school. At 8:05, they start out the door and I sweep everything off the counter. At 8:10, I sit down to write until 8:40 when they arrive back home. I have a plain, generic notebook I keep on the counter that is only for morning writing. It is one of my favorite things. When I see it, my mind quiets down.

Margaret Malone

Margaret Malone

MM: Oh my god! My practice used to consist of waking up and writing in the morning before my day job. I had a whole ritual. I would light a candle, select a poetry book to read, check my email, and start where I left off the day before. Hilarious. Now, I jump right in. No candles, no contemplation. Sometimes I will only have 20 minutes (if one of the kids wakes up early from a nap or if the baby starts crying). I still do my first drafts pen to paper, second draft into the computer, then edit off the hard copy until it’s done.

Alicia Jo Rabins

Alicia Jo Rabins

AJR: I have always used deadlines to make myself work. [Now] I spend less time on social media. I have also learned to say no to things that don’t have the right balance of time/money/effort. It is a challenge because I love to perform, but I am learning to be very strategic – efficient projects, less collaboration, more solo stuff.

How do you create mental energy for yourself to create?

PD: These days I have to create mental energy to combat the inner critic and bring focus to the page. There are still arguments to help settle, homework, and school project crises, but by working during the day when I have time alone, I’m able to give my full attention to my family when they are home and weekends which are sacrosanct family time.

AL: By habit, pure daily routine. If it is a school morning and I have an empty house for a little while, I write. Many days there is not much mental energy there, but my body is sitting in front of the page nonetheless, just in case some words arrive.

MM: Honestly, I just do what I have to do. I used to cultivate creative energy so I would be inspired to work. Now, I just don’t have the physical energy or time. If I need to write, I sit down and write. I’m so totally exhausted all the time, there is nothing in the tank except enough to push out whatever needs to get done. Sometimes I’ll look back and think, how the hell did I do that? I don’t know. I guess a lot of creating moms feel the same way. It seems impossible and yet you just have to, so you do.

AJR: For me, creative work generates energy, so I feel much more tired on the playground with my kids than I do when I am actually working. I find that my natural creative energy is not really compromised by being a parent; it is more a matter of finding the time, and the logistical or formal container, for that energy.

Are your children involved in your art (directly or as inspiration), or is your artistic discipline your coveted “alone” space?

PD: My kids are proud of my being a published author. They are partners in my endeavor, the way we are with each other’s endeavors. There are times when I am on a deadline and what the boys want has to wait and I expect them to understand. In my forthcoming novel, The Sweetheart Deal, I write about a family with three boys and some of the ease of writing those characters and relationships comes from having sons. I joke that no one is ever safe around me; anything is fair game.

AL: My children have inspired more poems about sleep and sleeplessness than imaginable. I also keep a huge stack of scrap paper that the children use for crafts. One day my older son made an airplane out of old poem drafts. After its initial flight, I found myself chasing poems with him up and down the street. Looking at each page I chased down made me see them as strange and new.

MM: When my son was little his nursery was my office. One time I was editing with my right hand while my left hand rocked him in his bassinet. Having children completely shifts the way you see and understand the world around you. You are able to see a moment from multiple points of view simultaneously. It complicates everything in the best way.

AJR: I write a lot about childbirth and mothering, but I feel like it is an alone space. So much of parenting seems to be about going past my experience to provide for the needs of my children. Whereas art-making is the time when I am alone in that experience and think deeply about it.

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Claudia F. SavageClaudia F. Savage has been a chef for people recovering from illness, a book editor, and a teacher of poetry to young women in Appalachia, ranchers in Colorado, and urbanites in Portland. Her first book, The Limited Visibility of Bees, was named a finalist for the New Issues Press Poetry Prize. Her poetry and interview credits include CutBank, Nimrod, The Denver Quarterly, VoiceCatcher, Iron Horse, The Buddhist Poetry Review, and Bookslut. Her published chapbook is called The Last One Eaten: A Maligned Vegetable’s History. Savage is a member of the poetry/music duo, THrum, whose album came forth in spring 2015. This article continues her series for VoiceCatcher, Leave the Dishes: Making Art While Raising Children.

Leave the Dishes: Making Art While Raising Children

Reclaim Artistic Space Through Memorization
by Claudia F. Savage

Writers are often a quiet, introspective group. We mull. We ponder. We say things like, “I can’t come over; I need time to gather my energy.” When you have children, though, especially when they are young, constant need can take over quiet introspection. Nothing like two hours of “water, water, blanket, blanket, mama, mama, mama” for making your child’s nap time become a mama necessity, too.

Getting your own artistic thoughts to arise in this din is ridiculously difficult. Even if you somehow, magically, still have a regular time you write, writing is not just about sitting down at the page. You need all the steps leading up to that moment: reading books, observing, thinking about your characters, engaging the backyard dogwood starting to bloom.

So, how do you preserve mental space for your work? For me, since the birth of my daughter, it has been about memorization. Memorization helps me hold onto my own language for more than a minute. It has become the only way I can quiet the 2-year-old’s burgeoning vocabulary lodging in my head. It is easier than you think. Here is what I recommend:

Pick Some Short Pieces That Have Strong Meter
I can still remember some of the poetry I memorized as a child, partially because of its strong meter, like this familiar Yeats, from “The Wild Swans at Coole”:

The trees are in their autumn beauty,
The woodland paths are dry,
Under the October twilight the water
Mirrors a still sky …

In your own work, it helps to start memorizing poetic pieces that have strong meter to cut through the exhaustion of parenthood. A piece that is only two or three stanzas long works well and will feel more manageable than a piece you adore that is several pages. Of course, if all you write are longer pieces (or, if you are a fiction writer) pick a small section of the piece to commit to memory. It helps if you feel really proud of the piece. This is no time for humility. Memorize work that you will like thinking about during the weeks to come. These lines, as you lie in bed, sleep-deprived and cranky, will help you remember why you make art.

Devote Time Each Week to Memorizing
I remember theater kids running around even in high school reciting their lines. I have found the easiest way to memorize is to pick a stanza and repeat it to yourself. Maybe you think it has been years since you memorized anything, but I guarantee you do it all the time. I’m sure there is a favorite recipe you put together without looking at a cookbook because you have done it dozens of times. Or, somehow you remember that new extra-long password for your computer at work. Memorizing your work requires the same skills of repetition and practice. The added joy is that you are internalizing your work into your body. Take 10 minutes at the beginning of each weekday-writing session and pick a piece you feel strongly about. Each day, read the same six lines out loud to yourself. That weekend, try to say those lines to yourself while brushing your teeth or once you get into bed. Then, the next week, pick the next stanza to work on and add to the memorized one, reciting the lines you know and reading the ones you do not. Build a house of words in your mind, week by week, foundation to roof.

Recite to Your Child
The best part of memorizing your work might be this last step. Recite the pieces you have memorized to your children. Remember that they have no way of knowing if you memorized all of it or if you recite it correctly. They only know that the tone of your voice has changed from daily corrections and affirmations to something entirely different. It is something that is not about them, but comes only from you. For a few minutes, they get to share in your language, your creation. You do not have to make it into a formal mama concert requiring your children to sit on the couch while you stand and recite in front of them. (Although, a poet friend of mine has a regular “poetry reciting night” once a month at her house where all the members of the family participate.) You can just start reciting something while your children are walking through the park with you. Recite a piece to them while you are in the car together going to the store. Recite something during bath time. Have a poem sneak up on them while they are eating a snack. Have their favorite doll “recite” it.

Hearing memorized poems has become a favorite activity for my girl. She regularly says, “Poems! Poems!” when we are doing the dishes. I often have to stop scrubbing and ask, “You want mama to recite some poems?” “Yes, mama poems!” Maybe it is the fact that my voice softens as I slowly remember the words or their rhythm, but, for now, I have a very small, very enthusiastic fan of my work. She’s two. Her name is River.

 

Claudia F. SavageClaudia F. Savage has been a chef for people recovering from illness, a book editor, and a teacher of poetry to young women in Appalachia, ranchers in Colorado, and urbanites in Portland. Her first book, The Limited Visibility of Bees, was named a finalist for the New Issues Press Poetry Prize. Her poetry and interview credits include CutBank, Nimrod, The Denver Quarterly, VoiceCatcher, Iron Horse, The Buddhist Poetry Review, and Bookslut. Her published chapbook is called The Last One Eaten: A Maligned Vegetable’s History. Savage is a member of the poetry/music duo, THrum, whose album is forthcoming in spring 2015. This article continues her series for VoiceCatcher, Leave the Dishes: Making Art While Raising Children.

Leave the Dishes: Making Art While Raising Children

A New Year’s Gift to You: Writing and Visual Artist Residencies for Parents (II)
by Claudia F. Savage

The list for residencies available to parents seems to grow every day. But while some places seem to think a cramped one-bedroom apartment next to other artists who are up till 2 a.m. is perfect for a mother-artist and her infant, other places, like the assortment below, have really thought through the needs of a parent attending a residency. The Writer’s Colony at Dairy Hollow, The Atlantic Center for the Arts, and The Millay Colony are perfect for the mother-artist who is able to travel alone (maybe for the first time since the kids!) and craves quiet time to write, paint or sculpt in the presence of other adults. Island Hill House and Women’s Studio Workshop let you bring your kids along.

Island Hill House Artist Residency Program
The Hill House is a two-story log cabin in northern Michigan that can accommodate up to four people at one time. “If you are selected,” according to Yvonne Stephens, director, “you have the whole house to yourself.” It is a rural area that gets heavy snow, so artists should be prepared for isolation.

Where: East Jordan, Michigan
How Long: 2-4 weeks
What You Get: An artist may bring up to three children and/or caregivers while in residence. The house accommodates up to four people (two bedrooms and two bathrooms). Basic child safety equipment, a pack-and-play, and a highchair are included, and two artist parents may be in residence together if they are both accepted into the program. The residency also fully stocks the kitchen with whatever you desire, including fresh local foods in summer and fall specifically. Though no stipend is offered, childcare is available and covered.
Artistic Disciplines Funded: writers, visual artists, dancers and musicians
Apply: Application deadline is April 1 (for June-November residency) and October 1 (for December-May residency), application fee is $25, submit.

The Writers’ Colony at Dairy Hollow (My Time Fellowship)
Dairy Hollow’s mission is “to provide time, lodging, feeding, and artistic community to writers in the historic arts village of Eureka Springs, Arkansas.”

Where: Eureka Springs, Arkansas
How Long: Two weeks
What You Get: Stipend of $1,500 to help pay for child care, travel expenses, or time lost at work. Private suite with writing space and bathroom. Dinner five nights a week in community dining room; community kitchen stocked for breakfast and lunch.
Artistic Disciplines Funded: writers (composers, culinary writers, fiction writers and poets)
Apply: Application deadline is July 31, application fee is $35, submit.

Women’s Studio Workshop
Women’s Studio Workshop (WSW) offers a Parent Residency Grant for woman artists with dependent children under the age of 15.

Where: Rosendale, New York
How Long: Four weeks (January-June or September-December)
What You Get: $250 travel stipend and $1,000 stipend for child care at WSW or child care at home. A dedicated studio and two-bedroom apartment with bathroom, kitchen and living area for the parent-artist and her children. Facilities for etching, hand papermaking, letterpress, silkscreen, book arts, photography and ceramics.
Artistic Disciplines Funded: visual artists
Apply: Application deadline is October 15, no application fee, submit.

Atlantic Center for the Arts (ACA)
A three-week residency where Associate Artists (writing, visual art, music or dance) work with a Master Artist and collaborate with each other. Nick Conroy, residency and program director, says, “Once accepted to the ACA, literary or visual parent-artists provide a copy of their child’s birth certificate with their financial aid application and the $800 residency tuition is covered.”

Where: New Smyrna, Florida
How Long: Three weeks
What You Get: Free residency tuition (valued at $800 and covering full room and board) for one parent-artist, visual artist studio, dining hall, recording facility, library and performance space.
Artistic Disciplines Funded: writers or visual artists
Apply: Application deadlines vary based on residency session, application fee is $25, submit.

The Millay Colony
According to Caroline Crumpacker, executive director of The Millay Colony, “Millay’s Virtual Residency accommodates artists who cannot spend prolonged time away from home but could benefit from the support of a residency in modified form.” Residents can stay for as long as they want over the course of a month. Crumpacker says, “We make it possible for parents to come here solo, by making our residencies as flexible and accessible to parents as we can. This residency is specifically for parents who can’t take long chunks away from home but need extra help with childcare and a special getaway.” The resident artist can, for example, participate on weekends only (with a minimum of five nights and days at the residency and the intent to continue specific work at home during the rest of the residency month).

Where: Austerlitz, New York
How Long: Several options (twelve days, two weeks, one month, or their “virtual” residency for a month).
What You Get: Free room and board for your stay, with a $1,000 stipend for “virtual” residents to assist in securing time off/childcare/travel to and from the colony/art supplies or other resources necessary to the making of new work.
Artistic Disciplines Funded: writers, visual artists, dancers, or composers/musicians
Apply: Application deadlines vary based on residency session (October 1 for April, May, June, and July or March 1 for August, September, October, and November), application fee is $35, submit.

 

Claudia F. SavageClaudia F. Savage has been a chef for people recovering from illness, a book editor, and a teacher of poetry to young women in Appalachia, ranchers in Colorado, and urbanites in Portland. Her first book, The Limited Visibility of Bees, was named a finalist for the New Issues Press Poetry Prize. Her poetry and interview credits include CutBank, Nimrod, The Denver Quarterly, VoiceCatcher, Iron Horse, The Buddhist Poetry Review, and Bookslut. Her published chapbook is called The Last One Eaten: A Maligned Vegetable’s History. Savage is a member of the poetry/music duo, THrum, whose album is forthcoming in spring 2015. This article continues her series for VoiceCatcher, Leave the Dishes: Making Art While Raising Children.

Leave the Dishes: Making Art While Raising Children

A Holiday Gift to You: Writing and Visual Artist Residencies for Parents (Part I)
by Claudia F. Savage

This summer, my husband, John, and I had an artist friend for dinner who does not have children. “So, when are you two going to be doing your next residency?” (He knew I had met John at The Atlantic Center for the Arts.) Then our friend pointed towards our sleeping daughter’s room and laughed. “Oh, sorry, I forgot.”

Things are changing. Below are five places that want to support your efforts to keep creating (while bringing your children with you or taking needed time away from them). In Part II of this series, I will offer five more. The wonderful Sustainable Arts Foundation (SAF) is supporting the vision of these residencies:

Roswell Artist-in-Residence Program
Since its inception in 1967, Roswell has accommodated families. Stephen Fleming, director of the Roswell Artist-in-Residence Program, says, “A few children have [even] been born on the residency … or, at least, here in town. Every artist has their own separate living space so they are free to hang out together or remain uninvolved according to their own requirements.”

Where: Roswell, New Mexico
How Long: 12 months!
What You Get: $800 a month stipend for the artist and $200 for each dependent with no restriction on how the funds are used. A house/studio with three small bedrooms, living room, kitchen, bathroom, and laundry. “A family of four is the typical number of folks per house,” says Fleming.
Artistic Disciplines Funded: visual artists (painting, drawing, sculpture, printmaking, photography, installation and other fine art media)
Apply: Application deadline is March 15, application fee is $25, submit

Headlands
Headlands has been supporting professional artist-parents since the 1980s. According to Holly Blake, residency manager, “The Family House is offered as a resource to help make a residency more possible for an artist. Two of our staff members have younger children and can offer advice about babysitting and local pre-schools.”

Where: Sausalito, CA
How Long: Two weeks (Spring, March-May; Summer, June-August; and Fall, September-November), with, according to Blake, “many artists doing a week solo and then a week with their family.”
What You Get: Family House (three bedrooms, bathroom, shared kitchen, and washer/dryer), five chef-prepared meals per week served in the mess hall (which the artist’s family can join at no charge), a studio, $500 per month stipend, roundtrip airfare, and use of shared cars.
Artistic Disciplines Funded: writers and visual artists
Apply: Application deadline is June 6, application fee $45 (make sure to request a Family House stay in your application’s statement of interest), submit

Caldera
Elizabeth Quinn, artist-in-residence director, says that Caldera began family residencies last year thanks to an SAF grant and as an extension of its mission to work and support youth. “We think each family will be different in how much the child of the artist-parent is involved in the activities of the residency. Caldera’s goal is to manage expectations and ensure a positive experience for everyone [attending the residency].”

Where: Sisters, Oregon
How Long: One month (January, February or March) or two weeks (March)
What You Get: A variable stipend that can be used as needed to support the family. (“Last year $1,500 was awarded to two artists,” Quinn said. “One family used it for childcare; another family used it to support the living expenses of the family while in residence.”) Private cabin that is child-proofed, has children-sized furniture, bathroom, and kitchen. Shared access to studios, darkroom, kiln, editing facilities, and performance space.
Artistic Disciplines Funded: writing, visual artists, and composers
Apply: Application deadline is June 15, application fee is $35, submit

Kala Art Institute
Last year, Kala Art Institute awarded ten residencies to artists with children. “We don’t have housing at Kala. Artists are given a housing resource list with lower-than-market rates [for accommodations],” says Carrie Hott, program manager, Artist Residencies and Classes.

Where: Berkeley, CA
How Long: Varies based on residency plan designed by artist and Kala staff with “most parent-artists using the award for at least two months or putting a portion of their fees towards classes or tutoring to gain a new skill,” according to Hott.
What You Get: $1,000 stipend allows resident to create a plan to cover the residency, classes, Camp Kala for their children, or professional development with Kala staff.
Artistic Disciplines Funded: visual artists (printmaking, photography, or digital media)
Apply: Application deadline is March 15, application fee is $10-40 (depending on if you apply for an additional fellowship), submit

Santa Fe Art Institute (SFAI Family Residency Initiative)
Nina Elder, the residency program manager at SFAI, says, “We recognize the lack of residency opportunities for artists to be able to take advantage of, without having to leave their children behind. We are doing our part to close that gap by offering an environment that supports both creative opportunities and the needs of artists with children. Our next family month will be June 2016.”

Where: Santa Fe, New Mexico
How Long: One designated month a year
What You Get: Two apartments at the SFAI for a fee of $1,000. “The Family Initiative allows parent artists to bring their children and/or partner at no additional fee. All residents make their own meals in the communal kitchen,” says Elder. The SFAI facility includes gallery and exhibition spaces, sky-lit studios, art library, courtyards, laundry facilities, and dining and living room areas.
Artistic Disciplines Funded: writers and visual artists
Apply: Application deadline is January 31 for residencies August–June, application fee is $35 (check the Family Initiative box on the application), submit

Claudia F. SavageClaudia F. Savage has been a chef for people recovering from illness, a book editor, and a teacher of poetry to young women in Appalachia, ranchers in Colorado, and urbanites in Portland. Her first book, The Limited Visibility of Bees, was named a finalist for the New Issues Press Poetry Prize. Her poetry and interview credits include CutBank, Nimrod, The Denver Quarterly, VoiceCatcher, Iron Horse, The Buddhist Poetry Review, and Bookslut. Her published chapbook is called The Last One Eaten: A Maligned Vegetable’s History. Savage is a member of the poetry/music duo, THrum, whose album is forthcoming in spring 2015. This article continues her series for VoiceCatcher, Leave the Dishes: Making Art While Raising Children.

Leave the Dishes: Making Art While Raising Children

Start Making Art Again
by Claudia F. Savage

Making art takes dreaming as well as time. But when I turned 38 and had my daughter, River, all writing methods fell away. I was frantic and exhausted. I owed it to myself, and to River, to find a way to continue my artistic life despite the challenge of raising her. She needed a mother who was her fullest self — and that woman had to figure out how to write.

“Leave the Dishes” is a column about how to create amidst the chaos, including advice from other artists who have made it happen and help from organizations that want to support that effort. I’ll be interviewing mother-writers, mother-visual artists, and organizations throughout the Pacific Northwest and beyond. For now, let’s start with what began to work for me:

Deep Attention — in Quick Bursts
The poet Li-Young Lee once told me he came back to poetry after bathing his boys before bed, watching the light come through the trees in a window above them. He felt this attention, this noticing, was more important than any other work he was doing at the time. Sometimes, it is not about making work as a mother-artist, but just allowing yourself to experience unhurried sensation. Stopping the constant rush for just a moment. I often feel a poem begin when I look at my 2-year-old’s sunlit hair. Encourage your child to touch the petals of a daisy on walks. Touch them with her. Point out the birds rising from a neighbor’s rooftop. Watch how their dark wings contrast with the sky. And, to capture those thoughts …

Notebooks, Notebooks Everywhere
Don’t just carry a notebook with you, place notebooks everywhere you are during the day (in the stroller, the diaper bag, your purse, next to your bed, the car, and in the kitchen). Being a mother means that artistic ideas are quickly replaced by crying children. Don’t worry about the topic, just get it down. One day I wrote the following lines after nursing my daughter:

I thought your eyes would be blue.
Sliced sky over the breakfast table.

This reminds me of the most important shift that happened to me when I started to …

Work Smaller
You know you’re not going to write a 700-page novel or fill a gallery when you have an infant. But, maybe you were once prolific and your inability to write even one poem a month makes you feel like an utter failure. For me, I decided that I had to work smaller since the best time I could work was during my daughter’s naps. At the end of the day I was so tired I could hardly eat dinner. Nikki McClure’s beautiful book, Awake to Nap, was done specifically during her son’s naps. Many artists talk about this tactic. At first, River’s naps were so short I only got out one or two lines every other day. A poem took weeks for a first draft. Then, I realized that I could work smaller on multiple pieces at once, coming back to each one as I felt inspired. This was a departure for me, but it felt easier, especially once I started to …

Exile the Editor to Fiji
Sleep deprivation and stress can make the internal editor huge. It’s a good idea to exile her until confidence in your new art-making ways returns. I’m not talking about no longer critiquing your work. I’m talking about exiling that voice that doesn’t allow you to create in the first place. The one that tells you everything you make is terrible. For the first year of River’s life I made the decision to just focus on generating. I filled notebooks with two-line pieces, sketches, and non-fiction rants. Sometimes, the work was a reminder that I was having a hard time. Once I wrote:

I write in secret on the couch. Pretending to remember the garlic on the grocery list. Got that? Yeah. Milk? Yup. I am bloodless. A husk.

Once River started sleeping a bit more at night, I began to trust myself to edit some of the pieces I’d made. But, before that happens for you, let the editor have her pina coladas far, far away. And focus instead on a way to …

Develop Routine or Ritual
So, what do you do with all those jotted down sketches and lines from a given week? Try to develop a routine or ritual around some kind of completion. For me, my time was one hour on a Saturday morning. Often I was so exhausted I just stared at my notebooks, but, eventually, I started to crave that time when I could compile my disparate things from the previous week’s notebooks into something. It was a good time to assess how I was doing as a writer. Which strategies were working (that notebook in the bathroom got soaked from the duck toy) and what was surprising (did I actually write a line after a 3 a.m. feeding?). And, finally …

Forgiveness and More Forgiveness
If nothing gets done that week or that month, you will be fine. Forgive yourself. You will come back to it if you just focus on making space for yourself. Remember that whatever you make during this time of childrearing should be celebrated. There is nothing more powerful than rediscovering yourself on the page, for yourself and your children. However you make it work is good.

 

Claudia F. SavageClaudia F. Savage has been a chef for people recovering from illness, a book editor, and a teacher of poetry to young women in Appalachia, ranchers in Colorado, and urbanites in Portland. Her first book, The Limited Visibility of Bees, was named a finalist for the New Issues Press Poetry Prize. Her poetry and interview credits include CutBank, Nimrod, The Denver Quarterly, VoiceCatcher, Iron Horse, The Buddhist Poetry Review, and Bookslut. Her published chapbook is called The Last One Eaten: A Maligned Vegetable’s History. Savage is a member of the poetry/music duo, THrum, whose album is forthcoming in spring 2015.