Thursday, 12 March 2009

A Cubby Of One's Own

In February I attended a local writers' festival called Writers At The Convent. I generally avoid anything that has the possibility of involving nuns (with all due respect to the hundreds of nuns I'm sure read this blog - I am of course genuflecting as I type), but this was well worth the risk.

The talk that made me want to stand up and shout Hallelujah! was called 'The Divided Heart', and featured four Australian artists talking about the wrench between motherhood and their artistic lives.

The four were: Rachel Power (author of the book, The Divided Heart, featuring interviews with dozens of writers, artists, actors, musicians, etc, on the subject); Alice Garner (an actress you might have seen on The Secret Life of Us, amongst other things, she's also an historian, a musician, and the daughter of Helen Garner); Sarah Watt (film-maker, she made the gritty drama Look Both Ways, which also stars her partner, William McInnes); and mosaic artist Helen Bodycomb.

It was a wonderfully unstuffy, relaxed chat, as if they were in someone's living room, suddenly inspired to get a whole load of strife off their chests, and we were the lucky flies on the wall. That 'wrench' was obvious in the way they struggled to put into words how difficult it can be to give yourself permission to be an artist with the expectations of your family, and society, and your own mind, working against you. But using their own experiences of home life (Sarah Watt on how she always makes provisions for her children when she has to go away shooting, whereas her actor husband feels no such obligation and she has to cover for his absence as well as her own; Helen Bodycomb on putting her daughter into daycare because she was making a sculpture out of chicken bones covered in gold leaf and couldn't risk the little girl breathing over the gold leaf laid out on the table) they managed to convey so well the struggles we go through to make it happen, the hilarity of it sometimes (I know I'm not the only one who has had to lock herself in the loo in order to have a conversation with a publishing bod, while the children banged and shouted on the other side), and the fact that we have to convince ourselves that it's worth it before we can hope to convince anyone else.

With that in mind, they made the point about having a space of your own. It can seem a rather luxurious concept to someone who has shared their body, bed, personal space etc with one or more babies to suddenly demand a specific area of the house that is just for her, but having recently inherited a lovely old dining table from a friend I have converted the 'what's this for then?' room into my study. I keep it dark, the way I like it, and have my manuscript - formerly shoved into a drawer between sessions - nicely laid out and 'ready to go'.

Most of the time I use this space in the evening, when the children are tucked up and I can give myself the kind of challenge that keeps me going from one chapter to the next (eg. If you write 500 words, you can watch Desperate Housewives later - okay, it's not what Shakespeare would have done, but I respond well to a bit of carrot-dangling). But the advantage of having such a huge desk became obvious the other day when I managed to convert one half of it into a perfect cubby for two (plus bears). A packet of raisins and a few biscuits, a torch and some pillows = two happy customers and a surprising half hour for me to write at the other end of the table. It's those little snatched times all added up together that turn out books in this house, and the talk on The Divided Heart made me realise how many others are doing just the same.

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Bev J said...

Hi Emily,

I'm a WW member who's still getting to 'know' other members and have just come across your blog, and this entry which I was so happy to read!!

I know I'm not the only creative mum trying to balance children and work, but to read of others lifts the spirit!

The struggle for me is that I'm in the process of changing direction and currently producing picture book dummies as an author/illustrator, so every spare minute is taken with writing/drawing and designing. And boy, do I feel guilty! Can't remember the last time the kitchen floor was washed, at night I catch a glimpse of the cobwebs dangling off the ceilings and CBeebies has become the childminder!

With regards to having my own space I have a little (5 1/2'x8') shed in the garden my DP is currently fitting out with water and electrics so I can use it as my studio ( I work small LOL!). Only then will I know my artwork is safe from sticky fingers and earnest young artists keen to add their mark!

Bev J (bevly on WW)

Emily Gale said...

Hi Bev, lovely to see you here. About the kitchen floor: studies have shown that children benefit from slightly grungy houses - builds their immunity! Tis true! And Cbeebies is so wholesome / educational. Except for Lazy Town; I can't stand that.

The shed sounds perfect!

Sasch said...

Gloria Steinem famously said 'I have yet to hear a man ask for advice on how to combine marriage and a career'.

The same goes double for family and a career.

That quadruples again with a creative career.

You ladies are an inspiration to us all!