Monday, October 28, 2013

What it takes to be an artist and a parent

A lot of people who take sabbaticals go away for at least a portion of that time. Many travel abroad, others go to workshops, conferences or residencies in another part of this country. For what I wanted to do during my sabbatical leaving my Yakima studio didn't make a lot of sense, but last week I could understand the advantage of getting away.

Missoula Children's Theater was in town and my daughter asked to audition. After she made it clear how much she wanted to do it, we agreed to let her audition and she was cast in a small part. Yakima Schools so far haven't impressed me with their ability to communicate with parents, so I shouldn't have been surprised that the communication broke down between MCT and the school district. The directors scheduled practice during school (and inconveniently the play is happening at a different school than the one my daughter attends). When I pointed this out to the director, he indicated surprise that the kids had school at 2:30 during the week, but it was too late to adjust the schedule.

MCT backdrop
I'm glad my daughter got the opportunity to take part in the production. To my surprise, she loved just about every bit of her experience. However, because of the schedule, I had to leave my studio early three days last week and start my day late once to transport my daughter to and from the rehearsals. To be fair, I had a couple other commitments outside of the studio that interrupted my work time as well. My husband helped when he could: when rehearsal started after the end of his work shift.

The advantage of taking a sabbatical in town is that my time is flexible. I can transport my daughter (and others) to and from various locations during the day when other parents are working. However, the risk of having (and admitting to having) flexible time, is that it sometimes is interpreted as free time.

My pet peeve during the summer is the assumption that since I am in a room attached to my home, I am not working (and am therefore available to do other things). I cringe when I am asked, "Since you aren't doing anything today, could you...." I am doing something and am therefore not free to do something else, though I have varying levels of success getting other people to understand this. Because I view my art making as a job, part of my career, and not as a hobby for my spare time, I am pretty strict about setting aside hours for work and hours for not-work. During my sabbatical, I work from the time I drop off my daughter at school until she gets home. If I pick her up, my day ends earlier than if my husband picks her up. This has generally been my summer schedule as well.

When I am teaching, I try to keep work at work and not bring grading or planning home too often. Just the same, when I am working in the studio I try to be done when my daughter is done so I can spend time with my family. It is, of course, harder to work with my daughter home and tends to cause problems like forgetting to cover my work (so it won't dry out).

When my daytime work schedule is interrupted I find it frustrating because it makes the entire week less productive. If I can't get as much done in a week, I run the very real risk of the clay drying out too quickly. Early in the week I threw some work, but then I lost almost 8 or 9 hours of scheduled work time to transporting kids and other appointments. There are entire pieces I didn't touch all week. Friday I had to spray some with water and wrap them tightly in plastic in hopes that they won't dry out before I can get to them this week.

thrown work, unfinished

The missing studio time makes me feel a bit worried about getting everything done on time, but it is a passing comment from another parent that was annoying me all day Friday. The other mother assumed I had spent my entire day sitting at the school watching the kids rehearse. I'm sure the other mother didn't attach a value judgement to her assumption, but I am so accustomed to the attached value judgement that I am quick to react, at least internally, to comments about how I spend my time during the day on sabbatical or in the summer.

There is this perverse bit of mommy guilt that I think a lot of moms today experience. This nagging voice tells me, "since I could be watching my kid, I should be watching my kid." The logical part of my brain (the part that knows what it takes to craft work and to keep on schedule for an upcoming show) reassures me that I need to put in the hours in the studio to get the work done on time. However, that little sliver of guilt rubs at the surface, speaking in the voice of older parents who assure me that "this time goes by so quickly." And annoyingly, frustratingly, against my will, I notice that sliver more each time some other parent or friend or family member assumes that my studio time is less a real job than if I walked into a different building at a set time. There seems to be an assumption that time spent in the studio (in anything besides an essential, daily, hourly JOB) is less important than any hours or minutes I could spend with or near my daughter.

some work I did finish last week

I wrote this post out of a sense of frustration. Ironically, once I had written that last paragraph, I felt much better, having just gotten it out there. I haven't cut the cathartic paragraph and I now include this self-reflective epilogue (of sorts) because I find three things worth sharing in this post: 

1) Other moms (and maybe dads) may share my feeling of not being "allowed" a life outside of the kids. We need to allow ourselves to be individuals separate from our kids, even if just for a short time.

2) Writing about  frustrations can be cathartic. Whether it is for an audience or not, the process of writing has helped me identify what is bothering me and brainstorm a solution (on more occasions that this one). Writing is good for us as artists and as people. (Students, I'm talking to you!)

3) Future artists and friends and family of future artists, please try to be aware that making art takes time. If you want to be an artist, you must allow yourself time to make the work, as well as time to plan and fail and try new things and think about your work. If you want to truly support your artist friends, acknowledge that their work takes time to make and accept that they cannot blow it off, even if no one is watching. If you pressure them to abandon their studio time, it is just the same as pressuring them to skip class or call in sick to work. The result may interfere with their ambitions and their career opportunities.

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