“..it often feels like my creativity and mothering are in competition with one another. There are the practicalities of motherhood, and my familial responsibilities…and then there is the impracticality of wanting to ditch it all so that I can talk to no one, immerse myself in a writing, music, or art project, and dig into whatever wants to come out of me. “
1. Describe your current family situation
I have three kids, who will soon have birthdays, making them almost 6, 8, and 10 years of age. My husband and I do our best to parent them and provide a positive environment, while juggling teaching jobs (him full time and me part time), general adulting, and following our own inspirations.
2. In your eyes, what does ‘creativity’ mean and why is it important to you?
Creativity is a vibrant, pulsating, embodied force which urges you to make stuff. Though sometimes it feels like an urge that forces you to make stuff.. It is a natural part of life and a necessary one. It pushes you to explore, to bring together disparate elements, combining the known and the unknown, the concrete and the abstract, into something new and unique. The process and products of the creative force can be shared in order to enrich life and to render it more meaningful.
3. How do you carve out time and space within family life for your creative practice?
While I used to be able to plan out my time, and devote actual days to painting, writing, cooking, and so on, now creative engagement is a more spontaneous practice.
Sometimes creativity is something that I suddenly remember to focus on, as I am actually doing a task. For example, cooking dinner can be accomplished on autopilot, which channels very little creativity into food preparation. However, the sensations of chopping vegetables, rubbing herbs over a roast, can bring you into the moment, and into your body, from which your creativity can wake up and start to flow. Maybe the result is similar, but there will be an attention to detail, enjoyment, and satisfaction, which occurs only when a spark of creativity has been mixed into the meal.
At other times, creative play is something that gets tucked into nooks and crannies of the day. I might run off to my computer and rattle the keyboard for half an hour, or draw a picture once the kids are in bed. My daily practice could be singing while I wash up, or playing dance parties with the kids. I do make things with the kids too, but whatever gets made is more about helping them to wield their own creativity, and to learn the use of different tools. When I do creative tasks with the children, it doesn’t feel the same as when I am crafting something on my own. In fact, when they were smaller I often found it deeply frustrating to sit and work with them. As they get older and more independent, they have their own visions. I find helping them to make something they want to make, versus chaperoning them through the process of making something for the sake of it, is more fun.
I find that it is hard to get into a creative rhythm at the moment. Much more so than when the kids were smaller in fact. The quality of attention that the children need now is not the same as when they were babies. They need to be seen, to be listened to, and they need to be led in tasks like tidying up, or in brokering truces during arguments. All this requires mental space, and I focus most on using my free time to cultivate that. Creative projects can seem like a heart-breaking process of trying and failing to be the mother the kids need, while also making something meaningful that I can share with others.
4. What kind of creative activities do you feel drawn to again and again?
I’m attracted to different activities at different times. For a couple of months it might be music, then a writing project, which I inevitably dump after a while, and then I’ll be into drawing or something else.
5. How do you get inspiration flowing when you feel stuck?
I often leave projects because I got bored with them or get demotivated. I’d say that when I’m stuck, it’s because I struggle more with turning inspiration into consistent and continued action than not being inspired at all. I find that inspiration comes most often when I’m driving the kids to school in the morning. Something will pop into my head for me to jump into once I sit down on my own. However, I can get bogged down in wanting to go in multiple directions at once. When I get overwhelmed by ideas and I need to boil them down because I can’t see the wood for the trees, then I find walking around settles ideas into order.
6. In what ways do you sabotage your own creative life?
Well, like I said above, I get ideas, I get inspired, and often I run off with the idea for a while, but I find it hard to create finished projects. In part, I think this is how my particular brand of curiosity manifests. The point isn’t always to create a finished project: sometimes the process is the reason for doing something- like when I write so that I can trick myself into telling myself what I really think and feel about life, the universe, and everything.
However, when I do get fully underway with a project, rather than dumping it halfway through, then I can be perfectionistic and overly critical, which is a fabulous excuse to never ever share it with the world. In this sense, I can be my own worst enemy. The result is that I have a nagging feeling of incomplete potential that follows me around. And the more I feel it, the more I want to dig in my heels and procrastinate.
7. Who or what are your creative allies or mentors?
My parents, my brother, my closest friends, and my husband are all people with a strong creative impulse, though we aren’t necessarily each other’s intended audiences. For instance, my brother is finishing a doctorate in Very Dark Metal, my husband writes stories and verse, my mum does travel writing and genealogy, and my dad paints. It’s always fascinating to see what they make. My kids are prolific in their creativity, which reminds me that there doesn’t always have to be some higher purpose for making a thing than making the thing. They are also incredibly supportive when I share something I am doing with them.
I have a collection of very famous and less well known writers and musicians who I turn to for inspiration and comfort, such as Elizabeth Gilbert (well obviously), Paulo Coelho, Amanda Palmer, Lucy H Pearce, Maria Popova, and podcasts like Dave Booda’s Darken The Page. In terms of actual teachers, I did a course with Carolyn Elliot called THRILL which is basically a crash course on writing for weird and magical people. I recently took singing lessons from a real live teacher, which was wonderful.
I was really good at completing academic projects when I was studying for my various degrees and qualifications, which makes me think that deadlines, tutors, and external expectations are helpful to me. I am accountable to no one in my creative efforts at the moment, which means I am free to do whatever I like, but am much less likely to finish anything.
I have written various blogs/vlogs over the years, and I have had periods where I gained momentum and made a bunch of connections with others through this, a small amount of which resulted in paid work. At these times, being read and supported was very motivating.
8. How would you describe the relationship between your creativity and your mothering?
I would say that it often feels like my creativity and mothering are in competition with one another. There are the practicalities of motherhood, and my familial responsibilities, which take up a lot of time and energy, and then there is the impracticality of wanting to ditch it all so that I can talk to no one, immerse myself in a writing, music, or art project, and dig into whatever wants to come out of me.
Whereas I love sitting in a café or park, surrounded by life, but in my own world, and typing away, I hate being in the same room as my husband or kids while I am working on a creative project that involves an articulation of ideas. It feels about as natural as taking a dump on the kitchen table. Even when I’m not in the same room, there is the constant probability of interruption.
I know from experience that there is a primal anger that comes out of me when I am in creative flow and am not left alone to let it run its course. I don’t know how to mother in that energy, so I don’t feel like I can commit to it, when there are these three small people whom I love and don’t want to shout at.
I also find that if I get busy with creativity while the kids are in school, then I still need physical movement, time to quiet my mind down, and space for some self care, or I get burned out. It’s very hard to balance the pursuit of creative aspirations and an emotionally fulfilling family life.
Cooking is the one thing that I can do with other people in the room, while being somewhat interrupted, and I find it soothing. This is my token creative space in the household. I’m not very interested in domestic creativity that revolves around making clothes, or furnishings, or useful everyday items. I tend to prefer venting emotions and firing out streams of thought about life experiences.
9. To what extent does your creative work generate a financial income for your family? How does this reality compare to your aspirations around this?
I periodically ‘look into’ where I could submit writing, but I haven’t actually done anything about it. I’m not even sure if I want to be a professional writer, because I haven’t tried it. I find it hard to see where I would fit in, and how to get a disciplined modus operandi for this kind of work. Honestly, there is a part of me that is scared to put my work out there, which is equal in proportion to the part of me that resists the amount of time and energy I’d need to find to submit, edit, and promote my work. For these two reasons, I am perpetually treading water.
On the other hand, I’m a teacher of English as a Foreign Language and Pre and Postnatal Education. As such, my work is about creating materials and using different methods to help others acquire skills or knowledge. I love the alchemy of a good lesson, because you have the creative process of imagining activities for learning, based on whatever ideas you are all going to be sharing, and the unexpected outcomes that happen when you are in class with actual students. This is a satisfying way to earn money, and I’d like to pursue teaching in holistic health and wellbeing, which is the broad area that I focus on with personal creative projects.
10. What would you say to a mother who is struggling to express herself in the midst of her family commitments?
If you are finding this a struggle, then you are absolutely not alone. It is a challenge to balance motherhood and other aspirations, and nothing really prepares you for the amount of push and pull, the sacrifices, and the physical and cognitive load mothers are generally expected to carry. Forget about being perfect at everything, be who you are, and remember that your value as a person doesn’t rely on your ability to get shit done.
On the one hand, you have agency and creative empowerment, you are free to mother and create in your own way, in your own time, and on your terms. On the other hand, you were probably assured that you could have children without having to sacrifice yourself on the altar of maternity, only to find that the expectations of broader society are not based on a healthy relationship between motherhood, wellbeing, and empowerment. This dichotomy is not easy, and if you have found it difficult to balance your creative life and family, then it is not a failing.
11. Big yourself up, sister – share your current / most exciting projects, web and social media links:
I have a site, which I am slowly adding to, at hearthletters.com, where I write about spiritual exploration and wellbeing. You can find me on facebook and instagram. If I get round to it (see above), I’ll be posting some articles on Medium about finding your way in motherhood without going totally apeshit. Feel free to email me at alexisblenkarn[at]gmail[dot]com.
Alexis is a teacher of various things, including English, Childbirth Education, and Yoga. She lives in Portugal with her husband and three kids. She loves to write, sing, and go for long walks. Sometimes simultaneously. Her favourite word in Portuguese is ‘cogumelo‘, which means ‘mushroom’. She has a somewhat inexplicable passion for punk covers of pop songs.
To hear more about Alexis, you can visit hearthletters.com to read about yoga and spiritual practices for creatives, fantasists, and thought junkies. You know who you are 😉