Voices from the MotherVerse Q & A Series #13: Madeleine Forbes

Make it non-negotiable. Show up. Tell yourself that whatever happens you’ll make something – even if it’s in a scrappy five minutes last thing at night, or dictated into your phone sitting in your car, or is just the worst thing you’ve ever made. It could be a thirty second song or a half finished sentence – the main thing is you keep that promise, and you keep showing up. And once you start doing that, it will gather its own momentum. “

1. Describe your current family situation

I live with my husband and two year old son on a small off-grid farm in Portugal.

We share our life with two dogs, one cat, a pig called Rosie and a rag-tag assortment of poultry – who provide a never ending source of laughter, challenge and chaos.

2. In your eyes, what does ‘creativity’ mean and why is it important to you?

I believe creativity is something innate to our existence as humans. It’s in the stories we tell, the music we make, the images we create and the way we approach problems. I feel the creative impulse when I cook, when I collect stones and feathers whilst out walking, when I rearrange my space and when I get dressed in the morning.

One thing I love about living a somewhat unconventional lifestyle is how it has opened my eyes to the infinite forms of creativity open to all of us, in even the simplest of daily acts. Many of my friends live in homes they’ve built themselves, necessitating creative approaches to challenges from pumping water to generating electricity. 

As we rely less on processed food, quick fixes and fast fashion, we’re able to get creative about re-using, recycling and repurposing all kinds of things. When I spend time in friends’ gardens I see their personalities, dreams and quirks shine through. 

Creativity matters to me because it’s inherently wild, organic and abundant. I see it in my toddler’s exuberant approach to life – his impulse to make noise, move his body, and explore the environment. Without it, I don’t think we can thrive. Creativity reminds us of the power we have to bring laughter, playfulness and individuality to any situation. In these dark times we live in, I think we need it more than ever.

3. How do you carve out time and space within family life for your creative practice?

As a freelance writer, I’m the main earner for our family – so I’m lucky in some ways that I have a clear imperative to make time for my writing! In writing for my clients I’m able to use my creativity to help connect them with their customers and build community. I work for small businesses doing good work in the world to empower women, do transformational work and create conscious leaders so I feel very grateful to be able to make that kind of contribution.

Having said that, I do find it a challenge to create space for me to create without a deadline or our income relying on it. Outside of work I don’t always have a lot of time to write and express myself freely, and I find I really need to commit to a structure for that to happen. 

The Seasoned Year is my personal project where I share reflections on the land where I live and the turning seasons. As well as occasional courses around topics that feel urgent – like responding to the ecological crisis, or connecting to seasonal energy – I send emails to readers every full and new moon, without fail. I’ve written through birth, death and loss in our family, and that creative practice has kept me sane.

As my time has become more precious that’s been a treasured ritual for me – an anchor in whatever storms life hurls at me.

4. What kind of creative activities do you feel drawn to again and again?

Writing, always. I’ve been a writer since I was a child, filling notebooks and now documents and many iterations of blogs and websites with my musings. 

I also love cooking, trying new recipes and making up my own. I’m a big kitchen dancer too 🙂

My husband’s a musician and I love listening to music and singing… it’s never been something I’ve felt especially talented at but I love the feeling of singing, especially in a group – it brings me great joy.

And now that my son’s starting to enjoy making a mess with paints I’ve been rediscovering the joy of playing with colours and shapes, very spontaneously.

5. How do you get inspiration flowing when you feel stuck?

Rearrange the things in my space – there’s something about moving objects around and changing my external world that always moves stuck energy within. And going for a walk. I like to leave my phone at home and head out, with maybe the dogs for company. We’re high up on the side of a valley, and the steep walk down to the river and back takes an hour or so. I mutter to myself, put stones in my pockets, stop and talk to trees and if it’s hot, take off my clothes and have a quick swim. That’s usually long enough for me to have found some new inspiration.

6. In what ways do you sabotage your own creative life?

Hmm, what an interesting question. My biggest acts of sabotage have probably been starting a farm and becoming a mother! Ha! But of course I wouldn’t change those for the world. 

Day to day I definitely self-sabotage by scrolling on social media – that’s a habit I’m really trying to break. It’s tough because my work is online and I connect to a rich network of like-minded people on various platforms, so setting boundaries feels hard. 

I also have a terrible tendency to put work (paid work) above everything else. Learning to create time just to be creative is definitely something I’m working on. I’m also accepting the fact that this is a season of my life where lots of things are happening, and I never really have the time I’d like for all of them. I know it won’t last forever, and while I’m doing what I can I have to accept that it’s enough.

7. Who or what are your creative allies or mentors?

I’m inspired by so many women in my life – from the friend I’ve known since University who writes scripts alongside her demanding corporate job, to my beautiful neighbour who lives a deeply creative life, tending her land and reconnecting to ancient ways of womanhood and being. I think every woman I know expresses herself in a unique, and inspiring way. I love seeing other mothers being creative, like Alexis Blenkarn, who also featured in this project.

My husband’s a craftsman, artist and talented musician, who experiments with everything from DJing psychedelic trance to writing incredible guitar songs and now learning the trombone. It’s wonderful to share a life with someone who’s creative in completely different ways to me; we share a lot about our different creative processes, blocks and challenges together, and celebrate our achievements too. 

I’m inspired by wonderful writers online – Stella Orange, Joanna Goddard, Ann Friedman, and Karin Carlson are a few who spring to mind. 

And authors I love include Annie Dillard, Joanna Macy, Wendell Berry, Adrienne Maree Brown and Sharon Blackie. Good writing about nature, the environment, activism and living a good life is what I’m drawn to these days. 

8. How would you describe the relationship between your creativity and your mothering?

Being a mother feels as though it both stifles and stimulates my creativity. Because, let’s face it, mothering is hard work. It’s draining, it’s mundane, and it saps a lot of the energy and executive function I used to have – for things like planning long pieces, immersing myself in projects, or just creating space to explore what I want to. 

On the other hand, being a mother has challenged me in utterly unexpected and interesting ways. It’s brought me new depths of connection with my body, and intuition. And in reducing the amount of time I have to execute creative ideas, it’s forced me to let go, analyse less, and trust my instincts more. I don’t have the luxury of agonizing over multiple drafts or wasting huge amounts of time coming up with ideas. I have to use the moments I have, and open up to whatever wants to emerge. In that sense I think it’s made me a bolder, better and more confident creative.

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?

My income comes from writing, which is something I always dreamed of. OK, perhaps I imagined myself more as a writer of novels than a crafter of blogs, websites and emails… but just making a living from my craft feels like an inordinate blessing.

I used to think I wanted to transition towards earning a living from my own projects, but that’s shifted in recent years. One thing I’ve come to realize is that earning a living from creativity creates a kind of pressure. You start to think about your audience, your market, to wonder how something will be received…

So it actually suits me very well to have the privilege of writing for a living in service of projects and movements I love, and keeping my own personal creative projects just for me. It means I can be utterly free to create what I want to, without worrying about how that might impact my family. It’s taken a few leaps of faith, a lot of luck and a huge amount of hard work to get here and I’m mindful of how lucky I am that I can say this. 

10. What would you say to a mother who is struggling to express herself in the midst of her family commitments?

It’s so different for everyone. But for me, a structure really helped. You could choose the full and new moons, or one day a week, or the third sunday of the month – whatever works. 

Commit to it. Set yourself a deadline, and some way of being accountable. I chose to set up a simple email list and invite people to sign up. But there are so many ways now to easily share your work with the world – write a Facebook post, put a video on YouTube, post a recording on Soundcloud, tape a picture to your bedroom wall. 

Make it non-negotiable. Show up. Tell yourself that whatever happens you’ll make something – even if it’s in a scrappy five minutes last thing at night, or dictated into your phone sitting in your car, or is just the worst thing you’ve ever made. It could be a thirty second song or a half finished sentence – the main thing is you keep that promise, and you keep showing up. And once you start doing that, it will gather its own momentum. 

11. Big yourself up, sister – share your current / most exciting projects, web and social media links:

You can read my blog and sign up for my twice-monthly letters at https://theseasonedyear.com

I’m sporadically on Instagram and I’m often procrastinating on Facebook too.

Madeleine Forbes is a writer, walker and fledgling farmer. Born in London, she left
city life in 2014 to start an off-grid life in the hills of central Portugal where she’s
regularly humbled by her ineptitude as a farmer. She’s founder of The Seasoned
Year, an online project to help deepen our connection to seasonal cycles and
explore how we can respond to the ecological crisis. You can sign up for free Letters from the Land and follow Madeleine’s blog via her website; or follow her on Instagram or Facebook

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