For every thing there is a time, right? So the immortal song (and psalm) goes. But sometimes there doesn’t seem to be enough time for every thing. Often my life is interrupted by, well - my life. I sometimes despair that I’m never going to finish a project because I have so many other annoying responsibilities.
Here is an illustration. I hear a noise. I look up from where I have been busily working for an indeterminate amount of time and realize the noise, which I have been hearing for a while but not registering, is my phone. I pick up and it is my son.
“Mom, are you coming to pick me up now?”
“Pick you up? You mean you’re not here? Where are you?“ I ask him groggily.
“Mom, I’m at school. It’s 4:45 pm.“
“Oh honey, of course I’m on my way – I just thought you had – er- tennis practice until 5:30,” (Never mind that it’s January and tennis practice doesn’t start until March.)
“Nope. Mom, I’m freezing. Are you nearly here?”
“Nearly, but…but…I had to stop and get gas so it will be a few minutes more,” I say, crossing my fingers and rolling my eyes at my fat lie. ‘Darn school anyway,’ I think to myself as I’m racing down the road. ‘What does he need to go there for anyway - it’s basically a waste of time. I’m sure he can learn something just as important from those video games he likes, like eye-hand coordination.’ Or ‘He’s pretty smart - maybe he can home-school himself—‘
When he gets in the car, he says “Mom you were quilting all day again, weren’t you? Did you know you’re still in your pajamas? And your hair is scary. I’m glad there’s no one else here to see you!”
He’s right, of course. I’m a bad, bad mother. I know it. “Hey, didn’t you say there was a new video game coming out today? You want to go by the store and check it out? And let’s get take-out Chinese (his favorite) for dinner,” I say, trying desperately to make up for my horrible neglect.
It’s a continuous problem. If I’m busily creating, I only want to stop when I want to stop. Not for any other reason . (The following has actually come out of my mouth on more than one occasion: “Dammit, I don’t’ want to have to pee now, I’m busy. “) I do realize this is ridiculous, but hey, creativity is a demanding mistress! There’s a line in the Jackson Pollack movie where his anguished, ignored wife says “You need, you need, you need, you need!” Man, do I get that.
Yet, I do love my family, and I realize my time with them is limited, and I want to be with them, too. I want to take care of my responsibilities too - really, I do, if only for practical reasons - the laundry, for example, if ignored too long can take up so much space in the house it becomes another, very smelly, family member.
But I can get immersed in a vision and it can be completely consuming. I want to work on my projects until I am done. And when I say done, I mean my definition of done – however I define it at the moment. But that’s not the way it works. I realize I cannot have healthy relationships with my family if I only come up for air every once in a while or when I feel like it.
So do I have to be a self-centered person to be a “real” artist? The conventional wisdom often points to a tortured genius who has no trouble sacrificing her relationships for her art. Well, guess I’m not a genius, because I don’t want to sacrifice my kid and my relationship with my husband for my art. Does this mean I’m not committed to my art, then? No, dammit, I want to have both!
At this moment, art is my job. It takes a lot of energy, just like my old job, teaching, did. In fact, now that I think of it, I had the same kinds of issues of trying to balance that job with my life, too. I held my pee all day then, too, and the malodorous Laundry Child visited us from time to time as well, although it was never allowed to take up permanent residence.
Hey - I’m having my first Oprah “AHA” moment! That’s just how it is, no matter whether we work a “regular” job, or if we are taking a different path. And we don’t have to sacrifice our families or our art or vice versa – we each, individually, have to find the balance that works for us and for the ones we love. There is always going to be a struggle between the two, but we can make it work, if not perfectly. I don’t have to be a self-centered pig artist OR a wife and mother and genuine all-around good guy - I can be both! Just not at the same time.
It’s not a matter of priorities, but of equilibrium. We all put so much pressure on ourselves to be perfect at everything we endeavor, but the fact is, we just aren’t. And we are never going to be. So we need to stop spending our time judging ourselves (and others) and instead figure out what works for us.
So if there are times when I am working and the dust motes in my house become so large they are mistaken for one of the cats – so be it. I’ll sweep them away eventually (just hope I can tell the difference). And so what if when I have to suction myself out of a quilting vortex to take my kid to (whatever) practice and for a moment, it irritates me a little - I’ll still do it, and hopefully I’ll have enough presence of mind to do it with affection and joy .
I know, I know – I won’t be able to balance perfectly, and sometimes I’ll fall off on one side or the other for a period of time, but in the end, I’ll get there. It’s the journey that counts anyway, not the finished product. I just have to keep that in mind, and remember to comb my hair before I leave the house.