Imagination is… a place without boundaries.
|Rachel Power and son Griffin|
Imagination is… making up mythical things like dragons.
Having my first child, almost ten years ago now, marked the beginning of my ongoing struggle to reconcile my creative and maternal ‘selves’. Writing seemed so frivolous and indulgent compared to the solid, important work of raising a child. How could I justify time spent away from my baby — and the relentless demands of household maintenance — to pursue something with no clear outcomes or economic rewards?
It didn’t help that my years of studying art history, with its focus on European males (not all white, but mostly dead), had sold me the Romantic myth of “the artist” as tortured, self-obsessed genius with no option but to damage those closest to them. While motherhood was calling on me to find ever-greater resources of patience and selflessness, art felt like an opposing force — an uncompromising, masculine domain.
I began searching for examples of Australian women who were managing to maintain their artistic careers amid the claims and chaos of family life. I felt like I could barely string two words together let alone attempt a whole novel, and was beginning to fear that I didn’t have what it takes to demand all that I needed to demand of myself, and of everyone around me, in order to keep writing.
Poet and academic Susan Rubein Suleiman said something that still rings true for me:
“Any mother of young children … who wants to do serious creative work — with all that such work implies of the will to self-assertion, self-absorption, solitary grappling — must be prepared for the worst kind of struggle, which is the struggle against herself.”
As my kids get older, I still don’t find it any easier to withdraw from them; to make myself ‘unavailable’ in the way writing seems to require. As I wrote in my book, The Divided Heart: Art and Motherhood, no amount of money, no amount of structural change, can entirely resolve the fundamental dilemma for the artist–mother: the seeming incompatibility of her two greatest passions. The effect is a divided heart; a split self; the fear that to succeed at one means to fail at the other.
Since publishing The Divided Heart, people often ask me what I learned from the process. All of the women I interviewed offered pearls of wisdom that return to me all the time, but the overarching lesson was this:
Perhaps if the Mother Artist Network (MAN) existed when my kids were babies, I may not have needed to write such a book. Back then, it seemed almost impossible to find Australian voices addressing the specific complexities of combining art and motherhood — which of course inevitably means the often overwhelming intricacies of combining art, motherhood, relationships, paid work and the domestic load.
So it’s very exciting to be cracking the champagne bottle over the virtual bow of this new ship of ideas. If Lilly and Jo’s glorious magazine project, BIG, is anything to go by, MAN promises to be an extraordinary forum for artists to share their experiences of navigating mothering and the creative process — a place to flee to when the littlies are finally asleep and you’re in need of solace, inspiration and BIG ideas from kindred spirits.
|Rachel’s daughter, Freya|
Imagination is… dreaming when you’re awake.