author – activist – faculty – mom
So I’ve been posting WriterMomPortrait selfies for the past month. “Portrait of the artist in line at the grocery store,” etc.
These are alternative visuals to the usual images of artists we see, either hard at work on their craft, or looking fabulous and glamorous at some party.
It’s about economics. Women artists who are operating at a very high earning level can afford to delegate all parts of their domestic work. Then it’s possible to be photographed on the red carpet in a gorgeous gown while someone else is watching your kid, cleaning your house, and managing your family. I just finished reading Shonda Rhimes’ FABULOUS memoir, Year of Yes, and it was inspiring at many levels. I appreciated that she talked openly about how she is able to do what she does because she has a great deal of domestic help.
Most writers don’t have those kinds of resources. Most of our hours of writing are unpaid or underpaid or any pay is significantly delayed. Those of us who are women, who create and parent, often end up doing a disproportionate amount of domestic work in our families. If we have male partners, we may see their work lives change much less than ours do. And if we are single moms, we certainly end up having to do it all. Many of us are pushed to give up our writing or slow our momentum way down after becoming parents. We simply don’t have as many hours to offer to the craft. If we’re lucky, we figure out how to squeeze in a few hours here and there. I went to a great workshop at BinderCon where Veronica Chambers gave tips on how to squeeze it in (it included sleeping on the kitchen floor and wearing the same type of clothes every day).
My selfies look really different from most of the images of writer moms I see. It is rare that I get to attend a glamorous event, although I am certainly hard at work on my craft every day. However, if I were to take a selfie working at the computer, the domestic work would be implied by the cluttered table, the unswept crumbs on the floor, the pile of dishes in the sink, and the fact that I’m working in my pajamas (which aren’t really pajamas, but my shirt from yesterday). That is to say, I make time for writing by stealing time from domestic work and self-care. I do the minimum to get by, which is still many hours of domestic labor.
Having done four weeks of portraits, I can now articulate my writermomportrait aesthetic: the writer mom is alone in the frame, doing or posing with some domestic chore (the first was Portrait of the Artist with Unwashed Laundry). I don’t want images of us with our kids. The burden isn’t our kids. The burden is the disproportionate way the domestic work lands on us after we have kids. The kids are a joy and a challenge and miraculous and exasperating. But the human connection and the capacity for deep growth and lessons in that human relationship is phenomenal.
In contrast, the actual work of keeping a house doesn’t hold the same possibilities. I am sure anything can have personal growth opportunities when done mindfully, but domestic labor has yet to become my meditation muse. I’m just trying to get it done as quickly as possible so I can get back to writing. Domestic work isn’t inherently miserable–some is more pleasurable than others–but rather, the solitude of the work makes it lonely and at times boring, particularly when parenting can lead us to be isolated and under-stimulated in our lives overall.
Motherhood doesn’t need to be this way, and in many cultures, it isn’t. For those in the US who live in extended families, it’s not as isolated. But the US ideal of a single nuclear family in a middle class home may look good in dwell magazine, but the interior of that life might be very isolating to any real mom who occupies it.
Anyway, I find many aspects of motherhood profoundly isolating, so this project is a way to reach out and connect with others, and to share this part of my life.