The Common Creative Life

I am surrounded by creative adults, not to mention the children. It makes sense- Hot Swede and I trained in music and count many performers, composers, directors and teachers among our friends and acquaintances. But that is not the fullness of creative richness around me. The arts do not hold a monopoly on creative life, not in the least.

“Free form shelves” by Uncle Swede.

Hot Swede comes from a strong tradition of men who design, build, fix and “improve” things. You can’t stop them; they are compelled by nature. These men, sometimes to their women’s delight, occasionally to their despair, design and build their homes, furniture, light fixtures, boats, and countless smaller projects. I come from a line of imaginative small business people- restaurateurs, photographers, boutique, grocery, and shop owners, homebuilders, natural health product developers, and a grandfather who, among other things, was a hotelier, radio DJ, theatre director, and actor.

Creativity is about solving problems; working within constraints and finding ways around them- like a composer manipulating voicing and timbres to express exactly what she is after. It keeps the mind nimble and breathes vibrancy into life.

When we are living well, we are all creative. I cannot imagine a full life without using my mind in this way. It is part of the human condition to make, impact, and form the world around us.  We learn through it and need to do it. I once had an art teacher tell me that if I really wanted to know what something looked like, I had to draw it.  We have a hunger for consuming our own and others’ creative product, even when there is no pragmatic reason to do so- YouTube, anyone?

Some people think that if they are not involved in the arts, they are not creative. They sell themselves short. Where would we be without all those non-artistic inventors and problem solvers? I like a Picasso, but I love indoor plumbing. Hot Swede is an excellent musician with a good ear and clear ideas about what he wants, but his most creative work is currently happening in our kitchen remodel- redesigning stairwells, creating new layouts for spaces, and running new pipes. Some of his solutions are beautiful in the way they work around rigid constraints.

Most of my creative challenge has been in designing and sewing Halloween costumes , thinking up new schemes to get my children to behave in desirable ways, and beginning to write this here weblog. And there is the eternal problem of “what’s for dinner?” I find much satisfaction in solving problems or thinking up clever ways to avoid them. “We’re having a treasure hunt dinner. Eat whatever you can find.”

Not all find satisfying creativity in their paid work; that’s why we have hobbies. I know a journalist who makes books, an arts administrator who crafts beautiful objects in Japanese papers, a physician who plays Bluegrass, singers who love woodworking, and multiple attorneys who sing.

What feeds your creative urge? If you can’t answer that question, try something. Go outside. Spend twenty minutes in your own head and find out what’s in there. Ask someone to teach you a new skill. It will enrich you, even if all you do is make an ugly hat or lopsided loaf of bread.  If you present a spectacular creative failure with the words, “Ta da!”, its reception is automatically improved. I promise.

Ta da!

Ta da!

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More Than Mom

Recently, I played a set of concerts with the vocal ensemble, Cantus. There were rehearsals, call times, and genuine ticket buying audiences. I did not plan on bringing my children to any of the performances. They are 8,6, and 4. Hot Swede would have to bring them by himself and he does not enjoy courting disaster.

After one concert, a friend of mine told me that I needed to bring my kids. I told her that they had come to a rehearsal and she said, “No, not good enough.” They needed to see their mom as a professional- in concert dress, under lights, making music in front of an attentive audience. I was immediately struck by the wisdom of her insight and grateful for it because it had not crossed my mind.

I take the raising of my children more seriously than I do anything else. I chose a career as a freelance musician and violin teacher knowing that I would want the flexibility when I had children. And when I got pregnant, Hot Swede’s job was the one with the health insurance so, duh, I stayed home.

As a woman of my generation and particular formal education, I have deeply engrained ideas about what it means to be a successful person; becoming a mother is a fine choice, as long as I don’t sacrifice my career. Being just a parent and spouse is not a valid option and is a waste of everything I’ve worked for and am capable of.

betty-draper

Another woman who would have benefited from a diversified identity

Well, guess what? That’s what I chose. I think it is the right choice for me and my family, but I still struggle with feelings of inadequacy and little nagging voices that tell me that what I do isn’t valued or respected and that I should have nurtured my nascent career. But I know myself and I know that if I tried to build both career and family with equal priority, I would do neither to satisfaction and I would carry crippling guilt about the state of both. Still, I hate being in social situations where everyone is asked what they do and some polite follow up questions about their work. If I say that I am a stay at home parent, that is the end of the conversation.

So I don’t say that, because I do try to hang onto the person I was before children. I say that I am a violinist, but am mostly a mom now.  Up until last year, I taught lessons out of my home. (The reasons why I gave it up are for another post.) I play gigs for pay and chamber music whenever I get the chance and sometimes, I even practice. The hardest part is carving out the time and finding babysitters. But it is vital to remain true to who I am without kids, because, if I do my job well, they will grow up and leave me some day. And then what will I do?

The beauty of my friend’s counsel was that it considered the benefit to me as well as my children. Knowing that I struggle with balancing my identities as parent and freestanding person, it is important that my children become aware that I am more than their mother. I want them to know that I’ve made the choice to spend my years on them and that it is an action I take, not a consequence of their birth. As adults, they should know, if they or their partners choose a stay-at-home role, that doing so does not diminish the other facets of who they are or of what they are capable. And they should not readily sacrifice those aspects of self.

So, they attended the performance, because of the kind words of a friend and Hot Swede’s willingness to take the wheel of our family ship, Chaos. He told the children that they would have a surprise and they needed to be ready to go. I texted him when intermission started. The kids threw on their coats and shoes and got in the car. Their father drove the 3-minute drive to the hall and parked up on a snow bank, right in front of a hydrant. He unlocked the doors, pointed to the hall and said, “Run!” AJ got about 10 feet and stopped because her feet hurt. With no time to put her shoes on the right feet, Hot Swede scooped her up and ran to the hall, arriving just in time to usher them in quietly as the second half began. They stood in the back in their coats. I could see their huge smiles from the stage. Q gave me an enthusiastic double thumbs up. They were thrilled. Hot Swede backed them out of the hall after my piece, still carrying the misshod AJ, returning to his illegally parked car. I ran from the greenroom to meet them and thank their father for making it happen. I think Q sees me in a slightly different light- one with a touch of awe. That is just fine.

What a handsome blend of talent, skill, and imagination is Cantus. If you don't know them, here is their NPR Tiny Desk Concert. Enjoy.

What a handsome blend of talent, skill, and imagination is Cantus. If you don’t know them, here is their NPR Tiny Desk Concert. Enjoy.