Before becoming a parent I was dedicated to two careers, one as a tech recruiter and one as a theatre performer/playwright. My life was my own to schedule and my careers depended upon long, uninterrupted hours, showing up to events or auditions at a moment’s notice, and having the freedom to create the opportunity to go off-the-grid and catch up on sleep after going hard for a deadline. My artistic work specifically relied upon workshops, public presentation, retreats, residency, and academia to either kickstart or complete projects. I had no problem connecting with other artists, attending artistic events, or just doing my job.
After becoming a parent, everything changed. The introduction of my stepchildren was my first experience with parenthood and its all-consuming effects. I struggled to stay motivated and organized at work; exhausted from the pick-up’s and drop-off’s, the nonstop meal preparation, bedtime routines, extracurriculars, being woken up at night for bad dreams or bathroom attempts gone awry, and all the emotional stress that goes along with becoming a member of a blended family. My art practice was the first thing to go and my career as a tech recruiter soon followed when I chose to become a stay-at-home caregiver to my nursing daughter. (A choice I know I am both privileged and grateful to have.) Retiring from tech was acceptable to me, but letting go of my artistic career was not.
So I began to experiment with other materials and disciplines beyond performance. When the challenges of developing as a blended family became overwhelming, I looked to art for clarity, therapy, and insight. When I couldn’t get up the energy to write, I read voraciously. I tried to do something with nap times. Still, I struggled.
My first attempt to leave the house and foray back into art-making with others was a one-day writing seminar at Stanford University. My husband drove me and kids to campus, dropped me off at class, and met up with me during breaks to nurse and check-in.
I felt like I could breathe again. I also realized how little I had produced since giving birth and hungered for more. So, I signed up for a memoir writing class with Lynn Stegner that met for three hour blocks on Wednesday nights for ten weeks. On those days I would get the littlest one down for a nap in the car on the way to picking the older kids up from school, meet my husband at work for dinner, then drive us over to campus. He ran around with the kids and met me for breaks so I could nurse. Overall it was exactly what I needed it to be. On the one hand, I wrote and presented raw work in class, interacted with other writers, got out of the house, and started to feel like myself again.
On the other hand, I missed multiple class periods and was forced to surrender one of my presentation days because I didn’t produce work. I didn’t have childcare, sleep, time, space, or a belief that I should make those things possible. I was struggling to rethink my role as artist and mama. (My daughter turned one year old while I was enrolled in that course.) So I turned to reading voraciously while my daughter nursed or napped as a way to stay connected with art.
On Mother’s Day I received an email forward with a note from my aunt saying “You might be interested in this.” That is how I learned about The Artist Residency in Motherhood, created and founded by Lenka Clayton. I immediately bookmarked the page and during our next long drive I read about the self-directed residency on my husband’s phone and the day after that, I took action.
- I drafted an artist’s statement.
- I used the residency planning toolkit to determine what I would do and need during the residency. My biggest challenges became clear. I needed alone time (read: child care), dedicated work space, community and dialogue, accountability, and confidence.
- I moved my stepdaughter’s room into my very own (not childproofed) studio space and moved her into the guest room. (She is thrilled to now have the biggest room in the house. I also reimagined our van as a mobile studio space.
- I set up a custom website and Facebook page to make myself publicly accountable to producing work on residence.
- I started staying up late, working during nap times, and making use of the mobile studio while waiting to pick up or drops off kids. I pursued projects that can be easily picked back up after interruption and produced within and around my home. I endowed short collections of minutes as formal studio time and embraced the use of the new mobile studio in my practice. I was still struggling to find blocks of time and not yet comfortable with the idea of childcare. Update: During the fourth month of residency my mother-in-law learned of my endeavors and volunteered to care for my youngest 2x per week, thus allowing me eight generous hours of solo time.
- Then I began to see existence as an artist-mama as an opportunity to approach artistic practice and production with an unprecedented openness so to perceive motherhood as a vehicle, rather than a hindrance, for the production of art. This singular shift transformed my struggle into a source of empowerment, fodder, and purpose. I began to ask myself: What artistic spaces exist within walking distance? What materials already exist within and around my home? How might I incorporate my children into my work? How do I create a new community around me? Would it be possible to bring artists, galleries, performances, and screenings to my front door? If I had permission to reimagine the artist residency then what might happen if I reimagined the concept of an artist’s retreat/workshop?
7. My first completed project on residency was CAMP TAKIBI, an overnight camping retreat and creative workshop that took place at my home. Artist retreats and workshops are usually designed as a way for artists to get away from their daily lives, pursue their art, and enjoy the company of other artists. Most retreats/workshops are not family-friendly nor are they focused on the artist and wellness in addition to honing craft or producing work. CAMP TAKIBI was different. It subverted ideas of escape as essential to retreat and the private nature of American residential life, and challenged issues around the presence of partners and children. The camp asked artists to acknowledge the stress of their daily struggle and meet it head on by remembering their medicine. It also welcomed families. It opened up my family’s domestic space for communal use. It also asked artists to arrive with a mind open to connecting to our ancestors, the earth, and the purpose of self care so that we might return to our daily lives with conviction around our artistic purpose and practice. Read more about CAMP TAKIBI here.
The Monday after CAMP TAKIBI I felt different.
During a chat with a former director and dear friend…