the art of making art + ignoring the dishes

the art of making art + ignoring the dishes

A couple weeks ago, I spent an hour on Instagram Live, talking with fellow makers about how I’ve managed to raise children, live in community, and also keep creating music. Let me start by saying I am not amazing, nor is my situation unique. It’s not at all unusual to be a working parent. I think the unconventional nature of the music business makes it seem less conducive to leading a balanced life with family than other types of work.

You may feel like you need to set it aside once you start a family, because you feel a little selfish taking time to make art, especially if it’s not generating much or any income for the family. Or you may just be so freaking tired all the time that you can’t fathom having the brain power to make something good.

Well, let me encourage you if I can? I have five kids who are now 11 and up.  I didn’t start working in music as a vocation until my firstborn was three-years-old. I was SO tired for a LONG time.

I could talk for dayyyyys about all of this, but I have songs to write! So I’ve tried to recall + summarize the tips I shared in our Live chat.

This one's for the mothers (& all creative caregivers)...

Repost from a while back...in case you could use a reminder. :)

 Mother and Child, 1902 - Pablo Picasso

Mother and Child, 1902 - Pablo Picasso

DEAR FELLOW MAKER,

I’m not the best at responding quickly, and you know why.  I know you know, because you have the same issue, which is why you wrote to me.

There are embers glowing inside you that won’t.go.out even though you have a tiny human or two (or five) to care for and really don’t have spare minutes for artistic flame-fanning.

You have a few domestic goddesses in your life and a few childless superstar artists in your periphery, and as my poet-friend Beth Ann Fennelly wrote:

“I want membership in both clubs.”

If we dedicate heart and soul and all our waking hours, we may at best become “Honorary Members” which feels sort of like a southern “bless-her-heart.”

At least, that’s how it feels most days, because you have:

1. no homemade bread on your counter, OR

2. no new song/story/painting to show for yourself. 

And that, my sisters, is why I write now to YOU.

Because you need to hear the truth.

Which is that on the first day of recording vocals for Feed Your Soul, I cried on the couch in front of my producer 10 minutes before I had to sing.

The truth is I came into the studio 16 hours after making the 10-hour drive to Nashville with four kids, two dogs and 12 stressful situations on my mind.

And also?  I’d watched the Grammy award show for the first time in years and gone to bed both inspired and utterly devastated.

Devastated, because I was reminded what is possible when artists dedicate themselves AND most of their time to their creative work.

Crushed, because even IF I have the talent & skill to make what I'd like to make, I most certainly do not have the hours or money to do that WHILE also raising a (healthy) family and participating in my local community. 

It’s not so much a desire to compete as a desire to contribute to all that beauty that leaves me sometimes aching over my limitations.

So.  That’s reality.  I fully admit it, while admitting also that I chose this full, peopled life and would choose it all over again.  Hands down, I’d take the young marriage, pregnancies, adoption, move to North Carolina, and our community relationships…all these things that made it unlikely (at best) for me to ever be in league with the Jack Whites or Florences but always & forever in league with six other members of the “Most Fascinating & Hilarious Humans on the Planet” club.

I’m saying this for you, sister.

For you, who just know you were born to make something but don’t know where to begin or how to stay awake to do it during those rare hours of quiet.  

You weigh your desire and ability out on a kitchen scale against love for home and family and “normal life” (whatever that is).

I don’t have the practical answer for you and your specific situation, but I have enough experience to say:

You can’t do EVERYTHING, but you can do SOMETHING, and that SOMETHING feels so small and insignificant that it can’t possibly matter, but it CAN and it ABSOLUTELY DOES.

You think if the WHOLE WORLD doesn’t see it or hear it, then it doesn’t really COUNT, but that’s a LIE.

Everything you make, everything you cultivate, everything you tend…it counts,

because you were entrusted with those things by Someone who chose YOU for the job and is paying very close attention, not to charts and likes but to souls.  Yours in particular.

Listen.

I wrote “Held” when I had a toddler, during a time when little else I wrote was very good.  I didn’t have a publishing deal.  I was a little lonely.  But that song started to count the minute I wrote it (for my friends), not after Natalie Grant sang it.

Since then, everything I’ve written and recorded has been done in WEAKNESS and FATIGUE and UNCERTAINTY.  The songs have been written in teeny, tiny margins.  They have been few and far between, just a handful a year.  They matter to whom they matter, and that will remain a mystery to me.

And I, too, have to remind myself of what I know is true.  (“Be transformed by the renewing of your minds…”) We all do.

So that’s what I came to do.  To remind you what is true.

You have been given something marvelous.

You must invest it, whatever it is.

Whatever it is, it COUNTS.

YOU count.

In it together,

christa

how to do this one day...

rowancreek Like you I berate myself with “I should” when it comes to whatever is not easy or highly pleasurable.

“Easy” are mindless chores done halfway before getting distracted and starting another mindless chore.

“Highly pleasurable” includes drinking coffee, reading, walking, napping on Sunday, laughing, watching an episode of The Good Wife or Brooklyn 99, or songwriting.

Hardest of all is sitting still in a chair to write actual sentences of any kind. It’s no small feat to make sense of all my constantly swirling thoughts, which is why I admire you long-form writers, authors & bloggers so much.

But I know, I know. It’s good to remember how to write whole thoughts in whole sentences and share them with real human creatures who care. So yes, occasionally I force myself to sit down and write on the blog, and I’m always glad I did and always feel like I experienced a kind of accidental therapy.

Well, one of my sisters did the unthinkable the other day. She broke what I thought was an unspoken agreement between us by quoting one of my song lyrics back to me (one of my Mom’s favorite pastimes, btw).

She reminded me of the third verse of “How Emptiness Sings” which begins:

I haven’t been asked yet to walk the hard road,

but still there’s a sense of deep loss in my soul…

Until she said it, I don’t think I’d really acknowledged it to myself because I’m really quite good at finding silver linings. But honestly, the road our family has been on over the past several years?  It's been hard.

Lots and lots of love and grace and other good things that bring joy. Yes.

And the road is hard.

None of us is physically ill or dying, which I remind myself of constantly and which keeps things in perspective.

But there have been some pretty major losses, predicaments, grief, uncertainty and exhaustion as our story in some ways suddenly failed to play out the way we imagined it would.

I like problem-solving, but these problems are literally beyond me, and I find it very easy to “lean not on your own understanding” because I HAVE none.

So what’s a fixer to do when the thing won’t be humanly/easily fixed?

When it’s almost comical how so many things are breaking or shifting around you?

When your ideas about your future have shrunk to the size of this one day?

sky

Well. I guess you do this one day. One breath at a time...

And I'm finding these four things have become essential to my waking hours:

     Thanksgiving. Because neither you nor I have reached a point where there isn’t the smallest thing of beauty left in reach.

(deep breath in...long exhale...)

     Begging. Ask like a desperate man (because you are) for things to come right again. Ask God to make Himself undeniably known & make things right. Even if things come right in a whole new, unexpected way.

(deep breath in...long exhale...)

     Seeking. I read everything that speaks to the questions of my brain & heart and solicit wisdom from mentors & friends. Emotions are valid and great, but I need a constant inflow of truth to keep them from wreaking havoc.

(deep breath in...long exhale...)

     Planning. And I mean a very small & immediate plan. What can I do TODAY? Usually what I can do is show up & show love for my work & my people.

(deep breath in...long exhale)

One day.  

Just do this one difficult, HOPE-LIT, living day.

You might have to laugh or cry your way through it, or both at the same time (which feels strange and awesome). That's okay.

No one gets through life unscathed. No one needs to do it alone. No one is beyond hope.

We can do this one day. The mindless chores and the highly pleasurable and, occasionally, a few whole sentences.

 

last words

CSC_0178Last Words

It was at that last moment I woke to the pain My face pressed into the thin skin of her neck Skin kissed 90 years by sun & wind Husband, siblings, grandchildren, great-grandchildren Skin soft as satin Remarkably tan, even in February

I hid in that space My hand stroking hers My cheek pressing hers My ribs trembling in quiet heaves against hers Only she and I in the small room of people.

I can’t remember being alone with her like this.

It was seconds, minutes - But we stood outside of time And I know she felt it all.

When I once raised up, she quietly asked: You crying? Not with surprise or alarm But with knowledge, understanding

She’s said nothing about it all, No “hospice” or “dying” or “when I’m gone” But she did sign that paper - The one that says: Let me go.   If she’s afraid, she doesn’t show it.

I tried to memorize her. She still smells good.

I searched for last words. It’s always only at the last moment A sort of panic rushes in-- When you thought it wouldn’t When you thought you were ready-- It surges like burning water rising Over the riverbed of your eyes, It finds a way out.

Yes, the salty current finds a way, But where are those last words? The ones that say what - maybe - hasn’t been said? I didn’t plan this part. Where are the words??

As it turns out, We had only these: I love you. I love you. I love you. And one secret.

But beyond words something more Took the place of eloquence, Uncontained by syllables or voice, Her blue-glass eyes, my earth-brown eyes Held onto each other and spoke A quiet goodbye.

 

-for Grandma Rogers, 2/26/2014