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A Room of One's Own: On Creativity While Being Mom

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Photo by Charles Deluvio on Unsplash

It's hard to write about creativity as if nothing is happening. Between the actual pandemic we still have to deal with, and the pandemic racism in the US, to which we all look to as the leader of the Western world (albeit with dwindling conviction), it feels callous to think about anything else. But I have no new perspective about Black Lives Matter (because it's friggin 2020 and it's about time we talked about racism), so if you do want to read some stuff, these two should be a good start: Chenjerai Kumanyika and Salma El-Wardany.

Now, to the topic at hand. Virginia Woolf has written that "a woman must have money and a room of her own if she is to write fiction". What she meant was that women were excluded from creative and intellectual pursuits and needed to be able to support themselves and find a safe space to write from. We've come a long way since, but it's still difficult for women to engage in creative and intellectual pursuit. We're not excluded from education anymore, but even in Western society, a woman who has a career and children is put into one of two categories: a heartless boss lady or a super-woman. I know too many mothers with interests other than their children to think that either is accurate or helpful.

I'm incredibly privileged. Besides being white and not obviously immigrant, we are also well-off financially, enough for me to not have an income. I can write either at the kitchen table (when the kids are at school) or upstairs (during the lockdown). I'm also lucky that my children are independent enough to allow me two hours of writing every weekday morning. I know many women are not as privileged, and they still write or engage in creative pursuits.

I also read self-help stuff, because I try to improve myself all the time. Advice for people who want to create is either be more productive (shut yourself in the studio for hours, create when the muse hits you) or keep your day job and a creative "hobby". Both of these are great for people who can and want to have nothing else in their lives. It doesn't work for everyone. These kinds of advice tell us that in order to create, we have to be completely devoted to our art.

Back to women. Having children and engaging in creative pursuits is tricky on both sides. On the one hand, art is a hobby, not a real job in which you get paid, so you are neglecting your children for selfish indulgences. On the other hand, if you are not wholly devoted to your art, you are not "serious" about it, or you are not a "real" artist because you don't feel an uncontrollable urge to create at two in the morning.

I'm sorry, but I'm calling BS. People are complex. You can be passionate and serious about your art without that being the only thing in your life. You can have a family and care about them and still write. You can choose to spend time with your loved one and still be creative. You can sleep and still be creative. Generally, productivity hamster-wheels are a great tool for capitalism and not so great for people trying to keep up with expectations in real life. If we treat art like we do all other jobs, if we treat art like it's something we need to sell, we're missing the point. Positioning art as being a product that you must be completely devoted to in order to make is a subtle way of excluding women, particularly mothers (and other carers) from being creative. God forbid we'd start thinking.

Sure, a room of one's own is a privilege. When the kids are being "homeschooled" (pfft), a separate room to write in is priceless. But being a mom is tough. Being an artist is tough. Being a woman is tough, still. Cut yourselves some slack. Then, keep calm and carry on. We'll get there eventually.


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