Mothers Who Make are recruiting. You may have seen the job ad we put out for a producer. ‘We put out…’ - I always find the use of the 1st person plural uncomfortable in a context like this. It feels like a grand lie, because the truth is that it is just me, sitting here in a café with the baby asleep in her sling, on a Saturday, which is when I do my writing. It was while the baby was asleep that I wrote my proper job ad for MWM– I had never written one before. I had no idea how to do it and so I had to crib from another, roughly equivalent, job advert that Improbable’s Executive Director was kind enough to share with me. Since then, rather to my surprise (what did I think would happen?!) I have begun to receive very properly worded applications. They start with things like, “Dear Sir/ Madam” and end with, “Thank you for your kind consideration of my application.”
On the one hand I am glad to be going down this official route, glad to be accessing new networks by advertising the post properly, glad to be giving the position status. On the other hand the process runs counter to the very principles that underlie Mothers Who Make. I have written about this before but it strikes me with new force now: as a culture we polarise the personal and the professional, and the personal gets a bad name – it is ‘unprofessional,’ somewhat embarrassing or downright outrageous. Motherhood is hopelessly personal. It is messy and emotional – I was in tears only this morning because I am tired, my son was being difficult and I had run out of patience. I have a literature degree, a circus diploma, two M.A.s, several teaching qualifications but I have no qualifications for the work that is taking up most of my time, of being a mum, because they are my children and I did not have to train to get them. I had to do the far more awkward thing of falling in love, leading to that most intimate and unprofessional of all acts – sex. As I said, motherhood is hopelessly personal.
However more and more women are handing over their children to ‘professionals’ to do the caring, so that they themselves can maintain their professional identities. Mothers Who Make aims to challenge this strong cultural trend. We – and I do mean ‘we’ this time, because there are increasing numbers of groups being run across the UK – hold rare spaces to which women are welcomed and are valued as much for their mothering as for their making, as much for the nights they have spent helping a child back to sleep, as for the famous play in which they have performed at The National. I want “5 years spent in the role of full time mum” to be something any woman could be proud to put down on her CV, instead of it appearing like a worrying hole, a time in which she ‘dropped out.’ So I am simultaneously grateful for the applications I am receiving and disturbed by them.
Today then, to counter the proper job ad, I thought I would write this. This is the unofficial job ad. This is the lonely hearts/ lonely arts ad because it feels like that – I am internet dating. I am looking for a partner to support me with MWM. In fact what I really want to write is not an advert at all – I am not trying to sell myself or MWM. I want to write you a letter.
When I turned 40 I vowed I would write more letters – I got a proper writing case, not professionally proper, but proper paper, a proper place for a pen, for addresses, stamps. I love letters because as a genre I think they can most wonderfully dismantle the great ‘professional versus personal’ divide of our times. They are by someone, a person – me – for someone, a person – you. They are personal. And yet there is a kind of formality that comes from the process of writing that feels not so much ‘professional’ as in someone wearing a suit, but as in someone with a profession – someone engaged in doing a thing they care about enough to sit down and write about it. Here then is a letter to you, whoever you are, the person I am looking for….
Richmond, London, 3rd Feb ‘18
Dear Ms Right,
I am calling you ‘Ms’ – I do not know whether you are married, single, in a civil partnership, broken-hearted, in love, gay or straight. I am however right now imagining that you are a woman or someone who identifies herself, more or less, as female. I did not put this on the proper job ad. I have already had some men apply – I applaud and welcome them. But right here and now I am thinking of you as female because MWM involves, in part, holding women-only spaces, for reasons I have written about elsewhere, and I would love for you to be able to come to our meetings. I hope that you are someone who would want to be there anyway.
The odd part about a proper job ad is that it requires you to tell me about yourself, but I feel it is only fair that you know at least as much about me. Let me start with the basics. I am small. I have short dark hair and brown eyes. I am 43. I have a tattoo of a snake on my left shoulder. I am married. Instead of sending over my CV I will simply give you a list of the main roles or identities I have assumed in my life, not in any strict chronological order. Here they are: daughter, sister, friend, girlfriend, student, teacher, collaborator, dancer, aerialist, actor, director, writer, facilitator, lover, wife, and, for the last 6 years, mother.
I have two children. They are 6 and 1. You will meet them. There is a point in a new romantic relationship when you are taken back to ‘meet the family.’ This usually happens a few weeks in, at least. I need to warn you that with me it will happen right away. When we first meet I am likely to have my daughter with me and I will breastfeed her through our discussion. She will be shy but glad to meet you. I may have my son with me too – he will be loud and rude, which is his way of being shy. He will probably refuse to tell you his real name and may sing, “I am the Walrus” from the Beatles to you too loudly. Or he may have chosen to be with his Granny, my mother, who you will also meet very soon – she is amazing. Mothers Who Make and all the work I have done since becoming a mother is entirely thanks to the support of my mother. So you see why I am passionate about mothers – in part because of my own, and the difference I know committed mothering can make.
You will also meet my husband, Phelim McDermott, though not for a while because this morning he left for New York for six weeks, to do a show there. He helped me to run the Mothers Who Make crowdfunding campaign before Xmas. He encouraged me to write this blog. He started Devoted and Disgruntled, the revolutionary Open Space events for the performing arts community, without which Mothers Who Make would also never have come into being.
What I am trying to tell you is that I take my family to work with me. I firmly believe there can be no single solution to the current ‘how-to-do-it-all’ crisis in which many new parents find themselves, but for me the ‘drop the kids off at a crèche/ nursery/ nanny’ model has never worked. They have come with me to meetings, rehearsals, shows, conferences and workshops. I have felt first hand the shame of it, of being ‘unprofessional’ by bringing them along, as well as the radical pride – because it is possible.
I was recently asked what my workdays are, and I did not know what to say. It was a perfectly valid question that comes from the ‘normal’ world – the one that labels roles as professional or personal and calls one work and the other not. I do not have any workdays and every day is a workday. I work weekends. I work evenings. I work nights too. All day long, every day I am working on my mothering and my making. This means I am both highly organised and extremely disorganised. The house is a mess. I struggle to get the laundry done, the hoovering, the dishes. I try to do most of my emailing at weekends – it means you may have to wait a week to hear from me but you will hear. I can hold onto the thread of a conversation for a long time and whilst many other things interrupt it. Did I warn you that we will be interrupted? The children will do this but we will still get the work done. I promise you it is possible and if you do not like the sound of this then that is good. I am trying to scare you away. If you are still interested by the end, then this job is for you.
What else? I should probably explain that I never intended to found a national network. MWM is a response to a need. I started a small local group and it grew. Like any mother I am making it up as I go along. I am growing new skills along the way – that is what mothers do: we do what you can, we do what the next part of the job seems to require, we often feel out of our depth. I feel this right now with MWM, which is why I am seeking your help.
Let me tell you my strengths and my weaknesses. I am an artist – I like making things up. I like writing things. I like listening to people’s stories and sharing my own. I like asking questions. I care deeply and that makes me reliable: I will respond; I will turn up; I will make stuff happen. I am not however very good at numbers. Budgets scare me. I leave bank statements unopened for weeks. I am not good at sleeping either. I get over tired, overwhelmed. I am not good at spending too much time on a computer - it exacerbates the insomnia.
So what would I like from you? You do not have to be a mother, but it would make sense if you are. I would like you to be good at some of the things I am not good at – budgets, planning, evaluations, emails, the ‘professional’ stuff. But under it all, at the end of the day, through most the night, it comes down to the personal, it comes down to love, to the old meaning of the word ‘professional’ – what you profess to do, what you care about. I want you to care about the things I care about. I do not however want this work ever to get in the way of your caring work – of whoever is in your care. Please put them first. Then do the rest, and let it be work that you love.
If you love the sound of all this then please be my Valentine. Send me your application by Feb 16th, or before. You can send me your C.V. but you can also write me a letter. I asked for this in the proper job ad too – a covering letter. Let it cover whatever you want me to know about you. And if by any chance you missed the official job ad, you can find it here: http://www.improbable.co.uk/motherswhomake/
Thank you for reading my covering letter to you.
Yours sincerely professional, faithfully
personal and radically questioning,