This month the questions are coming first – read them, even if you don’t read the rest of the blog. I want to hear your answers. Here are my three questions:
1) What sustains you?
2) In what way does MWM sustain you? And how could it sustain you better?
3) How could MWM, as a movement, itself become more sustainable?
We would really love to hear your answers - you can send us an email (firstname.lastname@example.org), write us a postcard (Mothers Who Make c/o Improbable, Somerset House, Strand, London WC2R 1LA), or answer us on social media (Twitter @MothersWhoMake or on Facebook here) - you can even use #SustainingMWM
Sustainability: it’s a new word invented for our times – first used in the 1970s because so much of what we were and are doing isn’t it, so we needed to start being able to talk about it. The roots of the word are of course much older: sustinere, the Latin word, made from sub (up from below) and tenere (to hold). As with many words to sustain carries paradoxical meanings: both to be nourished and supported by something, as in ‘the food sustained us’ and to endure something, to suffer it, as in ‘she sustained an injury.’ It can refer therefore to the thing that both upholds you, and the thing that drags you down, the thing that keeps you going and the thing that nearly stops you but you manage to keep on anyway. Sounds like motherhood to me. Sounds like making. Sounds like caring for children and sounds like trying to make some art. I am interested in this paradox, this doubleness, how something can be both a challenge and an ally, a drain and a support, because somewhere in the midst of this alchemical contradiction I think the golden goal of ‘sustainability’ is probably to be found.
There is a term that has been coined even more recently than the word ‘sustainability’ but it is meant to help us achieve it: ‘me time.’ It’s not just mothers that are meant to sustain themselves by making sure they have some ‘me time’, but certainly we are one of the categories of people that apparently most need it. I have a strong reaction to the phrase because it seems to override the paradoxes and complexity inherent in the quest for genuine sustainability. Don’t get me wrong - I am as desperate for some time alone as the next mother (even as I write this I can hear my daughter coming up the stairs to look for me) but however desperate I may be I still want to resist a paradigm that implies that my time with my children is not for me but for them, that splits ‘me’ up in this way and does not celebrate the many ways in which my children sustain me – hold me up from below – even as I strive to sustain them. I want to resist a paradigm that measures resources, divvies up time into mine and theirs, because things are so critical, so unsustainable at present in my life and in the world at large, that I know we need to turn to renewable resources, to the ones that come freely and that keep on giving no matter what and that don’t involve my knowing my times tables up to 12, and how to divide the hours of my day up by the number of members in my family.
So what’s the new paradigm? I do not know – I’m feeling my way towards it. I know it’s the one that underlies Mothers Who Make, one that acknowledges the complexity of our work. In a MWM meeting everyone has their turn, their time, but it isn’t ‘me-time’ so much as the renewable, reciprocal resource that is shared time – time to share what is holding you up or pulling you down, or both. One of the questions with which I am grappling at the moment is whether this simple ‘shared time’ structure is the best one for all MWM meetings or whether we should diversify and explore different ways of supporting one another. I’d love to hear your answers to this and the other questions with which I opened. I know that hearing each other’s answers is itself a big part of the sustainable answer…. I will end, for now, by giving you mine:
1) What sustains you? My children. My husband. My mother. My friends. Sleep. Food. Writing. Reading. Moving. Climbing. Being near or in water. Being near or in the woods.
2) In what way does MWM sustain you? And how could it sustain you better? It provides me with a community, actual and virtual. It enables me to articulate and understand my daily experiences and challenges in a wider context, beyond the immediate one around me, which is often just me and the children, playing out on the pavement before the house.
MWM could sustain me better by being solidly, reliably there – an established thing that I do not need to keep inventing. A local and national resource.
3) How could MWM as a movement become more sustainable? More funding would help, but as well more connected-ness. I need to give it over to more of you to sustain it, to sustain ourselves, in the paradoxical way that I believe it can.