Crowdfunding Diary #14: The Old Woman Who Lived in a Shoe, The Virgin Mary and other Amazing Mothers (An Alternative Christmas story)

Here it is: the final day of our crowdfunding campaign. I had no idea what I was getting myself into when I pressed the ‘Go Live’ button 28 days ago on the Crowdfunder website. It was rather like motherhood: you can have no idea how intense it is going to be until you ‘go live.’

           I heard in November that we had been successful in our Arts Council grant application. I knew we needed to match fund it and it made sense to me to look to crowdfunding as an answer. The last time I applied to the Arts Council was 10 years ago to create and tour an aerial-theatre solo show. This time my project could not have been less solo. I want to found a national network.  I thought I should ask the people who would directly benefit from the initiative for support, that way I would be raising funds and building the network at the same time.

           This much has happened and I am thrilled. It has been amazing to feel the ‘crowd’ of you growing out across the land. In contrast to the adventurous independence of summer, winter feels like a time to come together, so it has felt good, despite the apparent drawbacks of crowdfunding before Xmas, to be building a tribe as the days shorten and the nights draw in. After today, as we roll into Christmas, turn to home, to present-wrapping and potato-peeling, I shall go offline but I shall also carry you with me. I shall feel differently knowing you are out there and that you believed in Mothers Who Make enough to have supported it and to be reading this.

           In the first ‘Crowdfunding Diary’ I wrote, I described the experience of being ‘on’ as a mother and how it related for me to the experience of being onstage as a performer. Crowdfunding has also felt like being onstage, but as in my mothering, the hours are different to the performer’s usual schedule: it is a durational act, a 24/7 of ‘on’-ness. To this degree crowdfunding has felt like mothering an ever-expanding family. I am reminded of that nursery rhyme,

           There was an old woman who lived in a shoe.

           She had so many children she didn’t know what to do.

           She gave them all broth without any bread,

           She whipped them all soundly and sent them to bed.

I don’t share that old woman’s parenting style but I can certainly relate to her level of overwhelm, to the point that providing proper meals feels like a huge challenge and bedtime seems like the only solution to gaining any mental space. Becoming a mother, pressing the ‘Go Live’ button on the crowdfunder page – these things both made me grow up fast. They forced me to examine my values, to name why I am doing what I am doing and get behind it in a way no Arts Council application has ever required of me. Motherhood and crowdfunding are both terrifyingly rigorous endeavours. I am grateful for it, and I am also glad to be going back to mothering only two children for a while over Xmas, as opposed to a whole crowd of them.

           Since it has felt like being ‘on’ non-stop and as this is our last day of it, this blog feels like a curtain call, and so I notice there are certain people I want to credit and to thank.

           There is a long list of mothers/makers whose support has been invaluable and without whom none of this would ever have even happened. However right now there are three people in particular I want to name.

           The first is Naomi Stadlen who wrote the book What Mothers Do Especially When It Looks Like Nothing. This brilliant book draws on Naomi’s years of running a group in North London called Mothers Talking. I read the book, looked her up and to my delight discovered the group was still going – it is now in its 25th year. My son and I made the great pilgrimage from South to North London to attend Mothers Talking and it was amazing. It was the only mother and child group to which I went in those early days where I felt the depth, complexity and intensity of what I was experiencing was acknowledged and given value.  We didn’t talk about baby purees, we talked about exhaustion, about identity, about the political implications of the daily choices we make as mothers, raising the next generation. Mothers Who Make meetings are based on the structure which Naomi Stadlen has been using for 25 years to run Mothers Talking.  Thank you Naomi.

           The next credit. Another great woman, and another great book: Lucy Pearce who wrote The Rainbow Way, Cultivating Creativity In The Midst of Motherhood. In it Lucy contrasts the wellknown ‘Earth Mother’ archetype to the lesser known archetype of the ‘Creative Rainbow Mother.’ Back to that old woman in the shoe (maybe she was a frustrated creative? Why else would she have been living in a shoe?!) Lucy named my experience of struggling to get the broth and the bread on the table for my children on time everyday, because I was so busy trying to sustain my creative practice alongside my mothering. Her book enabled me to take the step of articulating and understanding my experience of mothering and making as a ‘thing,’ it wasn’t just me being a bad mother. Thank you Lucy.

           The last credit, and this time it is not a woman and there is no book involved.  It is a man: my husband. Phelim McDermott. In our household I am a full time mum and Phelim goes out to work, directs shows and, this last year, goes on the TV, albeit for 20 seconds, to collect his Olivier Award for his recent opera. Meanwhile I am at home, sitting on the landing trying to grab half an hour while the children are still asleep to write another page of the novel I have been struggling to write for the last 5 years, wondering if I will ever get it finished and published. These are our roles. On this campaign they have been reversed. I have been the visible one. He has been the one quietly and unstintingly supporting me behind-the-scenes. So I want to thank him and all the partners of the mother/makers. I have been touched by how many men and non-mothers have given to our campaign and this in turn makes me think of Christmas….

           Christmas is a strange and amazing story in which the dad is not the lead role. Joseph is a minor character. There are of course a couple of main parts for the boys – there is the baby Jesus, but as a baby he is best played by a doll at this stage, and there is the father with a capital F, not Father Christmas who has rather stolen the limelight, but God the Father. As ‘Fathers who Make’ goes, He claims the biggest creative credit going – the universe. However, He is offstage, or rather He does the lighting, lays on a special star. In this part of the story, the one we are heading towards now, the main part goes to the mother, Mary. It is her moment. She gave birth in a stable. Having given birth twice now, I can imagine this. I can imagine the ‘lowing cattle’ might have been quite helpful, a comfort even– labouring is such an animal thing. Such an extraordinary mixture of animal and spirit coming together.

           I was brought up Catholic. I do not define myself as this now but I do love carols. I am going to take the children carol-singing tonight, in the village where I grew up and where my mum still lives. My son’s favourite is “Oh Little Town of Bethelem.” I like that one too. There is one line in it that gets to me,

           “Yet in thy dark streets shineth the everlasting light,/ The hopes and fears of all the years are met in thee tonight.”

Imagine that – all the hopes and all the fears from all the years, gathered together in the streets. I love that image. This is my wish for Mothers Who Make and for the new year ahead, that we can make space, amidst the streets across the land, for gatherings of hopes and fears. Here is my prayer or wish – that all the mothers may know they are not alone, and that all the makers may know that, no matter what its outcome, what they are doing is worthwhile.

You have one more day to help make this happen: