Crowdfunding Diary Day #13 Twenty Questions…..????

Every month I ask a question. It goes out on the Mothers Who Make newsletter and it becomes the theme for the meeting I facilitate that month. Usually I write a paragraph or two about it, explaining how the question arose. Today I thought I would share some of the questions - twenty of them. Look at them in a list. People often ask me what happens in meetings. This is one way to reply. This is what happens in meetings:

Boundaries: how to communicate and connect with the necessary limits I must provide as a parent, with the same sense of creativity with which I approach a deadline as an artist?

Support: what is the right kind of support? What forms of support do you long for in your role as mother and/or as artist?

Tiredness : What do you do? What resources can we share with each other to help sustain us in the face of exhaustion? 

Practice: What are the points of connections and what are the points of divergence between your creative practice and your practice as mother? How are they the same? How are they different? 

A new paradigm: Could I find a way to integrate my mothering and my making so that my experience is one of wholeness rather than division? So that it need not cause me, and others, such profound exhaustion? And, if so, what would this look like? 

Screens?! They are part of our world now, a taken-for-granted part of our children’s world - I would love to know how can we use them well, to support connection, presence and creativity in our mothering and our making, in ourselves and in our children? How are you already doing this? What’s hard? What feels good?

Education: Where is the line between learning good practice and cooperation and blocking an individual’s impulses? How far did your education support your creative work and how far have you had to spend time undoing what you learnt in order to feel free enough to make? As ever no easy answers but here is the question: How can we best continue to support creativity in ourselves and our children, at home, at school, wherever we are? 

Cross art forms: From the start I have felt passionate about Mothers who Make spanning all art forms. This month is an opportunity to consider what the particular challenges are of being a mother and a writer/ dancer/ actress/ painter/ musician/ circus artist…? What can we learn from each other across our diverse creative practices? 

Creative Destruction: how can we be mothers who make but also who unmake? What creative place, if any, does destruction and anger have in your practice as a mother and/ or as a maker?

Adding it up: There are so many variables - what support you have, what finances, how you make, what you need, who your children are, what they need…..So the question I am asking this month is both a simple and impossibly complex one: How does it all add up for you? 

Care and Play: if you truly and fully valued the caring and playing that you do and knew that others did too, how would it change how you feel? How would it change your choices? 

Anger!: What might be the sense inside our rage? What place, if any, does this power have in our work as mothers and as makers? What are your rage-ful, crazy stories? Simply telling them seems like a good start….

Finding the Space to Make: Do you manage to make making-space/ time? And if so how? What are the resources you use - inner or outer - to make it happen? 

Mothering!: How far are you able to value the mess of it? How far are you embarrassed by it? What would it take for us to feel differently about the utterly vital, thoroughly unprofessional work that we do? What might ‘professional’ come to mean, if the personal was valued? 

Domestic/ Emotional labour: within your household what is your system? Do you even have a system? Did you agree on it, or did it emerge? Does it serve you well? Does it support up to do your mothering and your making, or do you end up resenting the other kinds of caring that you do?

The state of the world: How do you cope? How do you manage the overwhelm? What gives you hope? How, if at all, do you engage with the change you want to see in the world as a mother or as a maker? 

Community: What or who are your lifelines? How do you make up for the lack of a village to support you, your children and your work? Could a Mothers Who Make group near you help? What else could help, big or small?

Multi-tasking: What multi-tasking do you do with ease? What feels hard or impossible? What could you do in a singular way? When, if ever, do you enjoy multi-tasking? When do you mother and make with congruence? And when do you need to separate them: mother and then make, make and then mother?

Holidays: What are your holidays? Your moments, strategies, ways of re-fuelling yourself for the phenomenal work of making and mothering that you do? Share your resources for resourcing yourself here……

Being a Proper Artist/ Mother: What are the images you carry, the yardsticks against which you measure yourself? What, to you, is a ‘proper artist’? Or a ‘proper mum’? What do proper artists and proper mothers do?!

To support the asking of these questions and the spaces in which some answers can be shared, go here: https://www.crowdfunder.co.uk/mothers-who-make

Crowdfunding Diary Day #12 Why I wish I lived in Manchester….

           I wish I lived in Manchester. The Manchester Mothers Who Make are having their December meeting today. Manchester is the only place in the country where the Mothers Who Make model is currently working as well as it should. Why? Aside from the dedication of the fantastic Manchester mums, it is in large part due to the brilliant support of Home, the venue behind them. Home are the only venue so far to have come fully on board to champion the venture. In other places where a group has grown it has been artist-led. A mother has got in touch with me, saying she wants to start a group near her. Then we have had to go round knocking on doors to try to find a suitable and supportive arts-related venue – this process can take a while. It is vital to the aims of Mothers Who Make, and to the quality of the conversations we support that meetings do not take place in social, public spaces – not in cafes or foyers. I want the participants to have the rare experience of being welcomed by a professional, creative space in their role as a mother and with their children, not only as an artist. Spaces in which we are visible and valued in our dual roles of mother and maker are hard to find. Meetings are also not social gatherings – we are trying to hold space for creative research and exchange, so we need to be given the same status as we would for a rehearsal or workshop.

           Invariably however venues initially try to put us in their foyers. Even if we do find a venue that is happy to host us and give us a proper space, it feels as if they are doing us a big favour, rather than us, in fact, also bringing something from which the venue can greatly benefit. In Manchester the venue initiated the group. Kevin Jamieson, the Artistic Director, having heard about the group, invited and paid for me to travel from London to set up a Manchester branch. That was in Jan ’15. Since then the group has gone from strength to strength, enriching everyone involved – participants and venue alike.

           Why is this the exception rather than the rule? In part it is because, as I have found on this crowdfunding campaign, it is difficult to explain to people what Mothers Who Make is and why it is so valuable. It is not a sexy show. It is not a box-ticking community project. It is a kind of participant workshop but not the usual kind.  And mostly, when things don’t fit into a category neatly, they get marginalised. Manchester’s Home, to their credit, had the vision to recognise the group as a worthwhile initiative even though it doesn’t fit into the pre-existent categories. They provide a monthly space, include the group in their programme, are responsive to its growth and changing needs, publish a monthly blog from the participants. The result is a strong, creative, committed community of support.

           Shortly, I am going to hand over to the Manchester group themselves to tell you more about what is working so well there. My hope is that through this campaign and with our Arts Council award, we will gain the status to enable every Mothers Who Make group round the country to be as strong and vibrant as the Manchester group. Go here to make it happen: https://www.crowdfunder.co.uk/mothers-who-make

Venue producer Jodie Ratcliffe at HOME says:

When we first heard about Mothers Who Make we just knew that we needed HOME to be involved in it in some way, although we didn’t really know then the positive impact that it would have 12 months down the line. As an organisation it’s wonderful to be able to open our doors to creative Mothers and their children, bringing spaces to life in a way that doesn’t happen often enough. The Mothers are so talented and inspiring and although I do not sit in on the sessions I can see from their feedback and minutes that they each leave the session feeling a little bit more motivated to continue their creative practice. It’s not hard to facilitate these sessions; we simply block a space out for 2hours per month, and have a regular volunteer (a Mother) to help set up the chairs, tables, tea and coffee. It’s also really rewarding for me as I am able to let the Mothers know about opportunities in our building, whether that’s a baby friendly screening, a workshop or an upcoming production. Mothers Who Make Manchester is a vital and encouraging community and we are in no rush to stop it. 

What the participants say…..

Once a month, at HOME, a truly fantastic group of talented women come, some with their children in their arms, and talk about what it is to be creative and a mother, what they want, why they want it. Every session leaves me feeling encouraged and supported and galvanised to dig deeper and keep making in anyway I can. 

- Felicity Goodman 

That’s why I think the Mother Who Make groups are important. They allow us to interrogate these notions. To question the pictures we are given of perfect mothers or of selfish artists in their studios who are feted with great success but are monsters in their personal lives. I think meeting and talking to people who are neither perfect nor monstrous but can still claim to be mothers and artists will help break these images into pieces.

- Lucy Tomlinson

I heard about Mothers Who Make through a friend, an actor who’d been to one of the previous Manchester sessions. I thought it was an excellent idea for a movement because the relationship between artistic practices and motherhood seems, to me, to be a very fraught one, both in terms of practicalities (time, money) and in terms of how mothers, especially mothers who make, are positioned in (and often judged by) society. …. And so, the idea of finding a peer network of people who were trying to negotiate the same territory was very exciting. The Mothers Who Make sessions have been truly inspiring: having these conversations about expectations and assumptions and problems, and hearing about other people’s practices and ambitions and coping mechanisms, has been an overwhelmingly positive and galvanizing experience. Writing, as a career, can be quite solitary, so the opportunity to build a network of like-minded people, even if we’re working in different fields, is stimulating – we’re all facing broadly the same challenges, and it’s fascinating to get to know how we’re each doing it.

- Valerie O'Riordan 

Since joining Mothers Who Make in the Spring of 2016, I’ve been able to share some of that excitement again, and to become excited about other people’s creative epiphanies. Creativity is contagious. And I don’t need to over-explain the challenges of being an artist and a parent. It’s a given, a common understanding, a shared frustration, a grief even, for a part of us that can so easily become lost in the day to day. … 

Through the support of MWM I have gathered up enough confidence and momentum to go for a number of writing opportunities and even manage to hit some deadlines.

- Crystal Stewart

Support us here: https://www.crowdfunder.co.uk/mothers-who-make

Crowdfunding Diary Day # 11 Two Kinds of Miracles and How You can Make them Happen:

4 days left. 6k to raise. If we are going to make our target, or anywhere near it, one of two different kinds of miracles need to happen, or both:

1)   EITHER a Christmas Fairy Godmother needs to descend in the form of a rich and generous donor and save us from in amongst the cinders. (It is worth noting in passing that mothers get a bad deal in most fairytales – they are either good but dead, alive but false and wicked – the step mother – or magic and ethereal.)

2)    OR, 600 people need to give £10 

I am going to work on making both miracles happen (hey, it’s Christmas time! Everyone says this is a disadvantage but perhaps not?). You can help me. Here is how:

Miracle No. 1:

The Fairy Godmother. Everyone knows they have to be summoned. The wish has to be made. They don’t turn up unless you ask for them. We are going to ask for them in the form of naming all the great mother/ makers that have gone before us, all those that have done it or are out there doing it still, raising children, making art – all our sources of inspiration, those amazing women whom, if we could summon them to our sides and ask for their support, we would. This is in fact the starting point of one of the micro-commissions that Mothers Who Make is hoping to fund. It is a wonderful project by set designer and mother Miriam Nabarro who wants to create an archive of mother/makers through photos, interviews and images, which will live on our website. A whole library of Fairy Godmothers – imagine that. I asked Miriam to start us off, so in the remaining 4 days of our campaign we shall be posting a list of mother-artist heroes. Here are the first two:

Artist Mother hero #1

Phyllida Barlow: Sculpture. Aged 73. Discovered at 72. Mother of 5. “Ever since we had children we have been incredibly disciplined,” she said, “that determination to use every scrap of time becomes ingrained, you don’t ever lose it.”

Artist Mother hero #2

Louise Bourgeois: Artist. Died aged 98. Mother of 3. Also discovered in her 60s/70s.

“Everywhere in the modern world there is neglect, the need to be recognized, which is not satisfied. Art is a way of recognizing oneself, which is why it will always be modern.” And… “Art is a guaranty of sanity. That is the most important thing I have said.”

We want your help: who are your artistic heroes who also happen to be mothers? Who would you have as a Fairy Godmother if you could? Tell us about them. Post their names. If they are alive, could you ask them for help? If they are dead, could you ask them for help anyway?!

Now for…..

Miracle No. 2

Getting 600 people to give £10. I was really hoping this was how we were going to hit our goal. There are over 1000 on our FB page, surely, I thought, they will all just give £10 and the job will be done. Turns out you have to have more like 10 million in your reach and then maybe 1000 of those will give £10. Well, we are going to have a shot at reaching out to 10 million. Here is how:

There is a thing called Thunderclap – it is a one off message that will go out from multiple different accounts at the same time, and potentially reach millions. Ours is going out on Wednesday 24 hours before our campaign ends. If you have already given money to Mothers Who Make, don’t want to give money or simply can’t you can still help us with this thunderclap campaign. Simply sign up and help us send out our THUNDERCLAP. It’s very easy to sign up and it’s safe for your account and you can choose to use twitter/facebook or tumblr. Help Mothers Who Make thunder their quiet revolutionary message and make a miracle of crowd support happen so that we make our target. Click below:

https://www.thunderclap.it/projects/65999-mothers-who-make.

And you can also add another £10 yourself or, maybe you are actually a Fairy Godmother and you can wave your wand and give us thousands £££. Go here for that: https://www.crowdfunder.co.uk/mothers-who-make

Crowdfunding Diary Day #10 The ‘Good Cause’ Question…

           Several people have told me this is a terrible time of year to be running a crowdfunding campaign. They mean because everyone is saving their money for Christmas presents and, more importantly, that there a host of other good causes that come sharply into focus right now– homelessness, vulnerable or sick children, asylum seekers, to name just a few. Yes, these causes are more present in December, as is the question of how to spend our money, but in the times we live in there is actually no time of year in which it is possible to be unaware of our money – the amount we have or don’t have and what we use it for- and the number of good causes that vitally need donations. It is the emphasis of our times, in bold, underlined and set in CAPITALS. Daily I get emails asking for my online signature and, if possible, some funds for incredibly important causes – to stop devastating environmental damage; human torture; save the NHS; ensure a tragedy like Grenfell tower never happens again. I leave the house, with the children, and we walk past the homeless woman outside Tescos who is almost always there, selling The Big Issue. Today there is also a woman with a clipboard standing near the station, hoping to enlist my support for Oxfam. The children and I walk past to get the train. Opposite us in the carriage is a poster of a child with a plastic tube up his nose – he is in hospital, he needs our help. Next to him is another poster of an old woman – she has not spoken with anyone in weeks. At the station where we get off there is an advert that the children like to look at because it shows a whole line of cats and dogs - they have all been treated with cruelty and need a safe home.

           It is overwhelming. How to be the good Samaritan when the roads of our lives are crowded with those who all desperately need help? It is difficult. Of course, not as difficult as it is to be one of those that need the help. I am trying to work out how to use my position of relative privilege, how to help best. I have worried about this for years.

           I would never argue that it is more important to give to Mothers Who Make than to give to a charity for homelessness. But I would argue that there is something problematic about aligning any two causes and attempting to measure their comparable value and importance. I have a favourite line from our funding application, a line not written by me but by Liat Rosenthal, a producer and mother who helped me write the application because the form has become so driven by statistics, by the need to justify our activity in numbers, that I felt unable to fill it out on my own. Here is the line:

MWM social media networks have connected hundreds of mother-makers, cultivating a following of engaged artists who share the challenges/learnings specific to being both a mother and an artist, its impact extending beyond measurable metrics into a community of support.”

Beyond measurable metrics. There is a paradox in this, in that I believe that any good cause extends beyond measurable metrics, but it is so hard, and is becoming increasingly harder, to think in a way which is not a numerical sum, in which ‘worthy’ does not equal ‘worth’, but simply worthwhile.

           How to choose then, what we support in a way that does not involve impossible sums of worth? So far the best answer I have found comes from within Open Space Technology, the self-organising conference format that I know of through Improbable’s Devoted and Disgruntled events. An Open Space is fuelled by the participants’ sense of passion and responsibility. Anyone can call a session, champion a cause, put an issue on the agenda. There is only one law: the law of two feet. This states that you follow your passion. You go where you are drawn and where you feel your time and energy will be put to best use. It is brilliantly simple, profound and it works – it makes stuff happen. It does this because everyone present is acting in line with themselves, not because they feel they should do this, have been told they must, were made to feel guilty, were cajoled, threatened or frightened into being there. They are there because they want to be. They received an invitation and felt moved to accept it. The first time I came to D&D it made me cry – it was such an intense relief to be in an environment where I was explicitly given permission to follow myself, to make a choice from this place of passion. It felt utterly right, stunningly obvious and incredibly rare.

           Devoted and Disgruntled, and Open Space, has been a huge influence on me in running Mothers Who Make. I attended sessions within D&D events on the theme of motherhood and being in the performing arts when I was only just beginning to think about having a child. Essentially Mothers Who Make is an extended ‘session’ from a D&D event. I called the session, put out an invitation and to my very great surprise and delight people responded. And they kept on responding. And there were hundreds of them, and they lived all over the country. They were mothers. Mothers are good at being passionate and responsible – they have to be, it is almost a job description. The whole MWM initiative has been emergent – I did not plan any of it. I followed the passion and sense of responsibility that was present in me and in others, and here we are today with 6 groups established round the country, 10 others ready to happen, an Arts Council grant (hooray!) and a crowdfunding campaign to match-fund it, with 6 days to do, 6k still to raise.

           There are a thousand good causes out there. There is a long list of things to be done and to be bought before Christmas. It is a crazy, hectic, intense, joyful, tragic time of year. Here is an invitation to pause, if you can, amidst the craziness. Check in with yourself, and what you care about. What you really care about. Follow that, whatever it is. If it happens to be supporting Mothers Who Make go here: https://www.crowdfunder.co.uk/mothers-who-make

Crowdfunding Diary #9  The Mothers Who Make Founding Principles

I’ll be honest – I’m flagging. A combination of the time of year, the intensity of running a crowdfunding campaign, the need to keep on cheering and championing this cause when another part of me wants to curl up in the dark with the baby, who is still asleep in the bed beside me as I write this. Time I think to go back to what I know – the principles which underlie Mothers Who Make, from which it grew. As MWM began to spread in wonderful ways across the country I wanted to look after it and make sure that, as far as possible, any groups starting up under the MWM name were true to the original vision behind the initiative, so I wrote the principles down. They will live on our website – the one we are raising money to fund. Here they are – not the Founding Fathers’ words, but the Founding Mother’s:

MWM PRINCIPLES:

CHILDREN WELCOME

The events are adult-centred but children are welcome to attend and participate. One of the motivations behind MWM was my experience that there are two kinds of spaces which most mothers must navigate: child-centred ones with the adults needs marginalised (playgrounds, one o’clock clubs) and adult-centred ones with the children absent or unwelcome (rehearsal rooms, meetings, offices). MWM events model a third kind of adult-centred, child-friendly space. The space should reflect this – bring toys and lay on the crayons and paper! The children, if possible, should enjoy the meetings as much as the mothers.

ANY KIND OF MOTHER

Events are open to all mothers, expectant mothers, new mothers, mothers with older children, grandmothers, mothers who have adopted, mothers who breastfeed, mothers who bottlefeed. Mothers of any race, religion, sexual orientation. Mothers with a disability.

ANY KIND OF MAKER

All art forms are welcome – writers, musicians, actors, film-makers, dancers, visual artists. We’ve also welcomed producers, architects, historians – in short anyone engaged in a creative practice that they hold dear. Makers can be professional and/or passionate. No particular level of experience is necessary to attend – women at any stage of their careers or creative journeys are welcome.

MOTHERING AND MAKING VALUED EQUALLY

Each participant is recognised and valued in her dual roles of mother and maker – these are held with equal esteem and regard, in contrast to the wider cultural trend which consistently values professional work over and above personal, domestic or emotional labour. We also hold space for exploring the ways in which the two roles might inform each other, rather than starting from the assumption that they must be always be in conflict.

PEER SUPPORT

The events held under the MWM name are egalitarian and collaborative in nature. We sit in circles, not in chairs in rows. We listen to each other with respect and empathy and without judgement. We share experiences and resources. This is a non-hierarchical model– we work collectively and are our own experts. 

DIVERSITY
We respect and recognise that there is no one kind of mother or maker, and no single solution to the myriad challenges facing a woman who holds these two roles in her life. Each woman’s experience is valid and welcomed.

If you support these principles and want to see more spaces round the country based upon them, go here to make it happen: https://www.crowdfunder.co.uk/mothers-who-make

Mothers Who Make Diary#8 A Succinct Summary of the Campaign

Crowdfunding Diary # 8

The succinct summary of the Mothers Who Make campaign:

5 what-we-will-dos and 5 how-we-will-do-its…….

WHAT WE WILL DO:

1)   Reduce the isolation and increase the mental well being of mother-makers.

2)   Stimulate and facilitate the creation of new, original and relevant work.

3)   Raise the status and visibility of mothers and makers for the better.

4)    Develop networks of support both locally and nationally, enabling mothers to share and exchange resources, from childcare to creative space.

5)   Welcome the children and hold space for the possibility that their presence in their mothers’ lives could enrich rather than inhibit creative practice.

HOW WE WILL DO IT……

Together with our Arts Council award, your support will enable us to:

1)   Design and manage a designated Mothers Who Make website. This site will: connect the regional hubs and consolidate MWM as a national network; act as a central point for information, resources and news; provide a digital platform for sharing work.

2)   Establish 10 more MWM hubs, building new relationships with regional venues and mentoring local artists to facilitate ongoing peer-support groups. This will enable a total of 15 monthly meetings to take place across the UK, bringing mother-makers together.

3)   Commission new works by mother-makers that will act as a resource and an invitation to others both through workshops and online engagement.

4)   Facilitate professional development workshops for this often disenfranchised section of the workforce.

5)   Develop Mothers Who Make into a recognisable brand. Design and print marketing materials so that we can extend our reach and increase our visibility and better champion the cause of mothers and makers everywhere!

Go here to make it all possible: https://www.crowdfunder.co.uk/mothers-who-make

Crowdfunding Diary #7 On Dropping Your Art or Dropping Off Your Child....

           Part two on the art, the being an artist, the ‘Who Make’ part of our title. Yesterday I wrote about the secret rule as to who is allowed to come to Mothers Who Make meetings: “If you ‘get it,’ if you understand why such a thing as Mothers Who Make might exist and you are keen to join it, then we need you in the room, in the network.” But what is this it? That sounds potentially as elusive as the most elite of cultural institutions. I would argue that the it is both prosaic and ineffable.

           When I first became a mother I went along to the requisite number of mother and baby groups with my newborn boy. I was struck by the fact that the vast majority of the women I met there were on a fixed maternity leave of 6 months to 1 year and were then expecting to go back to a full or part time job. There was a much smaller group of women who had given up work and were in a position where they wanted and could afford to commit to being a full time mother for the foreseeable future. I did not feel I fitted into either group. Here is the prosaic part: being a freelance artist no one was going to give me any maternity leave except myself. Here is the more ineffable, harder to express: I was committed to being a full time mother but equally I felt I had the kind of work I could not give up – it was part of who I am.

           Four years later, through Mothers Who Make, I know I am not alone. I have heard many other women share a similar experience. I am in the extremely privileged position of being supported financially by my husband, so in my case when I say I feel I had the kind of work I could not give up, this is not an economically driven statement. For many it is. But I have also heard women talk about how sustaining their creative work is a matter of survival and they have not meant it on the level of pounds and pence either.

           Let me expand on this ineffable part a little more. Pre-motherhood I worked as a circus aerialist for ten years. When people asked me whether I felt afraid hanging upside down 10 metres in the air I replied, often to their surprise, that of course I did. I was terrified. But I was also terrified when I was the right way up, on ground level. I found being alive a terrifying experience and it was a relief to find a job – being an aerialist – in which my daily level of fear was appropriate. I gave up being an aerialist in part in order to become a mother. I wanted to stop running away up my rope and come down to earth to take up my place here. However I continued to find life intensely frightening, extraordinary and bewildering and I wanted a job in which these were appropriate, even useful, feelings: so far ‘artist’ is the only job I’ve found that fits. So I don’t feel I can give up my work just because I have become a mother – if anything motherhood has only made life more intensely wonder-full and frightening.

           The conventional wisdom however is that mothers cannot do both – we have to drop our art or drop off our children with other carers. But this way everyone loses out – the mothers, the children, the art and also the world. What if we could create a shift – and this is heart of the revolution I want to stage  - in which instead of dropping out due to motherhood, the experiences that women gain through this most everyday and yet momentous of roles could be picked up? Mothers could be carried, not dropped, as they in turn carry their children and their work, supported to continue their creative practice and allow their mothering to inform it, and so also influence the wider cultural landscape? To stage the revolution, if you get ‘it,’ go here to make it happen:

https://www.crowdfunder.co.uk/mothers-who-make

Crowdfunding Diary #6 On Being An Artist and Making Soup

 Dec 11th

           Monday morning again. In the children’s bedroom. Dark apart from the lighted laptop. Here we go, another week, another blog. Last week I wrote about being a mother, the challenges of bearing that identity, alongside bearing a child, and my concerns around how to relate to and include non-mothers (both the dads and other men and women) in this quiet revolution. But what about the ‘who make’ part of the title? What about the art? What about being an artist? ‘Artist’: an even more problematic identity or label to discuss than ‘mother.’ But we have only 9 days to go of our Mothers Who Make crowdfunding campaign and £7.5K still to raise. Time to stop avoiding the issue and talk about the art.

           There is a deliberate avoidance, or at least a side-stepping of the art in using the word ‘Make’ as part of out title. Yes, it alliterates with ‘Mother’ but it is also a wide open word, that can indicate many kinds of creativity. Last week my son told me he wants to be an artist when he grows up. When I checked what that meant, he said, “I’m going to paint stuff of course!” Despite the fact that he is growing up in a household in which both his parents define themselves as artists but neither of them are the kind that stand in front of an easel with a paintbrush in hand, that is still his received understanding of what an artist does. Mothers Who Make is cross artform, open to anyone engaged in any form of creative practice. At meetings I have met not only painters, performers, writers, dancers, musicians, but also architects, costume-makers, producers, set designers, photographers and more.

           However, the ‘artist equals painter’ is probably the easiest part of the label to challenge and navigate. The harder part is a question of legitimacy, something with which I watch myself and many other mothers struggle. Being an artist: beyond the paint, it sounds grand in a difficult kind of way, involving the burden of being a creative genius. For years I swung between eschewing the ‘arist’ label for fear of being pretentious and longing to claim it but not feeling I could because I did not know if I was good enough to make it into the club, the imaginary cultural club that still has many more men in it than women. There are three main reasons I have heard mothers use as to why they can’t possibly claim membership to this elite artists’ club: they are not spending enough time doing their art; they are not earning money from their art; they doubt their ability. These are quietly brilliant, highly creative women mostly rendered invisible already by virtue of being women, with the extra enormous challenge of being mothers. The dominant culture does not welcome us or make it easy for us to be our full selves.

           Here is the radical thing about Mothers Who Make. There is a rule about who can come to meetings but I have never had to state it in four years because it is this: if you feel the need to be there you are welcome. That’s it. No CVs. No publications, presentations, performances or exhibitions required. If you ‘get it,’ if you understand why such a thing as Mothers Who Make might exist and you are keen to join it, then we need you in the room, in the network. I am proud of the alternative culture this goes some way towards growing– women of hugely diverse ages, experiences and practices connecting and valuing their creative output, whatever it is, AND valuing their mothering. At the start of meetings I ask everyone to name what they make or dream of making, because especially in the intensity of the early years of motherhood dreaming may be all they can do. At one meeting there was a mother who declared, “At the moment I make soup!” Yes! Hooray for the creative output that is soup.

           I’ll write more on this tomorrow but for now I have a peanut butter sandwich to make – I am running late and need to go downstairs to finish the packed lunches. If you get it, if you understand why the making of soup and sandwiches needs valuing, as well as the dreams of the soup-maker about the novel she is going to write one day, then please go here to support us. We have only 9 days left: https://www.crowdfunder.co.uk/mothers-who-make

Crowdfunding Diary Day #5: The First Invite Ever

Dec 8th

In yesterday’s blog I wrote about the first ever Mothers Who Make meeting in the spring of 2014, and it made me want to look again at the first invite I sent out into the world, prior to that meeting. My understanding and vision for the project has grown since then, but in essence the invite still holds good. Here it is:

This is an invitation to come along to a new peer support group for mothers who are artists - professional and/or passionate writers, painters, actors, dancers, film-makers.every kind of maker welcome, and every kind of mother. Also please feel free to bring your children, of any age.

 Where: Battersea Arts Centre, in the Café Waiting Room.

  Why: Read on below.

I am a performer and a writer. When I was pregnant I would tell people my plans for motherhood: “Oh, I’m simply going to pop my baby in a sling and carry on!” My son is now two years old. In some ways I was right: I have carried him in a sling since he was born and I have carried on in that I am still writing, still sometimes performing, still making work. However none of this has been done simply and everything is wholly different to before. In this sense I have carried nothing on. Rather, I have had to set down my life, my sense of who and how I am. Slowly, awkwardly, shakily I pick myself up, day by day. I would not have it any other way but it is a huge challenge.

 How to carry our creative selves and our children, our work of mothering and of making, is the focus of this group. If you are a mother and a maker, and if you wonder how to do both these things with fullness, I would love you to come.

           I would still love you to come to a group, and now I am glad to say you can if live in Manchester, Bristol, Newcastle, Halifax, not only in London. Help me to make 10 more groups, in fact to make a group in every place where there is a woman who wants one to happen. https://www.crowdfunder.co.uk/mothers-who-make

Crowdfunding Diary Day #4: An Invitation to Engage

Dec 7th .

           I wake this morning to find we have reached £2000 on our Mothers Who Make crowdfunder – hooray! Only another £8000 to go – help!

           I had no idea what I was getting into in running a crowdfunding campaign. It made sense to me because this project is about building and sustaining a network. My hope was that people would feel motivated to fund an initiative from which they could directly benefit – peer support groups, a website, an online home.

           So far the campaign has been many sets of opposites: exciting/ tedious; heartening/ discouraging; wonderful/ worrying. I will start with the positive side to all those pairs…..

           Whenever I facilitate a Mothers Who Make meeting there is always a part of me that is amazed and touched that anyone shows up. I have felt the same on this campaign: incredibly touched that anyone has given anything – and there have been so many donations!; I have felt inspired by the passion and enthusiasm of peoples’ comments. It is humbling. It has been like this since the start. I never intended to found a national network. At the first meeting, in the café waiting room at Battersea Arts Centre, in the spring of 2014, there were 8 of us. I had no idea that word would spread, not only across the city but over the whole the country, and that our group would grow from 8 to more than 800. I am still moved by my sense of the need Mothers Who Make goes some way towards meeting- something simple and profound about the support and recognition women need as they go about the extraordinary feat of raising children and sustaining a creative practice. I would never have guessed we could raise £2k in just over a week. But we still have £8k to go…..

           If we are going to make our £10k target then something dramatically needs to shift, and fast. In the next week either some rich and generous benefactors need to get behind us, or – and this is my preference- many, many more of us need to give £10. This was my vision for the campaign: there are over 1000 members on the Mothers Who Make Facebook pages. I would love the support we need to come from 1000 women valuing this work, their work, enough to give £10 each. Given the nature of the campaign – what it is for - the number of supporters is in some ways more important to me than the number of ££££ raised – but they go together. This sounds a startlingly obvious thing to say when running a crowdfunder but I cannot do it alone. In other words, to make that shift, to tip from the slow, steady creeping up of funds that has taken place over the last week into a 100 people a day giving £10 each, I need others to be campaigning too.

           If you are reading this and want to help, here is what you can do: think of 10 people whom you can invite to give £10.  Contact them in whatever way feels most comfortable to you and, nowadays we have so many options: email, text, phone, in person, Twitter, Facebook or, as I have been doing recently in a retrograde step, postcard. Maybe they know about Mothers Who Make already and just need a nudge to contribute. Maybe they don’t know and you can tell them about the network. If they are not a mother, or not a maker you could share my previous blog with them about why this network might be relevant to them too. Consider the very asking as a kind of creative practice. Feel generous – you are making an offer, not taking a tenner. You are giving people an invitation to engage. This is my solution to surviving the crowdfunder experience – I am making it a part of my practice. I get up every morning and write to you. I try to find a new, creative way of asking, once again, for your help. Please go here, to give it, and please ask 10 other people to do the same: https://www.crowdfunder.co.uk/mothers-who-make

limberdoodle:

Children are a Massive Nuisance

Or are they? Yes, they are. But, like all things that are a Nuisance, (Death, Love, Intelligence, Breastfeeding, Dog Poo on my Shoes – well, maybe not dog poo on my shoes* - ) they are also an Opportunity.

The nuisance of children is also an opportunity to care. I think caring is good, although I’m aware that not everyone agrees with me. The people, for instance, who refuse to give up a seat on the tube for a pregnant woman because “she chose to get pregnant”, they would probably prefer a world where nobody had to care for or about anybody. The thing is, all of us need care at some point: some people need care throughout their lives, and the rest of us, whether you be house-spouse, businessperson, President, or even Charlotte Gainsbourg, need care when they are a baby, and in old age, unless you are lucky enough to meet a sudden end by car-crash/heart attack/assassination, in which case I’d better get my congrats in in advance as well as a thank you for minimizing the nuisance.

This photo, which I’m calling Not-A-Problems, sums up my Summer 2017, the seemingly endless days before my eldest child started school. A summer of caring, playing, and, because we like sunshine and don’t have a garden, being a nuisance in the parks and streets. I didn’t notice the ‘Men Problems/ Women Problems’ behind them until long after I took this, but it does seem pertinent: gender politics was on my mind, childcare and emotional labour, gender stereotyping of children…and I love that the doll’s lack of genitals is on display. And as we whiled away the long days, staying as long as we could get away with before being told, sometimes with looks, tuts and sighs, sometimes explicitly, to move on (“for Health and Safety reasons you understand…”) I had to keep reminding myself that they – we - were people, not problems; citizens, not nuisances.

To be fair, we possibly aren’t the most upstanding of citizens. The youngest one enjoys licking those large pictures of food on shops, particularly ice-cream signage. Local food stores probably despair at the removal of the light air-brushing of pollution that lends a greyish soft-focus to their images of giant edibles. They both lick the occasional lamppost too. Don’t ask me why, but I bet there’s a few local dogs that are furious at the unorthodox introduction of toddler-spittle into their complex territorial marking system.

But I think it’s fair to say we weren’t really hurting anybody, and one of the things I’ve found hardest since having children is the sense of becoming part of a massive nuisance, a problem for men, and particularly women, to solve.

Caring is hard work. It is a nuisance, I suppose. (And it’s certainly not a 24/7 profession in my own personal utopia, it’s something best shared with other roles.) But it’s a nuisance that gives us our humanity.

I’ve been moved to blog by association with a crowdfunding campaign for Mothers Who Make, a grassroots initiative that helps mothers to continue their creative work, which can be surprisingly difficult when you’re dividing your time between doing two sorts of work that seem to be represented in general as boring necessity/nuisance/indulgent/pointless.

Why has it been useful for me? To be disgustingly personal for a moment; because It gets people together at a time that can be isolating, and talking about stuff that often feels familiar but un-speakable. Lots of the things I’ve thought since having children feel outrageous and perverted admissions. Things like “I like breastfeeding” or “I’d rather look after my toddler myself”. Things that I still feel are both too dangerously radical to be admitting in public and also strange things to feel so taboo, considering that I am in fact a mammal. But I’d probably never even have said them out loud to myself if it wasn’t for Mothers Who Make. It has also reminded me that every almost-satisfactory piece of work I’ve loved creating has been through collaboration with the troubled misfits I call my friends. Without the nuisance/alchemy of relationship, for me, there is no work.

And there’s no Play or Caring either. Mothers Who Make promotes the values - and the actuality - of Caring and of Playing, values that I think are important for any human. Matilda Leyser’s blog of December 3rd (shared below) is eloquent on this subject if you need any more convincing. Giving a small amount to the crowdfunder will help Mothers Who Make bring our massive nuisances together and turn them into an opportunity to enhance our humanity.


*You know, Dog Poo on my shoes is an opportunity. It’s the opportunity to clean my shoes with an old toothbrush. When do I ever get them that clean otherwise? Please note: I am not comparing having children to having dog poo on my shoes. And nor should anyone.


https://www.crowdfunder.co.uk/mothers-who-make

CONFESSION TIME!

I have a confession to make. Our crowdfunding campaign requires me to champion mother-artists loud and clear, to trumpet, broadcast, sing out, enthuse, eulogize about this mothering/ making cause to as many people as possible, to those I know and those I don’t, to the rich and the famous, the good and the great, and still there are more I should be contacting. Yet all this while there is a secret part of me that is against it. That does not want to place a pledge. That feels not pride of the cause but shame.

           I believe there are two sources of this, two ‘inner critics’ I am carrying. The first is male, the second female.

           The man, first. We live in a culture in which motherhood is not sexy. It is the awkward consequence after the sex is over. It is undeniably personal and the personal, as opposed to the professional, is gendered female and is somewhat embarrassing. Motherhood is leaky: blood, meconium, pee, poo, puke, milk and tears. I feel it when I breastfeed in public, which at present I do daily. I am bold about it, but I am not immune to the awkwardness in the air during the fraction of a second when the man in the bike shop glances down. I went in to pick up our son’s scooter. My baby is nursing in the sling – the top of my breast is visible. The bike shop owner is a nice man. He does not mean any harm, but it is not easy. This is a man’s world of bike tyres, Alan keys and other cool tools. Grease, not milk, is its product. This world extends well beyond the bike shop, out across the land. So it is hard, despite my politics, to stand there in the midst of motherhood and feel no hint of shame.

           My second secret source of shame is not to do with men, or it is, but not directly. It feels even harder to name. Another awkward moment: I am with a woman, a performer with whom I once did a show. She tells me about her latest tour, I tell about how my son has just lost his first milk tooth. The difference between us feels difficult. I happen to know that there was a time when this woman wanted a child. I know no more than that.

            I feel a sense of guilt, confusion, betrayal even, in relation to the women who, for whatever reason, have not had children. I think this comes from the huge taboos there are around many child-bearing issues: miscarriage, infertility, abortion, and also from the depth of the pain and loss potentially involved. This is on the one hand. On the other, there is the fact that whilst motherhood may not be sexy it is nonetheless expected, so it is assumed that there is a sad story involved in the plight of the childless woman – maybe, but maybe not. How to celebrate those incredible women who do not become mothers? Such a tangle of important, fraught, delicate issues and questions. So, whilst I champion the mothers, I want to take care of all women, everywhere, and I do not know how.

           Confession over. It is 7am and the alarm has gone off – time to get the children up and go to school. Time to get back to being proud and loud about mothering and making, which is not in fact to deny the shame or the difficulty underneath, but rather to provide a space in which it can safely be named. If anything is going to change we need those spaces. Go here to support me to make more of them: https://www.crowdfunder.co.uk/mothers-who-make

Mothers Who Make Crowdfunding Diary #2: Life, Death and The Number of Seconds Till Xmas.

Dec 5th

           “How many seconds until Christmas?” “If the clock had food on it instead of numbers would we eat time?” “Who is 98 who has died?” “What is 1 trillion plus 1 trillion?” I love my son’s questions. At the moment many of them circle around the theme of numbers, age and time. Together we discovered that the oldest person currently alive is 117, a woman in Japan. I wonder if she is a mother, a grandmother, a great grandmother, even a great, great grandmother?

           Motherhood makes me think about mortality. This is both because right now it feels important that I stay alive for my growing children, and because the time will come when it will be important for me to die, to make the space for them to step into the generational space that I now occupy. Here, for me, is another link between children and art – they are what we leave behind us. They come out of us, separate from us and then go on beyond us.

           Mothers Who Make is a kind of legacy project. I mean this both personally – I hope it will continue beyond me – and in the sense that it is concerned with looking after women as they look after the things that they will leave behind them, the things they are gifting on, the future of the world.

           As I write this there are approximately 1728000 seconds until Christmas and 1382400 seconds until the Mothers Who Make crowdfunding campaign ends. Go here to give us an early Christmas present that will, I hope, last a long, long time: https://www.crowdfunder.co.uk/mothers-who-make

Mothers Who Make Crowdfunding Diary #1

Dec 4th 2017

Monday morning. I am sitting on the landing outside the children’s bedroom. It is still properly dark outside the windows. I would never know it was about to be morning if I had not checked the time on my phone. In half an hour I must wake the children and go into our day. I will be ‘on’ with them. This is the shorthand we use in our household for whomever is the one looking after them. It suggests to me not so much the image of a switch, as that of a stage. It is another daily way in which my mothering and my creative practice intersect. I have all but given up performing since becoming a mother but I am ‘on’ most of the time to my small, discerning audience of two. I get reviews. I get applause and boos. I am always keenly watched. I have done some of my best improvised singing to them – no one else but this audience will ever hear it.

As when performing there are certain thoughts, concerns, emotions present in me that are not officially part of the play. Things I feel when I am standing in the wings and which I am not supposed to bring on stage with me, but I do. Today those things are my exhaustion – I have slept little the last three nights – and my anxiety about the crowdfunder for Mothers Who Make. We have been running it for almost a week and have raised 1.5K. I am at once deeply touched and heartened that people have given generously and cheered us on in their comments of support, and also scared at how unlikely it seems that we will reach our 10K target.  I am scared too of how intense it is and of how it requires a different kind of my being ‘on’ with which I am not familiar. Not being onstage to a live audience in the room with me. Not being on to two small children running round me. Being ‘on’ to you, whomever you are, still very much a live audience but unseen, on a screen of your own somewhere. Online. That kind of on.

Remembering and including the embodied world beyond the edges of this bright rectangle of screen helps me. So, here I am, Monday morning, sitting crossed legged on the landing on the edge of the dark bedroom, about to go ‘on’ with the durational performance we call motherhood, thinking about you out there and hoping to connect with you via our Mother’s Who Make crowdfunding campaign.

MOTHERS WHO MAKE: FOR THOSE WHO ARE NOT MOTHERS OR MAKERS, WHY YOU MIGHT CARE…

           Mothers Who Make is a support network for mother-artists that I founded, a cause I am championing, a crowdfunding campaign I am leading. But I am troubled. There is a voice in me, and no doubt in the world, that says, “Mothers who make - that’s a bit niche isn’t it? What about everyone else?” It is time to pause on the tweeting, facebook-posting, emailing and to give space to this voice, to listen and respond. Here goes…

           What about, for a start, the fathers who make? And what about those women who are not mothers? What about those that wanted to have children but couldn’t? Or those who decided against it? What about other kinds of caring? Motherhood is in many ways the most visible and validated form of care. What about those mothering their mothers or fathers? Looking after siblings? A spouse? A friend? A neighbour? What about those (all of us?) who are struggling simply to care for ourselves?  

           And the ‘make’ part: what about those who make stuff but do not identify themselves as artists? What, as my prestigious plant biologist sister says, about the scientists? What about the countless creative endeavours that take place not under the name of ‘art’? What about the bakers and the candlestick-makers? What, in other words, is so special about mothers who make?

           I will say what I shouldn’t: nothing.

           Or rather, to be more accurate, there is something special about mother-artists but there is also something special, particular and deserving of recognition about all those other kinds of groups, individuals, challenges, experiences that I have begun to name (and my list was only a small beginning). So then why am I leading this mother/ maker movement?

           Let me try to explain.

           I have read two books recently. I read them slowly, two pages at a time, often by the light of my phone in the dark of the children’s bedroom once they had fallen asleep and I did not want to wake them by getting up and leaving the room. One was The Gardener and The Carpenter by evolutionary psychologist Alison Gopnik and the other was Sapiens, a Brief History of Human kind by Yuval Noah Hurari. In different ways they both name certain extraordinary traits of the human race that have contributed, for better and for worse, to our domination of the world.

           One of these is the incredible amount of time, energy and resources that we pour into raising our young. Another, closely related to this, is the extent of our social networks – the strength and breadth of the bonds that we build. And lastly, again linked to the others, is our ability to tell stories, to create and sustain fictions. In other words, we look after each other and we make stuff up. We love and we lie. We nurture and we create.

           Underneath the ‘Mothers Who Make’ banner this is my deeper interest. It cuts across categories. I name it in the campaign video. There are two verbs that matter to me, to us: we care and we play.

           What I find extraordinary about the times we live in, is how it is abundantly clear that our survival and well being still rests on these two forces of care and play – they run under everything, from Christmas to the stock exchange, from Disney to the NHS, and yet they have precious little value or recognition in the current cultural climate, certainly in the UK. The caring professions, for example, are some of the least well paid. Women still talk about ‘just’ being a mum and often need and/or want to hand their children over to others (childcarers, nannies, nurseries) in order to get back to doing some ‘proper’ work.

           Meanwhile the arts are being steadily axed from our curriculum. Children have less and less free playtime, despite the fact that the research is abundantly clear: we need to play for our developmental health. Artists, like mothers are not considered to have ‘proper’ jobs.  Yet there has perhaps never been a time when we more desperately need our imaginations, need to use our amazing ability to conceive of other ways to live.

           I want to lead a campaign, to stage a revolution about the valuing of care and play, two things which we ALL do, whoever we are. Why then am I focussing on mothers who make? There are three reasons.

           First, I am one. I am a mother, a theatre-maker and a writer and I have become fascinated by the profound relationship between the two roles of mother and maker – the multiple ways in which they connect even whilst the culture informs me I cannot fully do both.

           Secondly, I know from my writing that it is more potent to be specific, more effective to campaign for ‘mothers who make’ than for the abstract and grand notions of ‘care and play,’ and to be a mother-artist is to be a clear champion of those forces. Mothering is, hopefully, the first kind of care we know. We learn how to care from our mothers. Meanwhile, to be an artist, of any kind, is to make a passionate commitment to play. To play seriously, beyond childhood. To believe in stuff that does not yet exist. Mothers Who Make is for women who are dedicated to their children and their art and do not want to compromise on either – it is there to help these people keep on being champions for care and for play.

           Thirdly, there is work to be done in this area. I was shocked on becoming a mother at how marginalised I felt. On the one hand this was not an elite group – motherhood is common. There are many of us. And yet I felt immediately less sure of my place. As one mother wrote on our FB page, “I had no idea that the apparently vanilla act of breeding would lead to feelings of radical otherness.” So I feel there is a big piece of work to be done specifically around valuing this work that women do, of child-bearing and rearing, even as we encourage the men to play their part. And there is another, perhaps more obvious piece of work still to be done around supporting women-artists of every ilk to be able to practice, share and grow their work.

           BUT I am writing this blog because it is important to me that Mothers Who Make is generous and expansive, not exclusive. The reason I want to be specific is, ultimately, to better honour and explore the deeper forces at work that cut across categories. In running a network for mothers who are artists I hope that everyone who is busy, working with all their might at caring, playing for all their worth, might also feel better valued and recognised.

           So if you are not a mother or a maker but you care for anyone, you create anything, I hope this work can, albeit indirectly, be a part of changing the way your work is valued too, your care and your play. This is the quiet revolution I want to stage. Please go here to make it happen:

Help! How do you ask for it?

           Support. I know I need it. I know I cannot do it alone, neither the making nor the mothering. I even know that being able to ask for help and receive support are an intrinsic part of doing it well. The support of others is not a necessary inconvenience that I could do without if I were superwoman. It is a good and vital part of the process – good for the children, good for the art, good for me. One of superwoman’s skills should be that she is super good at asking for help. I am not.    

           Even in small everyday ways I find it hard to ask for support. Even when it is freely offered I all too often decline it or accept it only with reluctance, as if it were a defeat. For instance…. I arrive at St. Margaret’s train station. There is a substantial flight of stairs and no lift up to the street level. I am wheeling a large suitcase on top of which my 5 year old is lying. I have two bags slung over my shoulders and a 1 year old, breastfeeding in a sling on my front. We get to the bottom of the flight of stairs. If I am lucky someone will stop and offer to help me with the suitcase. I accept, but as we start up the stairs I am barely breathing. My son, no doubt picking up on my lack of ease, hates it when others help us and insists on trying to ‘out-help’ the stranger by pulling at the straps of the suitcase as, altogether, we make our way up, step by step. My sense of tension lasts until the helping is over, I have thanked my helper and s/he has gone off into the night. Phew, I am on my own again, managing two children, two bags and a heavy suitcase, alone.

           I even feel a subtle edge, an awkwardness about asking for support from my husband. I notice the effort, the close-to-embarrassment sensation I feel if I have to ask him to do the housework that any self-respecting feminist would think he should be doing anyway. Why? Why is such a simple thing so hard?

           I think it is because, also as a good feminist, I am afraid of being ‘the helpless woman.’ I go back to the image of superwoman: our heroes and heroines do not model the kind of strength it takes to admit vulnerability, to be courageousness enough to sing out like my son (a newly enamoured Beatles fan) “Help, I need somebody!” To admit to being unable to do it alone, to being a necessary part of an interdependent network of relations and support. Instead our superheroes model the muscle power to lift, not only suitcases, but cars, people, monsters, mountains, completely unaided.

           There is one exception to my pattern of stubborn independence, one person from whom I find it easy to ask for help: my mother. Luckily for me she is very ready to give it. Even when she is 76 and her child is 43.  As my mum, and as my children’s Granny, she steps in, our superhero to the rescue. Grandmothers. Mothers. They are the first support we have. They are, literally, our lifeline. I value this maternal lineage highly. It is a large part of why I started Mothers who Make, a network of peer support for those who carry this particular, precious, privileged role of being a supporter, supporting our children into life and onwards into the world, cheering them on all the way. And so it is why I find myself in the wonderful and nightmarish position of having to ask for help from hundreds of people round the country in the form of a Mothers Who Make crowd-funding campaign which, if successful, will enable us to build a national network of support that I dearly hope and believe will be there whenever a mother/maker faces any metaphorical flight of stairs, with no lift, many bags and her children in tow.

           It feels scary to ask for help but I believe in the ask so I can do it. However, last week, after I had pressed the ‘Go Live’ button on the Crowdfunder page, what was the first thing I did? I sent the link to my mother, of course. And she, being my mother, gave us our first pledge. “Congratulations” said the Crowdfunder page: you have a supporter!

           There have been teenage times in my life, especially as an artist, when I have dismissed my mother’s support, discounted it precisely because I can always count on it. Now that I am a mother myself I dismiss it no longer. I have come to appreciate how immense a gift it is to someone, to a child of any age, to be their committed and constant supporter, to pledge for them again and again. I also know that another hard part of my job as a mother is slowly to help my children less and less, whilst also always being there. My aim is to help them not so much towards fierce independence and super-heroic self-sufficiency but towards being able to ask others for help, not only me, to join and build a web of relations out in the world. They learn to ‘stand on their own two feet’ in order to walk towards others.

           So I am growing up at last: I am saying a huge thank you to my mother for being my first support, and I am walking out into the world to say (deep breath in)………”Can I have your help?”…….

Go here: https://www.crowdfunder.co.uk/mothers-who-make to make a pledge and support Mothers Who Make, the national peer support network for mother-artists of every ilk. 

The Show Must Not Go On

           Today I am at home looking after my son who has a horrible cough. I am meant to be at a conference teaching a women’s improvisation workshop. Either Lee Simpson, one of Improbable’s Artistic Directors, will teach it for me or it will not happen. The workshop is part of ‘Permission Improbable’ a project that, amongst other things, asks the question, ‘What would an improvisation culture grown by women look like?’ One of the founding fathers of impro today was not a father at all – she was a mother: Viola Spolin. A considerable body of her work involved developing improvisation with young children, including those from troubled backgrounds. I am going to risk making a gross generalisation and leap of thought here, but one possible answer to the question of what an impro culture grown by women would look like is that it would be a culture that brings care, caring relationships and values, into our rehearsal rooms and onto our stages.

           Recently I was asked to join a Study Group on Caring and Making, subsequently named Artful Care. The group was initiated by mother-artists Chloe Dechery and Mary Paterson. Here is a quote from the invitation they sent out:

“We want to talk about the impact of relationships of care on Live Art practices – both structurally (how we progress our careers) and artistically (how we develop our creative work).

The art world is still beholden to the myth of independence – itinerant, flexible, “no-strings-attached" artists who can travel to residencies and festivals, taking their ideas with them. Meanwhile, the wider culture continues to pursue individualism as if it is the only value worth fighting for. Both systems of thought ignore the important role of care in everyone’s lives: as mothers, fathers, friends, relatives and members of our community; as both givers and recipients of care…. 

What kinds of structures would support people to have meaningful relationships of care within and outside their working lives?

What kinds of practices and discourses would acknowledge and welcome the manifestation of these relationships within creative practice?

How can we ‘take care’ of ourselves and others, within the art world and in wider culture?” 

           These are crucial questions that I have been asking within the context of Mothers who Make meetings for over a year but I was grateful for this invitation to widen the conversation beyond motherhood. I have been thinking about this ever since the launch of the Parents in Performing Arts campaign (PIPA) a week ago and my previous blog in response to it on ‘Valuing the Art of Parenting.’ It feels important to me to place the discussion within a larger landscape so that it becomes clear that the issues at stake are not simply to do with being a parent but go much further and impact on us all.

           As the Artful Care Study Group named, parenting is only one and arguably the most culturally visible form of interdependence. There are many others. There is the turnaround at the other end of life – children caring for their parents. There are partners, friends, siblings, children with short or long-term health issues, with mental health challenges, with disabilities. In writing this I feel uncomfortable in that it is not, or should not sound, like a list of those with ‘special needs.’ Care is everywhere, needed by everyone. In any close relationship it is a defining feature – we care for each other, or try to, we care for ourselves, or try to. And yet. And yet this vital work upon which the world quietly rests is marginalised, even at times invisiblised. We are supposed to leave it at the door of our work places, of the rehearsal room if we are theatre makers. It is unprofessional to bring such a sloppy, tender, feminine, difficult, wonderful, exhausting thing as care and our caring relationships into the room.

           One of the things that made me want to join Improbable was the way in which, during my first rehearsal process with the company, Lee Simpson and Phelim McDermott turned on its head the standard, widely held assumption that the professional thing to do is to leave your problems, your personal stories at the door– anything from the health issue that has been troubling you for years, to the fact that the bus broke down on the way to the rehearsal. It was an intense relief to me to find these things not only welcomed but placed in the middle of the room, at the heart of the creative process, where they have always been anyway even if we are supposedly sweeping them behind the door. They have always been there because the work we do is personal – personhood in all its manifestations is what it is our job to unfold and play out.

           This is not about being self-indulgent – a criticism that is often levelled at any work that overtly draws on personal experience, as a result of the same prejudice that validates the professional to the denigration of the personal. To my mind we cannot be more professional, more seriously engaged with the profession of examining who we are and who we might become, than to bring all of ourselves into the room. Work becomes self-indulgent only when it is not engaged in a dynamic conversation with its audience and with the world, when it cannot change in response to the process that is called a show, when it is ‘all show’ and nothing is shown or asked beyond the question, “Will you applaud me?” Work is self-indulgent, in other words, when the caring relationship implicit in any performance is inverted or missing, when the audience are not being looked after but rather the performers expect the audience to look after them, or could not care less. This has little to do with the content of the work – a Shakespeare production could easily be as self-indulgent as a solo, memoir-based performance. 

            As a mother the biggest ‘problem’ or personal issue that I am supposed to leave outside the door is my child. Not only my child but also my role as mother. There may be some women for whom this is a relief: to be in a child-free space and to have the intensity of their mothering role lifted and others parts of their identity given space. There were some at the PIPA launch that expressed this viewpoint. I understand and respect this - it is a question of self-care. At the launch there was discussion of many practical ways in which care, in this case the care of parents for their children, could be integrated into the industry: how it might be possible to end rehearsals early enough for a parent to do the school run; how Saturday rehearsals could be minimized, Sunday performances refused. There was talk of job sharing and role-sharing. These changes are vital but as The Artful Care group named the question of integrating caring relationships into our work is not only structural, but also artistic and aesthetic. There is not one answer to what this looks like but it means looking after the story of the playing, of the players, alongside the story of the play and I believe that it would not only make the industry more pleasant and more inclusive but that the quality of the work would go up - the shows would get better.

           The show must go on: a well known adage and attitude. At its best this is also an expression of caring, of passion for the work, of belief in its importance – it is in our charge, in our creative care. At its worst it has a macho quality, an attitude of soldiering on no matter what, as if life were a war and the show were a part of the war effort. This attitude puts the art above the life that it is meant to be reflecting. This is show as in showy, a strutting professionalism, stubborn dedication – but at what cost? Must the show go on? Really? Always? When there are people for whom we care and who need our care?

           Life must go on, and does, whether we like it or not, whether it involves joy or struggle, faltering, grieving or losing. Shows must go on too but only when they support and honour this process of life, the living of it, the caring for it.


Mothers who Make is a growing national intiative supporting mother-artists across art forms. Our next London meeting is this Thursday 29th Oct 11am at Camden People’s Theatre. All mothers and children welcome.

To find out more email mleyser@mac.com or go to out Facebook page:

https://www.facebook.com/groups/1484128908536006/

For more information on the Artful Care group go to their Facebook page:

https://www.facebook.com/search/top/?q=Artful%20care

Valuing the Art of Parenting

            I was at the PIPA (Parents in Performing Arts) campaign launch at The Young Vic on Thursday. I was one of the ‘Spotlights’ because of Mothers who Make, an organisation I founded to support mother-artists, across all art forms. It was a fantastic launch with many wonderful speakers on the panel and in the audience but I came away dissatisfied with my own speaking, humming with the things that I did not manage to say or at least not with the degree of clarity that I would have liked – hence this blog. 

           When I became a mother I was shocked by the disparity between the significance, the subtlety and intensity of the work of caring for my child and the status this work is given in the world. I started Mothers who Make because I wanted a space in which my work of mothering and my work of making could both be held with respect. I hold both equally dear and I do not want to compromise on either. I continue to be fascinated by the points of connection between the roles of mother and artist. Mothers who Make is an on-going research project into the relationship between these roles. We hold peer support groups, workshops and platforms via which mother-creatives can share their work. We are committed to the radical proposition that becoming a parent can enrich an artist’s practice rather than undermining it or stopping her output altogether.

           Mothers who Make is not a campaign group so I am very glad that PIPA has come into being. Its work, as was clear on Thursday, is much-needed. Of the many issues discussed at the launch, childcare was one of the most prominent. Flexible, affordable childcare. I agree wholeheartedly that this is vital. However in the midst of clamouring for this I am concerned that a quieter but perhaps even more profound change may get overlooked. This change is the value we give to the art of parenting. Mothering and fathering are not currently valued, not economically, not socially. This underlies the reason why there has to be a PIPA campaign at all. Yet parenting is important work: it is political, personal, philosophical, emotional, physical. It is about the next generation, their views, their values. My concern is that in the midst of demanding better childcare options – which is essential – we do not notice the ways in which this corroborates the strong cultural trend that places professional work over and above the work of parenting, that holds that any intelligent, creative, capable woman or man should be back at work ASAP because being at home with a baby is going to drive them to despair and could not possibly be demanding enough, fulfilling enough, important enough – just, in other words, being a mum or a dad is not enough.

           What does this mean in relation to PIPA and its many brilliant ambitions? It means that alongside campaigning for better childcare I believe we need to be campaigning for a deeper cultural shift as well, for an industry in which a woman could put this down on her CV:

           2015-2020, role of mother to my children… 

….and this would be seen as an asset. This would make her more employable because any casting director reading it would know that she must have huge stamina, patience, resourcefulness, creativity, compassion and the other qualities that are essential to parenting and that I know, from experience, can make people better artists, better at their work.

           There is another survey I would like to carry out, following on from Laura Wells’ fantastic work: I am curious to know how many women would choose to look after their own children for longer if they could afford to do so (3 years paid maternity leave, such as in Germany) and if they knew that this choice would not harm their careers, but rather that their work of parenting would be valued. I have no idea what the answers to such a survey would be. It may be that I am in the minority - I found that I wanted to be the primary carer for my child and I have been lucky enough to be able to make this choice as my husband has supported us financially since our son was born three and a half years ago. This does not mean that I have stopped creating. I cannot. I completely understand how fundamental the need to make is, to be engaged in a creative process. I have had to find ways of doing both my mothering and my making alongside each other. Since my son was born I have written a novel and done at least a dozen (improvised) shows.

           None of this would have been possible without my own mother’s help (hooray for grannies!) and my husband’s. Networks of support are essential – back to the need for flexible childcare. Childcare is vital but let us not allow our longing for this to undermine the work we do when we choose to care for our children ourselves. Let us give this the same value that we give our professional work. I want PIPA to stand not only for ‘Parents in the Performing Arts’ but also for this: ‘Performers in the Parenting Arts,’ because it is also who we are and what we do.

           If you are interested in joining Mothers who Make please email me at mleyser@mac.com

            Our next meeting will be on October 29th at Camden People’s Theatre from 11am to 12.30pm. All mothers, of any profession, welcome and bring your children too.

Screens?!

I do not know any making mother who, alongside figuring out how to be an artist and a mum, is not also to some degree having to be an administrator and producer. Mostly this involves time in front of a screen - a computer, a tablet or phone. There are many things about being a maker and a mother with which generations of women before us have grappled but this is a new one: we now have screens in our homes, bags, pockets.
When my son was born I wanted to hold him away from screens as long as I could. I did not manage it for long, not surprisingly given their prevalence in our lives. He is now 3 and watching youtube videos on my iPod or having “iPad time” are one of the highlights of his day. It seems crazy to demonise it - here I am right now using a screen to connect with all of you, and yet I can feel how it disconnects me from my son many times a day.
Not long ago I decided to downgrade from a smartphone to a scruffy, simple one so that at least when we are out of the house I am not divided, not checking on emails while we are in the playground but present with the sand, the swings, the slides and my boy. But at other times I have fallen into using screens as a deliberate distraction: when I have to write an email or do a Skype call, I give Riddley a film to watch. It works in that he is absorbed and I get the job done. Yet already the main arguments we have are about screen time - he wants “just one more film” several times over and I feel uncomfortable saying no, uncomfortable giving in, partly because I am uncomfortable about my own relationship to the screen, to how many times I check on my emails, check for a text, and confused about the many pros and cons to this extraordinary technology. Screens are part of our world now, a taken-for-granted part of our children’s world - I would love to know how can we use them well, to support connection, presence and creativity in our mothering and our making, in ourselves and in our children? How are you already doing this? What are your challenges? What’s working well?