asking for a friend asking for nick cave asking for my son asking for me
if you’re a parent, how do you balance your creative pursuits with raising your child(ren)? how do you stay present for them?
As a single mom of a 2 yr old and an 8 month old, I used to remind myself to just sit on the floor beside them. It made me stop cleaning ir cooking and make a connection
Even here on the far side of 60, some of us have to keep letting go of self-absorption. You’re ahead of the game. My grandkids are wonderful unwitting helpers in my ego-deflation process.
Staying present with my kids is so top of mind for me, as I chase my pursuits. I finally got cast in a TV show and the day I was supposed to be on set my daughter was born. I didn’t act much after that, and have zero regrets.
Yet I write this as my older kid looms over me, waiting for me to make her lunch. But, I realize, to be present with them I need to be present with me. My creative pursuits is accessing pieces of myself that make me whole; that make me here. That leave a bit of my own legacy behind for them to pick up the pieces and analyze. They get insight into me I’ve never gotten with my parents.
My creative pursuits are a form of therapy. They’re a space for me to be authentic and honest and vulnerable. I don’t want them to have the Asian dad that stomps around and tells them they’re aren’t good enough. I want them to see me and see a person. A person who isn’t good enough theirselves, but gosh dang it I am trying.
So, sometimes this means writing with them on my lap, or sleeping next to me, or typing furiously into my phone while I ride the streetcar to daycare drop off. Then I put away my phone, pick them up, kiss them on the mfing nose and make sure they know we are here together. I am here and they are here.
And hopefully my writing leaves more clues and pictures and substance for them to hang onto who I am, and who we are.
1. Mostly, for the world I have taken care of people. I can’t accept I won’t do anything major. Somehow I always think I will. But I have already focused mostly on the other people. They are my main purpose.
I have been taking care of people all my life. Everyone always needed me, even before I had children. My siblings, my parents and my grandparents.
3. I am not good at balancing my work and my children at all. I had to get tenure, so I had to set my kids aside, and do my work. Or we could not eat. My kids don’t like it. I DO like it. I don’t have to remind myself to pay attention to them. They remind me. They need me every second. My son calls me and cries if I am not home. If I am at home, he wants me to be right there with him, engaging with him. He wants me every moment. So the issue where I have to realize that they are what matters hasn’t come up so much.
The inability to be alone and think and do work creates an internal conflict and turmoil for me. So I believe, to be present to my family, and not feel conflict, I turn that part off.
There is a type of learned helplessness in a way because I fear getting involved in my projects and the heartbreak of interruption. I have had so many times where I was involved in work, and something absolutely crazy happened and I had to put aside my work. Maybe because I have lost faith I will get to do them, I stay detached from my projects. My family of origin also involves a lot of disruption because their lives are always in turmoil. There’s a lot of pain and heartbreak in my family of origin. I am often waiting for the other shoe to drop and sometimes cannot settle my mind to think clearly because I am constantly worried.
In the midst of all this, there is a kind of relationship with myself I don’t get to have as much as I want. I only meet this self when I work creatively. When I am working creatively, this is when I truly become an independent self. It feels like I am a different person. If I have not been able to get away to work, and then I do, it is almost like meeting an old friend I haven’t seen in a long time. But it is my SELF. I am thinking ‘oh, hey, how have you been?’ It is buried under everything else. I have to go and dig it up.
When I am with my children, it is a different self--a self that is melded and blended with them. However, it’s funny because they know there is another part of my life that does not involve them. It is like I am cheating on them with my work. But I do not think I could be more attentive if I tried. They are always on my mind.
The self that sees the people I love as the most important thing is vastly more dominant than the self who wants to do great work. Nevertheless, the self who wants to do work lets out little squeaks of distress.
I accept that maybe I won’t get all my life projects done, that I won’t get realize these visions I have. Yet, it’s still a painful realization. Hilariously, I thought I WOULD be some version of Nick Cave when I grew up. I loved Nick Cave as a teenager. Sometimes it is as if I am two people. One is a writer and scholar and one is a mother. They somehow can’t both fit into the same life very well. They aren’t very much alike. The mother self is so all-consuming and shoves aside the writer self, or represses it, so it languishes. I chose two types of lives that both have consuming identities and take up vast amounts of time where the role I fill is so different.
Life is very strange. Things just come up. You cannot control or plan things. Every day is another moment of rolling with it, and then another day. The idea there should be some overarching structure is an illusion. It might be a good illusion because it has practical relevance moment to moment. it guides you. But overall, you are kicking the can down the road until the road runs out.
I am a selfish piece of shit!!! I can’t get my essays done and I smile at no one!! I am newly married and terrified of the relief I’ll feel when I have a kid and no longer give a shit about my selfish self. Please advise.
“Each life is precarious, and some of us understand it and some don’t.“ 🌳 I love this whole post. I read in a book by Thomas Moore this week that mothering is both tending and excruciation, and it made me pause. That’s it, I thought, the pain is baked in, it’s a natural part of the process. That feels relevant here to the needs of the self (discovery, tending, hand-holding, ie work) and the needs of belonging to the whole, which also tends you. It’s so complicated, so real. I 1000% believe that artists are tending the psychic soil, turning it like mealy worms. The problem is that our culture makes us believe our work has to count on some grand scale, but what really matters is that all the worms are toiling and tilling, doing their jobs for their own lives and keeping the soil healthy as a whole. I also am a big believer in something that Dr. Clarissa Pinkola Estes says, basically when you do not bring out the magic that is within you, it can destroy you (no pressure!!) I think about this sometimes (I don’t know if it’s Jungian first but she is a Jungian analyst), it’s my basic duty to use my creative gifts, and turning away from them means at the very least turning away from life, and at worst turning toward a kind of sickness, a denial of my own greater needs. This sounds maudlin but I also think it’s kind of true. If I want to keep my mind and heart healthy, creative work is part of those chores. I frequently think of it like brushing my teeth but for mental health. It’s weird because too much work can also harm your mental health, so it’s such a fine balance, but I believe just like the sun guides plants in their daily growth, your heart will guide you if you really listen to it. I also wonder if Wilder is more a part of your heart and your creative work than you realize, because in both are seeds of joy? End rant/lecture! 💞🏽🌿🫀
Great essay thank you. My kids are 8 and 10 and raising them has changed me completely. I used to think that if the great work never happened then it was all for shit. A very self-centered view. My kids have helped me understand my small place in the world and that making small positive contributions to the world is what matters. Modeling loving behavior to the best of my ability has become a far more rewarding lifestyle than feverishly chasing some kind of recognition from the world. Thanks again, great piece.
This one time a fan told me something I said made her get on antidepressants and I figure that’s what I was put on this earth to do and so everything else is bonus time.
“Surely it is more than nothing? It must be, what with the definition of nothing being no thing and my work being some thing”
That statement right there says it all.
To #7: When I'm biting my tongue and not saying what I want to say to spare the feelings of others. I have what I call "Ally McBeal Moments" (if you've ever seen the show, you know what I'm talking about) I'm calm on the outside and talking like a normal person. But on the inside--the Ally McBeal Moment-I'm telling you how I really feel. Possibly letting you have it with both barrels blazing. That holding back words/shoving down feelings stems from a childhood stutter and lisp. :/ Got rid of the lisp. And the stutter, for the most part.
According to my mother, I rebelled against coming into the world at all (and she will tell you so at nauseating length). What have I done for it? I continue to rebel against its expectations. Merrily. :)
I can't even tell you how much this was exactly what I needed to read this morning.
I so loved this, Alex. Got the warm fuzzies here in Ohio reading this. Lots of great stuff in here. You made me want to go read Nick Cave's book. I have put his quote, 'It's got to be about love" in my pocket. Your question about writing - what does it matter in the long run - struck a chord. We all struggle with this balancing act of wanting desperately to connect with others, wanting to leave our DNA on our folding chairs and realizing at the same time we are so very small. I read your stuff for the warmth and humanity, silliness and love. You really had me going with the Koala Kourt.
I am just reading this now, days after it was posted, because I am on Family Vacation with spouse and boy. Which does not leave me much time alone or in contemplation or anything. But Alex my friend, you have asked Everything right here and while spouse and boy are downstairs playing ping-pong, I am having thoughts in response.
Today I was lost to myself at the top of a trail we hiked. There were waterfalls. My 16yo manchild played with pieces of birch bark, dropping each in and watching as it was caught in an eddy, swirled, maybe flowed further with the current to the next pool. I could have sat on my rock in the sun all day, just watching the simple joy and listening to the water rush. When I finally got up to leave --spouse and boy already skipped away-- I was surrounded by butterflies. Five or six dancing around me in the green sunlight. I ceased to exist as my usual self.
During the past week in the wilds of New Hampshire, our teenaged miracle has said on several occasions, “I am really enjoying spending time like this with both of you.” Not only has something gone terribly right-- I will also save up all those moments for when my boy is being a smarmy teen and taking it out on the nearest adult (generally me or spouse).
It’s funny: I thought I would be able to write more during this vacation, removed as I am from the stresses of everyday life. Nope. Does this mean I am undisciplined? Lacking talent / ability? Lazy? Afraid? All the same questions I have at home. Means nothing.
Having a life of the mind as a mother is so hard. Even when the child is not really a child anymore. Only when this boy is successfully launched into the world will I begun to feel less c
Many people never push past their own bullshit, no matter their age.
man behind the comedian ... here. we. go. 💯