Me and Imogen

Me and Imogen

So here I am in the backyard, shooting flowers again, wondering where my creative life is going. It might look like I’ve come full circle, but, when I look closer, my loop has the twists of a Möbius band.

Fifteen years ago, wanting a creative career, I ran a wedding photography business. I sucked at up-selling, so I also delivered papers and did a little freelance programming, all the while looking for that ‘real’ job.  We went to the local art museums on their free family days, but for the most past, art was relegated to the back seat, and the back seat was getting pretty cluttered with empty newspaper boxes, bills and booster seats. 

I was still searching and scrambling when I bumped into a friend at potluck picnic. 

“How’s your photography going?” she asked.  

I had been hoping she wouldn’t ask.  An established documentary photographer, she had been encouraging when I’d first picked up a camera, and I was embarrassed that it had fallen by the wayside.

“I haven’t had time to do much,” I said as then two-year-old Thing2 hung on my arm.  I pulled out the one-handed point-and-shoot that I was using most of the time.  “I’ve been working a few jobs, but I just don’t have time to do anything except when the kids are in bed.  The only thing I do anymore is write and draw and shoot flowers.”  Then I joked, “Don’t they say your creative life is over when you start shooting flowers?”    

“Not so,” answered my friend, and she introduced me to Imogen Cunningham.

Born in 1883, Imogen Cunningham studied chemistry at the University of Washington, photographing plants for the botany department to finance her tuition.  She went to work for a portrait photographer after college and then traveled to Germany to study photographic processes. When she returned to the states., she set up her own studio.  Her portraits and other work had established her as an artist by the time she became a mother.

https://www.imogencunningham.com/

At that time, even in America, her quest for education, career and artistic fulfillment weren’t commonplace for most young women in that era, so I was surprised to learn that, after all that struggled, she followed the more traditional route of being what we now call a stay-at-home-mom.  I wondered if there was even a choice for her. 

But art was not a choice for her.

Responsible for three boys, Cunningham used her camera to focus her attention on her offspring as well as her garden.  Her botanical images from this period of her life won her lasting acclaim. Far from signaling the death of her artistic career, Imogen’s botanical photographs made in the throes of motherhood confirm that an artist can bloom in the face of responsibility.  It just required some really good naptime coordination. 

My boys are long past the nap time stage, but ‘real life’ and the creative life duel constantly. My unexpected, enforced sabbatical seemed like the perfect opportunity to breathe new my painting and writing life, but revivals can have unexpected results. When the intense intellectual and emotional challenges of working in Special Education receded, there was suddenly space to mediate. My writing life, more recently relegated to the sidelines, came roaring back, routing me from my bed early in the mornings. Painting moved to the back shelf, and a blog that was almost 100% illustrated or painted for over six years began relying on photographs to support the writing.

The painting will never disappear, but the need to write online and off and to produce images in minutes, rather than hours or days, hasn’t killed creativity. It’s re-opened an old, almost forgotten path to it.

So I come back to Imogen and her work. It continues to resonate with me because of its beauty but also because of what it embodies. She was a mother. She was a housewife, and she was still making a creative life for herself. And, sitting under the apple tree, my camera trained on a blossom until one of the swarming bees comes to kiss it awake, I know that photographing flowers is the opposite of a creative life ending. 

It’s just begun.

It’s In My Job Description

It’s In My Job Description

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I'm trying, with limited success, to work three jobs. I got the one that pays the bills for 40 to 50 hours a week. I've got the one I took on when the Big Guy and I decided to become parents. And I've got the one that I'm still auditioning for – The one I get up at – still early, Buddy, don't you want to go back to bed? – 4AM to scribble in my notebook and doodle in my sketchbook for.

I slept in today. It was 5 AM when I finally dragged myself out of bed and into the shower, but I figured I had enough time before the rest of the house was awake – Stop that, kid – to get through a story revision – No you cant have the remote when everyone still asleep.
Thing2 usually does his own figuring on Saturday mornings, however. Like most seven-year-olds he has a sixth sense that tells his body clock when it's a school morning and went to get up early. Today the body clock was working perfectly, and as I sat down with my notebook and a short story I'm updating, somebody padded out in his jammies and socks.

Now, I'm sitting on the recliner with my story in my notebook and no daylight or molecules between me and my seven-year-old. i'm still editing and writing. I don't know if these are the kind of working conditions that Louisa May Alcott had to suffer through when she was an aspiring writer, but I figure scribbling away with a giggly seven-year-old – Cut it out! wrapped around my writing elbow is in my next job's description.

I can get used to that. The pay isn't so great, but the benefits are hard to beat.

 

Radio Silence

Radio Silence

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 For the last month, I’ve been wondering if my bipolar disorder had evolved in to something more insidious as the chorus of demands created by a stint of intense overtime at work and holiday social obligations amplified, drowning out much of what matters to me – fitness, writing and even family from time to time.   I had been joking the last few days that – even as a work-at-home-mom – I spoken to my kids no more than twice a day lately (Once to tell them to get on the bus, and another time to tell them dinner is ready and go to bed).  

There’s an old saying goes, “When mom ain’t happy, ain’t nobody happy.”. I never believed that. I was thought I was putting my family’s health and happiness first – even when I wasn’t so happy.  But Saturday, as the Big Guy and I arrived home from a  cross-state work party too late to get to another outing and knowing I had to throw together a potluck contribution for the town’s annual holiday Christmas party (the only place with a Santa who actually knows if Thing2 has been naughty or nice),   I realized I wasn’t happy.  And I wasn’t making my family happy either.  I was running on empty which doesn’t leave you much to give the people you love.  

Saturday night Mother Nature gave me a sign.  Actually she threw up an eight inch powdery white stop sign. And Sunday, the din stopped.

We knew the storm was coming, and, while the forecasted 5-10″ isn’t’ enough to morph my Saturday grocery shopping list into disaster planning mode, I knew the weather would likely keep us housebound in the morning.  I did a mental inventory of our hot chocolate and popcorn supplies, but I also began making a list of the commitments outside my door that I could now reasonably avoid a day.

Sunday quickly became a day of rest.  For me, it was a day of no iPhone, no email – work or personal, no iPad or TV.  There was no Facebook and no news.  After a late-night saturday look at the weather map,  there was Radio Silence.  

Sunday, with the cacophony shut out, I was finally able to hear the things that matter.  Three of them are still sleeping down the hall.  The other I am nursing for the first time in over a week.

 

The Ministry of Organization

The Ministry of Organization

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This may come as a shock, coming from someone who blogs (I don’t brag about it either) about being a bad housekeeper (blogs – not brags), but I am not naturally organized.  Staying organized always seemed like a juggling act that required advanced skills.  I pick my battles, but the need to organize my day is forcing me to pick a new fight with my life.

There are certain balls I can always keep in the air.  Apparently having kids endows you with some hormone that keeps you from letting their priorities slip through the cracks (thank goodness), and the desire to eat regularly keeps me signed in at work on a daily basis.  But the house, writing and fitness are a few things that tend to hit the ground more often than I’d like.  

The house has always been the lower priority, but almost a solid week of intense cleaning and vacuuming dictated by a sudden flea infestation put it at the top of the list.  With kid not yet in school, I’ve been able to juggle a few things, but fitness and writing have become casualties more than I wanted them to.  A few days ago, out of desperation, I pulled out my organizer and created a weekly schedule. 

The plan was to get up early and write, then exercise and then clean before the kids got up or had to go to school.  The morning writing is relatively new – the morning thing is new.  I’ve traditionally been a night owl, but last winter decided to try and change my body clock.  It worked – sort of. 

At the time, I was a serious caffeine addict.  Over the summer, a change in my diet helped me mostly kick that habit.  At first, I keenly felt the absence of my old stimulant, but better nutrition and fitness helped to compensate during the day.  The one time of day I still notice the dearth is in the early morning, and I finally realized that maybe even moms need more than 4.5 hours of sleep a night.

Last night my body, intensely aware of that need was not able to convince my brain that it was time to shut down.  Minute after minute passed as I watched my planned six hours of sleep dissolve into five and then four.  In the past, I’ve gotten up and written, but the last few days worry has inspired my insomnia, and I did what I do best – worried.  About braces for Jack, about the lemon I call a car sitting the driveway, and – naturally – about every flea (phantom or in-the-flesh) that might still be crawling toward our beds.  

Finally, I picked up my alarm/organizer and, surrendering the idea of writing or doing yoga this morning, I set the alarm to go off an hour later.  Then I scrolled over to the organizer trying to find another hour in the day.  It took an inordinate amount of time to remember that once I would have used this kvetching time for creating, but when I did remember, it was an ‘A ha’ moment (the nearby slumbering Big Guy just incorporated it into a dream).  Fortunately, I hadn’t scheduled worrying into my night yet, so the slot was free.  Suddenly there was time in the morning to walk the dog, clean, get exercise out of the way, eat, get the kids out of the house, and get to work.  And there was time to sleep.  

This morning the alarm went off an hour later. There was an actual to-do list (something that’s only existed in my imagination until recently).  Another hour later, the must-do’s were done.  The worry was gone, and there was an unscheduled hour, so I sat down to do what I love to do best  – write – and what could only have happened when I started to what I hate to do most – organize.

A Day with the Boys

A Day with the Boys

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Once upon a time I would have traded blood and organs for the chance to be a Work At Home Mom (WAHM).  A few years ago, I stumbled onto the right ad on Craigslist and, without making any deals with the devil, joined the growing legions of moms who work from home.  For the most part it’s been a win-win.  I’m home on snow days and sick days.  There’s no dry-cleaning to worry about, and the gas and rubber saved is significant.  It has also, however, taught me a lot about the difference between quality time with my kids, twelve-year-old Thing1 and six-year-old Thing2,  and simply more time.

Our town has school choice, so Thing1 and Thing2 go to different schools in different towns.  The schools are a mile apart, and, while the calendars often overlap, there are somedays when one school is closed and the other is not.  Yesterday was Thing2’s day off, and, enjoying a unprecedented state of organization last week, I remembered to schedule a day off for myself.

The kids are in school full-time now, but summers and holidays mean that I’m often scrambling to entertain them while I work.  More often than I’d like, this results in kids playing on iPads or computers and me snapping at them to stop fighting over this or that toy.  It’s more time together, but it is not quality time.

Ironically, spending more time with my kids has fueled my desire to carve out more special days with one or the both of them.  It’s a tradition that started when Thing1 was still Thing-only.  Mommy-Thing1 days started with a special breakfast and then a visit to a museum or even just a day on the couch watching a movie of his choice.  It’s one-on-one face time, and it’s become a sacred ritual for both kids.

Thing2 and I started the day with breakfast and haircuts.  Money he had earned was burning a hole in his pocked, so we took a quick trip to the toy store and then went to visit a friend who’s recovering from surgery.  By the time we got home, my day with Thing2 was drawing to a close, and a planned evening with Thing1 was about to begin.

The Dorset Theatre was in its final weekend of its production of The Crucible, and, since we don’t have a regular babysitter, the Big Guy and I had decided to take turns attending.  We’ve been dragging Thing1 to plays for a while now (with increasing levels of enthusiasm), and I decided we would go out to dinner before the play.  Thing2’s palate is getting more adventurous so we ended up a Thai place in Manchester, VT.

The restaurant was a little more upscale place than we usually go with either child, but Thing1 warmed to the subdued atmosphere.  Absent distractions, we began to have a different Mommy-Thing1 day.  Thing2 is still at that stage where Mommy and Daddy are at the center of his world, and our special days are basically one big mental cuddle.  But Thing1 is at the border of adolescence, and the independence that accompanies that stage of life means that our special days have changed in content and character.  Last night, as our special day consisted mainly of  very grown-up dinner conversations about technology and society and later about the play and the performance, I began to see for the first time how that change is bringing us closer.