Friday, November 12, 2010

Mama's Bustin' Out

I’ve always believed the following things: if you really want to do something in life, you should probably allot more than one or two hours to do it. Next, assuming that thing you want to do is your passion, it doesn’t make a lot of sense to put it last on your list in your day. Lastly, there is a right way to do things and a less than right way, and it’s really not worth doing anything, unless you do it the right way.

I am happy to say I’ve just dropped kicked those long-outgrown beliefs like a big kid crashing a preschool kickball game. Having children and more specifically, my chosen brand of do-it-myself motherhood, has not allotted me more than one to two hours to do anything, let alone my passions in life. Let’s just start there. Given this time vacuum, I imagine my passions are tucked away on the top shelf of my closet, neatly folded, in an air-tight bag. Or perhaps motherhood just replaced my old passions and gave me new ones – a sparklingly clean kitchen, winning the war against the laundry blob, architecting sleep – both for my children and for me. The domestic trifecta of dishes-laundry-naps does reflect a large portion of my everyday these days, edging out those old passions, interests and careers. But even though they fill a lot of my time, they don’t fill me the way passions are meant to. And I’m just about running on empty – as a mother, a wife, an artist – with my passions in an air-tight bag, bound by rules and perfectionism. I need to break out and fill up, yo.

I like to make stuff. Lower-case arts and crafts. Upper-case Art and everything in between. Architecture, upholstery, beading. Writing, metalworks, soup-making. I would give my left foot to take a carpentry class. Whatever it is, creative work, more aptly named creative action, is always what I want more of in life. And what’s kept me from these passions for so long – in motherhood – with so little time – is not just my children and their omnipresent needs, but also my right way dilemma. The dilemma that I cannot in any way do what I love with the right tools, set-up, preparation, time table, time-of-day, season-of-the-year and technique appropriate for each of the aforementioned creative actions. The right way to write is to write every day, to revise, to edit, to share, to work in a writing group. Not even remotely possible. The right way to renovate furniture is to have a work room, to prepare the surface, to acquire and organized all the right paints, wood putty, sanding equipment, brushes, files, lacquers, stripper, etc. The right way requires safety gear for hands, eyes and skin. The right way requires layered time – a day to sand, a day to test the primer coat, a day to re-sand. Wood-fill, more sanding, more time. Let’s see…again, not even remotely possible. Its no wonder that my home is filled with interesting, begging-to-be-enlivened furniture. If that show about hoarding ever comes knocking, motherhood and that “right way” thorn in my side will be my excuses.

Creative work when you’re a mother, or an otherwise taxed creative person, must be, to insert a wrong-way-writing device, the cliché, catch as catch can. The rules, the right way and the parameters of what the world would dictate for “good” creative work get crudely shoved as one dashes from a dirty diaper, headlong into something to feed the soul – grandma’s all-day meat sauce compressed into a half hour, stream of consciousness dressed up as an essay penned in twenty minutes or one of my absolute favorites –updating an unloved piece of furniture in one hour instead of ten.

My new right way idea, stolen from people wiser than me, is that there is no wrong way to do it, except not to do it all, when it comes to that which feeds the soul. And by the way, when you have small children, it is very easy not do it at all. I decided to pop my creative cherry (again) and go for it about a week ago when my sons were napping. I plugged my ears and eyes to the mounds of mail, kitchen filth, lists to make and recalled Melanie’s advice. My husband’s cousin-in-law, Melanie, who stayed home with her two daughters while her partner worked outside of the house, told me that her daughters’ naptime was her soul time. Time to work on things that made her heart sing. Time to learn new creative ways. Time to evolve through craft. Woodworking, stained glass, you name it. She told me this as she whittled a cowboy boot from a scrap of pine in zen-like fashion, her daughters now teenartists in their own right. Melanie, your advice finally stuck.

Two vintage wooden children’s chairs despaired in my front yard as I obsessed over the time to properly restore them for a year. My excuses were rational, real and utterly stifling. Not only do I have two small children but until recently we didn’t even live in a house – furniture stripping and small apartment don’t go in the same sentence. I also suffer from eczema on my hands and something as simple as making sure I had the right gloves in the house so I could do my projects and keep the skin in tact on my fingers seemed too great in my second son’s first six months – heck, in my first son’s thirty-six months, who am I kidding? So “my projects” got dusty, warped and more pathetic looking. No only my house, but now my front yard, where the chairs languished, was like a graveyard of would-be creativity. Then one day I just started. Did I have the right paint? No. A half-pint of reddish was all I could find. Did I have the right tools? Not quite – a flimsy piece of over-used sandpaper, the first paint brush I saw – old and hastily cleaned from last unfinished project. Workroom? The driveway will have to do.

As I started to work, mindful that the first peep from either boy could erupt from the monitor and implode my plan, my brain screamed. This is the wrong sandpaper; this isn’t picking up enough of the old paint. I should have a mask on. I’m inhaling 50-year-old paint and I’m breastfeeding. That can’t be good. The chairs both need wood putty. Where is the wood putty? I left them in the yard too long. I’ve ruined them. This is a waste of time. What the (expletive) are we having for dinner? I’m getting paint everywhere. I’m doing such a shitty job. (EXPLETIVE) I’m so glad Francis (my husband) isn’t here to tell me to just put these in the trash, that they aren’t worth it, that I’m wasting my time. What is this paint color? It’s dark mauve. There should never even be a dark mauve. There are drips everywhere. I am painting so spastically. Should I blog about this? How do all those mothers blog so much!!? I don’t blog enough. I can’t take a picture, they look too shitty. This is the most hastily put-together project ever and on and on…

And then, after all that, I loved it, quietly. As the thoughts poured out I was blissfully alone with my chairs and paint brush, outside. New paint breathes life into something, transforms it, edits, if not erases, the old story – whether you’re talking about a thirty-five year old woman trying to locate her creative self or two broken kids’ chairs. The paint, and more specifically, the process, made everything ok. One of the chairs was a little rocking chair from my next-door-neighbor who recently passed away. I thought about how many kids have sat in it over the years – his children, his grandchildren, neighborhood kids now skateboarding, my own children. It’s broken and I didn’t fix it -- I decided to use it as a plant stand. Plants don’t care if the spindles are broken. And dark mauve is, for the record, one hundred times better than chipped and weathered brown. The chair is simply perfect in its new form. Reborn.

The margin between making those chairs new, correctly, and the way I did it, is there. But I’m not inviting anyone over who might know the difference and tell me so. As a planter, it’s perfect. The process of creation and working with my hands to make something better and give it new life is what I was after. The chair, glistening in new paint, quite dazzling against the fall foliage, is a lovely byproduct. And this is what makes my heart sing –even though it’s not easy, and won’t put dinner on the table or clean clothes in my sons’ rooms. Housework is a necessary drag of dirty things which need to be dealt with on a daily basis. But nothing ever emerges better or shinier or more interesting from that housework. The balls move forward, but they never turn into oranges. I need more activity in my life which nets a positive, beautiful, physical outcome for a wee bit of effort in a tiny amount of time. This is what creative projects – done however imperfectly, with whatever is available, can do. And yes, even in an hour or two – or less.

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