Wednesday, July 13, 2005

Mamaphonic: Balancing Motherhood and Other Creative Acts Review

Mamaphonic: Balancing Motherhood and Other Creative Acts Review
Stacey Greenberg

Although I had always considered myself a creative person, it was motherhood that gave me focus and helped me to find my voice. After emerging from the haze that is early motherhood—sleepless nights, dirty diapers, and the like—I have found myself more and more interested in the creative process and specifically how busy mamas like myself find the time to do what they do.

In the introduction, the editors write, “We do not accept the lie that having children kills creativity. In fact, we assert that people who are raising kids have to be more creative to find enough time to do their work, to figure out ways to integrate children into their art, to strike that balance between the needs of their families and the requirements of the work.” For me, this sentiment sums up why this collection is so important. New mamas who are struggling with the day-to-day immenseness of raising children, can read this book and know that although it may not seem like it at first, there is a way to be both a mother and an artist.
Scanning the table of contents I was happy to see some familiar names as well as some unfamiliar ones. Flipping through the pages I was pleased to see drawings, photographs, and other artwork. The editors clearly tried to include artists of many trades. Contributors ranged from cartoonists to flamenco dancers, movie critics to screen writers, and rock stars to woodworkers.

I was pretty sure that I had read Ayun Halliday’s essay on creating her zine, “The East Village Inky,” or a version of it before, but I was still captivated. Unable to work in theater while caring for her infant daughter, she was inspired to write a zine about their experiences during the day. Now that Ayun is the author of three books, I had to laugh when I read that to promote “The East Village Inky,” she boldly invited everyone she knew from the playground to a party on the roof of her building and then passed out her zine saying, “Oh, it’s just something for you to read on the toilet.”

Lisa Peet’s essay, “The Rudest Muse” drew me in from the title alone. Peet writes about the struggle to maintain her identity as an artist while raising a very critical teenager. She writes, “I kept what I did to myself, though. Or rather, since no one else in my life took the same degree of pleasure from putting me under the microscope, I found myself keeping my freelance work out of my son’s orbit.” Her essay evolves to tell how her rudest muse embraced her art and helped her fine tune the details. It was funny and touching look at the ways in which our children and our art grow over the years.

Heather Cushman-Dowdee’s essay “Collaboration” makes the reader want to get a studio, get some kids, and make a big mess. Heather writes about being a graduate student with her daughter in tow, how her alter-ego “Hathor the Cowgoddess” was born, and how her daughter created her own projects alongside Heather in the studio. She writes, “[My daughter] rarely had anyone tell her what to draw. No one corrected or urged or enhanced her drawings. She was on her own to do what she wanted—to paint, explore, mess up, and destroy as much or as little as she wanted.” The essay and illustrations are incredibly moving.

Other highlights of the book include J. Anderson Coats’ “The Means of Production,” which is a fascinating process piece that detailed what it was like for the author to bring her toddler with her to the library everyday as she did research. Maia Rossini’s interview with the lead singer of Sleater-Kinney (“Singing Things You Can’t Speak”) was a riveting look at the challenges of being a rock star and a mama to a five-pound premie. Victoria Law’s innovative photo essay included her and her daughter’s different perspectives of the same event. Muffy Bolding’s piece, “Talking Back to My Elders,” gives the reader a feel for the author’s extraordinary talent through her use of profanity, poop stories, and pomp.

There were a couple of instances where I thought that quality took a back seat to diversity. Katie Kaput’s essay portrayed an interesting view of motherhood as experienced by a transsexual dyke, but did not delve very deep into the artistic struggle. Likewise, Lli Wilburn’s drawings and journal entries were nice, but did not deal with the balancing act explored in the stronger pieces.

The editors gracefully achieved their goal of showing that Motherhood is not the end of creativity, but rather, the beginning. There are sections of this compilation that I will no doubt read again and again—to cure my writer’s block, quell my loneliness, or simply entertain myself. I imagine that some of the contributions that don’t speak as loudly to me now, may take on more volume as my career evolves and my children grow. Mamaphonic is a welcome addition to the growing genre of momoir and I am adding it to my “must have” reading list for new mamas.

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