July 9th, 2008
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this entry was prompted by a woman who wrote me, a fellow artist who is considering having children, though currently on the proverbial fence. she wrote me asking if i could offer my experience thus far on how one’s creativity is impacted by having a child. more specifically, what sacrifices are involved. in many ways I feel like this in itself is a daunting task, how does one even begin to talk about an experience that they are just beginning? i still feel like a beginner, wading through this new place in my wellies, looking for some dry ground to sit on to reflect. yet, after receiving this note I have not been able to stop thinking about my response. what would I say? ideas float in and around my brain as i go about my day. and so i feel i must write. even if for myself.
I was never one of those people who always wanted to have children. but for years I found myself talking to other moms about what it was like to be a parent. Something in my being was fascinated with the whole process and wanted to know everything. I particularly wanted to hear from other creative mothers on whether it was possible to maintain a creative life while caring for a child. I know that the experience is very different for everyone, but I mined each person for as much information as i could get. I think often there were answers that I really wanted to hear, to know that it was doable or in some cases easy and carefree. Many answers I did not like hearing, (you will have no time for yourself, it requires MAJOR sacrifices). All answers are true, and sometimes not true. how’s that for cryptic?
from so many mothers i have sensed a push pull energy, a feeling of loving parenting but at the same time wanting to be somewhere else. i myself grew up with a mom who absolutely loved being a mom and was fulfilled by it in many ways but seemed always to be craving time for herself. i sensed that there was another life that she longed for, which she fulfilled by doing small theatre and teaching dancing part time. that place of “what could have been” loomed there just on the outskirts of our existence and my sister and I could feel its constant presence. creativity going to waste, or being brushed aside for trips to the dentist, and the day to day tasks that motherhood demands.
as an adult I decided I would never live in a way that I would have any regrets about what could have been, I would do whatever I was drawn to, whatever moved me, and try to experience everything as fully as possible. If parenting was to be a part of it, I would have to be 100% sure that that was the path for me. Of course, as I got older I learned that my life is not about the things i’ve planned, and it’s much better that way. I no longer find it necessary to be 100% sure of anything. Planning just gets in the way of living well, in my opinion, but I digress…
and so to Amanda, (and all you out there reading this who might be in the same boat) here are some things that I want to share with you. it worked best to write in snippets, writing thoughts down as they come in.
…i still don’t feel like a ‘mom’, in the strict parental sense. I kind of feel like a girl who is taking care of the most amazing person ever. I see other moms and think I am not like them.
…I was so worried that I would change as a person in a negative way (read:irrational fears about losing my creativity.) That has not occurred at all. I am the same me, only with a TON more meaning in my life. I’ll get to that more later.
…I thought I would feel more like I know what I am doing as a parent. it’s like every other creative endeavor I’ve ever done…I’m just winging it most days, in a “let try this and see what happens”. I always thought you would know exactly what to do.
…I have lost all sense of being (or attempting to be) graceful in this role. I never feel entirely put together physically. I’ve given up on getting somewhere on time.
…on some days my creative life has become a series of “doing whatever possible in the time allotted to get the job done”. you know that game where the gophers pop their little fuzzy heads up out of a hole and you have to hit them as fast as you can with a large mallet before they pop back down again? It’s like that.
…but then on other days there are moments of calm where a kind of routine sets in, and on those days i often feel like, “this is a piece of cake”. my life and work feel seamless and doable, (and this happens fairly often if I am to be truthful). I want to have five more children and live in a big wonky house full of happy children with dogs and a pond and chickens, and maybe even a horse or two. And I will invite all of my friends who have children to come and swim in the pond and we will cook and laugh and drink wine together and I will be a kind of supermom. a mom powerhouse who can change 10 diapers at once, and calm a crying baby in seconds, a kind of amazing “baby whisperer” and people in the neighborhood will talk about me like I am some kind of baby god. and then usually the baby wakes up. and sometimes if he is screaming for a while I have found myself thinking, “How does anyone ever manage two of them?”
…i get into the most trouble when I am clinging to “needing” to get something done in the time frame that I want it to be done. It is a difficult shift to realize that you no longer call the shots. If I attempt to control how and when, I end up very frustrated. Even knowing this fact I still fight it constantly. It is strange to not be able to take a nap when I need one like I used to. You have no choice but to push through that fatigue. Most days i am lucky to get in two hours for my work, (and I am lucky to have a husband that works at home right now).
…something in my body feels more complete than I ever have before. complete in the sense that I feel a part of a family, there is a huge comfort in that for me. I feel connected to something very important. My life has a focal point now. I don’t know how to explain it any better than that. this is the sense of having more meaning that I referred to earlier.
…as I walked around the farmer’s market this morning holding my child people would look at him and smile. I actually got teary over the sense of pride I felt about being this person’s mother, or even just being a mother in general. It was kind of a “look at what I am doing, isn’t it great”, in the way little kids feel when they show you a painting. no ego in it, just pure enjoyment.
…there are moments/days that are so very trying it unbelievable, (and I have the sense that there will be many more of these in the future.) on the whole I believe that this discomfort is not only valuable, but what makes life truly fulfilling. For me life is all about contrast and if you are looking for a smooth and easy, maintenence free life then maybe having a child is not for you. Some days in the beginning I thought, “I have to get up tomorrow and do this all over again? wow.” …
but the rewards are plentiful. what no one can explain to you before you have a child and what you can never understand, (even if someone tries to explain it to you) is how you will love this thing more than anything you’ve ever experienced in your life. It’s like falling in love all over again, but on a new plain of existence. it feels a lot like getting the coolest present ever, something that you want to play with all day and show to everyone you know, (I know this sounds terrible but so what). you want to quit everything and give this little being the best life you can imagine.
and i believe one of the best gifts I can give to him is to allow my own creativity to flourish. Not necessarily in the all encompassing way that it did before. now I have to shrink things down a bit to fit it into the time I have. But it is still a huge part of me and I am excited to share it more with him as he grows. And there are definitely sacrifices that I am making for him, I can’t do all of the speaking engagements that I am offered, travel is MUCH harder with a baby (a fact that I did not want to believe before I had him), socializing with friends is NOT the same (conversation is scattered and haphazard and disjointed), it is MUCH better to socialize with other parents because they understand what it is like and don’t bat an eyelash when the baby pukes or screams for an hour during dinner, the house is often a disaster area (keeping it clean seems impossible, another fact i did not want to believe).
To be totally honest I feel like I could write a very long book about this and still not get out everything I want to say. So for now I will leave you with these things. I share them with you not as an attempt to persuade you in one direction or the other. I cannot tell you the thing that you want to hear, or give you the answer to the question you are seeking. for me it came down to a question. not “Will I have a child and still be able to create?”, but instead, “Can I live with not having had that experience in my life?” and for me the answer was “no”.
I’ll keep you posted on the rest.

July 7th, 2008
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how lucky am i to have met some of my favourite illustrators in the world this past weekend? from a lifetime of being obsessed with illustration, i am plummeted into the heart of it for three days, the city that it blossomed out of. and the one that it still feels most connected to. I am a romantic at heart as you know, one who would love to travel back in time for a few hours.
-stumbling onto, completely by accident, the original offices of the New Yorker magazine, whose halls were filled by some of the great writers and cartoonists o of our time, among them william steig, charles addams, peter arno and many more. dark hallways with vaulted ceilings lit by round art deco globe lamps. I was immediately transported to 1920′s new york. the ghostly sound of typewriters clacking hung in the air. there was a sign beside the front door that explained that during that time the new yorker was suspicious of new technologies. how wonderful.
-meeting Beth Adams, Jeffrey Decoster, Martha Rich. Sean Qualls, Otto Steininger
-seeing my teacher and mentor from OCAD Linda Montgomery
-my talk went well, though I was a bit distracted watching my baby in the back row, he was making his peruvian bat noises and had to be escorted out at some point. Tilden was not a big fan of the big apple. too tall and noisy.

July 2nd, 2008
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(an idea for a tshirt design. believe it or not, this is needed in north america.)
i am off to icon in New York City…if you are going to be attending, my talk is at 3:30 on friday. come and say hi! here is the info:
Come Together
Networking Pioneers
Friday, July 4, 3:30pm – 4:30pm
Julia Breckenreid with
Robert Zimmerman and Keri Smith
Making connections can remove personal and artistic fears, creating positive change. Illustrator Julia Breckenreid will present two interviews with Robert Zimmerman and Keri Smith to reveal how selfless acts and collaboration bring unexpected rewards. Once a prolific illustrator, now an advocate, Zimmerman created drawger.com, a curated online community where illustrators collaborate and inspire each other daily. Illustrator and author Smith has innumerable fans who follow her blog the Wish Jar. Her books and talks have inspired many to trust their visions, defy convention and follow their dreams. Hear these pioneering creatives map their individual roads to illustration civilization.

July 1st, 2008
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every time i sit down to write about motherhood it ends up sounding so schmaltzy and cliche ridden. but then how could it not be when something forces your heart to explode into a billion little pieces? and you gain access to parts of it that have never been used previously, parts you weren’t even aware were there. it feels nearly impossible to describe. the cliches exist for a reason.
i feel like I have been ripped open. i am awake. i have a sense of purpose and more focus than ever before. I feel completely full and totally fragile at the same time. and I feel BIG. too large to fit into my tiny little earth bound body. some days i don’t even know what to do with all the emotion i feel. a hole has been filled in my body that I didn’t know was even there.
this is not to say that it is easy and effortless, quite the contrary. the challenges are as great some days as the rewards. my sense of time has been altered to the point of abstraction, its as if I’ve been put into a different time zone, one that makes it impossible to function in any sort of ‘productive’ sense. I liken it to swimming in mud, every movement is slowed and labored. I feel as if i am always miles away from the destination, always trying to reach the bank, yet it keeps moving. i have no choice but to ‘be where i am’ in this regard. to sit in the place of abstracted time and try to enjoy it. many things don’t get done, the important things do as if by some miracle.
i am a complex melting pot of contradiction most days. ying and yang. I am triumphant. I am winded. I am invincible and powerful. I am lost. I am in love. I am fragile. I am awed. I am confused. I am all knowing. I am unsure. I want to suck up every bit of this experience piece by piece. I want to hide. I am so happy I am going to explode. My self-confidence shatters temporarily.
this is the best thing i have ever done.

June 24th, 2008
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1. Take a photo of yourself in various locations.
2. Post the photos close to where you took them.
I wanted to share with you a cool letter I received this week about an activity from the Guerilla Art Kit. I love seeing what people are doing with it. I excerpted some of the letter here, the photos are from the event:
Dear Keri,
I am a teacher of English working in a small industrial town close to Rouen, Normandy, France. At the end of the school year I asked my students (15/16 years old) to write a short diary about their guerilla art activity. My idea was inspired by your Guerilla Art Kit which I had found in the Beaubourg Museum Bookshop in Paris. So I told my students about your book, about guerilla art, about the sense of connection to the environment. They were interested by your ideas and we decided to act this way:
I let each of them choose a place of our school. I took a picture of them (a part of them actually, their hand, their hair, their foot…their choice) in that chosen environment and printed it on normal paper. They stuck the picture close to where it was taken, so people might question themselves when they spotted the picture. In order to feel the experience, they didn’t know where the others had taken and stuck the picture. So they could wander around the school and find the photos. They thought it was exciting, like a treasure hunt, and therefore they also watched other people finding the picture. They weren’t to react if someone ripped the picture, only to report, but it actually didn’t happen: the other students or members of the staff only watched them and you could see their puzzled expression! All this was to be written in their diary.
from Gekko Hopman

June 23rd, 2008
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“…You need to realize something else: you can lead a perfectly good and satisfactory life even if you’re not a writer [artist]. When i figured out that i could be perfectly happy and not be a writer, i became a better writer. The unhappiest people in the world may be the ones who think their happiness depends on artistic success of some kind.” ~Wendell Berry
(excerpted fron an interview in this month’s sun, my favorite read)

June 20th, 2008
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my mailperson listens to a transistor radio out loud while he does his route. I don’t know why this pleases me so but it does. he listens every day to a sports station, sometimes to a live game of some kind. I don’t know enough about sports to be able to identify his game of preference. Baseball maybe? It seems so old fashioned these days to listen outloud to a game on the radio. I can hear him coming from down the street. a daily sound installation of distant announcer voices, slowly becoming louder and louder until I hear the sound of footsteps on my front porch. my anticipation grows as getting the mail is one of my favourite things. always has been.
I believe good things come in the mail. even bills, though they cause financial stress at times, they at least remind me that I am still alive and kicking, still an active participant in this crazy place, (being the planet). I always look forward to the surprises that the mail brings in the form of postcards from strangers, cards from friends who I see all to little, words from far away places on the other side of the earth. people thinking about me enough to write something, and then take a trip to the mailbox.
i like thinking about the fact that letter mail involves a physical experience of the world, an action. I picture every person going about their days, and at some point having to make a little journey. what did they see on the way? did they run into someone they know? an old friend or neighbor perhaps? did they notice the ground as they walked?

June 17th, 2008
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I was totally flattered and excited to be invited to speak at this years Foo Camp, but I can’t go for a couple of reasons. 1. because it is too close to another speaking engagement. and 2. I have a nursing infant in tow and they don’t allow families (it’s a camping situation). I send out a friendly yet hearty plea to Tim O’Reilly to make exceptions for nursing moms in the future!
it’s too bad because I have a lot to talk about lately and I think I figured out how to fix all of the problems of the universe. i guess you’ll have to wait until next year.
(you think i’m joking but really i’m not.)
p.s. Tim, i really like what you are doing and particularly loved your speech, “Why I Love Hackers”. keep up the good work!
update: I received an email from Sara at Foo, who wanted to let me know that they do accommodate nursing moms at foo and have had a few in the past. This was not mentioned on their site so I jumped to conclusions. My mistake. Thank you Sara for clearing that up! I meant no harm in my post about it.

May 29th, 2008
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May 27th, 2008
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somewhere in the world there exists a black hole that contains all of the words that are lost when when your cell phone cuts out.
i like thinking about that.
would it read like a poem?
what if it read like a brilliant novel?

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