The first two weeks of motherhood I said aloud, “I don’t want to be a mother anymore,” on a daily basis. With a chronic illness zapping my already sleep deprived body, I longed to write and make art.
Almost two years into motherhood, I sacrifice my writing and visual art on a regular basis. It’s true. And in many ways I’m okay with it, which, in turn does make me feel a sense of “art guilt”—a term cartoonist and painter Jerry Moriarty used to talk about in class years ago—to feel that you must be creating, that you should be creating, and know that you need to and should, but alas, never do. He used to say it’s good for us to post a picture of something we’re working on where we’ll see it when we wake or go to bed or walk past constantly in our homes so that we feel enough art guilt that eventually we’ll create more. But, he warned, that it’s true some days it’s all just art guilt and nothing is created.
I feel art guilt regularly.
And I can’t say that having a child has made me feel some new or profound sense of love and self-discovery I hadn’t had before. I was right when I was pregnant: I had evolved to that stage of self-awareness already through chronic illness and writing about chronic illness.
I don’t have to be a mom to know what love is. I was a writer who learned what love is.
A psychiatrist I’ve had for almost twenty years and that I regard highly actually said to me while I was pregnant, “You are never really an adult until you’ve had a child.” I was terribly offended and said so. In his follow up email, he said:
“As you fall in love with your baby you experience caring more about the baby’s welfare than your own. It becomes a fierce decision to be true to that helpless being always. Your life is changed forever and you stop caring about adult toys and pastimes all that much.
Most people think about themselves constantly. The lucky ones love someone else and add them to the internal conversation. The luckiest, well you have a chance to be one of them.”
Maybe that’s true for some people. In fact, I know it is. I’ve watched some people grow up when they’ve had children, but chronic illness grew me up, and writing and making art isn’t “a pastime.” These activities have been my absolute saving grace during the darkest of times. They’ve helped me grieve the loss of loved ones, to get through severe depression and anxiety, and cope with a debilitating physical illness. Writing and making art is who I am and how I cope. Without it I’m a shell of a human being and, furthermore, I’m not the best mother I can be to my daughter.
The thing that I miss the most? Writing and/ or making visual art ‘til 4am, which was a regular occurrance. Getting up at noon on a Saturday and then writing for four hours straight.
That all said, I don’t waste my time on boys like I did before. This is laughable, I know. When I calculate the fun time I have with my daughter playing make believe around the cupboards, and dancing to Michael Jackson, and arguing with her about whether she can go through her father’s office and slam his keyboard, I think: Well, at least this is time well wasted. This is not all that bullshit time I wasted on men who didn’t care for me—men I wrote poems, songs, and stories for to no avail.
Teaching my daughter the beauty of the world through the eyes of a writer and visual artist is fun. There is a sense of “shit got done today,” I struggled to attain during the first 8 months to year of motherhood.
The only real understanding I’m growing to have that I hadn’t already learned is how to waste time well and not feel art guilt. I’ve had to let go. And yet, the art guilt does creep up. Sometimes the creative juices bubble up so frenzied that I am forced to spill them out on the page no matter what—such as tonight. It’s almost 3am.
I will drug myself to sleep for the remainder of tonight, like I do so many nights, so that I’ll get just enough sleep to take care of my daughter all during the day, and hopefully get some grading papers done at some point.
I think I could write more and make more art if I didn’t have a chronic health issue that zaps me of energy so regularly, but then this topic is such a huge source of my material and general inspiration. I think if I wasn’t a mother I’d have more time too. But then I think I would still probably waste a lot of that time and not well waste it either.
Now, when I have the time, writing and artmaking is much more focused. These are much more goal-oriented and driven activities. There’s no time for bullshit.