The Pram In The Hall – Motherhood and Creativity
“There is no more sombre enemy of good art than the pram in the hall” the critic Cyril Connolly once famously said. Was he right? Is parenthood so very hard to combine with creativity? These are my thoughts on whether motherhood and creativity can be successfully combined. I’d love to know yours too.
It is 10pm when I finally get to sit down and start writing this. That’s after a day in which I was up at 4.20 with daughter number one, then up again (for good) at 5.20am with daughter number two. It’s been a long day and so it’s unsurprising that I am not feeling at my most creative now – thoughts of settling down in my bed push aside any other thoughts that might have come to the fore otherwise. It’s hard to write when your brain is so full of other things – what do the children need for nursery tomorrow, what do I need to get at the shops, how high is the laundry pile, how can I possible do everything I need to do this week?!
It wasn’t always like this. Before my children were born I was always writing. I would say that throughout my life the things I have enjoyed most have been reading and writing. In fact the first surviving poem that I have was one I wrote at age 5 for my sister who had just learned to walk – “You are good/you are sweet/you can balance on your feet” was how it went. Ok, not award winning but it definitely showed signs of promise! From then on I was always writing poems, stories and songs and throughout my school years, teenage years and university years I wrote reams of bad indulgent poems and over dramatic short stories. I just enjoyed writing and gave very little thought to who might one day read it, whether it was good enough or what it was for. It was really just for my own enjoyment and as a way to reflect on my life and myself.
I have folders full of my writing and it is great to be able to look back over it and see my development as a writer (still fairly limited) and as a person.
I didn’t notice it stopping. It was only when my first daughter was about one that I realised how long it had been since I had written anything. I’d noticed that I’d stopped reading so much, but once she started to sleep through the night and I regained my powers of concentration I rediscovered my love of books. Writing was different though. Writing meant sitting down, reflecting, taking time out of a busy life to focus on my inner self and use my imagination. That didn’t come back naturally and has had to be coaxed out.
So is Cyril Connolly right? Is the pram in the hall really the death warrant for creativity? I think for me that there are two reasons that my creativity has been (hopefully temporarily) stifled. The first is how very tired and busy I am and the second has nothing to do with motherhood and everything to do with adulthood. Whereas once I wrote for pleasure, I now agonise over whether I am good enough to ever get published. If, my thoughts go, I am not then why bother at all. It is hard to overcome this self-defeating philosophy.
But on the flipside, motherhood has awoken a new creativity in me and shown me a whole side of life that I had never previously imagined. I have accessed deep feelings inside myself that I never knew I was capable of – a love so profound and deep that it has changed me to my very core. This is certainly something worth exploring, thinking through and probing.
There was a very interesting Start The Week programme on Radio 4 recently that looked at Creativity. Author Joanna Kavena spoke about how for her, motherhood had in fact awoken rather than supressed her creativity “I think for me what often causes something creative to happen is a defamiliarisation of reality….I found that was something that parenthood gives you, a shattering of your assumptions – you have a new encounter to break you out of it”
I also found a fantastic article written by Damon Young, an Australian philosopher and father who expresses a lot of what I feel:
“As a father of two, I now write more before lunch than I did in a day. I am more prolific, committed, judicious; less precious, dithering, vague. This is not simply because I don’t have the minutes to waste. It is also because in two hours I’ll be cutting out a cardboard Princess Leia or writing spelling lessons for my daughter, and I don’t want to have half my tiny mind still toying with Schopenhauer. I want to be genuinely there.
Fatherhood has also been rejuvenating. Not always physically: oddly, changing nappies at three in the morning can be taxing. But it has renewed my consciousness. First, by nudging me back to my own childhood: to forgotten zeal, haste, venom; to the incredible weakness of absolute dependence and its (seeming) arbitrariness. Second, to the astonishing facts of ordinary life, which are given for adults, but often irresistibly fascinating for children: insects’ zigzagging, human anatomy, the sensuality of sand.”
These are all the reasons that I started Writing Parents. I think that parenthood is an exciting time, a time of huge change to both your inner and outer worlds and one that is fascinating to read and write about. Our groups help people to start writing again if they have stopped or also to pick up the pen for the first time and explore this new world.
The first group was led by the excellent Nichola Charalambou of Creative Writes who has such a gentle coaxing style that I found myself writing from the heart in the way I’ve not done for years. We all wrote until our hands hurt. Some of us cried. It felt very good to write and to share my experiences of parenthood in this way with other mums.
Now that I’ve started writing again I try not to worry about whether anyone will ever read it or not. I try to focus on doing it for enjoyment, for me, possibly for something to show my daughters one day when they are struggling with this intense period of childrearing – to show them that they are not alone in finding it hard. And if anyone else ever wants to read it, that’s just an added bonus.
Do you want to rediscover your creativity? Why not start by trying this simple exercise?
Sit down in a quiet place with a pen and paper. Laptops are forbidden. Just a pen that is nice to hold and possibly a cup of tea and a biscuit nearby. Make time for you.
Make sure you have a watch and note the time.
Now write the line “I am thinking of…” and continue writing for ten minutes. Don’t stop writing. Don’t take your pen off the page, don’t cross out anything, just write and write whatever comes to mind and see what you end up with. You will be surprised.
If you enjoy this exercise (inspired by Nichola) and you’d like to know more about writing parents groups, please go to www.writingparents.blogspot.co.uk, like us on facebook, follow us @writingparents or email us at firstname.lastname@example.org.
I’d really love to hear how other parents stay creative and make the space and time to write. Do share.
This is an extended version of an article that appeared on the fantastic More Than A Mum Blog, which you should definitely check out for inspiration and thought provoking articles.