Spring comes slowly
Spring comes so slowly in Minnesota. It forces patience upon you, however unwilling you are. Every morning you wake up to another sprinkling of snow, no matter how much you long for the flamboyant beauty of your crabapple tree in full bloom. You are tired of the waiting. You say, “I can’t take it anymore. I cannot handle this for one more day.”
Especially after such a long winter. A long, bitter winter filled with trials and tribulations that scraped your insides out and left you raw.
Don’t you deserve some easy beauty? The hot sun on your shoulders, flowers blooming, butterflies floating through the garden.
But the world owes you nothing. If you want to find beauty, you’re obliged to notice the simple, subtle beauty of spring coming slowly. So, fine. What else can you do? You take your walk in the cold, blustery day and you notice the loons are on the lake. That’s spring. And you see that the fat robins have eaten every single berry on the tree since the last time you looked. That’s spring, isn’t it. And by the time you walk around the entire lake, and your thighs are numb with cold, you are entirely sick of trying to notice the simple things.
The subtle beauty is actually making you angry, because why does it have to be so hard.
Then you see something, a stalk of dead grass blowing in the cold gray air, waving to you, holding a beauty so understated that it makes you want to cry. And you walk past it, thinking, “no I won’t stop and acknowledge this. I want the gaudy in-your-face-ness of summer.” But it comes slowly. And the simple beauty is so touching that you retrace your steps to try to capture it in a photo.
Of course, the photo cannot capture what you see, what you feel – but it is there; you cannot unsee it. You must continue your day being grateful for the small things, because what else can you do. There is no forcing spring. It owes you nothing. You take what you can get.
Although I've always loved creating art, I feel stiff and scared whenever I try new art materials. I have a fear of not knowing what I'm doing and I worry that I'm doing it wrong and it won't turn out. In fact, I haven't tried any new art materials in quite a while. I think it's because I have this preoccupation with the final result.
Currently, I'm researching creativity for my grant project and I've been doing a lot of reading on the subject. In the book Trust the Process: An Artist’s Guide to Letting Go, author Shaun McNiff urges us to be playful with new art materials. He wants us to simply see what the materials can do without an expectation of the final result.
He says, "We do not have to know where we're going at the beginning of the creative act. People who control the work in advance are pushing against the grain of creation, so no wonder there are feelings of inhibition and emptiness."
The other day my son dropped his pristine set of chalk pastels and was utterly devastated. In that moment, I had a flashback to my own childhood urges to keep everything perfect. I thought, what was the point in keeping all those art materials looking new?
So I asked my son if I could use his broken pastels.
I found some black paper and I sat myself out in my backyard. It was a lovely summer evening and I sat for a minute and watched the bumble bees buzzing on my coneflowers. My daughter's interest was sparked, and she sat down next to me and asked for paper. We both started drawing. We chatted. We broke the pastels even more.
It was just right: she was without self-consciousness and I felt the same. We were in the moment and it was playful and relaxing.
I can already see that during the process of this grant project I'm going to be doing more than creating fiber art. I'm giving myself permission to let go of expectations. I'm going to explore new art materials and simply play.
I may even break things more often.
I never planned to be a stay-at-home mom.
Nope. After many years in school, I was finally logging my intern hours at an architectural firm, just as I had planned. I was following The Path I had set out for my life. I was on track to becoming a Licensed Architect. (Such a long process.)
Of course, I had also planned to be a mom. I always wanted to be a mom, but I hadn't considered how the two would work together. Architecture is an historically male-dominated field; at school, as we learned about the process of becoming an Architect, no one ever talked about how becoming an Architect would work together with becoming a mother. I never considered it either. Even though they both happen at the same time in one's life -- you know, biological clocks and such.
Who knew once I had a baby - and then another just 18-months later - that my planned path would suddenly, and completely, change direction? I took 6-months off work for both babies. A dream! Then I went back to work, but worked only part-time. It wasn't great, I didn't like it. I cut back to even parter-time. Still not right. After so much internal debating, I quit.
What a tough decision. I worried, "How will I ever get back on track to becoming a Licensed Architect if I stay at home being a mom for several years?" There was no guidebook for those questions. I didn't know what to expect. All I could do was toss my plans. I decided not to think about my planned path, not to worry about the future. I needed to be with my babies.
I loved it. It was wonderful. I also didn't like it. It was so many things: monotonous, chaotic, ordinary, extraordinary, amazing, and amazingly difficult. (Being a mom is full of contradictory feelings, I learned.)
I didn't think about architecture. Except: deep down inside I craved to be creative, to be my own person apart from being a mom, to have my own space even. I was quietly jealous of my classmates from school who were building their architecture careers, while I stayed home. In the back of my mind I thought, "Why did I spend so many years in school - for this?"
Slowly, I carved out a space of my own in our spare room. I didn't know what I was even going to do with it, but I felt the need to have a space. My own creative space. I tentatively, quietly, referred to it as my studio.
My baby boys got bigger. I started playing around with fabric. I borrowed my mom's sewing machine. I designed my own bags, and made fun stuff for my kids. I accidentally started a business! It began to thrive and it took up more of my time. My boys started preschool and kindergarten and I thought, "What will I do now? Should I try to grow this teeny-tiny business of mine? Or should I go back to work? How will I get back on the Architecture Track after being away so long?"
But our family wasn't complete, I didn't need to consider that next step. I became a mom to a lovely baby girl. I took time off from my teeny-tiny business. And since my daughter wouldn't nap anywhere but in my arms; I didn't have much opportunity to sew. I held her for all those hours of forced quietness, and I loved it, I savored it (my last baby!), and I resented it (again with those contradictory feelings). I still craved to do my own thing.
As she got bigger, I knew I had to grow my business. We decided to try daycare a couple days a week to see what I could do if I had more time. I had two days a week all to myself! I worked in my home studio and got to do my own thing. My business grew a little. It was thrilling!
Unfortunately, it was also limiting. I still had all my same duties as a homemaker, as a mom to three growing, changing kids, as the planner, organizer, everything of our family - but with less time to do it all. I learned to become a great juggler, as all moms do, I'm sure. But I also became stressed. And I became bitter. Why did I have so many responsibilities? I was working, even if my workplace was in our home.
It was time for my husband and I to talk. I needed him to help carry the load if I was going to be working. He agreed. We rearranged some chores, I felt better. Things were going well!
But there were always summers to sort out, days off from school to take my time, a kid home sick, or this-that-and-the-other-thing, and all the responsibilities kept falling to me. I was over-whelmed. I told myself I could handle it, I was used to being a stay-at-home mom. Yet, every time my life got complicated with being a mom, my business was put in last place.
This past summer was especially intense. It has reminded me that I am an artist, and an introvert, at heart. It's challenging to put myself into creative-mode when my time is fractured into small segments, or when I'm continually interrupted. I love my family and I love being a mom, but I also need space and time to do my own thing. Putting my business last means putting myself last, and I can't to do that anymore.
School has started again. We're getting back into a routine. I have more hours to work on my business, my daughter is in preschool and daycare most days, and my boys are in school.
My husband and I continue to talk about sharing responsibilities. Which can be very hard! Many things that I had done as a stay-at-home mom, I continue to do out of habit. Luckily, my husband is an understanding guy, and he's willing to change as I enlighten him on the many responsibilities I can no longer do on my own. I'm learning to be an advocate for my time. If I don't place importance on my business and my art, who will?
Next year all three of my kids will be in school. I'm excited to have even more time to explore my artistic side. I'm considering moving my work to a studio outside of our home. Maybe I'll be able to hire an assistant if I have more space. It would be nice to separate family space from work space -- finally. It would also make some things more difficult. There's always another challenge to figure out.
I never planned on being a stay-at-home mom, but I got to do it twice. In two different ways. And soon I'll be moving on to the next chapter of my life. But this is something that I've learned: There is no path. I'm making my own path. Readjust as necessary.
Timing is Everything
This is one of my favorite quotes. It's the perfect reminder for someone who wants to do it all.
I'm a busy mom of three young kids. I'm running my own creative business. I'm trying to do new work at the same time as maintaining my original business. It's a lot.
I have to remind myself that timing is everything. Yes, I can do it all ...but not all at the same time.
For the past two months I've set aside making sharks and bugs and whales, and all my other MinneBites products, to focus on my new work. I've been exploring new ideas and creating handbags and accessories in a more sophisticated style for an upcoming show.
It's been amazing and refreshing -- and incredibly difficult.
For one, I've had to say "no" to more people. I've had to turn away customers and custom requests. I have to do this to be sure I have enough time to create the new work. But, it's hard to say no. As a single-person business, it's easy to second guess myself. Especially when I'm spending money on my business, but currently not bringing much in!
For two, it means my MinneBites shop on Etsy and my shop on my own website are getting empty. I've had to take out all of the items I usually have as "made to order". As items sell out, I can't add them back in. The virtual shelves are getting empty! It's a bit hard to watch. I have to take a deep breath and remind myself of my goals for the year.
On the other hand, I have to be sure the relationships I cultivated throughout the years remain intact. For instance, this week I'm working on an order of sharks for UncommonGoods. They are a wonderful account, and I need to be sure I maintain that. But, I had to take a week off of creating new work.
And so... timing is everything!
I've become pretty good at creating a schedule. I've also become really good at adjusting - and readjusting - my schedule. Days off of school, sick kids, sick babysitter, sick sewing machine. These things happen.
We have to make priorities -- and then we have to be ready to constantly readjust.
I am an artist and designer based in Minneapolis, Minnesota. My specialties are textiles and pastels.