So says artist John Wolseley of his decision to leave England and his two small sons to move to Australia to paint (GoodWeekend, May 5, 2012). Suddenly I don’t feel so bad about putting my daughter in child care one day a week when she was four months old so I could return to writing fiction.
I note Wolseley’s son Will says in the same interview, ‘I don’t know why [Dad] feels so guilty; I was fine [growing up].’
But I wonder why some artists feel they must choose between art and family, to put one in front of the other rather than allowing them to coexist, side by side.
Alexandra Styron in her memoir Reading My Father says her father author William Styron ‘consecrated himself to the Novel’ at the expense of everything else, including his children.
French Impressionist painter Edgar Degas suggested, ‘There is love and there is art, but we have only one heart’. Probably a good thing he remained a bachelor.
I became a published author at the same time I became a parent, editing the galley proofs of my first novel while my three-week-old daughter Natasha slept on my lap. The timing forced me to confront head-on the challenges of being both a writer and mother. And while I do find the balancing act a challenge, at no point have I ever felt there wasn’t enough room in my heart for both love and art, for my partner and our daughter as well as my writing.
My problem is not lack of heart, but lack of time.
Virginia Woolf observed in 1928, ‘A woman needs money and a room of her own if she is to write fiction.’ If that woman is a mother, I suggest she also needs a supportive partner and excellent time management skills.
It’s only with discipline, planning, organisation and a supportive partner (also a writer) that I manage to combine art and family. I’ve even learned to embrace routine after resisting it for decades because I can’t earn a living, write and be a mother without it.
Discipline, planning, organisation, routine. Not traits normally associated with the free-spirited life of an artist. Perhaps that’s what puts men like Wolseley and Degas off.
That said, most days end with me wishing I’d spent more time with my daughter. And more time writing. I often wonder if the degree of selfishness needed to be a good, at least productive writer is incompatible with the selflessness needed to be a good, at least attentive mother.
You know those quizzes where they ask what talent would you most like to have? My answer would be the ability to bi-locate, to be in more than one place at a time. This gift was allegedly possessed by twelfth century Flemish Saint Drogo, who was seen simultaneously attending mass and working the fields.
Needless to say, if I had the ability to bi-locate I’d do neither of those things. I’d spend time with the people I love, and time writing.
Being a writer and a mother, I feel stretched, tired, at times conflicted. What I don’t feel is guilty. While the great balancing act can be exhausting, it’s also exhilarating. And if not now, I believe one day my daughter will understand that being a writer makes me a better mother–and much less demanding of her.
Recently I asked now six-year-old Natasha what she thought about having a mummy and daddy who write books.
‘It’s good,’ she said. ‘Books are full of information and you get to use your imagination.’
(Such a perfect response, I forgave her for miming a rainbow over her head when she said ‘imagination’ in reference to Spongebob Squarepants).
Do you have any thoughts or tips on combining art and family?