about Suzi Banks Baum
Suzi Banks Baum creates community wherever she goes.
An artist, writer, blogger, bookmaker, mail artist and mother of two, she lives in the Berkshires of western Massachusetts. Suzi’s wild soul is planted in the Upper Peninsula of Michigan. The music of her wild soul is laughter, questions, and bird song. While writing Laundry Line Divine: A Wild Soul Book for Mothers, Suzi discovered her fascination with motherhood and creativity. This work led to Out of the Mouths of Babes, a live event, the blog series and writing workshops called the Powder Keg Sessions. This work also led to publishing her first book, An Anthology of Babes: 36 Women Give Motherhood a Voice. Not satisfied to write only for and with herself, Suzi runs this website Laundry Line Divine as a host for her own writing and for over 50 other creative women. She leads Rampant Sisterhood, teaching artists and authors to build their online platforms with authentic and sustainable content. During 2015, Suzi will be on a book tour with An Anthology of Babes: 36 Women Give Motherhood a Voice. In June 2015, you can find her at Women’s Voices, Women’s Vision: Creativity, Leadership and Social Change. In July 2015, she will teach Mapping Motherhood: exploring the territory of motherhood with writing and visual at at the International Women Writer’s Guild Summer conference. In August, you find her in Big Bay, Michigan hosting her Slow Time Salon on Superior on Sunday August 16, a one-day immersion in art, writing and attention on the sunset side of Big Bay. On Thursday, August 20, the William Bonifas Fine Arts Center and the Public Library of Escanaba will host her pop-up exhibit and artist talk This is what a daily writing practice looks like. Later that day, she will lead a three hour Powder Keg Session writing workshop for women AND men. She does other things, like garden, swim and make jam. You’ll have to come over for tea some day.
- If you would like to host a reading of An Anthology of Babes, a Powder Keg Session writing workshop or a Rampant Sisterhood social media workshop please contact Suzi in the form below.
- If you’d like to hear what Suzi has to say about the importance of telling our stories listen in here to nationally acclaimed Radio2Women, with Johnny Segalla of WSBS, or with author Winslow Eliot on BlogTalkRadio or with NPR’s Susan Barnett of 51%.
- On March 7, 2015, Suzi and her Babes filled the house at Dewey Historic Hall in Sheffield for Out of the Mouths of Babes: An Evening of Mothers Reading to Others. Watch for us in March 2016!
- Suzi made a short movie called The Permission Slip with Lynnette Lucy Najimy. Want to host a Permission event?
- If you are intrigued by her FeMail art collaboration with Karen Arp-Sandel, go here. Suzi and Karen offer mail art workshops and artist talks about the Dailyness of Art.
- If you would like to join the discussion of motherhood and creativity on the Out of the Mouths of Babes blog series, please contact Suzi using the form below.
- An Anthology of Babes: 36 Women Give Motherhood a Voice is available on Amazon and through the Syracuse Cultural Workers catalogue. Read a review here.
- Suzi writes a monthly column for Berkshire Family Focus and is a featured guest blogger at MotherWriterMentor, Berkshire Edge, Studio Mothers, Story of Mum and the Museum of Motherhood and The Mid.
- You can see some of Suzi’s visual art in the Brooklyn Art Library. Her 2014 Sketchbook Listing to the Left is on a national tour in the Mobile Sketchbook Library. Tour dates here.
- And, mostly, if you are curious about seeing and celebrating the sacred in daily life, please subscribe to this website, share these blogs with your friends, and start writing, pick up a paintbrush, doodle, listen to what you yearn for and follow that with all you’ve got.
Read my Heritage story below. And as always, thank you for visiting Laundry Line Divine!
My Heritage Story
There was a time before now, before these days when I wake early and meditate, when I soak up my daily practice like the geranium welcomes an offering of clear water. There was a time before this and I remember it because I wonder if this is where you are, right now.
I began my career in theatre.
It was not an easy life but I loved it, I loved how much I felt like I didn’t fit in. My hair was never the right style. My voice was too this or too that. I was always the second in line. The 13th in a company of 12. I was the young woman not cast in the leading role.
I kept at theatre for a long time. I augmented the nothing I earned with jobs in costume shops, as a stage manager and as an extra on movie sets. I worked on new plays, old plays, with established theatre companies and with rough tough new theatre groups breaking fresh ground. It was an exciting time in my life. My day jobs, the work I did to pay my rent, were fascinating. I worked in the costume shop of the Martha Graham Dance Company. Though I was not doing what I dreamt of doing during college, I was working among creative genius, witnessing an icon at work. I also worked for the creative team that had styled Miss Piggy and Kermit during the Muppets heyday. I worked as their studio stitcher on the Cabbage Patch Kids sets they designed for the flagship Cabbage Patch Kid store across from the New York Public Library on 5th Avenue.
All this was exhilarating, but it never felt like my real work. My real work was being onstage, but those jobs were so few and far between, I would get lost in the busyness of auditions and classes, of rehearsals for experimental plays and keeping up with my day jobs to pay my rent. New York, New York, a city that gobbles up talented young people as snacks before breakfast. This was a very influential time though I struggled to feel like it was my time. I was helping make other people’s dreams come to form.
Then, there was my personal life, which was as ragtag as my professional life. All this to say, I was so full of enthusiasm, so inspired by my surroundings, so ignited in the city of lights, but always in the shadow of the work of others.
My personal life is what brought me to reality first. It took all my strength to admit my relationship with an active alcoholic was not helping me in any way to find happiness. All my effort wasn’t helping him either and I bottomed out. I found my way to Al-Anon, the 12-step program for friends and families of alcoholics. Dedicating myself to my personal recovery began to make waves in my professional life. I started my own business making custom clothing for women in the performing world. This allowed me time to go to acting class, audition and take jobs without being in conflict with other commitments. This worked very well until I found myself married and pregnant.
I have heard it said that the very thing that brings you down will also bring you up. Pregnancy did not bring me down, but the harsh reality of raising a child while pursuing a theatre career was clear to me. I decided to step away from theatre completely. When my first child was born, I closed my couturier business and turned fully to staying home to be a mother.
All this time, all this time and long before, I wrote every single day in a spiral bound journal. I had a very wonderful high school English teacher who got me started journal keeping and I sustained this practice through my confused and difficult years pursuing a career in theatre. And, from the day after our son was born, my husband covered me for the first hour of nearly every day, so that I could write in my journal.
This worked well for me; this was enough for me, until our son was 13. That winter, I noticed that I was doing everything I did- from the way I mothered to the way I carried out my community service, the way I knit, cooked, gardened and worried-nearly obsessively. I knit miles of sweaters, I canned gallons of jam, I not only participated at my children’s school but I taught gardening for 8 years, and resurrected the failing parent’s association and ran that for a few years. I got my yoga teacher certification. I sang solos in choir and read the lessons in church. I poured over books for hours at night.
But I never really felt I was doing my work, that anything I did belonged to me. My effort was always for someone else. I loved being a mother. I loved and hated the way I was so fully consumed by my children and their needs. I cooked and cleaned and arranged and planned and carried out elaborate events, cakes, parties, adventures, gardens, recuperations and house renovations. My kids knew who was picking them up after school; they knew there would be at least one parent at every event, game or presentation. They knew they could count on me and my husband. (This point harkens back to my upbringing and what was not present for me as a child, but that story goes in to my Heritage BOOK, not this smaller tale.)
All this. And the tears in church over nothing recognizable. The scale of my anger if I got interrupted during my early morning writing, my frustration if the kids were sick or I’d committed to sew costumes or a bake sale or anything that compromised the little time I could take for myself. The balance sheet of my day had very few line items that were for just me, just for me and no one else, not preparing for someone else, cleaning up for or getting ready for another person’s needs. I was working as I did in my twenties, always on someone else’s show and doing excellent work, except for being bankrupt in my own well-being.
So, when Ben was 13 and Catherine nearly 10, I embarked on answering the nagging yearning I had felt but feared naming until that moment. I knew there was more to my life, even more to motherhood, than the little pleasure I was finding for myself while caring for everyone else. I knew that as a creative person with enormous energy and enthusiasm, I could not or should not pour my all in to my kids lives and expect to feel fully satisfied at the end of the day.
Motherhood is a lifelong run. There is no end at the end of the day because these live works of art-on-legs are tethered to you; they appear in your sleep, you think of them while on vacation. Once you are a mother, you are always a mother. And seeking gratification solely from motherhood was leaving me hungry, angry, lonely and tired. (These are the markers I learned in Al-Anon as the acronym HALT, as in what you do when you or someone near you is melting down.)
But I couldn’t HALT being a mother. Escape was not what I yearned for, at least not most of the time. What I yearned for was the pleasure of full expression. I was tired of waiting for my turn to speak. I wanted to know that this work, while hard, could engage my fullest wild self capable of finding beauty in every day life.
And I learned I had to craft it for myself. You don’t advance up any corporate ladder as a mother. There are no gold stars or special parking spots for being the mother that you are. If I was going to find my fullest self while mothering, I knew I had to make it up as I went along. I took three classes that winter of 2007. I took a collage class. I started a 6-month writing class that met one Saturday a month. And I enrolled in Mama Gena’s School of the Womanly Arts.
What I learned is what I am pouring in to the contents of Laundry Line Divine: A Wild Soul Book for Mothers. What I learned is how to raise myself as I raise my family. What I learned to stand for is my own value through engaging my creative voice. What I have come to teach are tools and experiences for others to do the same. The end result is always unique. But entering the journey towards waking up to the beauty that is your very own messy, chaotic life is something I invite other women to find.
Our culture likes mothers to be nice, fine and sane. Crazed women in pajamas in the school parking lot are not welcomed. Anyone who is not making it look good while you are running a household, a family and a profession is considered a disappointment. Add to this the picture our culture paints that staying at home with the kids is because you don’t have anything better to do, like run Facebook. Yes, you will find women who mother to be cagey about telling you just how it is for them, women who express from inside motherhood. There are not many places in the world where we can express our full truth. When you ask how we are, do you really want to know?
This has become my work in the world.
While raising my kids, who are kind of big now, I write. I paint. I make collages. I build my own journals. I teach classes in nurturing daily writing practices. I create events that feature writing and art by women who mother. I provide well-crafted workshops that offer women a sacred refuge to explore their inner worlds and begin to make resonant sense of their outer lives. I give women permission to express what our culture would rather have in bullet points and flowery scrapbooks.
I can only teach what I have done for myself.
There you have it.
I am Suzi.
I stand for my value and that includes my beauty, my time and my integrity.
I tend the sacred fire where domestic, creative and wild gather.
In the wonder frontier, I am an intrepid adventurer..
I unmask the creative fertility of women through story.
I found my truth out at my laundry line.
I wonder where you might find yours?
Laundry Line Divine: Real Life. Sacred Refuge. Inspired Community.