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The Village: Lori Landau

The Spirit of Creativity and Mothering

I have decided

I have decided to find myself a home
in the mountains, somewhere high up
where one learns to live peacefully in
the cold and the silence. It’s said that
in such a place certain revelations may
be discovered. That what the spirit
reaches for may be eventually felt, if not
exactly understood. Slowly, no doubt. I’m
not talking about a vacation.

Of course at the same time I mean to
stay exactly where I am.

Are you following me?

-Mary Oliver

Penguin Books; Reprint edition (September 24, 2013)

 

How do you feed your creative spirit when there are diapers to change, dishes to be done, and a thousand little details pulling at you? This is the dilemma of a yearning mom. As human beings tend to do, we moms divide our lives into sections, like oranges. This wedge is parenting, this one is cooking & cleaning, that one represents our creative selves. We divvy things up, prioritizing the “have-to’s” feeling squeezed for quality time. And in immersing ourselves in the tasks, we find ourselves desperate for space to experience more soul in our busy lives. We fall asleep and our dreams are full of longing. And then the alarm rings, or the sick child beckons, or there’s a snow day and broken glass to be cleaned, and our longing is swallowed by the sheer demands of mothering. This is what happened to me, until I realized that I was the only one who could change it, and that whatever change I made would become the juice that ran in the blood of our lives.

My perch in front of the fireplace by Lori Landau
My perch in front of the fireplace by Lori Landau

***I am sitting on the leather chair in our family room drawing, entranced by the muse, immersed in forming lines to shape eyes and the bridge of a nose when the aroma of burning food comes to me. Distracted, inattentive to anything but the portrait in front of me, full awareness rides the molecules slowly.

 

by Lori Landau
Portrait in the journal I keep by the fireplace photo by Lori Landau

The wind is howling outside-the temperature is sliding downward, snow is wheeling through the sky, dropping in the shape of stars.
There was a time when a snow day would mean less time for creativity. But I have restructured the way I approach both parenting and time. Granted, it’s easier to do now that two of my three kids are in college. However I have learned some tricks to make it easier. That’s because the T.S. Eliot line: “we measure out our lives with coffee spoons,” runs through my mind like a warning. Eliot-like, we divide our lives by days, and months instead of focusing on this one moment in front of us. We forget that time is a mystery, that the future is tied up in the choices of the present moment, that time is an illusion, that before we know it we are packing our kids off to college, wondering what happened to their entire childhoods. It’s something we’ve all experienced on a macro-level, for instance, during a Facebook binge, when we sign on to check the latest posts and look up from our computer an hour later, blinking, wondering where the last sixty minutes went.

I have learned tools (meditation) to re-focus on the present moment, and in doing so, stretch it, to find the spaces in-between the moments, to make it more meaningful, to make it last longer.
I have structured my life around my practice, built it in to my home life, rather than relying on somewhere else to nourish me.

Of course, like everything else, I do it imperfectly. Right now, as the snowflakes fall, and my pen moves across the page, I am content to draw as I wait for the chicken that I lovingly drizzled with a marinade of olive oil, lemon, white wine and mustard and sprinkled with herbs to be ready. Yet as I sit, I am unaware that the oven, known to run hot on a good day, is somehow cranked up to 500 degrees, instead of a slow and easy 300.
I can often be found here, in the red shaker rocker in front of the fireplace, or if the fire is throwing off too much heat, in the leather chair set a few feet back from the hearth.
This is the room where I winter. I spend most of the day here in front of the golden fireplace, while the kids come in and out (when they’re all here), where their friends hang out playing chess and pool, where my oldest plays piano and my daughter practices her ballet. Where my middle son reads philosophy and plans meals with me. It’s an inviting space for my husband; we often sit in front of a fire on cold mornings talking over coffee. Or to be honest, he talks and I try to cultivate a little more quiet before the details of the day drag me out of silence.

It’s the first place I go upon waking to do my meditation and drawing practice, and then write a bit before anybody even gets up. It’s where I eat my lunch, and where I sit down to write and read. Everything I need is at my fingertips here except my computer, which I don’t generally keep right in the same area because I don’t want the distraction. It’s the place where I ignore the dirt on the floor from the logs, and the dirty dishes which that I put on the floor next to me as I create.
To be truthful, it is just one of the places in my house that I turn a blind eye to, because if I looked closely enough I would see all of the flaws-I would stir the embers of self-judgment, I would feel compelled to clean instead of make art.
I have been thinking about random things as I draw—the shape of eyes, how red looks when it’s right next to yellowish green, and wondering why so many artists squint when they are drawing. My wandering mind has made me deaf to the subtle alarm going off on a more primal level, but suddenly the smell of charred food reaches critical mass, breaking my reverie and I bolt up and run to the oven. When I get there, a cloud of steam puffs out of the oven door when I crank it open, and when I lift the lid to the brand new dutch oven that I waited three years to buy, I am dismayed to find that the chicken has burnt to black and so has the pot. It’s the kind of thing that can derail my day. A ruined dinner, an unexpectedly sick child, a schedule change. There are times when I let it pull me under when I lose whole chunks of time lamenting things that already happened, things I can’t control, choices that didn’t turn out the way I planned.

 

by Lori Landau
where ritual meets habit Meditating at home photo by Lori Landau

In fact now, a thought flares in my mind that I didn’t sign on for this. For the trillionth time as a mom I miss the life I don’t lead: some nomadic existence that involves mountains and travel, oceans and fields, and a lot of silence and meditation. A lot of revelation, the kind that Mary Oliver talks about in her poem. But when it comes right down to it, as much as I dream about meditating on a whim in a peaceful spot where my spirit can touch what it reaches for, I know that I mean to stay exactly where I am. I have learned that this is what monkey mind does. It throws up resistance, tries to convince me that enlightenment is somewhere else, when I have learned that the possibility of it is right here in present moment, in how I respond to what life throws at me, in the choices I make about what’s actually happening now.
It took a long time to realize that, and it’s a practice that I can’t always access. But I spent a lot of years vacillating between gratitude and restlessness, slicing up my insides into quarters, this part of me is mom, this other one is artist, and so on. Over the years I have come to fully understand that as it teaches in the philosophical tradition that I study that “that which gets in my path is my path.” Instead of constantly mediating between the spiritual pull of creative mystery and the mundane demands of mothering, at my best, I remember that they are one. The imperfection of overcooked chicken becomes the perfection of healing chicken soup; broken plans become the pieces of whole day to make art. Everything from my meditation practice to my mothering, to my art and everything else is part of a cohesive, imperfect, glorious whole. I don’t have to wait for “me” time to be me. It is inseparable from family life.
It’s something I came to when my kids were little. I decided to blur the boundaries between the tasks between “mom” and “person.” Sometimes I feel guilty about the dishes in the sink, or the laundry piled on the dryer instead of folded neatly in drawers. If you saw the inside of my linen closet I would be embarrassed. But for the most part I don’t care. If life is short, then I plan to make the most of it. I have a bucket list running in my head, and having a perfect house isn’t on it. Sometimes I have to remind myself to put myself first. That isn’t as selfish as it seems. Putting myself first means prioritizing creativity. It means including my kids in my process.

 

My (now 21-year old) son who was allowed—even encouraged—to use himself as a canvas
My (now 21-year old) son who was allowed—even encouraged—to use himself as a canvas

 

by Lori Landau
Drawing on skin portrait (drawn on my daughter’s foot) and photo by Lori Landau

It means letting things get messy. It means letting my kid smear (washable) paint all over his face, and it means painting his face at four turns into me painting portraits on skin years later, or me reading poems to my toddlers becomes me writing a poem at dinner, turns into my son writing a book of poems in college. It means drawing the sugar bowl and teacup while someone is doing homework because that’s what’s right there, making found poems from the newspaper while a cake is baking, and using the old dried flowers to decorate the cake. It means reminding myself of what I want for not only myself, but for my kids- remembering that I don’t want their lives to be about having spotless homes either. I always figured that if they saw me feeding my soul, they would learn to do the same. And in fact, they have. Because I meditated and did yoga with them, they all meditate now. If I had chased inner serenity in an ashram (not that there’s anything wrong with that,) my kids might not have learned to develop their own practice. If I hadn’t rolled my yoga mat out on the carpet in the bedroom and let them do downward dog right under me, they might not know what it is.
Because I let them paint their faces and draw pictures in my own journal as kids they now keep journals, and draw. Because we listened to music constantly, and because impatient, tapping hands were taught about drumming, they now make music. Because art was offered as balm, as salve, as connective tissue, we all seek it out together and separately.
While I purposely avoided some household arts, like learning to fold a fitted sheet, or folding every pair of socks, I’m not a slob. My house is not chaotic-if it was, I couldn’t create or be organized enough to get my kids where they needed to go. But I have found ways to marginalize housework, yet still get the most important stuff done. Ever since they were able, I included the kids in the housework, so they’d grow up knowing what it’s like to take part in the work of community. I do dishes early in the morning while the oatmeal is burbling on the stove, and start dinner prep just before driving to school. I give myself permission to have “me” time as soon as I get home from drop-off. I give myself permission to leave piles of books of counter-tops, dirty glasses on dressers and beds unmade for days at a time. In other words, I put my own oxygen mask on first so that when things get challenging, I can breathe.
There are times when it doesn’t work and the tasks pile up and I feel overwhelmed by the lack of organization and the sheer demands of it all. But I have learned to use that tension as creative fuel. I carry a notebook with me and make the most of in-between times. I jot down ideas while on line for school pick-up, draw portraits on napkins in restaurants, write down three small observations about what’s happening around me that later get folded into poems or blog posts. I make lists and set intentions early in the morning, and then hold myself to it. Now that my kids are 21, 18 and 15, I look back and think that if I had it to do all over again (and oh, how I would love to)! I would let more dishes sit, let more clothes go unfolded, keep the “shoulds” at a minimum. I would spend even more time outdoors, lying on the grass with my kids and talking about the stars, more time melting crayons to make candles, more time counting the raindrops and looking closely at flowers.

There’s a saying in yoga that you need to root to rise. Being a vibrant, spiritual, creative mom is what roots me, it’s my mountain. But I’ve come to learn that it’s also what makes me rise, what makes me see that everything I need is right here, where I am. Are you following me?

by Lori Laudau
Cake? by Lori Landau

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Please find Mary Oliver’s poem here.

 

Lori Landau is an artist, photographer and writer who uses a variety of mediums to explore the nameless force that seeks connection between self and other. She is intensely engaged in the hidden emotional structure of things, and her work investigates the poetry of the ordinary, the tension and soul that’s concealed beneath the obvious surface. Landau views her pen and her camera as a third eye, to intuit what she cannot put into words, and as an ear to listen deeply to what often remains unsaid.

Mandy Thompson: Permission to live the life given you.

 

“From my earliest days, I was most satisfied when interacting with nature and, even better, carrying a favorite crayon in hand.” This is the start of my artist statement. The second sentence, however, is a bit misleading: “These passions followed me into adulthood and are now expressed through my paintings.”

Mandy Thompson

The truth is that at the start of college I made the conscious choice to set down the “crayons” for something more practical and achievable. It didn’t matter that my happiness (and possibly even mental health) rested in those moments of quietly drawing and painting and creating.

 

I walked away from my true voicemy true self.

 

Without painting and drawing, I was a fraction of my true self. This incompleteness culminated in a few years of depression. Foggy years. Hard-to-leave-the-house years. Dark, thick, heavy years. Depression led to therapy. Led to art journaling. Led to understanding my artist-soul. Led to releasing my artist-voice.

 

And HERE I AM, just a handful of memories later, living the best years of my life. I got those tattoos I always wanted. I cut my hair pixie-short, like I longed for since I was in first grade. I found an inner strength and external voice that my own mom didn’t even know I had.

 

I don’t take this wholeness and clarity for granted, and I have a passion in life to help others bring their own creative voice to life. Nurturing it. Guiding it. Calling it out.

 

Why? Because I can’t think of an act more violent than rejecting who we truly are.

 

So, let’s put our weapons down. Let’s stop pushing ourselves away from who we truly are. Let’s embrace those things that make us unique.

 

I’m here to give you permission to speak. I’m here to remind you that your creative voice is worth sharing. Your messages and makings are worth offering to the world.

 

You have permission to:

Believe in yourself. BE yourself. Know what you want to say and go after ways to say it. (Yes, you already know—it’s been in you all along.)

Give specific and real time to listening to your inner voice. This is where you will find your creative voice. Remember yourself. Think, journal, write, catalog your life, dialog with your life.

Strengthen your voice through creative play.  Practice! Experiment! PLAY!

Chase your creative dreams. Write them down and plan them out.   Spend time working towards those goals, even if its just a few minutes every day. Turn off the television and turn your dreams into reality.

MOST IMPORTANTLY: You have permission to do things differently—differently than you’ve done things before, and differently from how others expect you to do things. Permission to live your life. Wear blue jeans and t-shirts for days on end. Buy that soft blanket from Target that you always touch when you roll through that aisle. Drink coffee at dawn, or chai tea, or hot chocolate, whatever feels like YOU. Permission to be you: beautiful, flawed, perfectly imperfect, with something unique and distinct to offer the world. We need your voice. You were placed here during this time for a purpose. You are to realize that purpose and actualize that purpose. Be a good steward of the life you’ve been given—BE YOU.

 

So we take this little life we’ve been given, and we so desperately want it to mean something. We want to mean something. And we can. We use our own unique voices to make art as our offering, and we place it on the altar of humanity. It is not a gift received until it is given. It is not a word heard until it is spoken. We have a responsibility to share. We have a responsibility to speak. We have a responsibility to make that offering.

 

What is your offering? What do you have that the rest of us need to receive?

 

And can I give you an offering? I’ve made a few encouraging cards for us to use, as we find ourselves, believe in ourselves, BECOME ourselves. Please print some out, glue them into your journal, stick them in your planners, use them as lock screens for your phone.

 

 

All of these little things are meant to remind you: You were made to be you.

 

———————————————

 

Mandy Thompson

 

 

 

As a child, Mandy wasn’t happy without her favorite crayon in hand. As an adult, she’s a mommy who spends schooldays “coloring” with mixed media on canvases, or working up fun tools that encourage others in their own creative pursuits. And if she’s not in her studio, check to see if she’s in an orange hammock at her favorite beach.

 

 

Putting Motherhood on the Front Page with Jenny Welkin

Sunday Walk by Jurek

Leading a Creative Life

 
I am constantly drawn to the bi-line of Laundrylinedivine – ‘seeing and celebrating the sacred in daily life’. It was these few words that attracted me to visit this blog, and sparked my interest in writing something here.
I‘m at a point in my life where I am trying to define what leading a creative life means, and how I can make it happen on a daily basis.
Is it a practical thing? If I get up every morning, write and take photographs, cut flowers from my garden and arrange them artfully in a vase – does that mean I’m leading a creative life?
Or is it more a frame of mind? If I shift my head into creative mode, will I not see art everywhere I look – from the shirts on the washing line blowing like upside-down ghosts to the beautiful curl of a snail’s shell in my vegetable garden?
Who can help inspire me to lead a creative life? When I look around for role models, I see many wonderful men, yet I know that for them a creative life is essentially different from mine. Not better or worse, just different. I tend to turn from them, and instead seek out creative women, knowing that their stories will be more relevant for me.
As a woman, I have given birth to three gorgeous sons – a physical form of creation that has had a profound effect on me and the way I see the world. The subsequent decades after the births, packed as they were with a million little actions and thoughts and words – everything it takes to create three well-rounded personalities – also coloured my creativity, making it even more gender-derived.
I have grappled with the role of being a step-mother too – to a lovely girl (a new one for me) and a boy with special needs who will need care for the rest of his life. A different kind of mothering, a different form of creativity.
But as I get older – in my earlier fifties now – I find that my creative focus has shifted away from the influence of motherhood that moulded it for so long. Now, as four of our five kids are living away from home, I have my nose to the breeze once more.
My creativity is becoming self-centred – it’s all about me and the environment I live in. When I write or take a photograph, it feels like a deliciously selfish act. Is it prudent to admit that? Does it reflect well on me? I don’t know, but I know that it’s a fact. This is my life now – my focus is no longer on my children (although of course, I would drop everything at a moment’s notice if they needed me – the mothering instinct still rules the day and no doubt always will).
What have I done to carve out my newly formed creative life? I have given up paid (and largely uncreative) work in a ‘now or never spirit’ of commitment to my creativity. Brave or foolish? I would argue necessary. These days, I don’t have the time and energy to work a paid job and be creative.
I feel I owe it to myself – this creative life. I know this is partly because my mother died in her early sixties, and I always feel I may not have much time left (no matter how irrational the foundation for that thought). I feel entitled and deeply thrilled at having thrown all the descriptors of my working life up in the air, and I am fascinated and excited to note the changes to my days, and the way I see and think.
I have a few half-formed fears about being too old to make any creative impact or worthwhile contribution to our creative melting pot, but my indignance rears up and I spit on my fears. There’s nothing I can do about my age. I know there will be times when it will work against me – but I’m savvy and I’ll deal with it. My age inspires me to work harder to show my reader the value of it, the spirit that lies within the wrinkles, the fact that age is a state of mind, and all that.
All of these things lead me to the belief that a creative life has to be highly tailored to the individual concerned, a kind of ‘creative life couture’. My new creative life is designed around me, and defined by all the things I am – writer, photographer, poet, mother, member a certain generation and culture, and the product of all the millions of things that life has flung at my feet so far.
Perhaps leading a creative life begins by simply choosing to be true to ourselves – with all the muddle and uncertainty, the graft and the flashes of inspiration, the drive and the passion that involves. And at all times, ‘seeing and celebrating the sacred in daily life’ is a very good practise to keep in mind.

Jenny Welkin

Jenny Welkin was born in England in 1960, gained a BA Hons in English and American Literature, and an MA in Modern Literature. As a student, she volunteered and wrote book reviews for ‘Spare Rib’ magazine in London. She went on to work as a researcher and writer for Henley Management College, before moving to run a successful family business. In 2010, she changed career to become an author. Her first novel caught the attention of several London literary agents but is as yet unpublished. She is currently writing a blog at www.mystripybook.com, and working on a second novel.

 

 

 

Celebrating mothers this month on Laundry Line Divine means we are Putting Motherhood on the Front Page. All month I will be sharing guest blog posts from the Out of the Mouths of Babes blog series here on the front page. In this collection of writing, women who are artists, authors, dancers, filmmakers and quilters will be sharing their creative journeys. I am convinced that the stories these women share illuminate the territory of motherhood with a detail and expansiveness that is rarely found elsewhere.

I know very well that some of the readers of Laundry Line Divine don’t have children. For a myriad of complicated and intensely personal reasons, you don’t have kids.

But, you do mother in so many other ways.

Coleen Davidson’s post says it so well. Women, by nature, are ‘madres’ to others. It is in our female DNA to care for others. While I will never stand here and say that one choice or situation is better than another, since I am a mother, this is my perspective. I never, ever want what happens here on Laundry Line Divine to feel like a club, exclusive membership only. I know women who have become stepmothers at 45. I know women who have adopted at 43. I know women who are perfectly happy without children and get immense joy out of showering nieces and nephews with a standard of care and attention no mother could muster. I also know there are some great guys who read these posts. Thank you each! When I welcome the stories of mothers, I am welcoming the stories of all women who own their creative powers, whether you birth babies, books or business. Please let me know if you’d like to contribute to this series by writing me at suzi@laundrylinedivine.com.

You can take some of this goodness home with you.

An Anthology of Babes

Consider buying a copy of An Anthology of Babes: 36 Women Give Motherhood a Voice, which compiles some of the blog posts and writing from the live events I host for the Berkshire Festival of Women Writers called Out of the Mouths of Babes: An Evening of Mothers Reading to Others. Mandy Steward of Messy Canvas wrote this review.

Here is where you can buy the book.

Here is the book trailer. I haven’t shared it much yet, but I’d love you to take a peek.

Today’s web wonderment is this article on PsychCentral. Miranda Hersey Helin and I were interviewed for this piece about mothering and the importance of being creative.

I hope spring is springing where you are.
Much love,
S

This last night of National Poetry Month. We say adieu with Sou MacMillan, poet and artist and mother

 

 

Gentlemanly argument by Sou MacMillan

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Before the Storm

 

The truth is let from the bag like a cat

sleeping so long it could have been dead

You reach for the bowl on the table, red & gold pears

& move it gently to the counter

 

Nothing rattles yet

Nothing breaks yet

You are still standing & pretty in the kitchen

 

The earth grows soft

The ark of habit stalls on the way up

 

The air, still & unsuspicious

touches its palms to your throat

 

There will be a mess to clean up

There will be words –

every verb present, active as the weather

every noun accusative

 

But now, in the hush of stunned surprise

You stand with your mouth not even yet open

& say nothing, knowing

 

There will be glass in the fruit before this is over.

 

 

Before the Storm originally published in Salt Hill Journal, No. 24, Syracuse University 2010

 

 

 

Gabrielle by Sou MacMillan

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Coda

 

On the way to Buffalo the highway

shines in the heat

like a magazine cover –

 

flips my heart sidewise &

 

2 lanes peel off to the right

northbound.

 

So we guitar-crossed lovers

stop the van to see the other side of customs,

roll around in the dirt,

let our sneakers go native.

 

I declare nothing.

You have no secrets either.

The van sings out like you left it,

engine downplaying its business, just hisses.

5 geese fly overhead.

 

The foreign currency of dollars sweating in our socks,

you swear in American &

pronounce us Just A Little Lost.

 

The road, broad as a snore & grey

doesn’t even beckon,

 

& belly up on the berm, I wonder at how

it looks just like New York

 

 

© 2011 Sou MacMillan

 

 

 

Here we are. A moonlit spring night. Poetry. Together.

What a great month of words.

Here is a link to some other really splendid poetry at Pulizer ReMix.

 

You can read more of Sou MacMillan’s work on her website.

And in the Out of the Mouths of Babes blog series.

Or in An Anthology of Babes: 36 Women Give Motherhood a Voice.

Til then, let your slumbers be sweet.

Good Night April.

Bunny bunny,

S

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