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Life, art, writing: the guilty pleasure of doing what you like

February 4, 2014

As a stay-at-home mother, I am in the fortunate position of being able to structure my own days. The school run starts the day and interrupts the flow of mid-afternoon: within those bookends, however, I am more or less free to do what I want when I want.

Having worked as a wage-slave in the past, I have never quite got used to this freedom. Whether the day’s tasks are mundane (the endless laundry of a family of boys) or more creative (I enjoy proper cooking) it is heavenly to be able to do them when I like; taking the dogs for a walk when the rain stops, or putting off the chores until evening because right now, while the light is good, I feel like doing some journalling.

Journalling. I loathe that word. It is one of those ‘verbed’ nouns that increasingly infest casual English. Unfortunately, it is the only one I know that means precisely what I need it to describe: the mixture of diary-writing, art and paper-crafting that is so wildly popular right now that it has spawned its own word.

While I detest the word, I love the craft. Actually I think I am a little obsessed with it at the moment. Whether it is the childish pleasure of tearing up coloured snippets from magazines to stick in a scrap-book (sorry, ‘journal’) or the deeply satisfying release of pure writing, black pen on the off-white, lined pages of a Moleskine notebook, I am so enjoying journalling and writing that domestic chores are being squeezed into the edges of my days.

 

dancingbeastie.com,4.2.14-2

The result of a morning’s not doing the ironing.

 

The chores do get done, somehow or other – the essential ones at least. Do you know that ravenous need to create something, though? It has been gnawing away at me for weeks now. I think about my writing notebook , my plain black Moleskine (the latest of many) that slips into a handbag, when I am hanging up the washing, when I am scrubbing saucepans, when I am sorting through outgrown children’s clothes for the charity shop. I feel a little like Bilbo with the Ring in his pocket.

The problem – at least, I instinctively see it as a problem – is that all this creativity has nothing much to show for it. I am not consciously working on a book. I am just journalling (the sticky, scrappy, colourful stuff) because it gives me pleasure, and writing because I need to: diary entries, observations, little sketches, quotations, notes, anything that captures my magpie imagination.  How do you justify that? The author Elizabeth Howard, who died at the end of last year, apparently disapproved of keeping a diary, feeling that it wasted creative energy that should be chanelled into the serious art of writing a book. Virginia Woolf, on the other hand, felt that writing a diary was an essential tool for the writer. Having published nothing of note since my doctoral thesis, however, I am in no position to argue for or against either author; although I tend towards Woolf’s conviction that ‘I might in the course of time learn what it is that one can make of this loose, drifting material of life, finding another use for it’.

Objectively, then, I can see that this burst of creativity might lead to something other than mere self-indulgence. Yet still I worry away with guilt. Now not only do I feel I have to justify being a stay-at-home mother bringing no income into the home, but I also have to justify sneaking off to write and draw! I know, I know, first world problems. My husband thinks my guilt is baffling.

‘I don’t see why you think you have to justify it,’ he said. ‘I don’t feel guilty for playing the piano.’

‘But that’s different!’ I cried. ‘You are practising Rachmaninov, for goodness’ sake, it must be good for your brain. Anyway, playing the piano gives you pleasure, plus I like to hear you too.’

‘How is that different from your crafting and writing? Humans are naturally creative. We don’t need to apologise for it.’

It is perfectly obvious that he is right. The one thing which every book or blog or quote about art and writing has in common, is the unspoken assumption that it this is a thing worth doing in itself. Perhaps I can blame my attitude on growing up infused with Protestant guilt, that flip-side of the once-lauded Protestant worth ethic. (Catholic guilt, which I can now add to my conscience, is straightforward by comparison.) Year after year, my father used to bounce into my room early on Saturday mornings exclaiming ‘Now, what are you going to achieve today?’

Well, here we are, Dad. In your memory, here’s an example of what I achieved in an average day last week. And look! I made it into art too!

 

dancingbeastie.com,4.2.14

More ponderings on being a stay-at-home mum can be found in Validation, and more on fitting art into family life in The calligraphy of hares, and other ways to spend a quiet weekend.

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32 Comments leave one →
  1. February 4, 2014 8:09 pm

    How wonderful. Your scribbling IS art!

  2. February 4, 2014 9:38 pm

    Keep scrapbooking, diary-ing and blogging… they are all the same thing… creative relaxation!!
    I am sure that “The Edwardian Lady” didn’t expect her diary to become a best-seller long after her death….
    And did Samuel Pepys write his works for them to become a series on Radio Four?

    The importance of scrapping, diarying and blogging [provided you keep a back-up] is that future generations will discover what real life was like…
    not what the historians tell us it was!!
    This is also shown by all the “living History” projects that are at least recording the everyday working lives of what are now often VERY elderly people….
    all this is vital social recording for future book writers and social archeologists…
    so…
    you are certainly not wasting your time…
    you are recording your view of the present for those who are yet to come…
    let’s face it…
    your kids may well get a different slant on your life when they come to appreciate reading them in the future!!

    • February 4, 2014 11:14 pm

      Thank you for your encouragement and for your several very good points. Not least about backing up the blog: increasingly this worries me as I have always been haphazard about it. Another New Year’s Resolution to add to the growing list!

      Funny that you think of blogging etc. as ‘vital social recording for future..writers and social archeologists’. As a historian by training, I have often speculated along those lines. Do I want strangers, let alone my own kids, to get a new slant on my life from discovering my diaries? Hmm, perhaps I should burn the lot! :D

  3. February 4, 2014 10:50 pm

    I completely understand trying to justify being a stay at home mother, society does not understand the concept anymore. I also understand needing to justify artistic pursuits; it is probably why each of my creative interests keeps being turned into mini-businesses.

    Here is an idea. Why don’t you self-publish one of your journals and see how it does? No one said there are rules for how a book should be. Not everyone reads or looks at a book for the same reason. Try to get it into artsy boutique style independent shops; they will have a more open minded clientele. I’ve discovered through a little bit of research (an accidentally illustrating a book last year – wasn’t expecting that!) that there are some very affordable printers and binders out there once you start looking. Give it a go. Your journal might inspire others.

    • February 4, 2014 11:19 pm

      What an intriguing idea. I know that lack of self-belief is one of the biggest things holding me back from trying to get anything published, so I welcome ideas and encouragement like yours. This is definitely something I will look into – thanks, Deb.

      (Oh, and I take my metaphorical hat off to you for being a mother of five AND successfully turning your creativity into businesses. You are waaaay further along the road than I am! :) )

  4. February 4, 2014 11:02 pm

    I was going to say something similar to drofmit4I08….blogging is a bit like journaling…it’s just taking the brave next step of opening that journal to others. So I think that Elizabeth Howard and Virginia Woolf would both approve of Dancing Beastie! I used to keep a tea box stuffed full of magazine clippings and pictures. I was inspired by Velvet Brown’s cookie tin that contained all her beloved paper horses in National Velvet! Your journals, online and hard copy, are lovely!

    • February 4, 2014 11:22 pm

      Oh, oh, you too? As a child I was soooo inspired by Velvet Brown’s box of horses! I was horse-mad as well as drawing-mad: I drew and cut out all these little paper horses, with paper rugs and tack and bandages, the works, and kept them all in an old tin…wonder what became of that. Anyway, thank you so much for your kind words.

      • February 4, 2014 11:26 pm

        Oh dear, you’re another of the horse crazy girls? I had paper horses, horse models with all sorts of tack and jumps, and a whole stable of imaginary warmbloods whom I ‘d ride over trash bins, hedges, and hockey sticks balanced between branches!

  5. February 5, 2014 2:25 am

    I’ve been doing something similar, (not as attractive), while I’m at work lately. I keep all the little scraps of paper and tape them in, discarded bookmarks, interesting trash (candy wrappers, etc.) and also write what I am wearing and some kind of inspirational reminder that I can relate to for that day. It’s called “collecting the evidence” and I found the idea in a book about being creative in the workplace. It gives me an outlet that I sorely needed, as there are gaps in my day. Art, it’s not, but it’s sort of appealing in a weird way.

    • February 7, 2014 11:49 pm

      I think what you’re doing sounds very appealing and deeply satisfying. Might try it myself from time to time!

  6. barb permalink
    February 5, 2014 4:40 pm

    I love your day in the life page!
    Your inner artist shines thru.
    BUT………I am exhausted just from reading it.
    You are a machine.

    • February 7, 2014 11:51 pm

      Oh, thank you, Barb. Bear in mind, however, that my ‘day in the life’ puts the most positive and creative spin I could manage on a really very mundane day at home! :)

  7. February 5, 2014 5:12 pm

    Velvet Brown! How many of us are there do you think?
    While it may seem mundane, these tasks are the glue of the world. I think society does suffer when those who choose aren’t able to stay home and keep the world running and in order – and that’s what moms do…with a great deal of skill, organization, and grace.
    Publishing a journal is a time honored activity – there are some famous ones – who knows, yours might be next.(that page would make a great poster and T-shirt)
    Whether it’s doodling or snatching bits of time for writing, the brain loves to be primed so it’s ready to create when the opportunity arrives.
    Scribble on!

    • February 7, 2014 11:54 pm

      You’re right, you’re right – about mothers, journaling and ‘priming the brain’ (lovely way of looking at it). Thank you. And I’m taken by your t-shirt idea…hmm….

      Happy to discover another Velvet fan. After first watching the film as a girl, I had an imaginary chestnut gelding with four white socks who kept me company for years. He was called Pirate. :)

      • February 8, 2014 12:06 am

        Somehow 3 china horse statues of my childhood were overlooked and survived and are now on the book shelf. Elizabeth Taylor as Velvet. Show about determination..hope little girls still discover that movie.
        T-shirts…pretty big market – everyone from Mother’s Day, moms’ birthday, baby showers/bridal showers/sororities/book clubs…not impossible?

  8. February 5, 2014 7:48 pm

    I love your journal! It looks so creative and so pretty! Don’t give up doing it, and don’t beat yourself up about it! I can only agree with the comments of your other readers. Why don’t you think of it as visual poetry?! It looks extremely absorbing and therapeutic. Hmmm…… might try it myself!!!

    • February 7, 2014 11:56 pm

      Thank you, Jo. I do have a tendency to over-think everything. The idea of visual poetry is a very appealing one. Do try it yourself!

  9. Nib's End permalink
    February 5, 2014 8:53 pm

    Instead of journalling or scrapbooking, we could call it patchworking since it is a kind of piecing together of mixed art forms. But then, “a rose by any other name…”

    My parents did not take many photos over the years and they were not writers…but they were savers. When they both passed away a year ago, I found many things in their “trash” that suddenly became treasures; treasures because they were bits and pieces of who they were. The comfort those scraps give me are as important as cuddles. Family history can become very important when it is no longer accessible. It is the main reason I blog: to record my scraps for the ones I eventually leave behind.

    I bought a book written by my 4x great-grandmother and her siblings about their family history up until the late 1800’s. It was interesting because it is my history too, but if it had included the personal touches you are including in your scrapbook it would have been mesmerizing. Intrinsic value is seldom measured in pounds and pence.

    As I should be dusting the furniture this very minute, I do identify with your struggle for balance.

    • February 8, 2014 12:01 am

      I’m sorry that you lost both your parents so recently.
      Your line about the comfort of their scraps being ‘as important as cuddles’ is very poignant: having lost my dearly loved father soon after my marriage, I know what you mean. You spur me on to keep writing and journalling to leave something for my own children. The dusting will wait!

  10. February 6, 2014 6:24 pm

    I don’t have the words to tell you, how much this touched me. Thank you for this article. Your journal/scrap book is so very lovely; thank you for sharing it with us! Humans, and women especially are meant to be creative, we’re made in His image.
    Heidi x

    • February 8, 2014 12:02 am

      How kind of you, thank you. Yes, I suppose we are made to be what Tolkien (a devout Catholic) called ‘sub-creators’. I hadn’t thought of it that way.

  11. hmunro permalink
    February 9, 2014 3:33 pm

    I believe that keeping a diary is an essential tool for the *living*! I am so glad you’re overcoming your guilt and indulging your creative spirit (perfectly-ironed clothes are so dépassé, anyway). Because you truly ARE a creative spirit — and trying to deny or suppress that would be akin to cutting off a limb. So, please do take your wise husband’s advice and write, doodle, and collage to your heart’s content. After all, it’s only when our hearts are fully content that we can be fully present for others, and truly lead full lives.

    By the way, I imagine your lovely entry for the 30th of January must have made your father immensely proud of his intelligent, thoughtful, sensitive, giving, caring daughter. It’s simply beautiful, DB.

    • February 9, 2014 11:53 pm

      What wise words you give me, Heather. Thank you so much, and thank you for such flattering encouragement, which makes me feel all warm and fuzzy. I think I might ask to have those adjectives put on my headstone one day. ;)

  12. February 10, 2014 3:13 pm

    My fuzzy head can’t add much to the super comments you’ve already received. The journalling/scrapbooking looks like great fun and produces intriguing and very attractive results, but I’m not tempted to try to emulate you. :-)

    I’m a word person par excellence, so it’s your Day in the Life entry which really speaks to something deep inside me. I find it profoundly touching and true. A gem to be treasured and one day your descendants will do just that and learn something very important about their ancestor.

    • February 10, 2014 10:08 pm

      Sorry to hear that your head is still fuzzy. I do hope that you feel back to normal soon.

      The kind comments which you and others have made surprise me rather, as the Day in the Life is self-evidently just an off-the-cuff scribble. You make me realise that perhaps this sort of ephemeral thing might indeed be of value to someone in the family other than me – which is a strange, rather moving thought.

  13. karinvandenbergh permalink
    February 14, 2014 2:54 am

    This post resonates so much with how much gratitude I live my life today and yet..as you say, I completely know what you mean by having to ‘justify’ about being a stay-at-home-mom and the ‘guilt feeling’ about writing and scrap-booking or any other creative undertaking we indulge in. I often get the feeling people only value a paid job (preferably one with status) as the most important achievement of life. It used to make me feel uncomfortable when being in a group circle and having to say ‘what you do for a living’ as if that’s the only thing that counts. Now, I’m saying “I’m making a life” ..or sort of try to ;) and a big part of that is doing what I love to do; music, journalling, photography, spending time in nature, reading…and so much more. Btw, my laundry is piling up right now :D
    Life is all about creation, we were born to create, it’s our innate nature. So by all means , please do continue writing, crafting, cooking etc..despite the fears, shoulds, the cant’s – I love your calligraphy notebook. I always wanted to do that as well. I love these words of Howard Thurman. I hope they inspire you as well to keep going and doing what you love
    “Don’t ask what the world needs.
    Ask what makes you come alive, and go do it.
    Because what the world needs
    is people who have come alive.”
    – Howard Thurman

    • February 14, 2014 8:22 pm

      Oh, that’s lovely, thank you very much for sharing it. I’ll put it in my notebook! :)
      Your answer to what you do for a living is wonderful. I might borrow that too! I’ve often encountered the same attitude about status and work, and have indeed been guilty of it myself in the past. We need to encourage each other and remind each other of what the really important things in life are. Thank you.

  14. vallaura permalink
    February 17, 2014 3:21 pm

    hi there… so it’s journalling that i’ve been doing, good to know :) i’ll share mine soon on my blog about this. everyone who enjoys arts and writing and scrapping and just spending time with what we love should be doing it too… oh. btw, i love your scribbling. nice! keep going ibu… :)

    • February 17, 2014 11:51 pm

      Hi Vallaura, thanks for your encouragement. There are an awful lot of us compulsive scribblers out there, I think – which is a happy thought! :)

  15. February 21, 2014 9:12 pm

    I can’t believe I missed this post when I was writing my own post on journals at almost the same time! It’s a wonderful post – I’ve never tried ‘art journaling’ though as I write and paint, it should be something I should consider…I think writing, like other creative pursuits isn’t seen as ‘work’, which is one of the reasons it doesn’t seem to have the same value. I don’t think it matters why you write, just that you do – and you’re giving people pleasure by writing your blog.

    • February 22, 2014 7:12 pm

      Funny, I noticed your interesting writing about journals – there must have been something in the air! Thanks for your kind words. You’re so right, I feel, about creative pursuits not being seen as work. Life is much easier to explain to people if you can just stick a label on it: ‘nurse’ or ‘software developer’ is much simpler to grasp as a way of filling the days (and paying the bills) than muddling along in a variety of ways, trying to ‘make a life’ as Karin says above.

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