Once while I was attending one of those tiresome Welcome Parents and Students orientation events with my soon-to-be College Girl, I escaped the maddening crowd and settled myself in a public lounge. I was clacking away on a sweater when a woman stopped to watch.
“I really want to knit,” she sighed.
“I can teach you,” I said.
“Oh. I think I’d like that. But I just don’t have a place to knit, you know?”
Considering that I was sitting in an orange plastic bucket chair in front of a tiny round lime-green-Formica-covered table, I was surprised, and gestured to my surroundings.
“Knitting is portable,” I said. “You don’t need much room.”
“But I do!” she replied. “We’re converting the entire basement into a space for my writing room. Once that’s done, I’ll have the space I need to create.”
The space to create.
My sewing room shares an 11×11-foot footprint with the laundry room. My knitting hangs in bags on the coat rack or behind the sofa, ready to pick up at any time.
The piano room.
The front door is eight feet to my right, and people and animals walk in and out of it all the time. If the dogs were able to operate the doorknob, that would be distracting enough, but generally the small rat-thing hunches near the door, looks at me, looks at the door, emits a pale sigh, then renews the entire process until I get up to let her out.
Fifteen seconds later she is scratching to be let back in (if only the average human female could be that speedy in a public restroom).
The big dog stands three feet from the front door, turns my direction, and STARES.
Son and Heir slams his way out (teenaged boys are incapable of shutting doors) and bursts back in. Tired of Being Youngest grabs the binoculars, whisks out to the porch, and peers 400 feet through the trees to the mailbox to see if the latest electronic thing she has ordered has arrived. The answer no, she stomps back in. SLAM.
The Siamese cat, which, when we used to have lever doorknobs, effected a grand entrance by jumping on the lever and disengaging the latch, now resorts to climbing the door itself, peering through the small windows at the top and directing her malice toward the woman at the desk who is trying to type.
To his credit, the Norwegian Artist comes in from his barn studio only to deliver the mail or grab a cup of tea, but after the dogs and the cats and the Son and Heir and Tired of Being Youngest and the county tax assessor and the Fed-Ex guy and the UPS man and the kid selling cheap chocolate bars for the baseball team — well, the Polish Contessa doesn’t give the sweetest welcome to her Norwegian Prince.
It is not that I envy the Norwegian Artist his studio — after all, a large canvas, a palette full of paint, and an easel demand more space than a flat screen and a keyboard — and as a writer I don’t stand back from the screen and wave my pencils around — but I think I scared the man with my enthusiasm over his proposal to build a wall between my desk and the front door.
“Yes! Oh yes oh yes oh yes! Yes!” sounding like Jane accepting Mr. Bingley in the 1995 Pride and Prejudice mini-series.
A wall, a barrier, separation from that dog-infested door.
Really, I think that I am a remarkably easy woman to please, and back to my Stranger in the Afternoon who wanted to knit but didn’t have the space, I am flabbergasted at the barriers people put up in the way of getting things done — and I don’t mean walls that block out front doors.
While designated space is nice, reality is that most of what’s available is taken up by dining room tables and sofas and bedrooms for children still living in the house and toilets and such, and when you want to carve a niche out for your business or hobby, you have to be as creative as what you plan to do once you get the space to do it in.
Someday, maybe, the space will be there — carved out, remodeled, created, designed, spontaneously combusted.
But until then, there is work to be done, and if you’re not doing it, well then, it’s not getting done, is it?
Just do it — whether or not you’re wearing Nikes.
In addition to being a fine judge of art, a person willing to share expertise, and an individual who intrepidly endeavors to persevere, your remarkably intelligent writing is a joy to read. I enjoyed your post.
Thank you for your most wonderful comments! I am tempted to frame copies of this for all of my progeny.
I am glad that you enjoyed the post. It makes me happy when something I write resonates with the people who read it — I think that it is in the small and everyday aspects of life that we humans share so much in common.
A lovely weekend to you — it’s not too early to start thinking about it on a Thursday . . .
The space to create is a tricky issue. There is some creative work that can happen on the go, most anywhere: I write in my head, while doing whatever, then I just have to get to a computer and jot it down. You can knit anywhere, but although I’ve found knitting to be tremendously soothing and rewarding, it’s not too demanding on one’s intellectual or creative abilities (the hands know the work, doing it almost automatically). Personally I’ve been able to do craft projects on the fly, pulling bits of tools and arty things out from under the bed, dragging coffee tables to be remodeled out into the middle of the living room, working on them and then back into their corner while the house sleeps…
But. When it comes to painting, I think creative space is really needed. Not just for the stuff of artistry (as you mentioned – the gear), but the quiet and familiar, un-distracting surroundings which allow you to submerge yourself in the work. And know that you can spend hours in that place, physically and mentally, without interruption.
As mothers, we are natural multi-taskers, gifted in the ability to suck it up and get it done (as you wrote yourself). For me personally, motherhood and the insanity that comes in its wake (like the incessant door traffic) comes with the price of having to give up, if only temporarily, the more involved intellectual endeavors at home. These have included both oil painting and piano playing…
I agree with you about the painting — it is good to have a designated space of some sort where one can leave one’s things about without risk of ruin. For this reason, the Norwegian Artist has a decidedly separate space which also functions as our gallery.
We have found, however, that some people want to bring their space to one of perfection before even thinking about starting a project — and these are people without kids, and with empty, unused bedrooms in their homes. So much time is spent waiting for the ultimate space, that nothing gets done.
While the children were young, I gave up, for safety reasons, making soap. I’ll get back to that.
I hope that you can get back to oil painting and piano before too long, but I understand the temporary hiatus part. When the time comes that you’re ready, however, I know that you will push and pursue and make it happen, and that the rest of the family will look at one another and shrug, “She really means it, doesn’t she?” and adapt themselves around your pursuit of passion.
Children stay small for a very short time — it doesn’t seem so at the time, but in hindsight it is very very true. That you find alternative pursuits that fit into your lifestyle and your space allotted means that you will never be one of these people who waits for the exact right time and situation before getting something done — you’re already doing it.
My daughter and I paint in the family room. We were both reading this, laughing with tears in our eyes. We have experienced all of it. If you wait until everything is perfect
life well lived may never happen.
You go, girl!
“If you wait until everything is perfect, life well lived may never happen.”
Perfect. Just perfect.
I had not read Anya’s comment. Let me hasten to add, my prior comment was not directed to you, Anya. When my children were small, I would draw at nap time. We would all sing together, while our daughter played the piano. Maybe you could make your children part of your endeavors. Of course, there are seasons in life for different pursuits. These are just a few ideas. I really like what Carolyn says about pushing and pursuing to make it happen. The discipline to paint in the midst of activity is learned…
Once an older painter friend of mine shared a piece of invaluable observation: “As long as I sit on the edge of the seat, the kids and husband will (unconsciously) allow me ample time to work on my art, because sitting on the edge gives them the illusion that I am about to stand up, and go do stuff, and am very busy and involved…The minute I sit deep into the chair, I know I will be interrupted, because it is then that the kids/spouse feel that I am *not doing anything* and can be asked to do things for them. It never fails…”
Wise woman, she is.
The psychologist in me wants to propose that perhaps the reason some people ascribe their lack of productivity to lack of proper art space is simply that they lack creativity. When you have inspiration, an idea or plan, you just pursue it – you make it happen, as you both, Carolyn and Susan, noted. When you don’t have a real idea, but just a vague desire to do *something*, you end up fiddiling with the proper space and work environment in the (unconscious) hope that inspiration will strike 🙂
The psychologist in you, Anya, nailed it.
I tell assorted progeny — some of whom have picked up a perfectionist gene from God knows where — that once they’re moving and doing something, further inspiration will come. They can always re-do something they’ve started, because as they’re working on it, the ideas will come. But if they sit around for the ideas to come, they probably won’t.
I love that chair idea — a wise woman indeed. I’ll tuck that into the back of my mind for future reference.
I repeat that Nike mantra every time I sit down on the sit-up/crunch machine at the gym, and am tempted to keep fiddling with my towel, adjusting the seat, etc. It is true of so much in life.
I’ve often thought that one of the down sides of modern science making it possible for us to decide when to have a child, is that we then have to decide when everything is perfect enough to do so.
ps That Pride & Prejudice is my favorite – I’ve seen it dozens of times. Colin Firth as Mr. Darcy – hubba, hubba!
I have always believed that every person on this planet is here because God wants them to be — and He has a means of circumlocuting even modern science. These are life’s “surprises” (NOT “accidents”!). Like you, I find our OVER ability to control matters a bit sad.
College Girl can get into a long discussion with you over the advantages of Matthew Macfadyen to Colin Firth, but Colin is a generation beyond what we’re looking for her to bring home someday. Have you seen Lost in Austen? Delightful — a sensitive spoof that is well worth the three hours (is there something about Jane Austen that requires lots of movie time?).
Okay, so I’ve taken up too much time from your sit up/crunch machine.
Just do it!
MY college girl is with me on the 1995 version of P&P as the best (we watch it most every time she comes home), but does not quite share my disgust with Keira Knightley as Lizzy. She is horrid!
I read “Lost in Austen”, or at least started it and it didn’t hold my interest. Maybe I’ll check out the movie.
The sit-ups can always wait.
I, too, have difficulty with Miss Knightley. Too breathy.
Didn’t know there was a Lost in Austen book — try the movie. It’s funny.
My mom was a perfectionist too. A lot of things weren’t started because perfection hadn’t been reached. However, on my own I discovered what many have: If you MUST (paint, write, knit), you do. If the need is in you, you’ll do it on a unicycle. OK, what goes by the wayside now is housekeeping (this is 2011 – ah, I’ll vacuum!) but it’s just me now, so my studio is the house.
With the house empty I had found that it was too quiet usually when I was painting or sewing etc, and if you do it in front of the TV, you just can’t look up sometimes. So now I listen to audio books. I love my family, but it’s nice that they are all distracted by life now!
It is amazing how perfectionism can lock things up — I discovered this during the disastrous 4-H sewing years with my older progeny, who, lamentably, do not sew at all now because they see in their mind’s eye some highly critical judges expecting adult work from an 8-year-old.
I had to get out of the system so that my own sewing could move forward. When I found that I was no longer worrying about things being perfect, I found that focusing on making them excellent was a breeze — they didn’t always turn out (actually, they frequently didn’t), but the focus was on doing my best, not meeting someone else’s expectation.