Talking about creativity - how to make art and have a life

make art have a life
Jen Cooper of Classic Play

Hey my friends - back again drinking coffee and having a chat with Jen from Classic Play. We're all about creativity over here - living a creative life and the creative process itself. 

Jen and I get together every couple of weeks to talk about some aspect of creativity. We've chatted about copying vs. inspiration and jealousy.

What I love about this series is that I never know where our conversation will end up. I learn just as much as you do.

I pick the topic and then email Jen. She reads and responds right away and we take it from there. No editing. No advance notice. As realtime as we can make it.

Today we are talking about how to get it all done - what is realistic when you want to create AND you have a life too? What about our dreams?

Take a read through. And I'd love to hear what you think. 


I think with summer coming in mere seconds, I have been thinking a lot about how I am going to get everything done over the next few months. Well, not just thinking - panicking a bit. Or a lot. Gah... And that got me thinking about all the hats that we wear - artist/musician/photographer/writer (whatever your thing is) AND parent and friend and spouse and and and. Sometimes I feel like I am running around a breakneck speed keeping as many balls in the air as I can.

I was at a house concert last night (jazz pianist Benny Green - amazing!!!) and he said at one point that he really respected the sax player who organized it and who he was playing with. Benny said he's been playing piano since he was a little kid. And that's it. That's been his focus. Now he's a world class player. And Cory Weeds, the sax player, is not only an excellent jazz musician, he also is a dad and runs a jazz club in town. Benny noted a couple of times to the crowd how difficult it is to be creative at a high level AND have any regular life. He found it hard to believe that Cory was doing it.

Along this line, remember I did a post on being inspired by Cindy Sherman? I was thinking of doing one about Jackson Pollock but scrapped it because I thought, what can I learn from him? How to be focused only on your work? How to have your partner (Lee Krasner) give up their art career in order to look after you?

So how do you do it? How do you do the arty stuffs and have a life too? You know, without the personal assistant.


Summer. I love and loathe it. I love having the kids home and the freedom but it also means I have to be suuuuuper organized, which, for this type B personality doesn't come easily. I've learned that I simply can NOT concentrate with the kids home. And they're actually remarkably well behaved kids, but you know, what can I say? They're kids. So there's squabbling and asking me a million questions. Thankfully, they're old enough now to be pretty self directed. I don't know how anyone with young kids does anything. 

I've found that, for me, having a routine is vital to my survival. I have to carve out a period of the day when the kids get to watch an hour of tv and I shut myself up in the bedroom and get the things done that I need to do. At this point, I've let go of any aspirations of doing really great things, I'm just trying to keep my head afloat. 

A few years back, I ran across something John Cleese said about creativity. When asked about his secret to creativity, he said, I lock myself in my room and tell everyone I'm not to be disturbed. Sounds like a moody artist, right? But oh my lawd wouldn't that be nice! "Children, I'm not to be disturbed. Mill about if you must, but do not knock upon my door!" I'm sure that'd go over realllll well. 

One of the things that both my husband Dave (who is a photographer and filmmaker) struggle with is balancing family life with projects. I've been so fortunate to find a way to focus on what my passion is, which is family, thanks to blogging. (ps Have I told you I'm working on a book now? Talk about trying to multi-task, ugh!) Meanwhile Dave took a full time job, which, has been fantastic but it's left him zero time for his self-directed projects. He can take time on the weekends for projects, but then he'd miss time with us. So we're trying to be clever and combine projects. 

One more thing, practically speaking...

Another friend of mine is launching a new blog and she asked me how I manage it. I gave her this advice: 1. I only publish one labor intensive post a week. These include posts that require styling or involve a lot of writing. 2. I brought on contributors so I had content. I'm not a one-woman show. I lack the stamina and I'm not going to apologize for it. ;) 3. I stopped taking on projects that were outside the realm of what I wanted to do or didn't fit with my focus, which is family/parenting/creativity. This makes it easier for me to produce content for others because it's something I'm well versed in and love working on. 


Funny about John Cleese - isn't that the way??!! And that seems to be the "model" for the creative life - have someone who is like your assistant to do EVERYTHING non-art-related while you get to run around and fulfill your dreams. I joke with Mike about how when I'm in that mode that I am "Dobby the house elf". I don't mean to make this a gendered thing but it seems like the great artists have all had their "Dobby".

Mike has the full-time paid work too while also being passionate about photography and jazz drumming. He doesn't get near enough time for those and is like Dave - the weekends end up being carved up between family time and his own time. I like the idea of combining projects - I'll have to think about how we can do that. We DID play jazz together for a long time before having the girl...

I read this book years ago and it's out of print now. Let me go grab it... it's called Singing at the Top of Our Lungs - Women, Love and Creativity. The authors talk about how some women can be completely single-minded about their art and how others find that creative self expression is just as important as their relationships. I think that even if I DID have my own "Dobby" to be the house elf around here, I STILL need my family and friend relationships too. But it's hard - I find myself working in the evenings a LOT after the girl is asleep.

Do you think that some people find it easier to focus on just their art? Is that a gendered thing? Cultural? 

And now I have ONE MORE THING - you mentioned letting go of aspirations of doing really great things. How is that? I mean, was it a conscious choice to let go of those dreams? Are they on hold for now?

That's part of what I have been thinking about all of this - dreaming the big dreams while not having the house elf to make it all happen.


I do think, generally, it's harder for women. We still, for whatever reason shoulder most of the child rearing weight. It's hard to do anything else when you're raising another human being. It can be, for those first years in particular, an all encompassing job. That being said though, I really do need my time with my husband and kids. I feel so out of sorts when I don't get that. 

Oh but as far as when to work? I have this idea that I'll wake up an hour before everyone else and start working. We're on week 2 of summer vacation and I haven't done it yet. 


Was it hard to give up the big dreams? Or are they smaller to begin with - more realistic?

I'm the same way - I need my time with the girl and the man. I love my family AND I love creating. Am I less ambitious post family? Maybe not so much less ambitious but a little more worldly about what/who loves you back.


So true! Why give so much energy to things that don't love you back? Life's too short.

Nah, I'm not really letting go, just letting go for the summer. And yes, it's intentional. I get so annoyed when things move slower than I want them to and it makes me seriously cranky. So rather than be cranky all summer, I'm realizing that this is not the season to sow any new seeds. My ambition will have to wait until the fall. 

So my friends, where are you at in all of this? How do you go after your dreams while having a life too? Should we even use the dreaded "balance" word? Anyone up for hiring a house elf?