Discipline, self and family

If one more person says any variant of the any of the following to me, I might just have to strangle them:

“Oh, how lovely that you can be at home with your child. I’ll bet that gives you lots of time to dabble in your art.” – Really? You try getting as much done creatively with a kid hanging from your leg as without.

“How nice that you get to do something you love. It must be nice not to think about money.” – Huh? Why do you work? In what way does doing something you love compensate for not having enough money for winter boots?

“Having flexible hours must be such a joy. You’re so lucky to be able to take time off whenever you want.” – Er, I want a weekend to spend with my family without work in it, but haven’t seen the light of one of those in months.

“It must be nice to go into your studio and play all day.” – Right. I don’t want to think about what you do in your office. Please lock the door.

Yes, I like what I do. Yes, I’m lucky enough to have a spouse with a steady income that glides us over times when my income is sporadic. Yes, I can occasionally take a day off when the weather is nice, but only at times of year when deadlines aren’t imminent and there’s no stock to prepare.

But let me dispell any illusions about this life: being an artist is WORK.

Not all of the work is arduous. I’m told that even some lawyers like parts of their job, so I can safely say that it’s not an unusual thing to enjoy aspects of your work.

There are parts of what I do that are downright exhilerating in a “wow, that finally worked and by god I’m glad everything has clicked into place for this piece,” kind of way.

There are also substantial portions of what I do that are laborious and frustrating.

There are days (like today and yesterday) where I simply sit myself down at the worktable and go through the motions of what needs doing. On days like this, I generally focus on the perfunctory stuff; bindings, cutting things out, cutting mattes, framing, stitching down edges and other technical, but mundane, aspects of creating textile art.

I’ve come to realise that I need those days where I’d rather scrub the kitchen floor than work (and if you’ve ever seen my kitchen floor, you’ll understand the passion in that statement). Those days are the days when I realise that I have a job to do and that simply not feeling like it is no real excuse. Those days actually result in much of the tedium being dealt with and they provide me with a belated satisfaction of a sort that I don’t get from high-flying creativity bursts. When you can kick yourself in the pants and keep going, despite many motivations and temptations to the contrary, you reaffirm to yourself that what you are doing is indeed work. I often find myself using the, “well, John doesn’t get to stay home on days when he doesn’t feel like working. Why should I not work?”

When you know yourself that what you are doing earns money and has tangible results for your family AND you can discipline yourself to to it consistently, you can confidently say to your child, spouse and the outside world, “sorry, I can’t do ________, I have to work.”

While we’re on the subject of families, I have to say that I’m extremely lucky to have a supportive one. Part of that is the basic nature of the personalities involved; they’re all basicially decent people. Another part has to do with training. John can (and will) iron a shirt, cook supper, change over the laundry and do all manner of other household chores. He didn’t come that way. He has learned to do these things over the course of time and (and here’s the important factor) I’ve asked nicely, shown him how and left him to do things his own way. This is fairly important, as no one in their right mind would help out around the house if constantly criticised. Of course, when he has deadlines at work, the shoe is worn on the other foot and I take up the slack. The point is, though, that we both recognise that there are things that need doing and that both of us have to do them. This includes our respective jobs. We both mututally acknowledge that those jobs are necessary to our family unit, for various reasons.

Katherine has also been taught from an early age to respect Mummy’s work. We had dogs for years before having a child and one of our maxims is, “raise the puppy as you want the dog to be.” This is even more true for kids. If you want a kid to respect your need to get work done at home, you need to require certain behaviours of them. In return, you give them the playtime, attention and care that they need. It’s a two-way street.

Katherine knows that when I’m in my studio, I’m working. She’s allowed to come in. She has her own art supplies in there. She can help herself to snacks from the fridge, as long as she puts the garbage in the can and the dishes in the sink. She can talk to me and hang out with me, she can play trains in the next room, she can read books and even watch Sesame Street on the computer in my studio, but if she wanders off and makes a gargantuan mess that I have to spend an hour cleaning up or if she muddles up any of my work, she knows that all hell will break loose. She knows that she can paint fabrics with me, but that she cannot touch the fabric paints without me. She understands if Mummy says, “I’m working on something really important right now. Can you come back in a few minutes?” that she should go and do one of the things she’s allowed to do and that Mummy will come as soon as possible. And when she gets unjustifiably rude, snipey, throws a tantrum or whatnot, she knows for a fact that she will spend quality time looking at the four walls of her room, without trains for company. And Mummy will go back to work and feel not an iota of guilt.

It’s a juggling act. The first step in keeping multiple balls in the air is to recognize that they have to be there and to insist that the world around you not swat them down.

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2 Comments Add yours

  1. arlee says:

    Thank you for that! I remember being called by my son’s school to bring his homework to him, because we “only lived a block away”—-i told the schooll they wouldn’t dream of doing that to a doctor or lawyer or anyone else in a “real” job for that matter, and that my son had to face the consequences of forgetting it! Did that make me a bad Mom? NOPE!!!!!!

  2. Ferret says:

    I couldn’t have said it better. We have had a lot of familily issues recently, but it doesn’t stop my partner going to work, so it can’t stop me either. Sadly very few who don’t work for themselves get it.

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