Recently I completed a project in which I made something out of single-use plastic every day for 100 days.
My first career was as a litigator. That came to an end when I decided I preferred to stay home with my two kids. I was a full-time mom for many years. I did go to graduate school during that time. I got an MFA in creative writing and pursued that path for a while.
I started taking art classes when my kids were still at home. It’s difficult to combine writing with parenting. Writing, for me, required prolonged periods of silence and isolation, which are difficult to come by with a family around. I found it easier to make things and be a parent at the same time; it was something I could do without having to sequester myself. I loved holding what I had made in my hands.
When my kids left for college, I was able to devote more energy to my art practice and explore various media. I decided I didn’t want to use expensive, toxic materials. This led me to old scrap papers and textiles. Now I try to use only repurposed stuff and found objects—not just to keep it out of the ocean (at least temporarily), but also because I find it more inspiring and less intimidating than a clean canvas and pristine paints. It’s liberating to work with garbage—you’re free to experiment without worrying about wasting it or making mistakes. Also, there’s the challenge of taking something ugly and overlooked and making it beautiful.
Parenting helped me create a new identity for myself in a multitude of ways. It knocked me off a ladder I didn’t want to be on, because even though I hated my lawyer job, it was hard to quit. It paid well, imparted a certain status, and made it so easy to have a simple, coherent response when someone asked, “What do you do?” I don’t think I would have had the courage to quit that job to pursue a career in art. But I was able to quit it to be with my kids.
During the pandemic, I’ve been extremely fortunate that my work can easily be done at home, and my home can accommodate my work. I’ve missed seeing friends and going out into the world, but I am capable of being fully engaged, inspired, and energized for relatively long periods of time without leaving my room.
Thanks to my art, I’m constantly learning new things: about the world, about people, about myself. I’m learning to be comfortable saying I’m an artist without making it sound like a question or using air quotes or any number of other defense mechanisms. And as I become more able to claim that identity, it’s changing some core beliefs I’ve had about myself. I’ve always labeled myself an introvert, a sideline-sitter, a stodgy dresser. Yet recently I’ve had the urge to become involved in arts-related communities, and I’ve started to wear clothing I’ve made that’s slightly unconventional and might even—heaven forfend!—
Submitted on May 5, 2021