Art is Work, Parenting is Art

Art is work.

“People wonder when you’re allowed to call yourself a writer,” she concludes. “I think maybe the answer is when you recognize that it is work.”

This quote comes from an opinion piece found on the fb today and it really spoke to me. Writing, being an artist, is the hardest work I’ve ever done. That and childbirth/parenting.

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One hour after Ava was born.
One hour after Shield Maiden premiere.
Neither work pays well. There’s no retirement plan or safety net.
No golden parachute.
Rawness and vulnerability are expected, nay demanded.
I can’t think of any other job where you are expected to sacrifice and turn inside out selflessly more than parenting or art. And society feels totally entitled to tell you when
you aren’t meeting its standard.
Instant performance reviews abound in both lines of work.

Both jobs make you deal with your own inner shit – all the time. Because, you see, art is work. Especially the really hard stuff that you never want to have to examine under a microscope. Often, you feel like a failure at both jobs. Writing while parenting (now, a teen-ager) keeps you extremely humble and forces agile thinking. Doing both at the same time requires heroic acts of boneheaded, boredom breaking, sleep-deprived determination.

The photos above capture me within the first hour at work at my new jobs. They are raw and show me exhausted and overwhelmed. I don’t typically share this type of image of myself but I felt okay within the context of this blog post, sharing how hard the work is.

I was in labour with Ava for 48 hours and required a blood transfusion. Welcome to parenthood. During that very first performance of Shield Maiden, I had buckets of fear and adrenaline running through me. Then, I crashed at my lovely after party, thankfully, among dear friends.

Childbirth, then parenting and then eventually, creating art. I could never have imagined how hard this work would be.

In both my writing and my parenting, I strive for deep, true, intimate connection. When that occurs, I count it is as a major win. I can say to myself in those fleeting moments “Job well done, Mel.”. The pure joy I derive from watching my daughter grow up is sublime and supremely humbling. The sense of awe I felt as Shield Maiden went from my imagination to the page to the stage blew my mind. The process is unfolding again, right before my eyes with my new play.

The rest of the time, it’s just fucking hard work. Carpooling, making lunches, reminding for the 800th time of the day to empty the dishwasher. That’s parenting. Writing when you’re tired and uninspired, making imaginary deadlines to avoid procrastination (fuck you covid), fear of failure. More often than not I am making mistakes or wrong turns that I have to make quick course adjustments for.

Ava is my first and only child. I am literally learning on the job. Nothing prepares you for what lies ahead. You just have to do it. I had never written or performed a solo show prior to SM. With both, I made a shit tonne of mistakes, assumed way too much, tried to fit in, failed at so many things. I opened myself up to both jobs completely. No holds barred – vulnerable to the point of falling apart. And then subsequently, with both, I had to learn how to pull back, maintain a sense of self. Not lose myself in the job title.

I wish I could make a CV for both parenting and art that lists the skills I have gained. In the beginning, with both jobs, I suffered from imposter syndrome and was constantly turning to the “experts” to tell me I was doing a good job or how to do things better. I am slowly learning to trust myself. My inner voice is gaining volume. That has been a hard journey for me.

It does not help that both of these jobs qualify as work that must be done out of pure love and devotion. Society expects parents and artists to give of themselves and to not need or desire anything in return. This includes a sense of security, financial compensation and mental and physical well being. All of these things I had to fight for in my work as an artist and as a parent. I’m still fighting for it.

Art is work. Parenting is art. Writing is work.