Tuesday, May 22, 2012

Creatrixes and Poetry on the Laundry Line

Interview with Suzi Baum Part 2

Musemother: We believe in promoting rest and creative loafing to coax the muse from out of hiding. What do you do to call the Muse?

I am my own Muse. When I take really good care of myself, my Muse, my creative voice, is rich, fertile and brimming with life. Taking really good care of myself means I am well rested. That I let myself end my day at a decent hour, sip tea and read for a while then fall asleep so I can get 8 hours. I love getting up early and have often fantasized about getting up, like Harriet Beecher Stowe would, and write in the hours when my kids are asleep. I just don’t operate that way. I need sleep.
I love to be outside. I garden. I hang my wash on a cloth rope out in my yard. I get my self outdoors every single day to let nature make her mark on me because that fuels me.
I meditate. I believe to be true what my friend Judith Prest says in her poem “When I am Quiet”:

When I am quiet,
I hold and am held
in holy silence.
Stillness magnifies
my capacity for wonder.

I read poetry. I memorize poems so I can bring them out to suck on like root beer barrels when I need some rapturous sweetness.

I do a daily writing practice, what Julia Cameron calls ‘daily pages’. I did them long before I read “The Artist’s Way” and I still do them. It keeps my writing voice warm and ready to speak.
I clear things with my husband. I take time to nurture this relationship. I am fortunate to have married a man who chooses to work at home in our attic. This means we have a pocket of time together after the kids have gone to school when we can talk over our thoughts, plans for the day, concerns, dreams or whatever is on our minds before we enter our work days. I am fortunate in many other ways to have married Jonathan, but this simple fact makes the space for us to support and love each other in very current fresh ways.
I doodle. I make small collages in my collage-a-day books. I make mail art and for over five years have collaborated making mail art with my art partner Karen Arp-Sandel. This is another long chapter about my creative life which I can tell you another time, but, no matter where I am in the world, I can always make a piece of mail art that captures where I am and mail it off to her. This collaboration keeps my Muse very very happy.

I have fun. I have a group of women I meet with every month of the full Moon. We have been gathering monthly for over 13 years. Through very thick and very thin, we maintain our connections by meeting, eating, sitting around fires, and always having fun.

Lastly, I say yes to life. When an opportunity to do something I know will be a huge honking time suck and sap me of my energy, I say yes to me by saying no to them. When someone asks me to write a guest blog about a topic that I love to delve in to, I say yes. When my son asks me to snuggle him in the morning, when I could be in the kitchen stirring the oatmeal, I say yes to him because as that big 17 year old head wedges under my ribcage to burrow in to my belly for a few minutes before he engages in his busy, SAT, college prep peppered day, I know that I am and always will be certain love for him. The creation of my son opened for me this whole way of being. I will nurture our connection till the day I die. Saying yes to opportunities that bring me pleasure, that nourish and sustain me, that thrill me and excite me, that stretch me, teach me, dazzle me, shake loose my barnacled thinking- these all make my Muse happy to be in residence.

Musemother: Is there a different kind of art/poetry being made by women and mothers?  What is that difference?

Do you mean feminist art? Or art by women? Isn’t all art made by women, feminist art? If you look at how women have been silenced and are still kept from many public displays of art, the very fact that any woman would pick up her pen and tell her story- isn’t the voice of a woman unique simply by it’s rarity?
There are many many men who are awake to the splendor of the creations of women. But, our culture, here in the sunny land of North America, where we are all free and endorsed to speak our minds, our culture is only beginning to value the work of women. Art by women is different. Our experience of aliveness is different from a man’s. Thank God! Oh how boring life would be without the balancing affect of men’s voices. Doesn’t your ear yearn for the bass line? And, don’t you yearn to see in the hallowed galleries of our nations art institutions, art made by women? This is a big topic. I recommend Pamela Tanner Boll’s documentary “Who Does She Think She Is?” as a discussion tool for groups of women willing to discuss this thorny, painful aspect of being a female artist today.

I do keep this in perspective by remembering always the women in the world who have no voice. I know there are women who have to walk miles upon miles to mail a poem secretly so they will not be found to be expressing themselves publicly. I do know I am fortunate to live where and when I live today. And, being me, I want more. I want to be valued as an expert in my field. I want to know that my expressions are equally important to the world, as are those of a person who choose another path.
We talk in writing about finding our Voice. When did you find yours? Or is it an on-going process?
I think I have spoken to this already.

But, way back when? I found my voice by journaling. And by steady dedicated practice of skills that increased the likelihood of me having a voice- like taking an art class, or a singing lesson or a poetry workshop. All the work I have done to untangle the messy places in my self have helped me find my Voice. It is hard to access your Voice when you are colored by historic anger or pain. These experiences fuel your Voice, but they must not be what compel you to speak. We speak our stories because we know them to be true. We share our anger and our joy. But, to have inner lives clouded by unfinished emotional business will trip you up until you deal with it.

Musemother: What has the collaboration with the Berkshire Festival of Women Writers brought you?  

My collaboration with BFWW has woven me in closely with Dr. Jenny Browdy de Hernandez and her committee of intelligent and inspired women who create the Festival at Simon’s Rock College of Bard here in Great Barrington, MA. The Festival gave me a venue and publicity to mount my first production of ‘Out of the Mouths of Babes: An Evening of Mothers Reading to Others’. It has helped me step on to center stage with the discussion of mothering and creativity. The feedback and community I have found as a result of sharing this work in the world urges me to press on, with my passion blazing. Also, the Festival has exposed me to so many local women like author Alison Larkin and women out in the world, like Sister Fa who are passionately engaged in developing their work through engaging with others. The sense of community here in the Berkshires has increased exponentially as a result of BFWW. I am filled with gratitude.

Musemother: Risk of burnout seems higher for mothers who want to have a creative life. How do you avoid burning the candle at both ends? In other words, how do you make time for your creative life without staying up until 2 a.m. to get the laundry done.

I don’t get to do all I want every day. I have to get enough sleep; otherwise I am useless to my self, to my family and to my work. I keep good lists. I keep track of thoughts and inspirations; I have a tiny journal in my purse all the time so I don’t miss a thought. I just don’t work well exhausted. And I let things go. I don’t fold every sock, every day. There is a guest bed full of neatly piled by person laundry right now. Would I rather be folding that than writing to you? Uhuh. That wash can wait.

Musemother: The value we put on art and mothering in society may make us feel marginal, as if we can only practice “part time” at any kind of “real work”. What do you say to that? Ie poetry doesn’t make money per se, and is not seen as producing anything towards a GNP.

For this reason alone, I live to create. I want my daughter to grow up with a mother who had faith enough for many to stand in my authority as a woman of Value. When I attach to every email, have written on my business cards, sign any form anywhere with the words “Suzi Banks Baum Author, Artist, Blogger and Full Time Mom” I own with pride and joy the blessing it is to be me today.

Whether or not I get paid for this? What can I do? Who will pay me to make lunches and wash clothes and mend breaks? The world does not give me a check. And my artwork does pay me by making me incredibly happy and by leading me towards ways that one day will pay me something.

If I was not supported by my husband, if it was only me, here wiping and scrubbing and bussing and holding down a full time job to make it all possible, I would be writing a very different thing here. But having made the choice to be a full time parent with a working partner and to explore the regions of my soul made clear by mothering and creativity, I create a currency of joy. I humbly offer these words as comfort and inspiration. May they warm you when those singleton socks don’t have matches and lines of poetry keep you awake till you get them down on paper. I say yes. Someday, I hope the world nods back.

Musemother: Please talk about the joy of being in creative flow, that energy that feeds the soul.

Naturally wonderful.

You can sit me down with a ball of yarn and pattern and keep me very happy for a long time.
You can give me an empty scrap of paper and I will doodle myself to a new place.
You can take me for a walk under blooming lilacs and I will fashion you a story scented by this heady perfume of spring.
I know no other joy more saturated with bliss, where problems reveal solutions that take me to new levels of understanding that I never anticipated grasping, where I feel connected to a lineage of women going back to the beginning of time where Eve needed a little something to protect Cain or Abel from the direct sun on his little noggin so she took a palm leaf and folded it in to a little hat, thus creating the first hat. Eve- the first milliner. Eve- the first couturier. Eve- the first sculptor. Eve….all about Eve and a woman in need of a solution applying her copious inspiration with the materials she had at hand to satisfy, protect and sustain her children. I never considered this till right now, but it makes sense to me. I am part of a lineage of creatrixes, called the lineage of women.

Ó Suzi Banks Baum  May 2, 2012

Suzi Banks Baum’s favorite roles in her 53-year career as a woman have been mother and rat.  She took up the former 17 years ago, upon the birth of her son, and the latter in 1965 at Potawatomie Park in Chicago, in the after-school theatre program.  Suzi actively blogs at where she writes about seeing and celebrating the sacred in everyday life. Her upcoming book, “Laundry Line Divine: A Wild Soul Book for Mothers” recounts the wild tale of her adventures raising herself while raising her children. Her standing room only event for the Berkshire Festival of Women Writers ‘Out of the Mouths of Babes: An Evening of Mothers Reading to Others’ premiered her work on mothering and creativity. Suzi is an actress, artist, gardener and good friend. Suzi lives with her husband and two teenagers in Great Barrington, MA.

Suzi Banks Baum, Artist, Author, Blogger and Full Time Mom
Favorite Frames of 'Out of the Mouths of Babes' at
Mothering and Creativity blog series at
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