Again Ars Poetica
With your ear
to your heart thoughts
- Janet Cady Hutchinson
This is the second in a series of interviews that Musemother is undertaking with some amazing creative women. I'm especially proud to post this interview in the week coming up to Mother's Day, because I think women artists who are mothers have a different set of challenges, and need the encouragement and help of other artists even more. Enjoy meeting Suzi Banks Baum, Artist, Author, Blogger and Full Time Mom!
Musemother: Tell me how the Laundry Line Divine and Out of the Mouths of Babes projects got started. And what those titles mean also.
SBB: Laundry Line Divine is the title of my blog site and my book, fully named Laundry Line Divine: A Wild Soul Book for Mothers. All this got started in January of 2007, when three opportunities came my way and I said ‘yes’ to them all. You should know a few things about me, before I tell you this story. One- up until that point, I was a full time Mom for thirteeen years, having happily set aside my theatre career to focus on mothering. Two- though I had kept a journal from the time I was 14 and written daily, I did not consider myself a writer. I was, at that point, a woman who was a mother who sought, without much conscious intention, to be creative in every way I could, while raising my kids.
On the weekend in January in which we honor Martin Luther King, Jr., in the Berkshires frigid cold, I began a 6-month-writing course called “Journey Women: Transformation through Writing”. I showed up for the course not expecting anything other than learning how to deepen my writing practice and maybe make some friends that I’d meet with on Saturdays. Then, on the Sunday of that weekend, I attended my friend Lydia’s graduation from Mama Gena’s School of the Womanly Arts in New York City. All the way in to New York on the Metro North train ride, I wrote, answering a prompt that had been asked in my Saturday writing workshop. It had to do with looking at projects of mine of no particular sort, just things I had started and maybe finished and to consider the people who had provided me with necessary ingredients.
I had this list in my mind as I attended the raucously elegant graduation of 175 women who had just completed a 4-month course of study in something I had not much appreciation of at the time: Pleasure. What I witnessed that afternoon challenged me to escape the ballroom full of pink feathers, flowing tears on smiling faces and dancing. But, what I witnessed also called me to stay, to see if there was some of that joy for me in the world. I had no idea what I was in for. Both my Journey Women writing course and Mastery with the SWA opened up vistas within and around me that I had never lifted my head to see.
The third opportunity came in the art class I was in the following Friday. My teacher Karen Arp-Sandel, who is also a close friend of mine, passed my studio table as I was carefully cutting up an image of a knitted quilt with which to make a collage. She asked me if I’d consider engaging in a mail art correspondence. Another ‘yes’ from me, and to this day, over five years later, we are deeply caught in conversation about our lives as women, mothers and artists through the United States Postal Service. We call this body of work, the workshops we lead, exhibits, artist talks and merchandise, FeMail.
As I reflect on that period of time in 2007, my writing mentor Jan Lawry and my friends Lydia and Karen each provided me with the jet fuel for a renovation of my life that required no other tools than things I already had at hand. The ingredients that they supplied me with allowed me to enter in to my own garden of my soul- a secret bower that I had been tending without knowing it. It was and is the haven of my own Muse, my creative nest that I mistakenly thought I had abandoned when I left acting for mothering, but in fact, this fertile bed of inspiration had been daily nursed by my inner gardener while my exterior self had embarked on my mothering career–having two healthy children and living through the loss of two pregnancies.
What I discovered in January 2007 and have been pursuing ever since, is the access point to my own joy, to the timbre and depth of my authentic voice, to the ownership and operation of my creativity in the myriad ways I express myself in this world. Whether I am at the kitchen sink simmering in anger over the actions of my teen ager or snuggling that same lanky kid in my arms, or if I am speaking on stage with the hot Fresnel lights on my cheeks or scribbling frantically to capture my quickly fleeing dream, whether I am sticky with gel medium slicking on a transfer to a mixed media composition or teaching women how to make packing tape transfers, or shaking heavy heads of amaranth letting loose a rain shower of tiny black seeds over the third graders I am gardening with or turning over my compost heap to keep myself from losing my temper with my own tired kids–I have embraced the knowledge that I am a brilliant articulation of the Divine. And, that I am, with proper care and feeding, capable of greatness.
And, I think you are too. There is room in this world for all of us to shine. The world requires it of us.
So, returning to your question, LLD and ‘Out’ emerged as I developed my non-fiction book proposal. When I came to the marketing section of that proposal, I really did not know how to answer the question: “How and where are you out in the world with your work?” Aside from school newsletters, I am an unpublished author. My theatre career has long been on hold and unless you consider reading the lessons in church on Sunday a performance, then, no, I have not been in front of an audience with my work in years.
Well. I have changed that. ‘Out of the Mouths of Babes: An Evening of Mothers Reading to Others’ and the accompanying blog series running at www.outofthemouthsofbabes.org has given me the pleasure of reading my work in public and sharing the stage with other authors I admire who, like me, are mothers. The blog series has widened the geographic reach of this project, involving over 25 authors from across the United States. As my Mom has said about me for years, “Suzi plays well with others”. I have created an event that can be hosted in other cities, with new authors joining me to share writing “from the soul of the mother” and participate in a facilitated discussion of the power of creativity and mothering.
I came to call my first book “Laundry Line Divine: A Wild Soul Book for Mothers” because it was at the laundry line where I realized that this quotidian act could become a communion with my Muse if I invite her. ‘Out of the Mouths of Babes’ came to be because I am interested in mothers as women. I want to take a fresh look at what it is to be a feminine presence today. I loved the double play the title suggests, of stories coming from women who at times think of themselves as babes, who may at times share stories of their own babes, and who are likely to be caught reading to those babes on a nightly basis. I love the playfulness of this title. So much discussion of mothering is about how hard it is. I have room for that in this series, but I encourage women to let their expression begin to make themselves whole. To do as Virginia Wolf says:
“It is only by putting it into words that I make it whole; this wholeness means that it has lost its power
to hurt me; it gives me, perhaps because by doing so I take away the pain, a great delight to
put the severed parts together. Perhaps this is the strongest pleasure known to me.”
I am still working on the non-fiction book proposal because I want to build my author platform. I am still a full time Mom who is a blogger, artist, author and actress, but I am all these things to a greater degree because I have found my VOICE by putting the pieces of my life together through writing and making art.
Musemother: What do you believe about the connection between women, creativity and spirituality? i.e. Is there a feminine spirituality?
SBB: Oh my gosh, Jenn. This is a great question. I will try to answer it briefly. It is my fervent belief that creativity remembers a woman to her soul.
Through consciously engaging in her daily life, appreciating the myriad of creative acts every single woman makes every day, simply because women are in every way- creative- this awareness builds the listening muscles so we can each hear what our authentic selves are calling for. By then taking the steps to engage artistically, in small ordinary ways or in bigger ways, women become familiar with their authentic voice and from that point, every decision is made in collaboration with her soul. Happiness becomes familiar ground, Inspiration flows and your ideas percolate, giving you suggestions of other things that will create that kind of joy and good feeling.
The faith practices I have studied all suggest that the collaboration of your inner and outer world is where the Divine manifests in our daily life. When you bring your ideas in to the world through pen or paint or frosting on a cake, you begin to make space for more inspiration. You open the door to possibilities you would never have encountered had you not made the way clear. My Mom used to share this aphorism “Make way and the path opens”. I believe that the appreciation of these ordinary acts of creativity make the way for bigger acts of creativity.
As to a ‘feminine spirituality’- I don’t see how there cannot be. We hold within our bodies the blueprint for the future of our planet. We are ultimately creative. And in this potential to create life, we collaborate with the Divine. However you name the Divine, whether you attribute a gender to this holy presence, it exists for us all here. If you consider the debacle of the Patriarchy over the last 5000 years and the way women have been silenced from speaking their experience of God, it is not surprising that some of us might feel timid to speak of this topic. We might be burned at the stake, as women, very close to where I am sitting right now, were, simply for expressing and carrying out their innate experience of God.
Musemother: Creative women who are mothers may feel like they need a wife or a full-time househusband to take care of the kids before they can get any creative work done. How do you manage the split between mothering and your creative work, ie collage, art, poetry? Note: for me it was sometimes a huge conflict – the desire and need for solitude, to create without distraction and interruption, to get away from the domestic sphere and hear myself think versus the need to be there for my kids at 3:30, shut everything off and forget about my projects until the next day when they were back at school.
SBB: Oh Jennifer, here again, I wish we were closer and in person to talk this all over. Yes. I’d love a househusband. I’d love a wife! But, in reality, I am here, hauling up rolls of toilet paper from the basement and folding wash and straining against all that keeps me from my pen or paper. But here, in this place of constriction, is exactly where Laundry Line Divine was born. When I began to embrace the mundane acts of mothering as some of the expressions of my soul, I began to see even hanging the wash as an opportunity to see grace, to be inspired, to exert my love upon my family in ways that they may never be aware of, but, still, I could affect them by loving what I was doing.
Surely, loving the wash does not make it go by any faster or does not cook dinner-, which, of all tasks, is the one I find the most lamentable. My friend Janet likes to say “Dinner? We had dinner last night.” (As in, do we have to do that again?) Shifting my perspective on these daily tasks from drudgery to opportunity gets rid of my anger about being the one left to do them. This shift really put me on the spot to ask for help from my real life husband who wants to support me living to my fullest potential. So, he is the one who takes over every family task on Thursdays, my art day. He drives the kids where they need to go, answers the phone if they call, makes dinner and counsels them when they need an ear while my door is closed to the world. I admit there have been a few exceptions to the sanctity of these art days. And times when it is inconvenient. We have learned to live with that discomfort. Jonathan is dedicated to supporting me, as I have been dedicated to supporting him. We work it out.
I still still still get frustrated. I always want, need, require more time. But, I have learned what minimum levels of sustenance I need. I meditate and write every day. I spend a little time in my collage-a-day practice. I take a class once a week. I take weekend retreats once a season. But, in the day to day, balancing community participation, child care and feeding, family demands is a juggling act that I just get better and better at, with regular moments when it all falls to the ground in a clattering mess.
My children have learned to respect my need to work. By my being clear about my work time away from them, they are learning a level of independence. I am not as involved in their school lives or our community as I was before I engaged in writing Laundry Line Divine and blogging. I say, as involved, because I am still doing things outside my home that are not work related, but service, but not at all to the crazy assed degree I used to be. I must tell you in retrospect, those years of massive time spent volunteering helped me see myself as confident. I learned and honed leadership skills that help me do my work today. And, I had an impact on my children’s schooling that has made a lasting impression on them. I am so glad I had the chance to do that.
What would be enough, I’d like to know. Some days I wish that I just didn’t feel hurried all the time, always thinking that I could be doing 6 things at a time, all equally important. I write about what I call ‘Solomon Moments’ when I have to choose between two perfectly perfect things and in choosing one, I am really not doing a service to either. Both choices call me. Having time to write or watching my daughter run lacrosse both feel vitally important to me.
This is where I remember what the fascinating children’s author Katherine Paterson said:
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 laundrylinedivine.com 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.
Favorite Frames of 'Out of the Mouths of Babes' at www.laundrylinedivine.com
Mothering and Creativity blog series at www.outofthemouthsofbabes.org
FeMail fun at www.femailart.comFollow Suzi at: facebook.com/LaundryLineDivine or facebook.com/femailart@laundrylinediv
Part Two to be posted in the week of May 20, 2012.