A great big thank you to Suzi Banks Baum for sharing her amazing insights! It's wonderful to have her in the Creative Mothers Series. Enjoy the wisdom she offers below.
Suzi Banks Baum
I am Suzi Banks Baum. I live in the Berkshires of western Massachusetts. I have two big kids, a large garden and a sweet husband. I write, paint, and make hand-bound journals and collages. I teach the Powder Keg Sessions: writing workshops for women, I lead workshops in Mapping Motherhood: a mixed media and literary exploration of the territory of mothering. And I just launched a new workshop, Sacred Refuge Sunday: where your inner journey meets creative practice. I published An Anthology of Babes: 36 Women Give Motherhood a Voice. I blog regularly at Laundry Line Divine. Find me on Instagram here. *** Twitter here. *** Facebook here.
My art rises out of active parenting and being a citizen in this big crazy world. I have been published in a variety of places on the web like here http://www.scarymommy.com/club-mid/my-mother-and-lessons-that-never-fade/ and here http://www.motherwritermentor.com/2013/11/22/motherhood-as-portal-for-joy-threads-of-a-creative-life-or-whats-good-for-mom-is-good-for-all-of-us-by-suzi-banks-baum/ . I sell my paintings (rarely) and create Powder Keg Sessions writing prompt cards that people love to buy. You can find them on my website.
1. What is your earliest memory you have of creating?
First, cutting images out of Life magazines and McCall's and gluing them in to large scrapbooks as a four year old in Chicago. After moves and life changes, somehow these large leather covered books are still with me. The pages contain images that still intrigue me.
Second, coloring in to the S&H Green Stamp booklets. My sisters and I would each politely take one as our mother checked out at the A&P grocery store and rush home to color in the squares. Our mom taught elementary school and never considered herself an artist, though she studied art in college. She taught us how to trace our hands over and over again and color in to the small, uniquely shaped spaces between the tracing lines. Filling in small areas with different colors still engages me.
2. Did you create before you had children? After? How has becoming a mother changed or enhanced the way you create?
Before I had children, I pursued my career as an actress. This required immense creativity, because I did not find immediate success acting, so I relied on other skills to sustain me. I worked in costume shops in Manhattan and sewed costumes for the Martha Graham Dance Company. The last Broadway show I worked on was Phantom of the Opera. I did work as an actress and had several really wonderful years in theatres, but when our first child was born, I knew that I had then found the role that I wanted to play, no matter what. I let my theatre career subside, turning myself fully towards mothering.
Motherhood massively enhanced, changed, blew apart and opened my creativity. From the perspective of having a 21 and a 17 year old, I can now see just how much creative expression meant to me as a young mother. I did not see, nor did I value all the small moves that I made each and every day that rose from my inner world. My passion for color was expressed in gardening. My infatuation with learning new skills came with learning to knit, miles and miles of knitting were done while sitting in playgrounds. My fascination with story was fed by the hours I spent reading aloud with my children. My yearning to sing was fed by leading the children's choir at church and singing in the adult choir. My ache for community was answered in leading parent's groups at my kids' school.
My intrigue with line and form was traced in the doodles and drawings I did in the small notepad I kept in our diaper bag. It was always with me. My dedication to creative practice came through my daily journals, written in before the kids woke up and in letters I wrote to friends and family. My instinct to dance was fed by taking yoga classes and becoming a certified yoga instructor.
I carried on as a full time mother, but the way I organized our days nurtured me in very subtle ways that I only see now. I had a deeper hunger to express, but I did not recognize that until my son was 13. That is when my life changed dramatically, and where the thread of my book, Laundry Line Divine: A Wild Soul Book for Mothers picks up.
3. What has been the most challenging thing about being a mother and an artist? How did you handle those challenges?
Taking and making time for myself, this is the hardest part. I can do almost anything and feel like I am engaged creatively-but I poured all this energy in to years of community service, to leading a gardening program and doing anything but what I really yearned to do-which was take time to develop some of my own ideas and pursue something that had nothing to do whatsoever with lunches or schedules or illness or responsibility. But, I loved and would not exchange for all the time in the world, the years I spent with my children, full time. We were busy. We had adventures. We suffered losses and shared immense joys. Forming the bonds I have with my kids allowed me to experience a kind of love that was new to me.
And when I realized that the level of care I provided for my family could be turned towards myself, I began to take steps to feed myself.
Right here it is important to note something that was real for me from the first moment I met my husband. When he learned that I wrote in my journal every single day, in the morning, before I engaged with the world much, he supported me in doing that. This was easy before the kids were born. From the first day of our son's life, to this day, when our son is 21, my husband honors my daily writing practice.
Daily writing began for me in high school, with a teacher who required us to keep a journal for an entire year. I have never stopped. Later, I followed Julia Cameron's The Artist's Way and this enhanced the way I wrote. But, I have always had this access to my inner world though daily writing. This summer, I gave an artist talk at the library in my hometown. My high school teacher attended and I honored him publicly for setting me on this path of daily creative practice. He is a writer and a farmer and I love him for all he offered me as a student.
4. Do you ever involve your children in your art? Do they inspire, help, mimic your projects, ask to learn, or be involved in your art?
In the early years of my kids' lives, my art was not evident. We raised food and preserved it together, gardened together, baked cookies and cakes and decorated them, we made gifts and drew, we knit, I sewed costumes for them and they put on lots of puppet shows. But there was never "Mommy's art time." My journal writing time was usually before they awoke, so I would not be interrupted. When I began to carve out time to write and collage, that was when things began for shift.
Raising our family with my husband is entirely informative to the work I do today. My book is about how I raised myself as I raised our children; how I answer the yearning I feel to be heard amid the din of family life. Mothering has made me into a person who is related to the woman I was before kids, but now, I feel more diverse, more directed, and comfortable with loving what I love. I have also learned to live with loss, to be influenced by challenges and to grow. I don't know that I would have come to this, had I not first lived the truth of my feminine power.
But yes, they have been inspired by the way that I live. My daughter writes letters by hand and keeps a journal that she draws and collages in to. She knits and does yoga. My son is taking a drawing class in college. He is a musician, so he has always had his own art. Both of them are really good actors. They never saw me in plays as young kids, so I guess their instincts come from what they absorbed. We see many many plays together. They attended a Waldorf grade school; so artistic expression was the world they lived in elementary school.
I would love to make books with my kids. Something about building journals by hand so evidently captures the nature of the person building it. This is a dream I am only giving voice to here.
5. What have you gained from creating art while raising your children?
What I have gained came when I finally answered the nagging yearning I ignored for the first 13 years of mothering. Once I started to feed myself with time to create intentionally, uninterrupted, unscheduled, I felt my circulation increase. I gained insight in to the value of how mothers spend their days, whether they think of themselves as creative people or not. I began to see all the ways women express within the boundaries of active parenting, carrying on professional lives, tending family needs all while sheltering a very small candle for their own voices.
I also gained a capacity to love beyond anything I knew possible. I gained an ability to focus no matter what was going on around me. I gained a habit of prayer and meditation that comforted me when times were hard and sustains me daily. I gained an understanding that it does not take much to have fun. I gained devotion to the natural world and how important it is for children to be outside, in nature, interacting and witnessing this incredibly diverse and beautiful planet. I gained confidence as a woman, as a mother, that value may not come to us from the outside world, but we must nurture it in each other, notice each other as mothers and rally for issues that affect families all over the world.
6. Where do you want your art to go over the next few years? Goals?
I want my art to land in your lap. I am completing the book I started back in 2009, Laundry Line Divine: A Wild Soul Book for Mothers. I set it aside to develop my author platform. In doing so, I discovered my joy in teaching and speaking and creating events. And my visual work, my hand bound books and collages have really carried me forward. I would love to see my book well published with my own illustrations. I would love to see my next book about maintaining a daily creative practice take shape and be published. I would love to continue to perform my own writing in venues around the country. And I would love to continue to teach. Okay, since I am letting loose on dreams, I would love to work with populations of women who don't have ready access to creative practices and support them in finding their voices.
7. Can you talk about 'Out of the Mouths of Babes' and how it came to be?
Out of the Mouths of Babes: An Evening of Mothers Reading to Others and the accompanying blog series on my website came to be when I was working on my non-fiction book proposal and I came to the question, "Where do you meet your audience?" Until that moment, my audience was the two kids I made lunch for every day, a few of their friends, the people who read the small articles I wrote for the parent's newsletter at school and the congregation at our church who heard me sing once in a while. My audience was small. So I figured I could create a live event with a few other women I knew who were writing from inside motherhood. It has become a well-loved event for the Berkshire Festival of Women Writers. Eight to ten women read new writing on a theme. Other mother artists decorate the place we perform in with an exhibit of art. And the program is a souvenir that the audience can take home and use as writing prompts for their own writing. Over 100 women have offered writing that I publish on my blog. I have published the first collection of that writing in An Anthology of Babes: 36 Women Give Motherhood a Voice. I have really good writing for the next collection, just no time to work on that right now. Which is a perfect time to say, I am letting the live event rest until 2017. I need large blocks of time to write.
8. Can you offer any advice or tips to other creative mothers on?
My blog is a well of inspiration. On one of those sleepless nights or at some moment when you think you might want to start something but don't know where or what to begin, head to Laundry Line Divine. I post about seeing and celebrating the sacred in daily life. There are poems and essays there that can feed a hungry spirit. I think and write about permission and voice and ways to use it for your own good and the good of the planet.
Tips? Find ways to be with other women who mother. Talk and listen. Take time to be alone. Let yourself fall in love with a little patch of earth, tend it, see what animals frequent it, and know it in all seasons. See your parenting as part of your creative expression and let yourself love it. And if you cannot find anything to love about being a mother, find help. Isolation and loneliness are the most damaging aspects of motherhood. We all have times when we think we are the only ones feeling the way we feel. Seek comfort, however it comes to you, but find restorative practices and build these habits so that when the going is tough, you have resources.
And lastly, I have become one of those women who urge younger women to savor the active years of parenting. Your responsibilities will change. Your days will be overthrown by the dictates of necessity, repeatedly. You and your partner are the lifelines for these new lives you are raising. Take care of yourselves and love the ones you are with. Before long, they will be out in the world and you will have to carry on with your life. Taking time for your creative life now will keep your self recognizable. Make marks now, don’t wait.
9. Finally, name an artistic mother who inspires you.
Just one artistic mother? Every single woman who contributes to Out of the Mouths of Babes inspires me by their willingness to be truthful about their lives. My collaborators, Karen Arp-Sandel, Catherine Anderson, Lori Landau, Valerie Carrigan, Sarah Shepley, Pippa Best, Ursula Kern and Tania Pryputniewicz all inspire me. Look them up online. They will inspire you too.
My friend Janet inspires me. She will kill me for this, because she thinks that what she does is not so important, but I know it is. Her work in the community http://gbfg.org/, in her home life and the food she is obsessed with http://araisinandaporpoise.com/ and the writing she does about it, all are evidence of a life being lived fully while raising a family. She is not waiting for the kids to be out of the house. She lives one messy beautiful life with her whole family engaged.
I'm no longer doing Creative Mothers interview, but this will remain as an archive. Thank you for all of the love!
About the Series
Let's face it, being a mother can be the most challenging, and the most rewarding thing. Being a mother who needs to be creative can be even more challenging, it can even feel lonely at times.
So let's dig deeper into the lives of creative mothers, share their amazing work, and get some insight into creating while parenting. Hopefully, inspiring other artistic, creative mothers, and women who may one day be mothers themselves, along the way.
Explore Past Interviews
Suzi Banks Baum
Shelli Bond Pabis
Elizabeth B. Borowsky
Kellee Wynne Conrad
Kisco Print Shop
Art by Megan