I am fortunate to know this creative mama in real life! She was even kind enough to chat with me over the phone before my family and I reached Portland, and then was even more awesome by letting me help her with some photo projects. Her writing is funny, inspiring, and honest. I'm never bored when I read her blog, or listen to the urbanMamas Podcast.
Kelli hits it home with her attitude on parenting when she says,
"You can spend your life in deep meditation contemplating your existence and the world around you. Or you can have a child."
And on creativity when she says,
"The creating does not have to mean completing. The creating means starting somewhere, and sometimes a creative urge may need to be fulfilled in smaller increments."
YES! SO MUCH YES!
Thank you so much Kelli for being an inspiring addition to the Creative Mothers Series!
I have always been inclined to make things. Whether they be poems, or essays, or drawings, or songs on the ukulele, or skits, or body art, or beaded jewelry, or clay sculptures of a Tyrannicorn in bunny slippers, or a kickass vanilla bean pie crust … if I don’t make tangible the ideas in my head, I feel trapped and suffocated. Creating art, in any of its forms, is nourishment. But it’s only been in the last couple of years that I’ve been able to own that creativity as being a critical piece of my identity. I often feel like a hack. Achieving at mediocrity, living up to my perpetual last name initial, “M”, which has been with me since childhood, through my married name, and then on to my self-assigned name change. Always in the middle of the lunch line, the middle of the roll call sheet; I’ve been Kelli in the middle. Middle child. Middle achiever. Middling in artistry. I never called myself a writer, because I wasn’t published offline (and have no plans to produce a novel). I never called myself an artist because I have never even taken an art class and wouldn’t know Rembrandt from Raffi. And photographer? No way. I’ve leaned toward the term “hobbyist” and even that only loosely. But, when I could no longer survive as a single mom on the meager salary of my long time marketing position, I put myself out there and a creative agency found me and was interested in my all-over-the-place-semi-skills. And this passion for producing actually began to take the shape of a way of life and I began to carve out that shape around my inclination to create. I became the local producer for a national storytelling series called Listen To Your Mother. I started a podcast. I started my own marketing business. I started using my photographs professionally. I designed logos and created websites. I wrote things people wanted to read (or so they had the kindness to tell me). I was making things. I am making things. But it’s less about making things, and more about making things happen. It’s not a switch I can, or want, to turn off. I may not be an expert on any one form of artistry, but I am a genius at being myself. And I guess therein is my true craft. Making the art of being me into my full-time gig.
It’s Me, Kelli.
Mamore and Personal
Listen To Your Mother, Portland:
My LTYM piece from 2014:
BlogHer Syndicated Writer (profile):
(I’m on Twitter and Pinterest too, of course, but I really hate Twitter, and don’t spend much time on Pinterest because it HURTS.)
1. What is your earliest memory you have of creating, and when did you realize you were a creative person/writer/photographer?
I remember very clearly a poem I wrote when I was 6 years old. Ahem.
Litter litter litter
Why does everyone litter?
Even baseball hitters seem to litter
When they shoot seeds out of their spitter.
But I actually spelled litter “loiter” because I thought that was a fancier way to say it. For those who know me, see? I’ve always hated garbage.
Photography didn’t enter my world until my son was almost 2. My ex-husband and I sold our truck, he bought a canoe, and I bought a DSLR and took some photography classes from Peter Schutte (former apprentice to the great Ansel Adams) at the Multnomah Arts Center. I still hesitate to call myself a photographer, but since launching my own marketing consulting gig, I’m beginning to embrace it. Slowly. Cautiously. Non-committally. There are so many incredible photographers out there, particularly with technology now being so widely adaptive and accessible to all budgets and skill levels, so I tend to just refer to myself as a hobbyist, though it’s certainly a facet of my day job, too. I love taking lifestyle shots for clients, shooting candid portraits and getting on my knees to shoot teeny tiny mushrooms and flowers on a hike. But if the identity “photographer” was a flight of stairs leading up to a 10th floor penthouse, I’d be somewhere in between floors 4 and 5, trying to catch my breath.
2. Can you talk a little about your journey to working for yourself with Mamoré and UrbanMamas?
A friend of mine just put the brakes on his career path to reroute himself and he said to me “Oh my gosh I’m totally jumping off a cliff into this new life.” And that’s how we tend to think of things when we make big changes. It’s our “new life” or a “new chapter”. But I don’t think that’s true at all actually. It’s not a new life, it’s the same one, and all mine, or all yours, or all his. It’s more like swimming into a new and unexplored part of your own ocean than jumping off a cliff. For 7+ years I stayed roughly in the same part of my ocean. I worked for an eco-friendly diaper company and I made it a part of me. I sought every opportunity I could to tell their story, to infuse it with my own story because I believed it truly was, and to learn from those I worked with and on my own initiative to gain the skills to become a more adept storyteller on behalf of that brand. But along with a slew of other reasons, I left that company when it was clear to me that I needed to paint a new picture, tell a new story, find new pieces of my own story -- explore my own uncharted waters. It was a scary thing to do, to leave that company, like kicking myself out of my own comfy nest, and at that point I was a single mom on a frayed and tangled shoestring budget. But a creative agency took interest in the work I had done in the social media landscape, and they created a position for me. So I held my breath and swam out a little deeper. It was out in those deeper waters that I began to see that I could not only steer myself where I needed to be, but I could also more clearly see what was around me and where else I could explore. I was at the agency for only a few months and was considerably unhappy in a siloed area of “expertise”. I’m a skilled marketer, but I hate selling shit. And even though the agency chose clients who held a higher level of social integrity than most giant brands, they weren’t the stories I was born to tell. And I was pigeon-holed into telling those stories exclusively on social media. I wanted to write, to outreach, to seek relationships and build them for brands and organizations. Social media is an outlet, but at the agency I was using it like a vacuum. And that sucked.
So I reached out to a few of the brands and individuals I came to know over the years in my work at the diaper company and beyond and asked “Hypothetically speaking, if I were to go out on my own, would you be interested in the likes of lil ol’ me in helping share your brand story?” And not only was I met with several yesses, I was met with “How soon can you start?” And so Mamoré Communications was born. (Mamoré was born of a proclivity for working with mom-focused brands, the “ma” and a genuine love for people and the earth “amoré”). The agency didn’t actually fill my vacant position for 6 months after I left, so I kept them on as a client as well. Now I work with hand-picked clients who are small in structure but big in heart and aspirations. I write for them, do PR, social media strategy, photography, branding, graphics, and most recently, website design.
I’ve been connected to urbanMamas for many moons, and my friend Rae Ann has been managing their social media presence for a few years. Some time in early fall 2014 Rae Ann and I were chatting about content for uM, she wanted to know if I would consider writing some articles for the website. I told her I’d think about it, but I wasn’t confident that a few articles from me would offer much by way of long-term support. I had recently been digging in to podcasts, because I could listen to them while working from home. So I suggested to Rae Ann, “What if we started an urbanMamas podcast? We’d have local mamas as guests, share community resources, shoot the shit, and then we could use the transcript for website content, too.” I knew absolutely zero about podcasts and less than zero about any kind of audio production. But she said yes, and so I took it upon myself to learn. I have a couple of amazing audiophile friends back home in Humboldt County, so with their expertise and my bitchin’ new Blue Yeti mic, Rae Ann and I have now rolled out 7 episodes. It’s one of my favorite things. Except the transcribing. Ugh. Now taking volunteers.
3. What does a typical day/week look like? Are you a morning or night person? Do you stick to a schedule or create/write whenever you can?
The other day my boyfriend asked me if I’d ever consider going back to an office job. He said “Because it (work) never really ends for you.” I answered quickly with “No, I don’t. It never ends, but it’s hand-picked and heart-led, so I’m never burnt out, I’m freshly inspired and constantly learning.” He pressed on, “I mean, if you just worked 8-5 then came home and it was over? You’d be working less hours, more regularity in life.” To which I answered, “But then I’d be hurried to squeeze in all the other things that I want and need to do. Going to the store, taking the kids to swim, having coffee with a friend or to network. I’d lose the flexibility when the kids don’t have school or are sick. I wouldn’t be able to go to the park after school to play catch. I wouldn’t be there for homework help. I’d be in the car a lot more. Right now I’m never in the car. And I’d be answering to someone else’s agenda.” My typical day and week now blend blissfully together. I work when the actual work needs doing, not when an office is open for me to do it in. I am most productive very first thing in the morning, and am most inspired for future projects as I wrap up for the night. But in the middle it’s a medley of projects and ongoing inspiration. I’ll take that over “more regularity in life” any day. Whoever came up with the idea that we all need to be in one place during the same set hours of the day to get “work” done was a dumbass. There I said it. The Monday through Friday, 8-5 structure is the weight that breaks the backs of so many individuals and families and adds to our environmental burdens with vehicles all on the same commute day in and day out. I don’t stick to a schedule. I work when work needs to be done, I create art when my hands compel me to mold or paint or photograph or write, and I dream and scheme across all of it.
4. It's obvious that your children inspire your writing and work. What would you say has been their biggest influence on you and your writing?
Our conversations! You can spend your life in deep meditation contemplating your existence and the world around you. Or you can have a child. I try my best to approach (and anticipate!) their questions with head-on honesty, humility, and the perspective that there’s no such thing as black and white, so trust your gut, don’t be afraid to ask questions, and I promise to never respond with “because I said so”. The conversations that have become written pieces range from marijuana and hemp and “where’s your pee hole?”, to the World Naked Bike Ride and “mom, what is raping?”. Their questions contextualize the world we’re in and my/our place in it by making me stop to think about what I may otherwise take for granted.
5. You are open about being divorced, being a single mom, and co-parenting. Can you discuss how this affected your creative process?
Divorce is underrated. I highly recommend it as a way to kickstart your creativity. (wink) That said, what my new world order has done for me and my creative life has been a gift, all I had to do was unwrap it. The process of unravelling the nest of a life I had built with my ex revealed an untapped self-honesty, and with the constant inclination I have to make sense of this world through words, that honesty has poured out of me in the written space.
6. Can you offer some advice to other creative mothers about handling parenting on your own along with being creative?
I think the biggest struggle is in the inclination we have to create conflicting with the time we permit ourselves to do it. And really, that permitted time is affected by more than just parenting. I have split custody, so it’s not the parenting that affects my time to create, it’s the way in which I prioritize things. Do I want to use this kid-free night to write or to take a yoga class? Both? Okay, then, do I feel the need to complete a written project tonight? If yes, then I’ll say no to yoga. If not, then I’ll make sure I scribble out notes on scratch paper, or write a headline, or plug thoughts into my phone for later. The creating does not have to mean completing. The creating means starting somewhere, and sometimes a creative urge may need to be fulfilled in smaller increments.
7. Do you have any exciting projects you are working on that you can tell us about?
Oh I DO! The first is that I’m happy to be producing Listen To Your Mother: Portland for the 2nd year in a row. Listen To Your Mother is a national storytelling phenomenon that celebrates the heart and humor of all things motherhood and I just can’t say enough AMAZING THINGS. Our show this year is on Thursday, May 7th at The Alberta Rose Theatre. You should buy your tickets now. We expect a sold out show.
The second exciting project actually has yet to be revealed, but it’s where my heart is leading me and hopefully, fingers crossed, prays to all the gods, sleeps with my pajamas inside out, wishes on all the stars, it will be my full-time gig over the course of the next few years.
8. Do you have strong connections with other creative mothers in your area? If so, how did you foster these connections, and how do you continue to make them a priority? If not, what do you think needs to change/happen concerning women, mothers, and the art world?
I have strong connections with creative mothers and non-mothers all over the place. They range from writers, to jewelry-makers, to chocolate artisans, to sewing goddesses, to photographers, to Paleo bakers, to painters and beyond. They are a priority to me because art, in its infinite forms, is the most valuable contribution to life that humans can offer up. I firmly believe that. Art allows self-expression, independence and discipline, confidence, and innovation. Without them this world would be dead. Not flailing, straight up dead. And mothers have direct significant impact on children, our own and others, and when they see us creating art across all media, for personal or professional gratification, they are inclined to make art, and then they reap the benefits of self-expression, independence and discipline, confidence and innovation. And since they will be the ones to spoon our applesauce into our toothless mouths one day, that’s pretty damn important. So I make it a point to infuse that artistic connection in my daily life. It was an impetus for making a shift to working for one organization, to working for several under my own initiative. And you know, in a lot of ways I hate hate hate social media, but for the increased connection it has given me to mothers (and fathers!) who are carving out a new and beautiful world through their various forms of self-expression I am profoundly grateful.
9. Finally, name an artistic mother who inspires you. Why and how does she inspire you?
Keren Brown was my best friend when we were kids. Keren could do anything. She could make anything. She learned the piano by ear. She was a born artist with a gift from God (which could very well be true, she’s a pastor’s kid!). Not only was she an incredible artist, she was funny, had a warm and loving family, reared and showed animals at the county fair, and she could do backflips inside the double dutch jump ropes (we were on a jump rope team together in the 6th grade). And as a kid it was sometimes hard. I could draw a pretty awesome teddy bear, but Keren could make one out of dryer lint and fairy dust. And when your best friend seems magically gifted with a talent for anything, ugh, that can be rough. But the truth is she inspired me then and she inspires me now. She facilitated her own creativity. Always. She was inclined to learn something new and set out to do it and then did it. She didn’t lean on “Oh if only I could do that.” I haven’t seen Keren in over a decade, but I stalk her constantly and am in love with the life she has built with creative intention. She does everything from music to pottery to fiber arts to painting to renovating her Idaho home, a former schoolhouse. She has allowed her life to be crafted from her own genuine self-expression. And a couple of years ago as I flailed to make a living with 2 small kids at home and I sought advice on social media, Keren commented with “Maybe it’s time to admit that you’re worth more than the job you’re currently doing.” And it was her words that made me sit up straighter, breathe a little deeper, and I then made the decision to change the course of my own life and begin carving out a new route, hell-bent on making art out of my every day. I cannot thank her enough, and I bet she doesn’t even know the measure of her own influence.
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