I’m trying to give myself time. Since motherhood began for me, I’ve been trying to swim against the tide like a salmon, creating art for art’s sake despite the slashing of my time and resources. It has felt good, and successful, to a degree. I haven’t achieved fame, which I admit is still a fantasy of mine, though I try to embrace being an outsider artist. At least I’ve had small finished products to show for myself, like markers on a timeline, to prove that I continued to exist, continued to think, even while my life has been reassigned to the survival and growth of two human beings, and even as they silently conquer the real estate of my heart.
And the videos I made were precisely about the odds facing my artistic practice at every stage.
“Shmaaya” was about my first pregnancy, and my fears that artistic creation would not be able to compete with the demands of biological creation. I am proud of the piece for encapsulating a very universal experience while it was still very fresh and personal for me. But the narrative swivelled halfway through, by suddenly recounting the health issues I had dealt with long ago, which had threatened my fertility. The conclusion I propounded in “Shmaaya,” was that this pregnancy was a kind of miracle, and I was the recipient of a gift given by the Great Creator; that perhaps now was the time to make peace with being a character in Someone else’s, much grander, narrative. It’s hard to go wrong when invoking the awe of creation, and I credit “Shmaaya”‘s success to that.
But of course in reality my artistic ambitions couldn’t just be prosed away. I passionately longed to convey the beauty of my current life in film. So in my next one, “Home Sweet Home”, I tried to do this by telling a children’s story with my son as the protagonist. Our charming farm life lent itself to this kind of narrative. However, the story lacked a conflict, and the one that I had in mind pulled the narrative away from the protagonist and on to his mother, me. I had been mired in a flood of memories of an ex-boyfriend, which unexpectedly surfaced after I had learned of his upcoming wedding. I had experienced grief, and felt the only honest thing to do was express it in film. Again I tried to redeem this narrative with the emotional resolution I personally reached at the time- that everything, including the break-up, was meant to be- and with the personal example posed by the young protagonist- his joie de vivre and his presence in the moment.
I’m not terribly proud of “Home Sweet Home.” At its heart was the desire to convey the magic of our life, but the only way I knew how was to package it as a kid’s story, and then, in my typical fashion, burst it with some adult pathos. Besides, as catharsis, it was incomplete; the strange preoccupation with a previously forgotten love recurred long after I finished the film.
I still desperately wanted to make a film about my children, but it felt hopelessly out of my reach. And so I made this impossibility the subject of my next film, “My Child in My Art.” It was a defence of a thesis that the relative rarity of children in their parents’ art is a logical consequence of the intense subjectivity entailed in being a parent. The hyper-involvement and investment of a parent in their child makes artistic observation of them nearly impossible. I hoped, first of all, this was a sound argument, but even more so I was hoping that underneath it all, it did count as art about my child.
Judging by the feedback- both on the rough cuts as I revised them, and on the finished product- it was not a hit.
It seemed that my clever attempts to avoid actually making art about the world were losing their effectiveness. In a minor bout of disappointment I realised maybe the problem wasn’t some objective impasse toward making art about one’s children, but my very own artistic achilles heel- womanhood, motherhood. It came in a flash that in my next film I would confide my woes to my child, the purported saboteur of my artistic potential.
This film, “Your Mommy was an Artist,” materialised so intuitively, without any stages of constructive criticism. It was my best work since getting married, perhaps because it so effectively stripped bare my worst fears and insecurities. In it I even directly referred to “My Child in My Art,” and despaired at how anticlimactic its completion was. As the audience to my soliloquy, Shmaaya is unimpressed and impatient; a perfect counterpoint to my existential moping.
I jumped right into my next film, as if on a roll. For “Dreading Nostalgia” I already came prepared with a neat, little self-contained theme: the contrast between a parent’s two modes of existence the realisation of the passage of time, the preciousness of youth and the present moment on the one hand, and, on the other hand the white-knuckled struggle to bear each day, the constant longing for a future which brings with it the promise of respite. I thought this was a clever little idea, and I carefully staged my oration of it to my son, this time in several scenes, unlike “Your Mommy was an Artist,” which all took place near the fire place. I even invested in a special effects sequence, where we see Shmaaya twice in the same frame. One is the Shmaaya from some candid footage, and the other is present with me, as we look upon the scene being filmed. To the viewer-Shmaaya I complain that he’s already older than the Shmaaya we are watching; he’ll never return to that version of himself.
I got to really test this notion, because when I released “Dreading Nostalgia” on my social networks, it was as if nobody noticed. It felt precisely like a tree falling in a forest with no one around to hear. Either they missed the memo, or they saw the film but found it unremarkable. It turned out that the process of making art was not totally fulfilling in-and-of-itself.
Deep down, I know I can make something really good about my life. Not about the convoluted layers of my experience of life; just my life, the farm, the kids, the animals. It’s a long way off, but not out of reach.
I get tempted now and again to keep track of my ex-boyfriend through Facebook- the ex-boyfriend who never had Facebook while we were together, out of principle, just like me (at the time). He appears to be making it: he’s got a band together, lead-singing before large crowds, getting tagged more and more frequently. As much as I want to wish him well and DO wish him well, this voyeurism is quite maddening. HE’S living. HE’S not keeping track of me, HE’S not seeing me. HE has his own life, a new life. I’M the one stuck in anonymity, trying to attain a success made impossible by my current place in the world. Sometimes a terrible and foolish thought slips past my good sense- that if I would have known then what I know now, we could have stayed together; If I had only appreciated him back then the way I appreciate him now (albeit from a distance and in two dimensions) we would have stayed happy.
It’s so tragic because, whether or not it’s true, it prevents me from appreciating my life now. It essentially puts me on a conveyor belt towards estrangement from my husband now. To avoid becoming fortune’s fool, I must completely disregard, forget, if possible, where my ex-boyfriend stands, what he might think of me. Just as his real happiness is private, and not viewable on Facebook, mine can only exist in private too. And to make art that is great, I need to stop worrying about whether the world knows I’m alive and thinking.
To really make something wonderful about my world, I must really love my world first. And that takes practice, it takes time.
So I’m trying to give myself time.