We aren’t handed a map about how to do complex, uncertain creative work.
—Todd Henry, Accidental Creative Podcast, episode “Listen to Lie About Success That’s Holding You Back“
Now that I am empty-nested, I am ever more confident that my intuition—my frustrated, irritated, annoyed gut feeling—was correct:
rearing a child can be a profound creative endeavor,
and as such, can pull all the water out of the well.
Somehow it was his saying, “we aren’t handed a map,” that snapped me back to this sore tooth of mine. (The podcast episode has zero to do with parenting.) Isn’t that the saying? “I wish there was a map!” or “There should be a manual!”
Having some sort of map for A would have given me so much more energy for other pursuits.
As it was, helping her grow ever more fully into herself was a full-bore twenty-year cartography project. I wasn’t mapping alone, certainly—My Sweetie was trekking alongside me, developing his own map, debating the landscape’s features and significances with me. I don’t know how either one of us would have made it if we had had to do it alone; there were more than a few times where I felt like Lewis, or Clark.
Parenting A was incredibly complex.
It felt so very fraught and uncertain… I ran out of wise things to try midway through, and after that moved as if I were traversing a bog, one careful toe-touch footstep across the shivering, slurping surface at a time.
What about B? Interestingly enough, I felt like I had a map for B. She overlapped and intersected me in ways I remembered from my own childhood, and when I met her there we would click and move forward together. In the small window I’ve had of parenting only B, I’ve had plenty of brain-room for my own pursuits and no need to collapse into bed at the end of each day.
So I fully forgive my aggravated self of ten years back, when I would knuckle down, articulate goals, and plan thoroughly… only to make no headway. Then to read the productivity book again, knuckle down again, revamp the goals, the timeline, the milestones… all the while cursing the books’ authors for blithely implying that knuckling down was all that was needed for goal-achievement success.
Kid-primary life under the best of circumstances will shoot any plan in the head. And as A got older, ours were not the best of circumstances. I was drawing my creative water and bathing her in it as fast as it seeped back into my well’s collector. There were only thimbles-full left for anything else.
But y’know, she’s now independent in the way she always hungered for. Working at a craft she respects and values. So I guess we made it across that unmapped wilderness okay,
and now I have creative energy for this.