Firstly, a big thank you to those who recommended I track down The Divided Heart by Rachel Power when I wrote about life/work/art balance a while ago. I did indeed track it down and then devoured almost the entire thing in a weekend - a pretty mean feat, you would have to agree, when there are small children to be entertained but I am pretty adept at reading while I cook, collect laundry off the floor and make creatures out of playdough. Despite life buzzing around me, I couldn't help. I just had to keep reading.
As you know, I am no book critic, but someone who will rave endlessly and evangelically about a book I enjoyed - and The Divided Heart falls into that category. Reading it, especially so intensely, had such a profound affect on me. I took a little mini roller-coaster ride of emotions that weekend. To show you how extreme, my thoughts went from finding more childcare for Lily, to giving up my work entirely and then to, for the first time, contemplating a third child. THAT is how much of a roller-coaster ride and that is no exaggeration.
Rachel is such a sensitive and hugely intelligent author. Her introduction and her own reflections on being a writer and a mother are some of the most interesting parts of the book. She looks at the sad truth that, on the whole, historically women were not given any chance to attempt to be both a mother and an artist and so many women artists turned away from motherhood as a result. She looks at the mythology that surrounds art and (usually male) artists, and she talks about motherhood and domestic life still being feminism's final frontier; the fact that our generation has grown up believing that it is possible to do everything (and let me tell you - reading my 80s journal is a blinding testament to that! I was going to be a film making / writer / mother of FIVE according to my 17 year old self) only to discover somewhere along the track - around the time of breastfeeding is the general impression - that despite the best of intentions of all parties, this is not always so easy. Each of the women she talks to have pretty similar struggles - and her point is made so very clearly that it's a hard thing to be both a passionate mother and a passionate artist.
All the women she spoke to and interviewed for the book (including such gorgeous women as Claire Bowditch, Rachel Griffiths, Joanna Murray-Smith and Davida Allen) are refreshingly candid and touchingly open in their desire to share their experience. You get a real sense of sharing a heart to heart over a cup of tea with each of the women, a sense of their life and also a clear sense of the transience of all these feelings - which, we all know, change from day to day, stage to stage, child's age to child's age, yet a sense of the universal truths they live by.
I loved this book but at times I found it a little bleak as unsurprisingly there is no easy path to follow and the resounding message is "yes it's bloody hard but you do the best you can do."
But in the end I did come out feeling a little better about all in the world. There are so many pearls of wisdom to be found within the interviews, unsurprisingly the most inspiring come from the older women Rachel chose to interview, the ones whose children have grown up a little and who can look back on the early years with a sense of perspective. One of the interviews is with printmaker, Franki Sparke. It was a paragraph from this which resonated with me last week:
"There is always a gap between what we imagine ourselves to have the potential to become and what we really are," Franki warned. "Motherhood is just one of the things that can be used as an excuse for not realising our dreams. You can always find a way to adapt your practice and work around your children. Perhaps it's your career that's compromised, as opposed to your art, or yourself as an artist."
I realised that this for me is SO true! I have been banging on about not having enough time to do my "Work" for so long that I haven't even any idea what my "Work" really is. I should just bloody well do something!
I highly recommend The Divided Heart, especially if you, like me, are feeling that inevitable pull between your work and your children... but I suggest reading it slowly (though the temptation is to keep reading it in a kind of frenzied desire to find answers to all the big questions) because it can be overwhelming and then let it sit before you rush off to have extra babies, book nannies, chuck in your art or your family.
A Divided Heart can be found in bookshops here in Australia, and can be bought from the publisher's web site for those who are interested from Overseas.