Badass Mom Art: A Love Song for @amandapalmer and All Women Who Create and Parent
I came across this Medium post by Amanda Palmer via her husband Neil Gaiman. It hit home in a lot of ways, and I feel compelled to add my voice to the song, so to speak. I think she’s going to be too busy giving birth to read this, and certainly she has many other things going on anyway, but I’m putting this letter out there to her and any mom or mom-to-be afraid of losing her art to the motherhood machine, because I’ve been there, done that, worn the maternity shirt and the baby sling.
To start, I have to say I love watching you and Neil on social media, the news, and wherever you are. I love how every time both of you are photographed with each other, one or both of you is gazing at the other with naked, pure love. It makes my heart warm every time, so thank you for that. I’m so incredibly stoked you’re bringing a child into that sacred space. They’re going to be amazing, because they can’t be anything else with those genes and that environment.
I’m very sorry, though, that you received that letter from Worried. I’ve received reader mail like that, the ones that catch you at just the wrong moment with words queued up in the perfect way to serrate your self-confidence. Worst, you know the person never meant to do that, they just forgot there was an actual human reading the letter. But I’m especially sorry the letter cast doubt on your ability to create art and be a mother. Those words managed to cut me too, and I suspect every artist mother or woman who wants to someday claim both those titles at the same time.
I’m writing to tell you I can promise you absolutely can be both a mother and an artist, even an edgy, off-beat artist, despite all the horseshit our culture piles on female artists and mothers. I know because I’ve done it. I’m doing it right now. And you will do it too.
My husband and I always wanted to be parents, though I confess the night we took our daughter by birth home from the hospital, we spent the night staring at each other in terror and wondering what in the holy hell we’d just done. We were thrown by how much being parents changed the pattern of our lives, but that wasn’t the worst part: that honor went to the soul-crushing cult everyone seemed to want us to join. Somehow becoming parents meant we could no longer swear, not even in front of an infant. We were invited to activities we never would have considered before and frankly didn’t now—or rather, at first they seemed okay, like maybe we’d meet other parents and get out of the house, but that’s not what happened. Everything felt so Stepford and sanitized. It creeped us the hell out, and we stayed home.
Worst of all, though, was what was thrown at me. I “stayed home,” as in, I continued writing novels and trying to get them published while also parenting, and eventually those efforts paid off. But in between birth and publication, I fielded endless efforts to Momify myself. I hauled my daughter to activities designed to give parents a break, but I was expected to sit with other moms and chat while this occurred. Not talk about my life or my dreams, but only baby clothes and if I was still breastfeeding and nap time and what scrapbook style I was using to document her every move. I endured that for about five minutes and then ran away to a closet where I sat on the floor with my laptop and kept one ear open in case someone came looking for me.
I could fill you with endless tales like that, but a single sample sets the table well enough. Your greatest danger in losing your edge in motherhood isn’t going to come from your contentment and softness. It will come from that societal cult wanting to turn you into the Pietà. It’s going to come at you from every side and every angle, even from within your own self. The programming to normalize and “gentle” is so intense batting it away will sometimes drive you mad.
The good news is, it can create great art. Badass, off-the-wall art.
I have always written romance, ever since I was in high school. But it wasn’t until I was fighting the motherhood normalizer that I began writing really different romance. The frustration and fear stopped me writing prim and proper straight Regencies I thought the publishing industry wanted and made me so crazy I started writing edgy, erotic gay romance. Lots and lots of it, in the dark, sure nobody would ever publish it and certainly no readers would ever pick it up, but I wrote it anyway. I wrote in anger, in terror, and most of all in defiance. I wrote things that shocked me. I wrote things that made me sick with fear and tremulous with excitement.
I made art. Crazy, endless piles of art.
I sold it all, most of it with pretty decent success for a fledgling trope in a genre with no shortage of talent on the stage. As my daughter grew, I wrote and published more of it, though now I was terrified of what would happen when someone at preschool or kindergarten found out Anna’s mother wrote dirty gay sex for cash. I rode that fear and wrote more dirty gay sex for cash. Dirtier and gayer, and wouldn’t you know it, it made even more cash.
My motherhood did not sanitize or settle me. It lit fires in me that still burn. It fueled not only my art but my own self-exploration. It was through the art brought on by motherhood that I discovered my bisexuality. It led me to bring another child into my life, not of my body but absolutely of my heart. It carried me through the loss of those organs which started all this motherhood in the first place, a painful ache which I’m still unpacking, once again, through art.
My story won’t ease your fears, and I don’t want it to. Because that fear is what will keep your art alive. The struggle against the pressure to don yoga pants and listen to a glassy-eyed stranger lecture you about breastfeeding instead of standing naked but for paint with a sword in front of a public library is what will lead you to art you could never have known in any other manner.
Keep that sword handy, because you’ll need it. You’ll face, daily, judgment from total strangers on the choices you make for your child. You, far more than Neil, will bear the clucked tongues and raised eyebrows. Because our culture is sexist and punishing to women, and it wants us to bear all the weight of the world and fix all its problems while also making dinner and tucking in kids and not looking like a slut or using foul language and standing meekly on the pedestals others make for us.
I planted that picture of you at the head of this blog post because it’s the image all mothers need to see. It’s moved me every time I’ve seen it and it will continue to do that long into the future. Because for the first time ever, I saw in you, the mother-to-be, the mother I feel that I am.
Then today I read your post, and even in your aching, beautiful confession, I found support for myself and my own struggles. Because I’m wading deeper and deeper into being an independent author, which is terrifying and expensive, and I’ve ended up doing this while acquiring a second child, and I have two teenagers and piles of bills, and the art is a lot less joyous because I’m desperate to make it as quickly as possible and lying awake at night whispering prayers the next royalty check is better, because holy shit is my life a mess right now. I read your post and for the first time felt I maybe had permission to try a tentative hand at a Patreon. Writing this whole paragraph has happened, to be honest, through a veil of tears: of relief, but mostly of connection. Like I went to one of those parent gatherings and finally met someone who understood what I was trying to do.
I have joined your Patreon. I just spent two hours leaping over my own fears and awkwardness about asking and started my own. I’m not entirely sure what I’ll do with it, or how successful it will be. I’m nervous as hell about it and have almost deleted it about six hundred times, and I’m typing this sentence instead of hitting publish on the blog button because then it will be live and then it will be real. But what I do know is reading your post about fear reminded me we all feel alone but none of us are. That we really do want to be there for each other. But that we have to give each other the chance to help each other if we need it.
Right now according to your Patreon page you’re sailing down to wherever you’re heading to wait for baby. I wish you love and power and peace, but I also wish you a little bit of edge. Something to nag at you in the night and push you into strange new places. I wish for you to also find motherhood to be not a chain or a smothering blanket but a wild, terrifying, wonderful new avenue for your art.
I wish for you to always look in the mirror and see yourself holding that sword, standing naked, carrying your baby into the unpredictable, unsafe, unstoppable well of creativity—the one that resides in you and that nothing in the world but you can ever extinguish.