I have a love/hate relationship with my sewing machine. It carries with it a bit of nostalgia, something I am prone to, because it belonged first to my Grandma Peñarrieta and then to my mother. It is a solid machine made of metal, not plastic, and it has managed to endure for decades. But because it is so solid, at least forty pounds, hauling it down from my upstairs home studio is no small feat for me. It has been ages since it was last serviced--it may have been my mom who took it in, which means it would have been the ‘90s. However, it’s mine, and I didn’t have buy new one as a newlywed or new mother, and it has served me to mend clothes, make Halloween costumes, sheets, and curtains, and now I’m attempting to use it for my artwork. But I can’t seem to get the tension on the machine right! The balance between the bobbin thread and top thread is always off. One always pulls more than the other. So between those frustrations and the on-going frustrations of trying to figure out how to accomplish everything I want to get done, I laughed out loud while listening to the interview with artist Zoë Pawlak for the Jealous Curator’s “Art for Your Ear” podcast when she called the idea of being able to achieve balance “total and complete bull*#%&.” Yes! Yes, oh, yes! I’m trying to balance my life as Mom while working on my art practice and how I structure my work time, but I certainly am not anywhere close to getting it right.
I am closer to finding a good place to be than I was a year-and-a-half ago though. At that time I found out about a an alumni show to celebrate the 50th anniversary of the Harris Fine Arts Center on BYU’s campus. I had dabbled here and there with some work, but I had been largely left creatively dry between finishing graduate school, teaching, and then having my two little ones. Nonetheless, I decided that the show was a good excuse to do something--I just didn't know what. I worked through the block and completed a piece. I worked on it while the house fell apart, my kids got bored and stir crazy, and I got child-if-you-want-to-keep-that-hand-don’t-even-think-about-touching-anything grumpy. I just wanted to work, dang it! It felt so GOOD to be creating, but the rest felt...terrible. There was too much pulling in all directions while I tried to work. I asked some fellow artists who are moms, too, how they did it. A lot came down to help from family, sometimes husbands with flexible work schedules but especially nearby grandparents (and also kids willing to nap). Nope, nope, and nope.
So, we got a sitter, and it’s been beautiful--for a handful of hours a week. Often illness, parental duties, etc. eat away at that time. That’s no big deal because of course I just sit down and Art appears every time, right? Bwahahaha...Reading and research, planning and obtaining materials, emails, social media, blogging (my art time is counting down as I type!), etc., etc. and sometimes my art space gets to be a total mess and has to be cleaned. When I do actually get to making physical artwork, I have been making the choice to work on fairly ambitious work given my time constraints. I’ve been thinking that maybe I should work on some smaller, quicker pieces, but I just don’t know. We’ll see.
I do think that the term “practice” is a good one for so much of what we do in life and art. I’m always practicing and trying to get better. Sometimes things will sway further one direction or the other, and the goal is just to keep making adjustments so nothing falls down completely. After all, I’m not sure that “balance” exists the way that we really mean when we talk about it: a coded way of saying doing it all at once and doing it all perfectly. I’m trying to find my way, and the challenge is to appreciate and be grateful for the things I do have. I am able to carve out those few hours more than I used to, and I have work to show for it. That is an amazing gift. Another amazing gift is the ability to be the one to be there for my healthy, energetic, curious girls during the day. Not everyone who wishes to do that has the choice. Maybe I can at least get the tension on that sewing machine perfect?