Thursday, January 31, 2013

Decluttering in the wake of passing time

I'm trying to declutter the place. This is a major challenge since all of us seem to be incorrigible pack rats. Every so often I go into a cleaning and purging frenzy, but it's been awhile. Going through the boys' toys is one of the hardest things to deal with; other stuff I can easily get into a mind space where I can be ruthless and chuck stuff or give it away, but this is harder. I know I'll feel much better about this place once things are cleaned up, but I'm running up against this wall of resistance from everyone in the house, myself included, to letting go. Time just keeps racing by and all these material things are strewn in its wake. I feel kind of helpless against the flow of time; the things I'd like to hold onto the most are often the most fleeting of all.

With the boy toys I have to sort them and figure whether the boys are done with those toys forever. Really, forever. I think it's probably harder for me to let go than for them. There is some stealth chucking involved, since toys they haven't played with for over a year are ones they're probably done with, but if they realize I'm going to give them away then nostalgia sets in and they want to keep them, mostly.
I tried to let go of Riley's Mission model, and put it in the recycle. I found it later that day miraculously rescued and restored to its place on top of the shelf. Though it hasn't been played with or used much since 4th grade. (And yes, they are in 6th grade now, so what does that say about my lack of ruthlessness and my housekeeping abilities?) And do I donate the dinosaurs? They are very cool; they roar and move their heads in a quite startlingly realistic way. I like them too, but the boys haven't been playing with toys much in the last year or so. How am I supposed to deal with all of these toys that they have sentimental attachment to, but no longer play with? Out of sight, out of mind? Stealth chucking? I like to think that I would respect their wishes, and not just ruthlessly get rid of toys they love, but the bald truth is we can't keep everything, forever.

I have intentions of reclaiming the space in the living room that is now filled with toy shelves, and re-hanging the green hanging chair and restore a bookshelf or two to that spot, since the boys aren't using it for playing. When they have other kids come over, it's still a very popular hang out, though, so I'm a bit torn.

A lot of their toys are really cool, too, which makes it harder to know whether to let them go or not. Some are easier; all the Thomas trains we can let go to a good home, I know, so if you could use a huge amount of Thomas and friends trains and track, give me a shout out. We have several plastic bins of them...

I think I am too susceptible to melancholy, honestly. It's hard to go through all these drawings and the writing they did when they were little and realize that very likely they won't become very good artists; they don't have enough interest. I did try to encourage that part, along with a lot of other abilities, but I don't think that particular one took; I know I was drawing all the time and my abilities were much further along when I was the same age. They're much better at different things, like math and science and analytical thinking, though their writing ability seems well developed. I am left with a bunch of kid art supplies that will never get used, though I know I can give those to friends and others who can use them with other kids. I have to believe, though, that none of the time and effort was wasted; they will have those experiences drawing and telling stories with pictures back there deep inside, even if it doesn't get used right now.
There are other things, too. Wind, the horse, that I lovingly painted for the boys from a plain reclaimed wreck of a spring horse, is (obviously) something that needs to be let go of; he takes up a lot of room and it must seem faintly ridiculous to still have him in the house when the boys will be going into 7th grade next year. Maybe most people would pass him along with a sense of relief to be getting the big cumbersome thing out of their house, but I'm finding it surprisingly hard to let go. It's silly, of course, but I know I'm too sentimental already, so don't laugh too hard at me. It's just too symbolic of all that's passing away.
Gah. Wish me luck with all this de-cluttering; I'm having a hard time of it.

Thursday, January 24, 2013

Doing it all. Or not.

I've been thinking about career lately. As in, my career. I do freelance art, freelance photography, freelance graphic design, freelance crafting for my Etsy shop, etc. You get the idea. Freelance to me is a word that has the odd pleasure of sounding artsy and cool while conveying the notion of rootlessness. These days for me, if I say I freelance, it means the work is sporadic, unplanned, I am my own boss and I have nobody else to blame if I don't have work coming in. I am a freelancer by choice, of course; few become a freelancer out of necessity. It's always seemed to me that people are rarely forced into freelancing, unless it's a 'freelance' job to tide them over while they are actually looking for a 'real' job. People who choose freelancing long term have made a conscious choice to stay freelance. It doesn't offer good job security, obviously.
 I've certainly held down 'regular' jobs. I've had research assistant jobs where I worked with ground squirrels and rattlesnakes, Rhesus monkeys, worked in a horse stable, worked in a dairy barn, worked as a pre-school teacher. I worked in a small printer's shop where I learned to run the big press, I worked for a big scale printer doing paste-up and color cutting (before the advent of computers- boy does that date me). I've worked in computer games back when it was 4 and 16 color with pixels the size of your head, on through the advent of 3-D software. Those were all regular paid jobs. I was freelance as well throughout many of those, but the past 15 years or so I've been just freelance. I am my own boss.
It's meant a lot of scrambling, to be honest. The past two decades have not been a great time to be an artist. Well, okay, throughout history it's rarely been a great time to be an artist; that's why there are so many stereotypes about the starving artist. But I have mainly made my living by making art of one sort or another, and I really like that. I guess if I didn't I wouldn't still be trying to do it; I have many friends who are very talented artists who don't do it for a living anymore. It's just too hard to get by unless you get regular (paying) gigs. Being an artist tends to be one of those professions that people don't think deserves pay, and they tend to offer free publicity in lieu of money and crap like that. I am not the best artist out there and I am not driven and ambitious enough to be a wild success. Being a huge success takes a lot of work, and the successful ones usually have someone else behind the scenes who has a great head for business and marketing while they do the art itself. I don't have those. I just like to draw and make things.
Career is this weird thing that gets held out to women as a carrot, I think. My generation of women grew up with the notion that you could have it all: the brilliant career, the smart successful kids, the loving successful relationship with a spouse, the clean, well kept house and yard. You could do it all if you were just... good enough at everything. Well organized, efficient, driven, ambitious, energetic, yet also loving, supportive, giving, self-sacrificing... Oh wait, some of those things really cancel out some of the other things, don't they? How can you have an ambitious, successful career while putting your own needs after everyone else?
We're supposed to do it all somehow. But beware if you appear to be too strong, too assertive, for then you are a Bitch. And if you choose to have a family, and then you put your family above all and are too self-sacrificing, then you are relapsing back to times when women couldn't Do It All and you are throwing away all that has been gained for women over the last 150 years, and by god you are a traitor to all women everywhere. And oh by the way, you must be beautiful while you're doing everything too, of course. You're supposed to look like a model, not a fat, tired old cow. Live the dream, advance your fabulous career, while also driving your kids to their team practices and oh yeah, bring home baked goodies for all the kids and of course make fabulous home cooked nutritious meals for the family every night and keep a beautiful designer-y home that's welcoming and warm and a joy to live in. Wrinkles and cellulite are your enemies and if you get fat you are obviously Not Trying.

Yeah, right. I've picked up these expectations from other moms, actually, as well as the mainstream media, and while I can shake most of it off and marvel at the ludicrous nature of it all, some of it still creeps in and twines around my brain.
At least in my experience, women only talk about these impossible expectations with their closest friends, and carefully at that. We don't talk about it openly, not really. Even if we acknowledge to each other privately that the whole thing is really impossible and it's ridiculous to expect us to do it all, we still keep trying, or at least put up some sort of front. It's strange and weird and disheartening on so many levels. It's much worse since I had kids, honestly; when I was just a regular person without kids, I worked, and that was okay. I could work crazy hours and nobody said much about the state of the house or the yard; I was a career woman working crazy hours. I encountered some sexism in the workplace, but if I worked harder and better, I could overcome most of that. Mostly, though I eventually backed away from doing art for games. I got tired of drawing big boobs that defied anatomy and gravity, and realistic female characters with some backbone weren't welcome, either in the games or in real life.
When I had the boys, they took all my time and energy, and to be honest, they still do, though their needs have changed dramatically. They still need me, or at least some responsible parent at home who can provide the kind of support they need to excel in school and everything else. I'm fortunate enough that Paul is willing and able to earn a good wage at a regular job to keep us all fed and clothed with a house to live in and we get health care benefits through his job. We're not rich, but we're not starving and homeless either. I bring in some money but there's no way it would support us, living here in the Bay Area. It's a freelance income, if you will, worked for in the spare moments between other family needs. It gets last priority over the boys' needs or the family as a whole. So I must acknowledge the fact that my main job is taking care of the family we have, and my artwork takes a lower priority. I have a hard time reconciling that with my long-held self-identification as a freelance artist. Can a person be a mom and still be a successful artist? How many well known artists who were also moms and the main caregiver can you name? Can you name more than ten? More than five? Success and being the main caregiver seem almost mutually exclusive. One of my teachers in art school who was a well respected teacher and illustrator, and female, told me privately that successful women illustrators were rare, and the ones who did well were almost never mothers. She advised me to let the housework go, and seriously consider which I wanted more, a career as an illustrator or having kids.
It seems very clear that moms or dads who stay home with the kids, get almost no respect in this society I live in. Respect and identity ("And what do you do?") is almost exclusively based on what you do for a living, and staying home with kids isn't even regarded as a valid job, much less a desirable career. And yet anybody who tries to be even a half-assed parent knows that it's the hardest job on the planet. I have had to admit to myself that I have held that same prejudice myself, when I was not a parent, and secretly in my own head even after. I hate being labeled as a stay at home mom, because I know the stigma that goes with it, and of course I have to admit that it's been not only in others' eyes, but in my own painful estimation. And so I have clung desperately to the self-identifier that I am a 'freelancer' even though it is not my primary job. I do actually respect a lot of other parents for the awesome job they do as the primary caregivers, the stay-at-home parents, but I don't seem to allow myself the same respect.

Why is it so hard to own up to and take some pride in the main job I've been doing for the last 12 years, since the boys were born? I work damned hard at that job, despite the fact that I fail miserably at many aspects we're 'supposed' to have conquered effortlessly: clean house, tidy yard, happy social parental involvement with all the kid activities (still hate those expectations). I can look semi-objectively at the boys, though, and they're doing well; they're honors students, they like the sports they're doing and they're honest and decent people.
I like them as people. I enjoy their company, and not just because I'm their mom. I like their sense of humor, their choice of books, their questions about the world. I hope that they'll turn out all right and go on to be a force for good in their world. Which is really what raising children is supposed to do, right? Raise the next generation to do good things and make the world a better place than we have? Why in the world is that not considered a valued job worthy of respect? Why is it not considered one of the most important jobs on the freakin' planet? It's so obvious that I need to dump all of those amorphous societal expectations and judgements. It's just harder to do in practice when confronted with those outside judgements every single day. Bucking societal pressures is really hard, especially when you're already worn down and tired.

At least for now, I'm going to be making a concerted effort to cut myself some slack on the whole career/success fantasy. For now, being a mom is enough. And if I can still bring in some freelance work, that's great. If I get a chance now and then to draw or take pictures just for myself, that will keep me sane. For now, my main job is raising decent human beings. And that should be worthy of my own respect. If others don't respect that, well, that's their problem, not mine.