Jessica Cribbs is the Co-Creator/Producer of Expressing Motherhood. She moved to LA 9 years ago from Michigan. She lives in Burbank and is raising 3 kids. The Rose Run is a charity run she began in Michigan in honor of her mom, Rose, who passed away in 2009 from breast cancer.
When I became a mother for the first time, many things surprised me. For example, having contractions during nursing for a few days. That was awful. Or how about how you truly feel when a good night’s sleep is 3 hours in a row. I probably would have been nicer if someone had just stomped on my foot with cleats…the metal ones. Oh, wait, I know…waking up one morning and looking in the mirror and truly to the bottom of your heart not recognizing who you’re looking at. That one threw me for a loop.
It took me a little less than a year before I was no longer able to recognize myself. It would have been totally awesome if the reason I didn’t know who I was, was because I had dropped 50 pounds and was suddenly tan. Not even close. There is no baby book out there that could have prepared me for the shocking identity crisis I was left with.
It’s been 7 years since that first baby was born, I’ve had 2 more since then and I still sometimes have a hard time figuring out who I am now. Yes, I know I am a mother. I am a wife..a caretaker..an occasional writer..a show producer..a race director..a friend..a sister..a daughter.
But who is Jessica now? Several things have contributed to this moment of me evolving into the person I am. My parents divorce. Having children and the death of my mom.
What I struggle with most, as I hear a lot of other mothers do, is the strong internal fight I have with myself. If people had bought tickets to a fight in my head, there would be two very strong opponents. In one corner of the ring.. there would be me, happy to be in the home taking care of things..my husband, my children, my house. I like this part. I really, really do. The domestic me would have a glass of wine, folding clothes while the three kids dramatically decorate the living room with every single toy they own. And I love it.
But in the other corner of the ring would be me, who has taken a shower. I would have just finished the book I want to write and unloaded all of the photos I had taken on my whirlwind trip through Europe. Ok, that’s not entirely true, but it’s the creative self who has a strong desire for output. Thats the part of me that needs more time devoted to it in order to thrive.
And this is where the struggle lies. I truly, truly don’t want to miss these years with my kids while they’re young. However, I constantly feel that my own desire for creativity conflicts with my desire to be domestic. I wish there was a way I could set that creative self of mine up on the shelf for just a couple of years until the littlest one gets into school. I wish I could do that. But the Jessica I know, needs it. She needs it to complete the circle of being whole. If I weren’t creative, I’d have certainly sent my children to the moon by now.
Holly Hughes is a mom who left LA for a quieter life in NC. The day she was packing up to move I emailed her and said we’d like to have you be in our show. So she flew back to LA for two weeks after she moved to perform in our show, here in LA. She is a producer who left film and television production behind to pursue her own dream. She is currently working on my first Young Adult novel. She has one daughter and you can read more of Holly’s thoughts here.
I’ve hit that point in the process of writing my first YA book where I’ve fallen out of love. Like any long term relationships it has ups and downs. This is normal. I checked in with Samantha Dunn to make sure. I didn’t trust myself. I would have asked Kimberely Griffiths Little to hold my hand through my neurotic moment, but she is very busy with her own revisions to her books that I didn’t want to bog her down with my shit.
I’ve had a disappointing week. I didn’t win the Pen Parentis Fellowship. I haven’t heard back from two different magazines about essays I submitted, I sent a short story out to Cricket and I check my mailbox every day for my SASE, and I ventured into WriteOncon and my stuff didn’t get the attention of any ninja agents, or much feedback in general and my ego is screaming HEY YOU! PAY ATTENTION TO ME! WHY AREN’T YOU NOTICING ME? PLEASE LOVE ME, I NEED YOU TO FALL IN LOVE WITH LIFE-LIKE!
Instead of accolades I’ve had to deal with the reality that writing is brutally hard often isolating work. This stack of paper represents the last four months of work. The pile depicts two binders containing drafts of LIFE-LIKE.As you can see, it’s four inches thick. And that doesn’t include all the paper I’ve recycled. At first this amount of writing felt like an accomplishment, however after putting my manuscript down for two weeks and letting an editor correct my grammatical errors I picked it up and read it through, as a book on the printed page, and the feelings of achievement were replaced with doubts. I looked at all those pages and the years of work they represent and thought, this stinks.
All I saw was a flaw. I always felt a lull in the writing at a certain point, I felt myself run out of steam, and as a reader with fresh eyes the lull screams at me, “Hey Holly, this sentence isn’t as good as the rest. It has to be. Get back to it.” Or in the ever brilliant words of Tod Goldberg, “This part of your story doesn’t suck. You must write it all on that level.” (he said that to me way back when in 2004 when I was working on a short story) I think it’s good that I can recognize weakness in my work but now I had to figure out how to make it better.
I paced, watched sad movies, then I watched action movies, did errands and even folded the laundry but nothing came to me. I read and reread the offending chapters. And I pinpointed where the changes would have to come in the book. I understood I must up the ante, increase tension and drama and that is difficult to write. I do know enough about my process to accept that I layer one thing(character development, plot, setting) in at a time per draft. I was happy to see the changes I made previously are consistent throughout the book. But they are too consistent. Who wants to read that?
My self-pity and the realization of how much work I have to do led me to self loathing.
And then I figured out one idea that can be turned into a scene that will change everything. Now I have to write it. And I have to write at least three to five chapters that carry that momentum forward before the emotional end. And I’m begging my imagination and my guides and God to help me do it now. I want all the ideas to flood in and I want my fingers to have difficulty keeping up with the story, but that isn’t happening.
That’s when doubt came along and sat next to my computer screen and stared at me. See him? He’s a crabby little bugger. Doubt is trying to convince me I can’t do it. I can’t fix the story or sell it. I think I’m going to have to show that crafty bugger he’s wrong. I’ve got to go. LIFE-LIKE is calling to me. We have unfinished business.
Krista Knott lives in Los Angeles with her better half, their two small children, and one orange cat. Currently, she works as the Managing Editor ofThe Bright Side Project and she keeps a personal blog called my life as i see it where she blatantly ignores capital letters, grammar, and proper punctuation. (Yes, she is a mom who blogs. I know.) She realizes as she gets older that she is becoming her mother and it makes her happy. Krista will be performing in our upcoming Expressing Motherhood show here in LA next month.
since i was a small child, i have had a recurring dream. i am underwater in the ocean, in about three to four feet of water. i sense the waves coming and i lay my stomach against the sand with my arms and legs stretched out. as the currents come in, i dig my hands into the sand and hold on as the water moves across my back and massages my hair. sometimes, if i concentrate hard enough, i can breathe underwater by carefully inhaling only the oxygen molecules through my pursed lips. (do not attempt this in real life. i’m no scientist, but i’m pretty sure you’ll choke.) as i got older, i came to the understanding that this dream is a metaphor for my connection with my creative subconscious. (thank you, tattered copy of dream analysis from 1975!) and that my ability to stay underwater, breathing, exists in direct correlation to how much i nurtur her, my creativity.
i have always been a writer. my first journal, at age six, was filled with some amazing creative spelling and the beginnings of numerous short stories that always had something to do with a dog saving a baby. curious, considering i never owned a dog, but there it is. at one time, i also used to fancy myself an actress. sort of took it for granted that it would happen at some point, that i would “make it.” even redefined my definition of “make it” to mean “get paid to work. even if no one knows my name.” i spent two nights a week at acting class because that was where i felt the most free. because it was where i actually did the work of acting. it was my gym. and i loved working out.
my first feature audition landed me one small role in an independent film (pre-babies) and i was Taft-Hartley’d and became SAG-eligible. i tasted success in the back of my throat and my feet felt like down pillows. i hated myself in the film and think it is some of my weakest work but i’m sure that’s somehow related to the self-deprecating narcissism of every artist and is quite annoying to hear. ironically, what i feel was my worst work was also the peak of my career.
when my daughter was six months old, i brought her with me to an audition. sat in a room full of other people looking at me with disdain and feigned optimism that perhaps they were inspired by my refusal to lay down my dream just because i had a child. i felt buoyed with hope and fierce with maternal pride and ambition. it didn’t last long. truth was, i was sweating in the summer heat with my extra 40 lbs of baby weight and clothes that didn’t quite fit and the audition was a non-speaking role in a pizza commercial. living the dream!
once home, i emailed my manager and agent and let them go.
i still write. i will always write. i look at my children and i feel like slaying dragons and curling up into a fetal position. i want to write letters to strangers and cut my arms open and let the letters bleed themselves all over blank pages and i think that maybe painters have a better understanding of love, all that blending and mixing of colors and textures. i have come to the conclusion that the only way i can be a good mother and partner is to allow myself the freedom to be creative, to actually pursure creativity. that i am a writer and that i am less of a person if my only creative outlet is cutting food into shapes for lunch. that i owe it to my family to be the fullest version of myself. that it is my duty to grab handfuls of sand, lay my body out flat, and breathe.
JJ Keith is a Los Angeles based mom of two who will be performing in our upcoming show next month here in LA. She originally posted this on her own blog, it’s about the frustration of trying to write with two young kids.
Death Knells of Double Tall Caramel Macchiato.
Doing anything with two toddlers is like walking in ten feet of snow, barefoot, underwater, in 125 degree heat while it’s hailing. Did I mention uphill? And it’s a really steep hill. So running errands with my three-year-old daughter and my one-and-a-half-year-old son is not my favorite thing to do. Every bump in the sidewalk is a potential calamity and every shop door a terrifying barrier. While out and about I struggle to not accost passers by and demand, “DO YOU KNOW HOW HARD THIS IS? STOP LOOKING SO CAREFREE AND RUBBING IT IN MY FACE!”
But because I had no choice I took my kids with me to do a string of errands, all of which were on one street so at least we were able to walk from store to store. After navigating four shops with two kids and one false-alarm-potty-emergency, we schlepped to Starbucks to pick up a double tall caramel macchiato, a treat for me to sip when I put the kids down for their naps and could finally get to my writing. As we entered Starbucks my daughter cut in front of my son’s stroller, blocking me from entering the store. “No coffee. I don’t like coffee,” she asserted. Not content to let the point rest there, she continued in her meandering but utterly charming three-year-old style: “You’re not being nice. It isn’t fair. Swiper no swiping. No coffee. I like coffee cake. We have a coffee table. I hit my head and they you say, ‘oh no’ to me and I say, ‘watch out, there’s a bear!’ I’m a princess and you’re a kingdom and he’s a jaguar. Rwar rwar!”
But I wanted that double tall caramel macchiato so I picked my kid up with one arm and pushed the stroller through the doorway with the other. Once my daughter was placated with promises of chocolate milk and coffee cake, I had a moment in line to scope out the store for writers, a dangerous thing to do if you’re a stay-at-home mother hustling to write every moment her children are sleeping. The problem is that I don’t make enough money writing to pay for childcare and thus don’t have the time to write enough to make the money to pay for childcare. I hate that this is how the world works, but despite the inherent frustrations, I love being a stay-at-home mother, or at least I do when I’m not running errands.
As I waited to order, I set my eyes on a man by the condiment bar working in MS Word. I pinned him as a creative type who had time to waste before getting down to working on his assignments, all of which were surely well-renumerated. I glared at him as my children squirmed and whined, and felt such a flood of envy that if I had been pricked with a pin at that moment I would not have bled, but oozed vitriol. As the man gazed out the window and let his document evaporate into a screensaver, I fantasized about grabbing him by the lapels of his finely hewn natural fiber jacket and demanding the business card of his agent. Or better, just pushing him out of the way and filling his screen with words, good ones, probably better than his. I wanted that man to offer to watch my kids while I wrote something huge and spiraling, something that would hurt to read. Then I wanted him to apologize for taking my job, as if there’s some finite amount of work for writers and everyone who has an assignment screwed me over to get it.
But instead I ordered my double tall caramel macchiato, picked it up from the bar, then set out for my car with the kids in tow. The whole way home I thought about the coffee I would drink, the words I would write and the way I would feel completely like myself as I did so. I convinced myself that an hour and a half is enough time to write. Since becoming a mother, I have tended to my writing like a daytime campfire — something I don’t need just yet, but when the night falls I’ll throw everything I’ve got on it until flames lick the sky. As much as I savor the buttery rolls and slippery hair of my babies, I am looking forward to the time when I can be a mother, but also something else.
When we finally got home, I parked my double tall caramel macchiato on the dining room table while I got my kids situated. As I tended to my son, my daughter peed in the bushes and — consequently — her shoes. While I was washing the pee off her feet, my son climbed on the table and sent my coffee tumbling to its death. It’s almost as if he didn’t realize that I’d conflated that cup of coffee with the writing career that I can’t seem to grasp when I already have a kid in each hand.
As my coffee bled out on the floor, I dropped to my knees and cried, at first because I wanted that coffee so badly, but then because I was crying over coffee. After a moment of hideous self-pity, I got myself together, and mopped the coffee up so I could get to work.
Below is our first creative mom that we will be featuring, the first of many we hope! Susan Sheu has performed in our show here in LA before and will be again this Fall. She’s a mother to two children.
When my first child was two years old, I took a weekend writing workshop with a Famous Writer. My father had died several years earlier, and trying to process the grief gave rise to the germ of a family memoir. I’d been writing on and off since before my daughter was born, although not in a systematic way, just bursts of memories I recorded while stealing time away from my real job (as a graduate student in public health).
But ever since my daughter was born, the desire to write a book burned brighter than ever. Having given birth to a new generation, I discovered that being a parent gave me new insight into the story I had been trying to write about my parents. When I wasn’t too tired, I’d write in short, intense bursts in the middle of the night, inspired by something that had occurred to me during the day while schlepping my daughter around to the park and Mommy and Me classes. It was the best I could do at the time, and what flowed from my brain through my fingertips into the computer felt true and raw and necessary.
In the writers workshop the Famous Writer held up my densely packed personal essay after my fellow writers had read it and said,
“This is what happens when you don’t allow yourself to write very often.”
I was caught off-guard, but I didn’t take offense. I could tell by her substantive critiques that she viewed what I’d written as decent material. She meant not only that I would need to carve out more time to write but also that there is no shortcut to a fully formed piece of writing or any piece of art.
My daughter is almost ten years old now, and I wish I could say that I’ve completed my book; it sold well; I have a killer literary agent and a contract for my next book. That is not the case. Nearly seven years ago, I gave birth to a baby boy, and he has proven as great a source of inspiration to write and distraction from writing as his older sister is. As John Lennon wrote, “Life is what happens to you while you’re busy making other plans.”
But I have been working as much as I can, reading, taking part in writers groups, classes, and workshops when time permits, and I have written and performed pieces in writers’ shows in Los Angeles (including Expressing Motherhood). Some of the best classes I’ve taken have been with the writers Samantha Dunn, Amy Friedman, and Hope Edelman at the UCLA Writers Program. When I am a quivering shell of an LA person who’s been driving too much to write, I drive to LACMA or the Getty or go see performances by the friends I’ve made who are actors and writers.
I’m happy to report that I am writing this from my first writers’ residency (some people call it a writers colony, but that sounds too much like nudist colony for me). I’m at the Virginia Center for Creative Arts along with a group of other writers, visual artists, and composers who are in residence for anywhere from one week to one month. It’s beautiful, quiet, and inspiring, and someone else is doing the cooking and cleaning. My kids are with my husband and my mom back in LA, and we FaceTime once a day. I wouldn’t have been ready for a residency a few years ago, but I am now. And I believe that the book that’s nearing completion now is better than the one I would have written several years ago, when I was a younger mother full of piss and vinegar.
We have been lucky enough to have my former neighbor and friend, Agnete Oernsholt, be our graphic designer. I have used the old barter system with her and in exchange for me watching her daughter, who happens to be my son’s great friend, she designs our artwork.
I have loved popping over to her house through out the years to go over ideas. Agnete is strict about keeping things look a certain way. This is Agnete. She’s a former model and tall and beautiful. So I always feel extra short and stumpy around her but it’s worth it.
My producing partner and fellow co-creator Jessica Cribbs and myself started “Expressing Motherhood” in January 2008. We have always built this show around the ability to do it in an amount of time that worked for us since we are both stay at home moms.
People have asked us if we have a blog and we have said no. I started blogging back in ’06 but shut it down in ’08 with the show’s conception. Jessica does have her own blog at Strength of a Rose. Jessica just finished a three day conference in NYC called BlogHer and we’ve become inspired to open an Expressing Motherhood blog.
We want to highlight creative moms out there. Former and current Expressing Motherhood performers, people who haven’t been in the show but who are still channeling their creativity post baby. We also will feature resources for the creative mom, like BlogHer, which Jessica will be weighing in on with her thoughts soon.
We are looking to highlight all creativity stemming from moms! Focusing in on how they find time to be creative and what their creative journey has looked like.
I found the first piece ever performer for our show. Titled, “Mom Jeans.” Written by me and I think it nicely sums up the idea for the show and the intention of our blog.
On the evening I found out I was pregnant, I was drinking a beer and watching a show on birth defects. It was this show that made me put my beer down, head upstairs and take a pregnancy test. Then I curled up into the fetal position and cried for 10 minutes repeating over and over again I’m scared. My husband patted my back the entire time. When I was finished crying I made him finish the rest of my beer and have a couple more in honor of me.
4 months after my son was born I hired a babysitter. I went out shopping to Urban Outfitters. I was reveling in a couple hours of freedom. As the young, feminine man was ringing my purchases up he said, you’re a mom, hmm, you don’t look like a mom. Thanks!
Then I was walking to my car thinking. What does a mom look like? Instantly a picture of a geeky Christmas sweater popped into my head, along with pearl earrings and high waisted jeans that accentuate ones flat ass.
Awesome. He thinks I’m cool, not like that kind of mom.
That’s what has hit me with becoming a mom. This feeling that my desires have had to be put on the back burner. My desires to be cool, hip and yes I know it’s completely un-cool to admit this especially in LA. My greatest desire, my desire to be creative. These are so hard to own once you become a mom.
My need and desire to express myself that’s why I moved to LA. I wanted to become a director. Not a career drop out. AKA mom.
I’m sorry but that’s what I thought of moms at the time.
Maybe it’s because I watched too many movies in the 80’s that involved high powered women. Or maybe it’s some comments that have played upon my insecurities. Comments such as, her career wasn’t going anywhere, she might have just as well had that baby.
There is loss that comes along with becoming a mom. We really have to schedule our time. We have to power house through ideas during nap time or hire a babysitter. And as we all know naps are erratic and irregular and babysitters cost money. And the guilt, I’m not even going to talk about the guilt because my mother in law is busy doing that for me.
The day my son was born I fell instantly in love with him. It was cliché and yet it doesn’t happen that way for all moms. My former feelings of ambivalence and fear were washed away. I was instantly in love.
I was also struck by a thought and that was; I wished I had based all previous decisions on love. Not fear, selfishness, etc.
In an attempt to honor that. I present to you my naptime project, a play built out of the need and desire to express myself.
The National Play About Motherhood – Established in 2008