Sometime ago, I was on Pinterest and came across some fabulous image that I pinned. I must have then followed the image to its home where I found Suzonne Stirling’s delightful blog, Urban Comfort. Suzonne is a professional magazine stylist with an amazing ability to work on multiple holiday decoration projects simultaneously at the wrong times of the year. She’s an author of two sweet little baby room inspiration books, a New Orleanian, a wife, a mama, and has a passion for creating unique cocktails, baking, recreating antiques, and throwing herself head-first into her current challenge which usually ends up better than she’d imagined. She lives a passionately creative life.
I’ve been subscribed to her beautiful and simple blog for some time, gawking at the pictures she takes and magazine spreads she creates for a living. She is a consummate professional, painstakingly detail oriented, and all of her pictures and DIYs are thorough. I’ve lifted these pictures from some of my favorite posts/projects. Easter eggs with fabric patterns, The vellum moths on the candle sticks with industrial light bulbs, the mirror with plaster of Paris dipped flowers, and the pictures she took stalking around the French Quarter at nighttime with her friend Tristan.
This past year, I peeled myself from the woodwork and said hi to Suzonne. She said hi back. Yay. And I probably gushed when she actually paid a visit to my blog around Christmas time to find out how I was doing with my holiday neuroses. One of my new-found themes of interest has been on the subject of mothering and creating and how these work together or don’t for each creative parent. And so I kindly asked Suzonne if she might answer a few questions about these subjects. I offered,”There are many other domestic artistics out there and I’m curious to see how we all feel.” Her responses are very interesting, very honest, and very familiar in many ways. My questions are in the italics.
You have a boy around the same age as my boy right? When I had my children, especially having this second one when I’m just getting on a blog roll, I feel I need to work twice as hard to maintain my separate creative self. Have you ever felt a need to work harder to maintain or increase your image as a creative or to be successful as it relates to being a mother as well?
I have a 7 year-old son and before he was born I was completely oblivious to how it would change not only my creative life, but my work life (complicated by the fact that my work life requires me to be creative in the first place). I was about a week past my due date and sick of waiting for birth, so I took on a magazine assignment to occupy my time. When I finally went into labor a few days later, I was in full swing, all of my projects laid out and waiting. When I returned from the hospital, after an unexpected C-section, all of those projects were still laid out in my kitchen and had to be completed. It was the hardest deadline I’ve ever had to meet. I pulled it off, but it was a very rude awakening. I had grown so accustomed to working whenever I wanted, all hours of the day or night, and suddenly there were more pressing concerns.
I felt a bit panicky for the entire first year of my son’s life. I constantly felt like I was treading water, unable to ever get into a creative groove since my work was broken up into small increments of time. It was scary, being a freelancer, and I wasn’t sure if my career would survive motherhood. But it definitely got easier over time and when my son was ready for preschool at the age of 4 it felt like an incredible luxury to have 6 hours of uninterrupted creative work time – an amount of time I would have scoffed at before becoming a mother.
Do you feel there’s a societal conflict between creating, success, and mothering?
I think we’ve grown accustomed to seeing women “having it all,” so we don’t necessarily question whether a woman can be a successful creative, business woman, and a successful mother at the same time. But I think in some ways that it’s a disservice to women. Without help of some sort, I think it’s nearly impossible to do it all well, all of the time. I think those women who make it look so easy are either spinning in circles behind the scenes or benefitting from outside help.
A friend once told me that “you can have it all, just not all at the same time.” I’ve grown to realize how true that is. Sometimes my child needs me more and my creative life takes a backseat, limited to only what I need to financially survive. At other times he’s doing his own thing and I can play a bit more, take some time to experiment creatively. I accept that there will be ups and downs, times of struggle and relative ease. I just work to be flexible, to meet the demands of each cycle.
Was there a point, after you’d worked so very hard to establish a product and presence, when you could relax a little?
I’ve worked hard enough that I don’t worry about my career too much. But I don’t know that I feel relaxed per se. I think when your work is creative you really need to be engaged, searching and exploring most of the time. There are too many new (and old) things to learn, too many ways in which you can stretch yourself. When I find myself on autopilot that will be a signal that it’s time to switch careers. In fact, my favorite assignments are the ones in which I feel a little out of my depth, when it’s more challenging and there’s more to lose – and more to learn.
What do you do to keep balanced your career and family goals? To keep from burning out at both ends? What are your thoughts, mantras, or practices on maintaining the balance of being a good mother and a productive artist?
Unfortunately I’m not the poster child for a healthy work/family balance, though I am always trying. A lot of times my work is feast or famine, so I tend to work within those parameters. When my work life is all-consuming, I ask my family for patience and they generally understand that it’s temporary. But that means I need to be present and engaged with them when the work slows down. But I always find myself wishing that there were a little more downtime, fewer obligations.
I’m always working to change that balance, though. For instance, my son needs to read for 20-30 minutes each night as part of his homework. He likes it when I sit with him, so now we read together. It’s a nice bit of togetherness and the upside is that I get to read every day, something I didn’t do much of when he was younger. It’s a win-win for both of us.
As for burning out, that danger is always present. But the one thing that keeps me going through just about everything is reminding myself that it’s all temporary – whether it’s specific parenting challenges, a heavy workload, lack of personal time, etc. If I can remember that it’s temporary I can put one foot in front of the other until it’s done. And when that temporary challenge is over, I celebrate in some way – a date with my husband on a weekday after weeks of non-stop work, a double feature, or lounging around in my pajamas for the day.
And now the easy questions. What has been the most exciting point in your career to date and why? How do you celebrate?
Your easy questions made me laugh. I’m still looking for the most exciting point in my career to date – and I hope sincerely that I never find it! I am much more excited about the possibilities ahead of me than anything I’ve achieved in the past. My joy lies in the journey. But I will say, it was very exciting to receive my first paycheck for a creative endeavor. Realizing that someone will pay you to be creative is a wonderful, wonderful feeling! I still get a little thrill every time I receive a check. I hope that never goes away.
Thanks again Suzonne for stopping to really think about how you would answer. Can I say, I have even a bigger girl crush on you after I read your answers. The “have it all” statement was right on. Such smart friends she has. And her thought about the “joy lies in the journey” is so inspiring. I feel honesty not only helps us with our process, it’s also helpful to anyone who shares similar circumstances or problems as us. In sharing my internal conflict with my creative self and motherhood, I’m hoping to empower others to be better at both by making respectful choices for themselves and their children.
For her thoughtful post on the power of women’s friendships, read her lovely thoughtful Valentine’s Day entitled A Season of Women here.
Thank you, Shalagh, for giving me interesting questions to answer (and ponder)!
Thank you Suzonne for being truly honest. I only offered the invitation, you provided the sincerity of your answers and the subject feels more real for me now. Proud of us both.
love the idea of celebrating when a temporary challenge is over — a good way to recharge
Yes Lisa, I was kinda like, why don’t I do that? Do we gloss over moments that need more credit on a regular basis? I am going to be more aware of giving myself credit now. Thanks for reminding me Suzonne said that.