Motherhood kicked me in the a***

Since we just celebrated mother’s day (or skipped it entirely if you’re not down with the pressure holidays), it seems like a good time to re-introduce myself and one of my favorite topics.

Hello. I’m Faith Helma. I’m an artist / creative guide and I would not be who I am today if motherhood had not kicked me in the aaaaaabdomen.

If you’re a mother, you know what I mean. If you’re not, swap “motherhood “ with big life transition / roadblock / curveball of your choice.

Turning 50.
Getting pushed out of a job you love.
Deciding not to have children. Starting a business.
Traveling around the world for a year.
Breast cancer.
Building your own house.
Caregiving a parent at the end of  life
Falling in love.

The hero quest starts with a call to action — an initiation —and for me becoming a mother called me to action in the most humbling, loving, brutally shamanic way.

I went in knowing it would be hard, knowing there was so much I didn’t know. I had no idea.

It’s probably similar to climbing a mountain or doing any other impossible thing. You’re in it now. There’s no going back.

What do you do, when you’re deep in it and there’s no going back?

That’s the exciting part. And that’s why, for me, no matter what logistical challenges motherhood throws my way, from childcare to balancing work and family to lack of paid leave to health insurance to dentist appointments … and no matter how physically hard the act of parenting is, from projectile vomiting to 2000 hours of wiping poopy butts to the neverending rush of leaving the house in the morning… I’m getting to my point here… for all that, I am grateful for the ways it pushes me to be real, to be honest, to be stronger, to be kinder. To be more creative.

Its made me a better artist even though I’ve technically produced far less since my first child was born 5.5 years ago than I did in the fifteen years before.

It’s fundamentally changed my idea of production and art and who it’s for.

IT’S FOR ME.

I used to think of self-indulgence as the worst thing an artist (or human) could be.

It took going through the marathon of giving birth then realizing I was in charge of someone else’s survival 24 HOURS A DAY to free me from this fear.

Suddenly self-indulgence didn’t sound so bad. Are you kidding? That sounds AWESOME.

I would kill for ten minutes a day of self-indulgence.

Owning that, claiming that is so liberating!

My art is for me. If I make art and I’m the only one who likes it, MISSION ACCOMPLISHED.

That’s my challenge for you today. If you set out to make art for you and you alone, what would you make?

And if you’re someone who wrestles with the fear of self-indulgence, ask that troll: what’s so bad about indulging myself? What’s the worst that could happen? Could anything good come of it?

Let me know what you find out!

Faith

p.s. If you are wanting company as you wrestle with your trolls and claim your human right to be creative, consider joining the summer of creative magic!

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Listening to Venus de Riveter

So, here we are. It’s December. I’m still a mess.

Don’t know if it’s got something to do with having a six-month-old, but last time I felt like this was four years ago when my older son was six months old. And what’s keeping me sane right now is remembering that. And remembering that even though it felt neverending and impossible while I was in it — the period of time in which I was hitting the wall was only about three months. And what came after that was huge, sudden, sea changing breakthrough.

It helps a little, to remember that. But nevertheless I am at a wall. The wall of: I can’t go out at night without paying someone $50-75 to watch my kids. I can’t seem to go one goddamn week without forgetting a meeting or an appointment or when my kid last pooped, oh god is he constipated again, where did I put the miralax? 

I have big ideas, ideas that fill me with tingling thrilling excitement, but when I try to make them happen in the real world, I run out of steam or blow a fuse in my art garage or lose hours in a tailspin of self pity and web edits and mom guilt.

My body wants to dance in the streets and bring the baby with me everywhere. All of me wants revolution and paradigm change and to join hands with all the women I know and shout me too,  me too, me too. 

I want to make a literal space for us to come together and cry and rage and laugh and feel our power. It’s such a great idea! A monthly creative emotions worksho so we can cry and rage together. I know I can do this. I want to lead with the confidence I had when I was nine years old, I want to be doing and creating and taking care of my family and making our dreams come true, doing it our way.

But my body reels me in and tells me to slow down. I burn my hand on the stove. I bonk my head with the car door which… how do you even do that?!

So I listen. I slow down. My inner goddess — these days I’m seeing her as a combination of Venus de Milo and Rosie the Riveter — she reclines with her chin on her fist, smiling and waiting for me to come back to myself.

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What a relief, when that cloud clears, when that story drops.

And if I’m making this sound easy and idyllic, like I just sit back and the clouds clear, like I am a different human than you are, more evolved or courageous, or that I always snap out of it easily: no, girl. I am still a mess. But sometimes I see that what I thought was a wall is an optical illusion.

The mess hasn’t changed. The judgment has – THAT was the wall.

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Here’s what dissolved my walls this week:

I cut my own hair and felt the simple, immediate power of being able to alter my appearance.

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I read something from the great witch whose work I love so much, Carolyn Elliot — she said:

… you’ll definitely die, and in dying, you will totally fail to keep your ego projects in motion. You’re a complete failure no matter what. A dead failure.

And that bracing reminder helped me drop my sad sack story — god, that’s right! No matter what I will fail! What a relief. We are all going to die. No matter WHAT I do, the realization of my big ideas will never match the vision in my mind — ahhhhhhh. There is comfort. There is the sound of my grand ridiculous expectations, spontaneously combusting.

And as soon as they disappear, there is Venus de Riveter, lounging in my psyche, eating some almonds and laughing. Hi honey. Where you been?

Hand on heart, listening to Venus, why don’t you text so and so? And I do, and simple as that, I’m not alone. I am surrounded by loving, wonderful friends. They were there the whole time, but I couldn’t see them.

There is magic, right in front of my eyes.

My son, drawing intricate maps carefully inscribed with the letters B, O, T, D, A and Y. What does it mean?? Who knows?

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The trains he is always pointing out — I notice that they are roving art exhibitions. What an amazing thing.

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Even his tantrums — his huge, primal anger that I find so overwhelming — they are an opportunity to feel my feelings, to witness someone I love expressing feelings without filter. You’re mad! You wanna knock over chairs, that’s how angry you are! What can we do instead? Let’s rip some paper! Let’s draw a storm! Let’s dance to Sly and the Family Stone! 

Look at that! Every day is a damn creative emotions workshop in my world. I don’t need to make anything happen, it’s already here.

So in case you’re feeling angry at your mess or stuck behind a wall or lost in a storm today: you are not alone. I’m a mess too. We all are. Let’s draw / write / sing / breathe our way through it, shall we?

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The chaos of nature

I’m writing to you in the midst of a wild Portland spring. One day it’s 80 degrees, the next day it’s cold windy sheets of rain. In between, there are moments of glorious rainbow transition.

I’m in transition too: wrapping up the first online round of the Creative Magic Workout, which has been a lovely and fruitful experiment. I’m making plans to retool it a bit and launch it again in the fall. (Registration will open September 12, if you want to sign up).

I’m also preparing my body, mind and soul for the entrance of a new baby into the world (and its exit from my body).

Not gonna lie: I’m scared. And this is different from the last time I had a baby. It’s the fear of the known (or, relatively known) versus fear of the unknown.

Last time, I handled my fear with bravado and denial and blithe ignorance. I went in overconfident and underprepared. And it’s taken me a long time to forgive myself for not knowing what I didn’t know, to see the beauty in how things unfolded as they did, to trust my body and my instincts. Honestly, it took me a long time to forgive nature itself.

I thought my body would know what to do naturally — I thought wanting a “natural birth” would somehow guarantee me a blissful, pain-free experience. And that is not the way it went. (Someday I’ll get around to writing the epic tale of my birth story, because it was beautiful in its own way, medicated and mediated and messy as it was).

This time, I’m approaching the prospect of childbirth with more wariness. The way you might approach a wild grizzly you happened upon in the woods. It’s natural, sure. And it also might claw your face off.

I went on an imagination walk with my son the other day, and we happened upon this sign:

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The funny thing is, I read it as: “Take time to listen to the chaos of nature: it is the music of life itself.”

Either way — chaos or chorus — I love the reminder.

In the years since I gave birth to my son, I’ve learned a lot. I’ve accepted the parts of myself that I used to reject as flaky and soft and inconsistent and weak; I’ve reclaimed them as the strengths of spontaneity, empathy, improvisation and vulnerability. I’ve created a new world for myself, a beloved community that comforts and calls me out, that reflects what I value and shows me what is true.

I’ve forgiven nature her fierceness, her brutality, her dramatic swings. They don’t negate her chorus of calm and loving care. They exist alongside it.

Thank you for being on this journey with me, friends. I will probably be off the radar for the next few months while I adjust to new life. I’m excited to see what I learn while I’m down in the dirt of newborn baby bootcamp, and to return to you in the fall with some hard-won insight.

Until then, I wish you kindness and good fortune on the chaotic chorus of your creative journey.

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My year of sea change

I don’t do resolutions. After years of haplessly making them and watching them slip through my fingers like everyone else, I finally figured out that THEY DON’T WORK FOR ME.

For me, the word RESOLUTION conjures up associations of a set jaw and steely eyes, grim determination, pioneers, hardship, winter, wartime. There are times when what you need to survive is RESOLVE, so I’m not knocking it. But that kind of resolve is a short term solution to a (hopefully) short term crisis.

And to be honest, this time last year I was coming out of a crisis of sorts. Giving birth to a brand new human being and then caring for him around the clock was a shock to my system. It rocked my whole world off its axis and one year ago my beautiful son was exactly four months old and the fog was just starting to clear. What I didn’t know then was that the real work was just beginning — the next 9 months were a time of intense transformation. I tried new things (zumba! hypnosis! life coaching!) and I don’t know if it’s because I was desperate for adult human connection or because the timing was right, but these things sparked huge insights. I read books that pinged off the insights I was having (especially these two books: Finding Your Way in a Wild New World and Our Band Could Be Your Life). I connected with artists who made me question my assumptions around making art and making a living (especially TJ Dawe and Itai Erdal and Cynthia Hopkins and Artists U, which anyone who is struggling to balance art and making a living should go check out right now). It’s like everything I’d been struggling with for years suddenly shifted two inches to the right, and snapped into sharp focus.

All of this led me to put together a plan that didn’t involve SACRIFICING anything or choosing between one vital part of myself or another, but was exactly what I want to do — my style, my dream, my pace. I realized that somewhere in the last five years I’d stopped listening to my body and to my gut. And they were telling me very clearly what I needed to do. I quit my job. I started making a new solo show. And I started this creative practice.

That doesn’t mean everything is easy and happy now. The journey was HARD, and I’m still figuring out how to balance all of the things I want to do with motherhood, which continues to be the hardest teacher of all. But right now as I’m writing this at a coffeeshop in Ashland, my husband is on a hike with our son, who is exactly 16-months-old. And even though we ain’t got money, we’re so in love that everything will bring a chain of love and tears of joy to our eyes, etc.

So back to resolutions: last year at this time I was too bleary-eyed from exhaustion to even think about them. And yet, it was a year of sea change — tiny changes that joined together into huge changes, that shifted my whole world.

So I guess that’s what I hope for the year ahead. That I keep paying attention to the little things, that I see connections when they arise, that I keep listening to what my body is telling me, that I keep learning how to appreciate time with my son at his pace.

I don’t know what sea changes will come of that. But I trust I’ll be able to rise with them.