By Ellen Bari
Fear. Loneliness. Isolation. These are some of the emotions shared at Momasphere’s recent screening and discussion of Who Does She Think She Is? Sounds like a real downer. Well actually, though the sentiments that were shared were not all particularly uplifting, acknowledging our challenges and sharing some possible solutions was liberating…and perhaps even exhilarating. The packed house of moms, and one dad, mostly artists, laughed together throughout the first half of the film, when introduced to the film’s main protagonists-5 artists who juggle worlds of artistic expression and motherhood, as delicately as a basketball player spins a ball atop an index finger. However, as the film progressed, the laughter ceased as we learn that three out of five women end up alone. We even watch one of the marriages fall apart during the course of the filming, a development that many of us did not see coming. Rahti Gorfein, of Make a Living Creatively, one of three creativity coaches on hand to facilitate a vibrant and directed conversation, pointed out that though this woman’s husband tells us early on that his daughters have to learn that the world is not predictable, he is not able to follow his own advice when it comes to his wife’s need to pursue her creative calling as a performer. In all cases the husbands felt that their partners had chosen their art above their responsibilities as mothers and wives. Many of us related to a familiar sentiment shared by Mayumi Oda, a Japanese artist/activist/mentor, who tells of an interchange with her husband, shortly before he left. Exasperated, he tells her, “I want a wife!” to which she replies, “I want a wife, too!”
The discussion following the film focused a lot on TIME, and how we can learn to use it best to serve our need for creative expression. Denise Laurin, of Make a Living Creatively, suggested that as mothers, we pretty much have to do away with the dream of having long luxurious swaths of time for our art. She recommended instead, that we find small chunks of time and learn to ‘drop down’ into our work quickly and efficiently. This approach was mirrored by a choreographer in the group, who uses it successfully, which was somewhat surprising and sobering, given that dance of all things seems like an art form that would require a fair amount of ‘warm-up’ time. Some of the other coaches and moms felt that longer periods of time were still attainable especially as kids get older, or if reliable childcare is available. A few visual artists in the group recommended including children in their creative world is a way to feel less isolated, have more time and give the children the feeling that they’re being included in mommy’s ‘special’ world, as opposed to feeling neglected when mommy goes off to do her thing. We observe one of the sculptors in the film, Janis Wunderlich, Mormon mother of five, doing just that. With a thriving international art business, she works extremely efficiently on her pieces, so much so, that at times, they are finished and sent away so quickly, she doesn’t remember them. As we see many children working in the studio beside her, she adds with a smile that the sooner her sculptures are out of the house, the less likely it is that they will get smashed by her kids!
Joanna Lindenbaum, of Soulful Coaching, likened the need for creative expression to the directions for securing an oxygen mask in emergency on an airplane. Mothers must first tend to their own life-sustaining need for air (and creative expression) in order to be able to help their children thrive. Though the film takes us through quite a number of painful situations, it ends on a high note, with great implications for the future. Mayumi’s grown son has chosen to live with her at the Ginger Hill Farm and Retreat Center she has created in Hawaii, hailing her a true role model. The final words of the film are uttered by artist Maye Torres’ young son, who is certain that his mother is going to get the recognition she deserves and become an art superstar, even before he’s a grown-up. It’s a beautiful moment and hopefully, one that ushers in the beginning of a brighter day. We in the audience and the women in the film, all know viscerally that what we do is not only for ‘ourselves’ but for our children as well. Let’s face it. In this country, we do not support the arts or artists- men or women. There are few mothers, or fathers, that I know who feel they have the luxury to choose the life of an artist over a career that will pay the bills. However, the young men in the film may signify a new generation who can value the power of art in our society, including women’s art. Change is so many other areas starts with the individual. We each need to consciously carve out time for our own creative expression, whatever form that takes, and share the importance of that with our families. For some of us that means closing the door, for others it might mean opening it!