Monday, October 7, 2013

Writer, Crafter, Soapmaker: Dana Whitney (MamaTalk: Creativity)

Today marks the start of my series, MamaTalk: Creativity. In coming days, I will feature interviews with everyday moms who have found ways to cultivate creativity in the midst of the busyness of motherhood.  My first interview is with my friend, Dana Whitney.  She is hilarious, grounded, talented, and just darn good company. She's a Montana mom too and I think you're going to love her as much as I do. 

What are your primary outlets for creativity?  Tell us a little about your background and how you developed these creative skills.
I have always been pretty creative.  I wrote my first book when I was six, my mom taught me to crochet and sew when I was very young.  I also used to really enjoy drawing.  I could actually draw better when I was a kid than I can now, because I used to work at it.  The main ways I still create are through writing, cooking and doing art or craft projects with my kids.  I also think learning is a form of creativity, because it allows you to create new knowledge and skills.  I got some books and taught myself how to make soap a couple years ago, and I learned how to knit last winter.  I think my mom has always been a big influence on my creativity.  Crafts were encouraged when I was growing up, and I’ve always enjoyed making things. 

Do you think creativity is important as a mom?  Why or why not?
I think creativity is important as a person, whatever stage of life you are in.  Creativity in its many forms is the spice of life; it adds interest and excitement to whatever it is we do.

What is a time in your life when you felt most fulfilled creatively?

I guess most of the time I have felt fulfilled creatively.  The easier question is about when I didn’t feel fulfilled.  I had a job I didn’t particularly like for a while.  Having that job made me search out more creative outlets, but I felt frustrated, because I was trying to find a way to turn one of my hobbies into a different job, and none of the hobbies I had at the time were things I could turn into full time employment.   

How did time or energy for creativity change after you became a mom?
When my first child was born, I went from a full-time employee to a full-time mom over the course of a weekend, and, while I thought I was prepared to take care of a baby, I wasn’t prepared to take care of my creative self.  Having a child requires constant vigilance.  When they cry, you can’t say, “Hold on, I’ll be there in an hour.” And as they get older and start walking, it only gets tougher.  I didn’t realize how mentally tiring it is to be on alert 24 hours a day.  While I was working, I had less time for hobbies and creativity.  But, as long as I had a job I liked, I was fine with that.  Cooking something new for dinner,baking, sewing, or crocheting once in a while was enough.  Once I was home all the time, with very little human interaction for a big part of the day, I needed more, but some of my creative pursuits required more focus than I thought I could give them.  Turns out I just needed to manage my time better, but I didn’t realize that back then.

Do you ever feel guilty about making time for creativity?  How do you cope with that?
I don’t usually feel too guilty.  I do a lot of my creative activities after the kids are in bed, or while they are busy with other things.  Sometimes I feel guilty about spending time away, like going to a two day writing conference, but I know I’m a better, more relaxed parent when I have that creative outlet.  I also think it’s good for the kids to seem me as something other than the hired help.  It’s good for kids to know that parents have a life and interests outside of them.  It’s too much pressure on a kid to be to sole focus of the parent’s life.

I know I’m a better, more relaxed parent when I have that creative outlet.  It’s too much pressure on a kid to be to sole focus of the parent’s life.

Have you ever felt pressured to express creativity in exactly the same way as some other mom (maybe a friend or a mom on Pinterest or a blog)?  In what way?  Have you found any ways to get past these pressures?  How?
I guess the closest I’ve come to feeling pressure is expecting my house to be as clean as my mom’s after I got married.  I remember being very upset about my messy house and asking my mom how she got Dad to help so much. She laughed and told me it took about 25 years of training.  Mostly I find inspiration in the creativity of others, but I don’t try to copy it.  Everyone has their own specific skills and interests and the way those skills and interests intersect will be different for everyone.  Whenever I have tried to copy someone else’s creativity it usually does not end well.  I’m happier with the result if I put my own spin on it.

Have you found any ways to use your creative skills with your kids?
I do craft projects with my kids: everything from coloring pages to simple sewing projects to writing.  My 9 year old is writing a book. While he doesn’t want me to help write it, I do help with some of the typing.  I’ve also written magazine articles about kid projects, so my kids get to try out the projects first.  I’ve learned to try to let them take the lead.  Most of the time, if I come up with a really great project, explain it and try to get them to do it, they are not interested.  If I just start something I enjoy, frequently they’ll come over and ask questions and start their own version, which will be entirely different from mine (and that's a good thing!).

Tell us what you love about the unique ways you express creativity. 
I love that they are mine.  While I knit the same way anyone else would, the patterns and colors I choose make the project mine.  I use the same 26 letters in my writing, but the way I put them together is mine.  

I use the same 26 letters in my writing, but the way I put them together is mine.  

What advice would you give to a mom who feels that since having kids, she has “lost herself”?
You’re the one who lost herself, you’re the one who has to find herself, and no one can do it for you.  Having kids is your life now.  Don’t try to find yourself away from your family.  It’s tempting to search for time away and carve out time for yourself without your family around, and sometimes that is important.  But, remember, your family is part of who you are too.  Remember to enjoy them, even (or maybe especially) when you don’t want to.  Look for the joy in the everyday moments with your family, because joy gets bigger when it is shared.

Dana Whitney writes in Northwest Montana where she lives with her handsome husband, two above average children, and one below average dog.  Her hobbies include gardening, canning, knitting, soap making, beekeeping and pretty much anything that helps her avoid doing laundry.  You can follow her blog at:

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