Monday, October 14, 2013

Musical Mama: Emily Rice (MamaTalk: Creativity)

Emily Rice and I met one summer when we were both working as counselors at Riverside Bible Camp in Story City, IA (also known as one of the best summers of my life).  We have continued our friendship through the years as we both got married, moved around, and had kids.  Some days, I think we connected on Facebook around big ideas just to keep our minds active and to continue to have grown-up conversations.  Emily is a gifted musician and one of the smartest people I know.  She is also a strong Christian and no matter what the topic, she manages to bring insight and depth to conversation.  I hope you enjoy her insights as we continue

What are your primary outlets for creativity?  Tell us a little about your background and how you developed these creative skills.
It seems like my primary outlets for creativity are constantly changing. I am a pianist and music has been the longest and most consistent outlet for creativity and also the one in which I am most accomplished. It's definitely the outlet that I am most emotionally invested in. In consulting, I am paid to problem-solve creatively in specific situations, to think creatively and consider multiple perspectives when forming plans and strategies, and to take a basic framework of best practices and use it to mold processes, procedures, and documents that are appropriate for a particular business. This is the outlet that I find most energizing. I also love to cook and I've found that eating new foods while savoring the flavor can be a fulfilling creative experience. Mostly, I love to learn and develop new skills to the point that I can make those skills my own, and even teach them to another person. I could say that the process of skill development is another outlet for creativity and I exhibit this in different ways at different times.

Do you think creativity is important as a mom?  Why or why not?
Absolutely! I think an essential part of creativity is the ability to withhold judgement on what something currently is, and instead look to what that thing is becoming. It's what allows me to get through the hours of repetitive practice that lead to muscle memory so that I can focus on the more artistic aspects of preparing a piece of music, or to trust that the lumpy mess that exists in the pan right after I pour broth into a roux will eventually become a lovely gravy. It's also what allows me to see some of the more frustrating aspects of my kids' behaviors as opportunities to shape our relationship and their characters. Some days, we are right in that lumpy mess stage, and if I hadn't had the experience of seeing something messy through to fruition, I might be concerned that the selfish, opinionated, short-tempered person who is screaming random demands at the top of her lungs would never become a responsible, caring member of society. But I know that sometimes the mess is part of the process, so I'm able to see that she's trying to learn to express her opinions and her emotions appropriately, but gets overwhelmed. It's frustrating to need to have enough perspective for both of us, but creativity definitely helps with that, too. I think most of my perspective comes from creative endeavors; the process of creating and becoming and trying things out is probably the most concrete experience I have of God's grace, and the ability to recognize that something isn't what it's meant to be, while recognizing it's value and ability to become something more than it's current state, is really the core of my understanding of sanctification. When it comes down to it, my relationship with God and understanding of His character is the single most important thing that impacts my parenting, and creativity is the biggest facilitator of that for me. It's what allows me to integrate all the knowledge I gain from Bible Study into something that is more real than words.

I know that sometimes the mess is part of the process.

What is a time in your life when you felt most fulfilled creatively?
College was an amazing time for me. I was able to be involved in a lot of different types of music, was in a leadership development program that allowed me to mentor other leaders on campus, was in a lot of collaborative teams, had time for knitting and crafting with friends of mine, and had opportunities to try new things and hear new ideas constantly. It was also the time when I was most challenged to integrate the lessons I was learning in a variety of fields into something comprehensive. I would learn things that seemed to contradict one another, and I felt compelled to find a way to fit them together. It shaped my view of problem-solving immensely, and it seemed like the whole world of ideas opened up and became a place to explore and move and create. At some point, contradiction stopped seeming like a problem to me and started to seem like an opportunity to better understand God's view of the world.

At some point, contradiction stopped seeming like a problem to me and started to seem like an opportunity to better understand God's view of the world.

How did time or energy for creativity change after you became a mom?
With my oldest daughter, I had a C-section, which made it impossible for me to play piano at all for several weeks, and I couldn't play anything above an elementary level for about 6 months. Then I got pregnant again when she was less than a year old, so by the time my 2nd daughter was born, my core strength was all but gone. 18 months after her birth, I have rebuilt a lot of my strength (due in large part to working with a personal trainer for several months). I can now practice for a substantive period of time and am rebuilding my technique. I really feel like physically I am starting from the ground up, even though I have a very advanced knowledge of what I'm doing and have had muscle memory of the pieces I'm practicing. It's more frustrating than fulfilling at this point, but I have times when I get into the flow of practice and feel like I'm making progress.
I changed my whole work schedule once my oldest was born and spent a lot more time alone with her, so it seemed like I had both more and less time, but never time and energy at the same time. That's when I really started exploring using cooking as an outlet for creativity: I needed to do it anyway and had carved out time for it. I began knitting after the baby was asleep; I could just veg in front of the TV and still feel that I was accomplishing something. I guess I ended up being creative about ways to express my creativity.

Once I started working again, I found that I was really taxing my energy for creativity. I think that creating your own job from scratch requires a lot of energy in general, but even more so when you have "mommy brain." Creative thought took so much longer after I had kids, and I struggled a lot with blaming myself for not being as sharp as I was before. I'm getting quicker again now that both kids sleep consistently through the night, but it has been a long road. I think the real irony of having energy for creativity is that you don't have any until you get into the flow of being creative, and creating space for that flow saps your energy. You have to be willing to be at a deficit for a while, knowing that the pay-off will be greater.

I think the real irony of having energy for creativity is that you don't have any until you get into the flow of being creative, and creating space for that flow saps your energy. You have to be willing to be at a deficit for a while, knowing that the pay-off will be greater.

Do you ever feel guilty about making time for creativity?  How do you cope with that?
I feel less guilty as my children get older and more independent in their own creative pursuits. I used to feel like I had to limit my creative time to when the kids were asleep and be available for them at all times. Now, I recognize the value of them having independent time. They need time for me to be really present with them and to interact with them, but they also need time when I am "absent" in a safe way so that they can start to solve problems for themselves and feel confident in their own abilities. I feel a lot less guilty if I'm including my kids in what I'm doing, but that time ends up being less creative for me, even though it is still an outlet.

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 have a lot of friends who are writers, who have blogs or use writing in other ways. That's not me, but because I work with ideas and using information in new ways and because I like to talk about my projects and what I'm learning, people often suggest that I start writing. When I'm focused I write very well and I have always written as part of my career, but it's not a fulfilling creative outlet for me.

I have a lot of creative skills that I don't necessarily feel are primary expressions of my own creativity and over time I've become a lot better at knowing the difference between the things I'm good at versus the things I'm gifted with. I'm a gifted musician: I connect with the music that I'm playing and can pass that connection on to those who are listening, and I find that connection to be an essential part of my skill as a musician. I'm a good writer, but I don't feel the same connection to the readers of my written words as I do to the listeners of my music, or the people who eat my food, or the clients that I work with.

I often feel pressure to produce more in my creative endeavors, because I see what five different people are doing and feel that I should be doing all five of those things. I have always had difficulty truly resting in the fact that I don't have to do everything myself. I love the imagery of the Church as a body because it's a reminder that I don't have to be good at everything, but also a reminder that I can do different things at different times. If I am a hand, I can pick something up, or play a tune, or comfort a child, but I can't do all those things at once. I can drive my self crazy trying, but at least I'm getting better at realizing that I'm judging myself too harshly.

I often feel pressure to produce more in my creative endeavors, because I see what five different people are doing and feel that I should be doing all five of those things.

Have you found any ways to use your creative skills with your kids?
My oldest daughter loves to cook with me and, no matter what I'm making, there's almost always a job that she can do. She is adventurous with her flavors, too. One day she asked for a grilled peanut butter, jelly, and pepper jack cheese sandwich. I thought it sounded crazy, but we made it anyway and it was delicious!

Both my kids like music. When I was first starting to get back into practicing, I would put my oldest in one of those jumpers that you hang from the doorway, and she would jump and dance while I played. We have a lot of instruments around the house, and we play them almost every day. We sing songs about everything, which is a great way to get kids to cooperate. Mary Poppins was right when she said that songs make chores a game.

I also love that music is a physical endeavor, because it gives me a way to talk to my girls about exercise and eating healthy and stewardship of our bodies that isn't about appearances or skinniness or fitting into some preconceived notion of beauty, but instead is a narrative about strength, and joy, and creating something beautiful.

I also love that music is a physical endeavor, because it gives me a way to talk to my girls about exercise and eating healthy and stewardship of our bodies that isn't about appearances or skinniness or fitting into some preconceived notion of beauty, but instead is a narrative about strength, and joy, and creating something beautiful.
Tell us what you love about the unique ways you express creativity. 
Because a lot of my creativity is based on thinking about things differently, anything can be a source of creative inspiration. I especially love using problems or difficult information as a source of inspiration; there is nothing as invigorating as coming into a meeting with people who think they have an insurmountable problem and finding a way for everyone to get what they need.
Music is a different type of love. It is the perfect marriage of something that challenges my mind and my heart. I love that I can sit down with a piece of music that I've never played and analyze the notes on the page and see beauty in that organization before I hear anything. I love that music can express every thought and feeling and prayer, often without any words. When I don't know what I need or want, when I feel adrift, I can pick up a book and find a song that has what I need, and I can know myself better in the process. It is the primary means by which God reveals myself to me, and by which I can be totally vulnerable with God and others.
 
What advice would you give to a mom who feels that since having kids, she has “lost herself”?
Start small. Find one thing that you can do in a short amount of time to get the ball rolling. For me, it was taking care of my nails again. As a pianist, I had to keep my nails trimmed, so the routine of filing my nails and putting lotion on my hands was a small way for me to begin reconnecting with that part of myself. Maybe you have a routine that you used to do when preparing to be creative - pick one part of that routine and start incorporating that into your life again.

Let go of the need to produce anything, at least for a while. If you only have ten minutes, do what you can in ten minutes, and then set it aside. Creativity is like a muscle that needs to be exercised and it might not work in exactly the same way once you have kids, so be gracious with yourself as you re-learn your own method of expressing yourself.

Emily lives in West Des Moines, Iowa, with her husband, two daughters (3 and 1), and cat. She's in the midst of a one year hiatus from working outside the home to help her family transition through a move from the rust belt to the Bible belt. She will know she was successful when there is art on the walls.

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