borrowed words.

January 29, 2018

January raindrops in a quiet minute I took just for myself. And this:

“I feel a certain obligation to sort of stand up and be counted as a woman who has had kids and brought them up, and also done creative work, which — particularly in the arts — there does seem to be almost a sort of agreement that this can’t be done. …

“The fact is, creative work has replaced having a family for some women. That’s fine. Having a family has replaced creative work for other women. That’s fine. Then there are some of us who really need to do both and are perfectly capable of doing both…

“There is a time during one’s life when, if you are responsible for the care of your kids, it is very hard to do other creative work. You have to do it around the edges, in the middle of the night, or you never can get up before your kids, so it’s usually late at night. Or, if you have the money, you hire some kind of baby sitter or some kind of child care.

“It’s hard. Your energy, your creative energies are being spread thin and strained. On the other hand, you are living an extremely rich life at the same time. And this is going to enrich your work, inevitably, I think. It may not seem so at the time, but … babies don’t stay babies for very long, whereas writers live for decades. …”

– Ursula K. Le Guin, 1929-2018

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From a 1989 interview with Terry Gross. You can listen to an excerpt from the original interview here. I couldn’t find the original NYT essay from the same year referenced by Le Guin in the interview above, but Anne Bernay’s response to it, and her 2017 essay felt worth sharing, too.

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37 Comments

  • Reply Rose January 29, 2018 at 11:24 am

    These pictures! <3

    At least photography doesn’t have to take long.

  • Reply Tamara January 29, 2018 at 11:55 am

    Ursula LeGuin was a treasure. I fell deeply in love with her work from the first words I read, especially The Left Hand of Darkness, oof! and was listening to The Dispossessed on audiobook last week when she passed. She will be sorely missed.

    In the middle of parenting and being creative myself and even though my kids aren’t babies anymore (9 and 13) it’s still incredibly stretching. Sometimes I long for days without interruption or to be able to work without having to adhere to a strict schedule, but she is right, it is a rich and fulfilling time in it’s own way. And now I’m starting to see my kids being creative at their own interests and it’s so enjoyable to watch.

    Those pictures! I hear you were in my town, Portland. Taking photos of drops on trees is one of my favorite winter pastimes. 😉

  • Reply Judith January 29, 2018 at 12:00 pm

    So true. And to that I would add that it helps a lot to have a spouse who co-manages the household. But our children will continue to test us and teach us long after they leave the nest. In fact, many of my most important life lessons have come from my children. Their perspective only feeds one’s creativity. Here’s an example of how our family adjusted to big changes just six years ago. https://judithaross.com/2012/02/26/family-dynamic/ And since then, as my husband and I have settled into retirement, things have evolved yet again.

  • Reply Sally January 29, 2018 at 12:02 pm

    Lovely photos. Lovely words!

  • Reply Juliah January 29, 2018 at 12:12 pm

    These words from this outstanding woman are soothing my heart. My second baby is just born and I wonder when I will ever be painting again. My brain is bursting with ideas, I feel like there has never been more to say, more to draw. My universe has grown so much with my kids, yet I do not have time to use that energy in paintings. But probably everything has its time. Now seems to be the time to collect and gather. The time to let it out again will come. Probably sooner as I wish (since time is running). Thank you so much for sharing those words.

  • Reply Christina January 29, 2018 at 12:26 pm

    I feel like you posted these words just for me! Thank you for sharing.

  • Reply megan January 29, 2018 at 12:47 pm

    Wow thank you for this. So inspiring to a new mom struggling to get her creative work back on track

  • Reply Steph January 29, 2018 at 12:53 pm

    This is amazing, and so timely for me. Thank you for sharing.

  • Reply Audrey January 29, 2018 at 12:57 pm

    These words really hit me this morning because I just dropped out of Clinical Herbalism school last week. I’ve been really sad about it. I had to admit to myself that I couldn’t juggle a full-time job, and a family, and school. It’s a good reminder that my son will only be a toddler for a while so I don’t have to give up my dream… maybe just postpone it a bit 🙂

  • Reply SEM January 29, 2018 at 1:05 pm

    Rest in power, Ursula. She was a big part of my dissertation research. I study literary utopia/dystopia and she was very influential to my studies.

  • Reply Sarah January 29, 2018 at 1:24 pm

    Thank you for these beautiful words – very appreciated at 2 weeks post-partum.

  • Reply Asakemi January 29, 2018 at 1:24 pm

    Those words! How amazingly the photographs complement the words! This was soothing and I am eager to listen to the entire thing

  • Reply Mary Kate January 29, 2018 at 1:54 pm

    Oof, I needed this today. My husband and I have been talking about having kids and my #1 fear is not having any time to write once I do. Writing fiction is my air — but I also currently have a full-time job, because most novelists make so little money. Right now the balance between day job and writing is so tight, I have no idea how I’d fit a kid into that. Any and all advice welcome!

  • Reply M. January 29, 2018 at 1:57 pm

    I needed this passage so much today that it actually brought tears to my eyes. Thank you.

  • Reply Sophie January 29, 2018 at 2:46 pm

    My son is four. My daughter just turned two. It‘s getting easier. Last year was the most exhausting so far. I turn back into feeling myself again.

  • Reply Rebecca January 29, 2018 at 3:10 pm

    Wow! I needed to read this today. Thanks for sharing.

  • Reply Kate January 29, 2018 at 3:29 pm

    Have you read The Divided Heart, by Rachel Power? http://affirmpress.com.au/publishing/motherhood-creativity/
    I think you’d like the words of Australian creatives and how they came to share the creative drive and motherhood.

  • Reply Emily January 29, 2018 at 3:35 pm

    I love love love this so much, Erin. Thank you. I think I need to remind myself of this each and every single day.

  • Reply Amy January 29, 2018 at 3:53 pm

    This post really speaks to me. Trying to balance motherhood and writing has been a huge challenge for me, and I’ve felt pressure to do both to the best of my ability, not appreciating that my abilities sometimes change. Writing is a full-on mental exercise for me. My characters don’t get off work at 5PM. They sit in my brain and ramble all through the day and night. It’s not something I can simply turn off when my kids need my attention. In order to be fully present with my children, I’ve had to reassess what I have to offer to my writing, which has sometimes been difficult for me. I remind myself of two things: one, I know in my heart I will regret not being present with my kids during these years more than I will regret not finishing a novel. Two, my creative brain won’t atrophy. There will be stories upon stories upon stories, not because I’m brilliant but because I lived a life, my life. I can only live each day, and some days that means soccer and ballet and chocolate chip cookies…and other days that means sitting at my laptop with the kitchen a mess. In the end, it all adds up to a life.

  • Reply MissEm January 29, 2018 at 4:48 pm

    I’m also an artist trying to figure out motherhood and being a creative, my kids are 4 and 7 and I’m not there yet, but this quote is so encouraging. I am writing down the bits of inspiration that go by and hoping that turning them all into a sort of mulch over the years of child rearing will bring some rich growth when this (wonderful, hard) phase has passed

  • Reply Christine January 29, 2018 at 4:49 pm

    So lovely–thank you for sharing!

  • Reply A January 29, 2018 at 4:59 pm

    I really needed to read this today…thank you.

  • Reply Eva January 29, 2018 at 5:17 pm

    Such beautiful words. I do worry about this if I chose to have children. Lovely photos as well – reminds me to take pictures even when it’s something small.

  • Reply Tanya January 29, 2018 at 5:37 pm

    Thank you for this. I didn’t know Ursula K Le Guin’s work until her death. Sadly this seems to be the way of things sometimes. Now from what I’ve read and heard of her, her words hold kindness and wisdom. I will be searching up her books and guiding my daughters to read them.

  • Reply Rachel Eady January 29, 2018 at 6:32 pm

    Growing up my Ursula K. LeGuin books felt like a precious well-kept secret as I did not know many avid readers, and the ones I knew read different sorts than I did. I also felt I’d get in trouble with my parents if they knew what they were about. But the past week people have been coming out of the woodwork in praise of her and it is something of a comfort in her passing as she was my favourite author.

    Earthsea Cycle was my favoured series from her, reading little bits at a time over a span of many years and finally coming to Tehanu and it’s followup “The Other Wind” in adulthood. Tehanu, a fantasy story about an older woman who had a family grown and wasn’t sure what came next, I’ve never encountered anything else like it, I get emotional thinking about it. I’m a professional artist/illustrator and a wannabe writer (mainly comics), itching to start a family. I don’t know whats ahead of me, but that a woman like LeGuin was out there, lived and created, and in this time, is very hopeful.

  • Reply Theresa January 29, 2018 at 8:36 pm

    Lovely! If you have 20 minutes and are looking for a podcast, Season 1, Episode 1 from Magic Lessons with Elizabeth Gilbert discusses this topic so beautifully! <3

  • Reply Alisha January 29, 2018 at 11:49 pm

    Thank you for sharing this passage. I am an artist and mother. I sketch in church on Sunday and write articles about other people’s art. But I feel like my work is marinating. I enjoy this season with my babies and also look forward to other seasons.

  • Reply Amelia Brown January 30, 2018 at 6:27 am

    Wonderful! Thank you so much for these words! I love knowing how much LeGuin’s work and life have inspired so many people – writers, yes, but a holistic and different perspective for feminists, too. Her view on life creates, I think, a kind of community of kindred spirits who read her work, and think, ‘Yes! This is the stuff that makes us think, and makes us better!’ She published a book with a series of essays, stories, and notes on writing in the late ’80s – just before this interview with Terry Gross, I believe – called Dancing at the Edge of the World. Reading it is like being able to carry her advice, and her wonder, warmth, wit, and insight, inside your pocket.

  • Reply Coreen January 30, 2018 at 9:36 am

    Thank you for sharing this. As my husband and I start to talk seriously about having children, this is a fear that’s come up for both of us. It’s so refreshing and encouraging to hear someone like Le Guin honestly say, “it can be done, it won’t be easy, it will be worth it.”

  • Reply Katharine January 30, 2018 at 10:26 am

    Erin, this is perfect.
    Ursula K. LeGuin has been one of my favorite authors since elementary school, and she was always so thoughtful both about her work and everyday life.
    Doing creative work requires a certain amount of mental space to let the creativity happen, and mental space is exactly what you don’t have when you have children to care! It does, as she says, get squeezed into the edges, but it’s so meaningful when you figure out how to make time for it.
    (Also, I’m glad I’m not the only one who has trouble getting up before the little ones to get things done!)
    Thank you for sharing this, and the related essays.

  • Reply Maryann January 30, 2018 at 12:44 pm

    Thanks for sharing – I’ve been thinking about these words for over a day now!

  • Reply Joanna January 30, 2018 at 3:18 pm

    This is a beautiful passage – thank you for sharing!!

  • Reply Ramona January 30, 2018 at 4:39 pm

    I am a pluviophile (a lover of rain, someone who finds joy and peace of mind during the rainy days) and I love your beautiful photos.

  • Reply Jenny January 30, 2018 at 9:49 pm

    Thank you, Erin. It always takes some refocusing each week (day?) to stay on track with my life priorities, and this piece was a great booster shot.

  • Reply Ashley January 31, 2018 at 12:53 pm

    Oh, I loved these words. They were timely for me. Thank you!

  • Reply Alex Chua February 4, 2018 at 1:30 am

    Thanks so much for posting this, Erin. Her essay https://www.scholarsonline.org/~godsflunky/LeGuin_Intr_myself.pdf is one of my favorites on feminism.

  • Reply Mun February 5, 2018 at 11:33 pm

    I can so relate to these words.

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