Guest Post: Portrait of a Workspace

Here’s a guest post from one of my favorite writers and friends, Janessa.  You can read more of her work at her blog, My Gallery of Portraits, and look for her book review in the upcoming issue of Exponent II, out June 15th.

The kids are home from school.  I want to be thrilled about it.  I spent the last two months counting the days with them.  Envisioning the warm summer afternoons, watching my kids grow.  Learning together.  Reading together.  Playing together.  But after just one week, I am trying to hold together the loose and fraying ends of my sanity.  What is my problem? 

It’s the chaos.  Now, if you saw the monthly calendar on the fridge with its minute outline of each day’s schedule you’d know that absolute laws and principles govern this little universe of ours.  Chores, reading time, activities, field trips and lessons.  I’m trying to balance that with the free time that summer requires – lazy hours to enjoy the sun, the spray of sprinklers, the chase of a butterfly.  Hopefully I can pull it off.  But what I am finding is that all my little people want all of me all day long.  There is no quiet time or empty space to work on my writing. 

I really want to enjoy this summer with my kids.  And so far, I am loving our time together.  But something has to change if I am going to survive – or if I want my kids to still like me by the end of the summer.  An article I read recently in the June/July 2010 issue of Quilter’s Home magazine made me realize that the change has to be in my perspective.

Professional quilter Matt Sparrow is the father of eight children, and works from home.  In his Quilter’s Home article, he shares his experience.

“Here’s a typical day at the Sparrow home: Kids drawing on the walls with permanent marker; clogging the sink with toilet paper; turning on the tap and walking away; and taking my pins, scissors, marking pens and thread to stash in the treasure chest of things they love to hide from Dad.” 

Okay.  So that sounds similar to what I experienced today.  Mine went more like this:  Kids fighting over the toy light sabers and injuring each other in the process; a full bowl of breakfast cereal spilled all over the floor; an ant infestation in the laundry room; and a two year old sticking a plastic bead up his nose and getting it stuck there.  And that is just scratching the surface.

So how do you deal with all that?  Here is what Sparrow says:  ”I had to accept the head-slamming idea that my creativity would wilt and die if it couldn’t feed on chaos.” 

Head-slamming is right.  I’ve always need an empty room and total quiet to write.  But my gut tells me to listen to Sparrow.  Especially when he follows that up with this question:  “Did you ever consider that the very things you thought were holding you back may actually be guiding the path you were meant to follow?”

That is it.  The perspective I need to maintain my sanity, my creativity, and to save my summer.  My creative life is not compartmentalized.  Who I am doesn’t have to be something separate from who my kids need me to be.  It is time for me to learn how to feed on chaos.


EmilyCC lives in Phoenix, Arizona with her spouse and three children. She currently serves as a stake Just Serve specialists, and she recently returned to school to become a nurse. She is a former editor of Exponent II and a founding blogger at The Exponent.

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12 Responses

  1. Deborah says:

    Janessa! So so happy to see you here. It’s hard to find a literal “room of one’s own” isn’t it? My life is somewhat inverted from yours. My days brim with juggling 33 eleven-year-olds and their demands for individual attention (especially on Monday morning when they all ache to tell me, privately about their weekend) while still trying to teach them assonance, paragraphing, and social navigation skills! I always envision summer as my time to create, read, write. Inevitably, I lose my inspiration by mid-July. My best writing happens after teaching a class on imagery or ekphrasis. My best reading comes when I steal a precious hour between correcting papers and hitting the pillow. The chaos of the classroom is my best fodder if I let it be.

  2. Kate says:

    Beautiful. I’m printing it out and putting it on my fridge, as tomorrow is the last day of school.

  3. Lacy says:

    This is such a good call. I, too, need quiet space and time to write. I think going with the chaos can be good, but I totally hired the girl across the street to take my kids for a few hours a couple days a week. You know, as a summer back up plan for my sanity 🙂

  4. Sterling Fluharty says:

    If you want to get philosophical about it, chaos just might be the most creative force out there, since it contains every possible pattern within it. Thanks for sharing the great thoughts!

  5. Helen says:

    Let us know when you figure out how to feed on chaos.

  6. CatherineWO says:

    How I wish I had heard this (and understood it) when my children were young. As it was, I gave up and didn’t write anything of significance until the youngest was in middle school. We recently spent several days with a family with nine children and saw this principle at work. There is so much creativity in that household. Dad works out of a home office and Mom homeschools all those children. It was amazing.

  7. Dora says:

    It’s reading things like this that make me realize what a self-centered life I lead. I only have myself to worry about. Then again, it’s good advice for when I am spending the day with my rambunctious nephews.

    And, I had to laugh at the term “assonance.” The definition makes sense … but since the phrase, “social navigation skills” was so close by, I laughed.

  8. Amy says:

    Thank you! As school is done tomorrow, it was just what I needed to hear to help me put things in the proper perspective!

  9. Janna says:

    This post reminds me of the destructive “same day” excuses we make about starting a project, developing a talent, living a dream, etc. “Now” is almost always the answer, and I revel in your integrated perspective!

  10. Janna says:

    I mean “some” day excuses! (wow, that was a Freudian slip)

  11. Suzette says:

    Thank you for sharing this. I loved this deep glimpse into the life of a mother with children at home. One of my favorite things about reading this blog is really seeing (and hopefully feeling – on some level) what things are like behind the doors of another’s woman’s life.

    Many times, I have longed to be closer to my married friends, wishing I could see their days more clearly and longing (so longing) for them to see my days more clearly: in my career and in my endless round of single social engagments and in my quiet, still moments.

    Sometimes we share those insights, but too often, I feel locked behind my computer, my desk, and my board meetings while they live in a different world.

    Thank you for sharing your experiences and letting me see “inside”.


  1. July 6, 2010

    […] of the LDS women’s online publication, The Exponent, asked to repost my blog entry on the Exponent blog.  I received several comments from readers, including one with a frankness that made me laugh.  […]

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