Helen Sargeant ©, Appoximately 20 weeks pregnant, 2000
Helen Sargeant ©, Appoximately 20 weeks pregnant, 2000

I am monstrous

It was just getting light when I woke, I crept downstairs to feed the cat and make a cup of tea. I wanted to write straight away, to think, to reflect, to be alone. I hear the sound of small steps on the stairs and Naoise appears at the bottom. I make breakfast for us both, he then wants us to go back to bed for me to put my arm around him.

So we go back to bed in the Attic.

Me and Naoise and Patrick all cosy, snug and warm. Patrick’s arm over my body, my arm over Naoise body, a hugging train. But I am a jack in a box of frustration all I want to do is this. I read Naoise, Mr Lazy and Mr Messy. I certainly identify with Mr Messy. The house is messy from top to bottom. I ponder about how many hours of tidying it would take to control it. Games, clothes, books, cables, pens, pencils, dust, dirty plates and mugs all tangled up together. If I give the mess too much thought, the thought of it takes over, the anxiety, the contemplation of the impossibility of control and order of our life, and it remains undone.

Am I constantly becoming undone. Un-buttoned, un-zipped, under the bed looking for something lost. Wanting to run away. Where would I runaway ? Children run back home. Where do adults run ? To work ?

I’ve been thinking about this project. Sometimes it feels like a monster. Its taken a hold of me. I set myself a task to post at least one thing, every week for 42 weeks. This project is almost half way through now. If I was pregnant my bump would be emerging from the expanded waist, any sickness I had been feeling would hopefully be ebbing. I would begin to feel the babies fleeting moves in my womb. I would be going to have my 20 week scan. The joyous 20 week scan.

At this scan you can find out the gender of your baby. I left it a surprise with both, though was very tempted to ask. I have two boys, I have always wanted a girl. I have to rely on my cat, my sisters and girlfriends for the female company that I often crave. I will always be a daughter, but never have one of my own, least its very unlikely with the time closing in on my fertile years and the decision to bare no other. Why did I make this decision ? I’m not sure if I could physically or mentally cope with another. If I did become pregnant, if a happy accident happened then I would follow through………..I would make it up as I went along.

I wished that when I was pregnant, I had set myself this task. Been able to capture what I was thinking then. I remember thinking a lot, worrying a lot. First pregnancy I wanted to change the world. The world that I was bringing my child into was so scary, full of war, hatred, poverty, greed, mis-understandings, environmental catastrophy, the earth dying. How would the tiny baby that I was going to give birth too survive this cruel place. I would weep when I watched the news. I think I wept at anything. It all seemed so very very sad. This sounds perfectly dramatic and I guess that the hormones of cause had an affect, but I still cry at the smallest thing. I stopped watching the news, I could not face the reality of it played out behind the media camera, now I read it and it still makes me miserable.

Second time pregnant, I worried about things that were more local, domestic, many seem perverse and trivial when I look back. I worried about whether I would have a new bed to sleep in with my new baby. I worried if I would be able to love two children as much as I had one. I worried about how my eldest son would cope with becoming a brother, the shift of attention away from him. I worried how I would get a new job, how we would manage financially. I worried about how my relationship with Patrick would develop, how I would manage to hold it all together, to live through the sleep deprivation, the breastfeeding, the fog of the newborn.

I am truth

I hear lovely Patrick say “promise me you will not go and disturb mummy”. Naoise is playing some game with Patrick getting him to close his eyes, saying “no peeking”. And here he is. “Have you finished yet, has it been ten minutes yet” Naoise wants to write something on here;

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Naoise, 24/11/2013

I love watching him type, especially when he realises that he can create patterns with the typeface.

He is downstairs with his dad now, so I have a little gap. A little space. Without Patrick this writing now would not be possible.

I’ve lost the thread of what I set out to say. I wanted to write about monsters. I sometimes become a monster. I’ve shouted a lot this week, mainly at my elder son. Its challenging, this is not an excuse, but sometimes I shout out of sheer frustration. I immediately feel regretful and guilty afterwards. I need to learn to be firm and assertive, not to shout. I become a monster when I feel that I am not being heard. I need to turn my back, not to shout. I need to understand the power of not communicating, of silence. Of ignoring.

I need sometimes to turn my back on this. On this project. Will I regret what I have written ? Will I look back and think why did I share that ? I forget sometimes that I am not just writing to myself but to others. Is it ok to write so publicly about my life, and the children? Its hard to be honest, to say it as it really is. I hold back. I hold back to protect. Self censorship. I want to say more to take down my own walls of censorship. I will try. Truth is difficult.

Nowadays, anyone who wishes to combat lies and ignorance and to write the truth must overcome at least five difficulties. He must have the courage to write the truth when truth is everywhere opposed; the keenness to recognize it, although it is everywhere concealed; the skill to manipulate it as a weapon; the judgment to select those in whose hands it will be effective; and the cunning to spread the truth among such persons.

 

Writing the Truth Five Difficulties, Berhtold Brecht, 1935

Its not moaning to write about what the challenges have to be either faced or overcome in order to be creative. It is not moaning to talk about what the challenges are faced by being a woman, a mother, an artist. It is not moaning to look at what those obstacles may be, that form a barrier to being creative, to living freely. Are the barriers ones own making or are they outside of the individual’s control ? Society and culture place great pressures on women/mothers. This is often referred to as the work/life balance. How does one balance paid work, unpaid care work, house work, emotional work and artistic work How does this get shared out ? There is no balance, it is foolish to try and aim for one. Perhaps I need to start to look at what the barriers are ? List them. Lift the words onto the weighing scales, measure them, take hold of them, stir them, cook them in the the oven, serve them up for dinner.

How do I begin to make it a possibility to live an integral, creative life with my children ? I have tried to make them, my families lives an integral part of what I make. In many ways I think on this writing as a type of failure, because the house and the care work becomes neglected, the paper remains unmarked. So many failed and un-finished projects. So many failures. Are they all my failures ? Perhaps this failure is the artwork. If I was able to complete all the tasks that I see set for me, I would need to be super human, I am not. Mothers do not have supernatural powers.

I see life/ I see death

I gave a talk alongside Eti Wade at the “Beginnings and Ends of Life” Arts and Health Symposium at the University of Salford on Tuesday. It was so inspiring to be able to be apart of the symposium, and to bring together some of the contributors from this project in one space together, to create a community around each others work. To feel connected.

Something about this day, of talking about creativity, art, birth, the maternal and in writing this post, reminded me of this fabulous documentary about Anne Sexton. There was a lot of talk about miscarriage, and still birth and loss of the child, loss within the birth experience, which was so wonderful to hear spoken out loud, to see being explored in a public space. But I guess what I was thinking of was maternal death as opposed to the infant, in this case where Anne Sexton is concerned about the suicide of a woman, a mother, a poet. About mental health. About the links between mental health and mothering.

In this short documentary, we see Anne Sexton reading from her poems in her home setting. Her readings are sometimes interrupted by the family, well the dog to be precise. What of what we watch is real, what is fake, I love how she plays up to the cameras. Within this documentary she reads two poems; Mensturation at 40 and Wanting to die. She discusses her poetry,life, work, her mental health, her daughter, and her husband.  The documentary becomes a form of memorial to her.

At the beginning of the video Anne Sexton states:

Instead of making beauty from the throat, I make monsters

 

and prior to reading Wanting to die 

I can explain sex in a minute but not death

It is perhaps incomprehensible to talk to our children about our own deaths, they don’t want to hear, they want us to be alive forever, always present. I hate to think about my own mother’s death, I bury the thought.

 

 

 

 

 

About Helen Sargeant

I am a visual artist, mother of two children aged 12 and 4, and co-founder of the MeWe arts collective. I intend to use this site to explore how my personal experiences as a mother informs my arts practice. To reflect upon the maternal in relationship to memory, loss, and mental health in particu…Read more

Website: http://helensargeant.co.uk

More posts by Helen Sargeant

10 Responses to ““I’ll be less of a monster if I can have just a little time to write””

  1. Rachel

    Oh Helen – this speaks to me from the heart of where I am, living and drowning in the clutter and failures and tiny triumphs which make up day after day sometimes fast, often endless; only holding on, because every now and then I experience a pin prick of joy.xxx wish you less monster days R

    Reply
  2. Helen Sargeant

    Thanks for reading Rachel. The tiny failures and the tiny triumphs are perhaps monumentally important. Its these monumental, tiny daily things that perhaps are at the heart of maternal identity. I love Tracey Kershaw’s post http://www.eggwombheadmoon.com/tell-me-about-your-mother/ where she talks about maternal gestures of love, her son dropping peas, her picking them up. Its a beautiful bright blue winters day here, I am sitting in my studio writing uninterrupted. I am no monster today x

    Reply
  3. sean caherty

    hi helen, loved reading your words, evocative and touching, brought me back to when alison was carrying our children. i know there are many parallels, albeit on a spectrum, shared by most women during pregnancy, but it was the over-arching sensation that alison ‘alone’ was going through/struggling against a process that is at times absolutely overwhelming that i remember most. i can recall oh so vividly the broken sleep, hers and mine, aches, bliss, worry and awe; all wrapped up in a capsule of biology, emotion and time, which prove to be fluid and liable to change in a heartbeat. consistent unpredictability, subject to whim and bigger than fate, i would not exchange the experience as it/they were and still are the essence of life. hope you are all well.
    sean

    Reply
  4. Lucy Pearce

    Helen, I’m so glad to have discovered your blog, we sound like we have a lot in common. Perhaps you would like to join us in a blogging carnival of creative mothers to launch my new book The Rainbow Way: Cultivating Creativity in the Midst of Motherhood.

    http://therainbowway.weebly.com/.

    Reply
  5. Sherezada

    Your writing is beautiful and heart-wrenching, and speaks right to the heart of me. I’m 11 months into first-time-motherhood, and it’s been a challenge balancing my old creative ways with my new role. It’s nice to know I’m not the only one who has these struggles.

    Reply
  6. Helen Sargeant

    Sean, it is wonderful to have captured here the kind and tender words of a father. I really appreciate you sharing your loving words about Alison. x

    Reply
  7. Brian Acton

    Beautiful writing Helen. And beautiful thinking. X

    Reply
  8. Frances Earnshaw

    Artists are generally supposed to be selfish… so there we have a paradox straight away. An artist. A mother. I wonder if it is necessary for us all that we, or perhaps specifiacally you, find the monster within it, and embrace it. Anne Sexton is a monster, isn’t she? And isn’t she monstrously pleased with herself here, enjoying her sexy creativity, her intensity, her shocking playfulness, her unexpected interaction with her daughter. I love this.

    I often sense a repelled feeling from friends when I embrace the abrasive within myself, the staccato, the selfish act of taking myself seriously. I have that, as well as the lyrical and giving, and I want to keep it all close! Life streams by, and all is good.

    Reply
  9. Helen Sargeant

    I will endeavour to embrace the monster within and enjoy it Frances. I agree it is to be celebrated and explored with liberty and verve. Sometimes though I do not feel at all sexy being a Mother. It is easy to loose sight of the fact that becoming a mother began with sex, sexuality, passion. The domestic, the everyday the repetitive chores……….its easy to loose the path of play and fun.

    Reply
  10. lena simic

    this is rich on boxing day. pleasure to learn and feel emotive. alone. it is important to manage that time of solitude. i feel lost amongst all the people around me at xmas. such impositions. thank you helen for your sharing. it is through art we manage to be closer to one another. it is about taking risks and being courageous, which you do really well. thank you anne for your poetry and music.

    Reply

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