I am honored to share Mary Trunk's Creative Mothers Interview with you! Her documentary film, Lost In Living (trailer at the bottom of this interview), was the catalyst for this blog series. To have her be a part of it brings it all together for me. Her film helped me to realize how much creative mothers need each other for support and connection. How much I needed the support and connection with other creative mothers.
I don't even remember how I found her documentary, but I am so happy that I did. Lost In Living helped me to feel better about wanting to create art and showed me that I am not alone. I hope these interviews are helping other creative mothers out there (maybe even you), and I hope you take the time to watch Mary's amazing film.
Thank you Mary for making Lost In Living and for sharing some of your thoughts with us here!
1. What is your earliest memory you have of creating?
When I was young I lived in my imagination as often as I could. I read constantly and I daydreamed all the time. Part of that was an escape because I’m the oldest of seven children and our house was always chaotic. My parents were not as involved as parents are these days. They were happy if we disappeared for the day and ran around the neighborhood doing our own thing. Which we did. We used to play in the fields and yards on our street and make up these intensely dramatic situations, characters and narratives and we called it “The Game.” “The Game” continued for days and days and we just made up the story as we went along. I have no recollection of what any of it was about but I do remember that I never wanted to end the game to go inside for dinner. It’s only as an adult that I realize that was one of the first creative things I did.
I liked to draw a lot and was actually pretty good at it. Although I’ll always remember when my father glanced over at my most recent drawings and observed that my proportions of people’s faces was all off. He drew over my pictures and fixed them and a part of me felt grateful and another part of me felt I couldn’t draw well anymore. Suffice it to say I didn’t really share my work with him after that. I’m going to guess that I still felt this strong desire to create but I basically went underground.
2. When did you realize you were an artist, writer, creative etc.?
When I realized that I could major in dance at college my entire perspective about creating changed completely. I had originally gone to college to study painting and drawing and while I was okay at it, I never felt that I understood what I was doing. It always felt like a chore and I procrastinated a lot. Maybe deep down I still felt I wasn’t good enough at it. Not that I blame my father but drawing and painting at that time lacked a sense of wonder and excitement for me.
I had danced a bit starting in middle school and took some ballet classes in high school and just fell in love. I had no idea there was even a dance department at my college (UCSC) until I saw a performance in the dining hall of my dorm. It was a huge awakening for me. I auditioned for the department and I felt at home. I still didn’t quite understand what I was doing but that seemed okay and even part of the journey. It was a time and place when almost anything seemed possible and yet we worked really, really hard. We were required to take technique classes every single day, learn composition, music, acting and we had the unique opportunity of creating our own work all the time. For me it was a very magical time and I felt that I was taking risks and learning how to express myself in ways that made sense to me. I was also surrounded by some amazing and inspiring people -students and teachers. I never looked back and I loved every minute of it.
3. Why do you create? How would you feel if you could not create anymore?
I think I create because it’s the one time when I can have moments of letting go of all the things that are crowding my brain. In those moments I don’t think about petty, trivial stuff. I don’t worry so much or feel depressed or anxious. I’m just doing. It’s a remarkable and somewhat indescribable feeling. It’s easy to sound cliche and vague about it but when I am in the flow of creating I feel connected to the world around me and to who I really am.
If I couldn’t create the way I like to create I would feel somewhat trapped and depressed but I also know that one can be creative in almost anything they do. I would hope I’d be able to find some outlet somehow. Although in the past I’ve definitely gone to a fairly dark place when all creative outlets have eluded me.
4. Did you create before you had children? After? How has becoming a mother changed or enhanced the way you create?
I always thought I would never have a child. I was devoted to my dance company and my work as a choreographer and a filmmaker and I thought having a child would put an end to all of it. For years I was adamant about never doing it and oddly the desire happened in an instant. I’m not sure why or how. Maybe it was seeing my sister’s first baby, maybe it was getting older or maybe my husband, who never pressured me, showed some interest - I don’t know. It was as if one morning I decided to stop taking my birth control pills and the next month I was pregnant. I had a miscarriage which put me in a panic that I’d never get pregnant again, especially since I was in my late 30’s. But I was fortunate to get pregnant with my daughter only six months later. Although it felt like eternity then. My desire to create did not seem to dissipate after my daughter was born, I actually felt more of an urgency to get my act together. Before I had a child I had spent far too much time procrastinating and now that time was so limited I had to be more disciplined and organized. Which doesn’t mean I was extremely productive because taking care of a child is unpredictable, relentless and all-consuming.
As I write this I am realizing that I asked all these same questions of the subjects in my film, Lost In Living. They never really got the chance to think about how to answer them
how other mothers were coping. In that sense being a mother definitely influenced my work. Since I seem to make work that reflects my own life being a mother is integral to
what I make. Even if in my next project I don’t necessarily focus on motherhood or parenting. I am a mother and I make art. My daughter is 13 now and she was actually my camera assistant on my last shoot. I couldn’t leave her home alone when I went out of town so she came with me and I made that situation work for both of us.
5. What is the most challenging thing about being a mother and an artist? How do you handle those challenges?
The most challenging things for me were mostly when my daughter was very young and I needed to arrange child care for her when I had to work. It’s probably the most universal problem for parents in general, finding good and reliable child care. I was and still am super fortunate that my daughter could come with me most of the time and she often would play by herself or just sit still and watch but I couldn’t always drag a toddler to every film shoot. There were times when I had to cancel a shoot, travel plans, interviews, etc. And you just have to suck it up. If my husband was available that would be great but he works very long hours himself and is often out of town working.
It’s an interesting and new feeling to realize that your child comes before everything. That was a no-brainer for me and while I would be disappointed, sad, and upset when I had to cancel or postpone things, I never felt angry with my daughter. It was part of the bargain. I wanted a child and I got a beautiful healthy one that I was responsible for. The adjustment from only having to take responsibility for myself to caring for another human being who needed me in almost every way was and still is huge. That is challenging and immensely rewarding at the same time. What’s challenging right now is seeing her become independent and moving away from me, as she should. I don’t want
her to feel responsible for me or look back with guilt. Yet, she doesn’t need me nearly as much and I have to allow that to develop.
That last thing I would say about challenges is how our society views mothers who are artists. The bottom line is that motherhood is so devalued in our culture. Mothers become invisible unless they are found breastfeeding in public and then everyone gets in a tizzy. If you are an artist and you say you are also a mother, you’re not going to be taken as seriously. And if you make work that represents motherhood or even the complexities of many women’s lives, very few people want to see it.
6. Do you ever involve your children in your art? Do they inspire, help, mimic your projects, ask to learn, or be involved in your art?
I don’t go out of my way to involve children in my own art. My daughter and her friends love to make funny videos together and I teach them how to use the camera and the editing program. They really don’t like it when I get too involved and prefer to learn things on their own. If they get stuck or have a question they ask me to fix it - immediately, of course. When I see them being creative I feel like I may have had some kind of influence and I’m inspired to continue to include my daughter in my own projects in terms of helping and/or watching. She really has absorbed quite a bit and it’s amazing and sometimes surprising (in a good way) to see what she does with everything she’s taking in.
7. What have you sacrificed in order to make art?
I have sacrificed financial security and a regular and decent income. Definitely. I’ve also chosen a path that doesn’t always have worth in our society and culture. Making art can be a lonely experience and sometimes I ask myself why I’m even doing it. I feel frustrated when I’m feeling invisible in my own bubble of art and yet I also don’t feel that comfortable when my work is in a public platform. Because the work is subjected to all opinions and that can be painful, scary, and sometimes wonderful. You just never know. But I made that choice and right now I don’t regret it. I do sometimes worry about getting old and not having enough money.
8. What have you gained from creating art?
I don’t know if I can actually measure what I’ve gained. It’s an ongoing process of figuring out what I need to do to express myself. I like being in that space when I’m feeling creative. I don’t just like it, I love it. Even when it’s really, really hard. And it can be very hard. It’s the one area of my life that I’m completely committed to working my hardest (besides raising my daughter and keeping my marriage healthy). I can easily do a half ass job cleaning the house, folding laundry and making meals but when I make work I demand so much from myself and I want to do that. It’s strange to say this but making work takes a lot out of me and it’s probably the most fun I can have. Fun can seem like a trivial description but not in this case. Having fun and working your hardest is the best combination, for me.
9. Where do you want your art to go over the next few years? Goals?
I want to continue to immerse myself in projects that are challenging and teach me new things. Not just technical things. I love learning about people and finding out why they are the people they are. It helps me be more compassionate and kind and we could all use more of that, especially me.
Sharing my work is definitely a wonderful experience and I always love hearing from people who have seen my films . At this point in my life I don’t have a great urge to get my work seen by as many people as possible. I’ve also given up the idea that I can make a living with my films. Not that I wouldn’t want to but it’s not the part of making work that I dwell on.
I am working on a new project about my former dance career and studies. I’ve started filming and interviewing some of the dancers I worked with in college. I’m also choreographing on them and filming that. I have had a lot of fun so far. The project is still evolving but generally it’s about where I am in my life at the present time. Looking back at a dance life and wondering what that all means now.
There are other projects and collaborations in the works and I’m excited about those. I hope ideas keep coming and I don’t find myself without inspiration or motivation. That’s my goal.
10. At this time, what could you sacrifice, change, or simplify to help reach your artistic goals?
Having money always helps but that doesn’t usually stop me from pursuing projects. I don’t think I need to sacrifice or simplify anything. Certainly things in my life are far from ideal but in many ways the constraints and obstacles help the work. I have to be more creative to work around them and often they help define what I’m doing.
Goals are weird. I’m far too interested in the process, which is such a cliche thing to say, but it’s true. I spent seven years filming Lost In Living and I probably could have kept filming without even making a completed film. Of course that would have been ridiculous and there are always too many people involved in a film who are also expecting to see and experience the final product. I just prefer to be working on something. The goal of finishing something helps me do just that but if I don’t start another project almost immediately I can get very down. I like working and I’m not that comfortable with ending a project.
11. Do you homeschool? Do the kids go to school? How does this affect your creativity and art making?
My daughter is in middle school and she goes to a large public school near our house. I still have to drive her to and from school so that defines my schedule somewhat. My teaching schedule usually fits in to that and when it doesn’t I work it out with friends. I like that most of my day is free to pursue my work, my teaching and whatever else I need or want to do. I feel very grateful I have the time that I do. When my daughter is home she is great about doing her own thing when I’m doing mine but sometimes she needs me for something and she needs me right away. Those kinds of interruptions still happen although it’s a lot easier to tell a 13 year old to wait. Not so much a toddler. Interruptions can totally suck and I can easily get angry and say something I probably shouldn’t but I’m getting better at it. You’d think by the time she was 13 I’d be better. Still working on it.
12. What does a typical day/week look like? Are you a morning or night person? Do you stick to a schedule or create whenever you can?
Typically I get up early before my daughter so I can have a few minutes to myself. I feed the cat (her cat!), get the paper, make some toast and tea and even read the paper a little or check emails. I wake up my daughter soon after, take her to school by 7:30 and if I’m not teaching I have until 3:00 before I pick her up. It’s important for me to exercise in the morning right after I drop my daughter off. I like to say it’s the cheapest and most beneficial anti-depressant for me. It really works. I’ll either do a work out from a youtube video or I’ll walk/run for an hour. I like the walk/run because I generate ideas and solve problems when I’m doing that. I’d say I’m a morning person.
I usually work on whatever project I’m occupied with or I plan/teach my classes, which can be creative in its own way. I tend to peter out by the time my daughter comes home but every once in awhile I’m on a roll and I keep at it while she’s doing homework. Filmmaking has so many stages that are different from each other. If I’m filming interviews or anything else I’m often at the mercy of my subjects. So I do that when they are available. I like to be super prepared for the shoots and I spend a lot of time planning. When I’m editing the schedule is usually more set. Especially if I’m working with an editor.
After dinner I try and draw for an hour or two. Over the past few years I’ve been feeling this urge to draw and paint and I’m enjoying it quite a bit. I’m trying not to be precious with my marks and really challenge myself to find my own voice. I’m also trying not to listen to the voice in my head that says what I’m making is all crap. It can be quite frustrating and I’ve definitely made a lot of bad drawings. That’s how I learn, though. I have a bunch of films I’ll never show anyone but they taught me a lot.
13. Can you offer any advice or tips to other creative mothers on? Inspiration, wisdom?
Probably not. Everyone is different and if you feel the desire to create you’ll do it. That’s not to say that I don’t want to help anyone at all but I feel as if I’m still figuring things out. I have seen over the years that making time for my work has not been detrimental for my daughter or for my marriage. In many ways it helps me stay sane and we are all thankful for that! I have heard from many mothers that they feel guilty about taking the time to create and they worry that their children will resent them or they will resent their children. I’m sure that does happen. I don’t know how you prevent that. I do believe that as mothers we model behavior for our kids and they are taking it all in. I guess you have to decide what you want to model. I work hard at what I love and that seems like a good model for my daughter. I’d add one last tip: take long walks and sleep.
14. Finally, name an artistic mother who inspires you.
I’m inspired by so many things and by so many different kinds of artists. Pina Bausch is definitely at the top of my list. She died a few years ago and she was a dancer and choreographer. Artistic Director of The Wuppertal Dance Theatre. She was able to touch on the darkest, mysterious and most humorous parts of existence. Her work makes me feel happy to be alive, happy to be on this crazy, mixed up, sad, painful, joyful planet. She had one son and it seemed she continued to dance and choreograph very easily while she raised him.
Lost In Living Trailer
Creative Mothers is a weekly blog series here at Days With The Grays that helps to share, connect, and inspire creative mothers from all over the world. All right here, in one place.
Are you a Creative Mother, or do you know one? Want to be interviewed? Send me an email at email@example.com and I will send you the interview questions and info that I need.