My Mother, My Ally?

by Elouise

September 2009.  I’m still working on Week 1 in The Artist’s Way by Julie Cameron.  The writing exercise asks me to name the voices of my Allies and Enemies.  Not imaginary voices, but voices of real people who in one way or another encouraged or discouraged my creative self-worth.

My top three Enemy voices
When I was young I never told anyone I wanted to be a writer or an artist.  That makes it difficult to name my top three enemies, or what they said to discourage my creativity.  But here they are, in the form of words I remember hearing from time to time.   All the words  connect with the way I spend my ‘free’ time—a key ingredient of productive creativity.

  • Don’t be silly!  There’s way too much work to do!  Once you finish that task, you can start on the next one.  If you finish and if it’s not too late, you can go outside and play a little while.  (A lesson in how to become a workaholic?)
  • We’re proud of our ‘little woman.’  You’re so responsible and mature—not like those silly girls who idle their time away.  Satan finds work for idle hands and minds to do!  (Sounds like flattery or seduction to me, with perhaps a little threat thrown in?)
  • How can you possibly enjoy yourself when your Mother is so exhausted?  She needs your help!  Your cooperation!  She’s very tired from taking care of all of you.  It’s a good thing she has daughters to help with the housework.  (A guilt trip plus an appeal to divine providence to seal the deal?)

My father’s voice stands out, though pieces of each voice also echo my surrogate parents.  These were adults living with us in various communal mission homes when I was growing up. They watched over us as needed; we were to obey them as though they were our parents.  The mission homes were rule-oriented.  In my experience, these rules didn’t encourage creative self-worth.

I need Allies!  –  An experiment in writing
My next task is to list my top three Allies.  They affirmed my creative self-worth, especially when I was young.  I have to work at this one.  Why?  I can’t get my Enemies’ voices out of my mind.

Nonetheless, I come up with two names; I can’t think of a third.  The first name on my list surprises me.

  • Mother, my first piano teacher – from whom I don’t remember hearing any affirmation about my creative self-worth.  (This makes the exercise almost impossible to complete, doesn’t it?  Still, I leave her name on the list.)
  • Mrs. Hanks, my second piano teacher – from whom I clearly heard affirmation and encouragement

Here’s what happened the next day in my morning pages.  I made it up from my heart as I went along.  My Mother died in 1999; it’s now 2009.

11 September 2009, edited for clarity:

I wonder what my allies—my heroes—would say to me today on my 44th wedding anniversary at 65 years of age?

Mother:  I wish I could have-

Elouise:  NO!  Not that, Mother.  I need to hear your support, your affirmation, your encouragement to the artist in me that’s feeling a bit unsure about the next stage of my life’s work.

Mother, with tears in her eyes:  I knew you were an artist from very early—a musician from the inside out.  I knew you were listening to me when I played the piano.  You didn’t just love to sing, you sang on key and had a phenomenal memory.  You never seemed to get enough music.

I loved buying you those little Golden Records and watching you listen to them over and over—memorizing the tunes and ‘children’s words’ to some of the great classics.  I was astonished at how quickly you picked up the piano—the way it works, the sounds it could make, the tunes of familiar hymns and songs.  You had tenacity, and loved practicing.

You also knew how to teach yourself, with a little foundational coaching from me.  Yes, I was unbearably proud of your music, even when you were still very young. It made me think of my own life.  I loved music, too, and thrived on the piano. . . .

I could hear you had the touch that makes the difference between banging, hitting or simply striking the right notes, and making them sing with warmth, tonal variance and emotion that’s just right—not flat emotionally, or over the top in a soupy kind of sentimentality.

Don’t give up your artistic dreams and creativity that go beyond piano music.   Don’t rule out anything.  I’m stunned that you’ve named me as one of your allies.  Happy anniversary my dear, talented, gifted daughter.

Do mothers really talk like this?
I don’t know.  Even now I find the words I wrote difficult to read.  Am I just making up what I wanted her to say?  To some extent, yes.  If it sounds a bit stilted, that’s because it is—on both sides.

Is there any evidence she at least thought and felt this way, even though she couldn’t say it to me?  I think so.  Her commitment to my piano lessons and my progress over the years tells me she cared and recognized this creative part of me.  So does her desire to hear me play—though sometimes I could hardly bear to do so in her presence.

I look back and see pain on both sides.  I don’t know how to explain or justify any of it.  I do know each of us was in survival mode.  We did what we could to get through tough circumstances.  In the end, we were bound by deep love for music and its ability to transport us into a world of beauty, grace and creativity.

I’m proud of Mother’s gift and grateful for her unfailing support for me as a musician.  She was and still is my Number One Creative Ally.

© Elouise Renich Fraser, 24 November 2014