Violet is a bizarro, horror, erotica and fiction writer and film critic who lives in Philadelphia. She tells stories that are fantastical and grotesque, gripping and boundary-pushing. She also encourages her son to make his own comics and tell his own stories. We sat down to talk about parenting and being an artist.
Please tell us about both your creative life/practice and your experience with parenting.
I'm a writer, and that takes many forms: I've published 2 books of subversive short fiction (I AM GENGHIS CUM and I'LL FUCK ANYTHING THAT MOVES AND STEPHEN HAWKING), as well as many short stories in horror, crime and bizarro anthologies. I've also been a film critic for over a decade, writing for PressPlay.com, TurnerClassicMovies.com, AllMovie.com, the Baltimore City Paper, and other film blogs and anthologies. I also have a self-published book of poetry called love poems/hate poems, and my first print novel I MISS THE WORLD will be published this September.
What were some of the fears you had (if any) about how becoming a parent would impact your creative life? Would you say now, in retrospect, that they were well founded?
I avoided having children until I could not fight my own desire to do so for as long as possible, because I feared the way that having a child takes control of your time, money and life circumstance. Also, having a child turns you into a "mom," not a very interesting or creative person. All of that is true in its own way, but what I've discovered is that it's not as though I was using my time so wisely before my children were born. I won't recommend parenthood to other people, because it's a very personal choice and only you know what you'll miss most from your personal time.
What does your creative life look like currently? How is it different from before you were a parent?
My creative life is more driven out of fear. It would be very easy to succumb to the demands of work and parenting and never have time for myself. That idea terrifies me, and that terror is what makes me get up at 5 am and write for an hour before anyone else is up.
How do you carve out time and space for your creative practice as a parent?
Like I said, an hour every morning at 5 am is golden time for me. I saw the novelist Amy Tan give a talk once about how she, a New York Times bestselling author, can only write so long every day before she starts worrying "Oh, this isn't any good" or "I wonder what's on this website?" And then she has to stop for the day, but she has made some progress. But she put it like this: If you can outrun your own insecurities for 15 minutes a day, you can write a novel.
What kinds of adjustments did you make to your creative practices when you became a parent?
I was surprised that, although the time I spent on child care came out of leisure time, how little leisure time I could still live on and be pleased with it. Now an evening out or a chance to watch a movie feels like a lovely luxury. In some ways I enjoy it more than I did before I had children, because I appreciate it more. I think American culture is too focused on leisure and that things like writing a novel, which requires sustained discipline, work against it. I like the quote from Julian Schnabel, who said "I don't know why it's the Arts & Leisure section of the newspaper, because those two things have nothing to do with each other."
What do you tell your children, if anything, about the role of creativity in your life?
I try to set an example more than telling them. Creativity extends to a lot of things, not just making artwork - it has to do with finding solutions that don't rely on money or social convention. I try and stress that kind of creative problem solving.
Do you talk to them (if age appropriate) about the role of creativity in their lives?
We actually have a comic book company together called Explosion Comics. Sometimes I draw and he writes, and sometimes he writes and draws. We have a whole stable of characters, including the super team The Best Warriors, whose members are Donut Ninja, Mr. Cool, Skeleton Man, Chainsaw Man, and others.
In what ways do you think being an active artist/writer/musician/creator helps make your parenting stronger?
It makes parenting stronger because I value my kid's ideas more. I come from a formal arts education background (I have a BFA in general fine arts and an MFA in creative writing), so I have been through many years of classroom critiques. I know the rules about how starting a sentence with "What if" instead of "You should" makes more room for a person to put their own ideas into your suggestion, and I think experiencing first hand that there's no such thing as a bad idea, only a flawed execution, and that any approach can be revised helps encourage kids to see their own ideas to conclusion.
In what ways do you think being a parent has made your artistic practice stronger?
It's given me more discipline. When you fear it can all be taken away from you - especially because I spent a few years as a single parent, with no financial help from my kid's father - it puts the fear of god in you.
Are there other people who inspired you in the ways they approached creative work as a parent?
The children of M.F.K. Fisher remember watching her wake up early to type before making breakfast for the family, and that's an image I felt I could live with - someone who had many important parts of her life, and made room for all of them.
What do your children think of your creative work?
My kid knows I am a writer, although he did ask why I use so many "bad words" in my books. I explained that a writer can say anything if it helps them express an idea, but with that freedom comes the responsibility to only use those words when no other will suffice.
Do you think creative communities are friendly to children and parents and encourage their presence?
It really depends on the community. The creative community I identify with the most is the fabulous community of comic book and graphic novel artists that's formed around Locust Moon, a comic book shop and small press in Philadelphia. They've been very supportive of my kid's comics and treat them with the same gravity as any of the other self-published work they champion.
Are there any ways these communities could improve? Feel free to be specific if you would like to.
Nothing really comes to mind. Writers are solitary people by nature, so we're not as much a part of a creative social community in the same way musicians are. Our creative life is more similar to any other solo, personal activities that take place in the home.
How did becoming a parent affect your creative partnerships with other people?
Well, in some ways parenting is the ultimate creative partnership, because you're taking responsibility for something you've created in tandem with someone else. But I don't like taking that line of thinking much further. My kids are not my work of art. They are their own people with their own destinies, just as my primary role is not to function as my parent's masterpiece. I'm not a collaborator by nature, which is why I became a writer, not a filmmaker.
Do you think that some of the challenges parenting presents for creative practice are impacted by your gender? Please share any thoughts you have about this.
A midwife said something to me before the birth of my first kid. She warned me, "Look, no matter how committed your partner is to helping you out, nobody told the baby about feminism. And the baby only wants Mommy." As a mother you will do more, nurse more, sleep less, worry more, see more work that has to be done, suffer more, bear more of a lifetime cost of time and money and health and opportunity, no matter how helpful or committed your partner is, no matter what kind of ideas you have about how you're going to do it differently than your own mother did. There can't be any illusions about that, especially for women who are considering motherhood. That sticker shock should be right up front. If you're a woman and that's not a price you're willing to pay, then don't do it. I won't even add on the comforting caveat ". . . but it's worth it." For you, it might not be. For me, I'll be honest, it's been a break-even proposition: I don't get dividends. I get back, on the whole, about as much satisfaction as I put into it. I think there are women out there who enjoy the act of mothering for its own sake more than I do. But being a mother is something I wanted and in the end I would have made the same choice.
Has your creative community been supportive of you as a parent?
If they weren't, then they wouldn't really be my creative community.
Do you have any more thoughts to share with other prospective or current parents about preserving and nurturing one's own creative efforts while raising children?
A few thoughts: The single best piece of parenting advice I got was from my friend's free spirit psychic healer mother, who told me, "If it sounds like fun, then do it." The other piece is that it's better to be in the game than on the bench, and whether you're a parent struggling with an antsy kid, or you're an artist struggling with a frustrating piece of work, you're still in the game so be glad for that. The final piece is that if you're an artist, you'll stay an artist after having a kid, because it's a core part of your being. If you don't, you weren't much of an artist to begin with, so don't worry too much about it. Enjoy your life and do something that brings you more pleasure instead. The other side of that is, though, that it's easy to mistake long periods of not being able to make anything as the end of the line for you, and that's not true either. If you're an artist, art will find a way.