November 11, 2008
writer rachel power
I had wanted to wait until I finished Rachel Power's The Divided Heart before doing a post on her and her book, but I'm getting impatient to share her story with you. The book is fantastic, which is part of the problem. I don't want to rush to the finish just to write about it (however, I'm nearly there!). But I have to read Peter's Carey's His Illegal Self before Thursday night (the next book club) and complete my Italian homework before Wednesday night and book a hotel for an upcoming trip to Melbourne and organise a day trip for my fast-approaching Fiji holiday and do a million other things, including blog, write my novel... And that's not to mention trying to care for my son and start him on solids this week as well as wean him off his wrap! ... DEEP BREATH ... So what's this got to do with Rachel Power and her book? Well, everything really because it's about how women juggle being a mother (and wife, partner, etc) and pursuing something they are passionate about (although The Divided Heart focuses on art - you could easily substitute the word art for another passion and still have the same discussion). While Rachel has interviewed high-profile women such as Rachel Griffiths and Nikki Gemmell (who I interviewed here), the book is really an everywoman story of how we all find our way in the world.
Which five words best describe you? A steady work in progress!
What's your proudest achievement? Writing The Divided Heart is the obvious answer - and it is something I'm immensely proud of. But I'd have to say my proudest achievement was breastfeeding my first baby, which didn't come easily. I had no idea how important being able to breastfeed was to me until I thought it might not be possible! It took four months of dogged determination (not to mention excruciating pain), two week-long stints in hospital, numerous visits to breastfeeding clinics and every lactation consultation under the Melbourne sun, but we got there - and it was worth it. I fed him till he was two. The most perfect and portable food supply around. (Though the experience has made me more, not less, sympathetic toward women who find they can't make breastfeeding work.)
What was the starting point for this book? The starting point for The Divided Heart was a dilemma, really. After the birth of my first baby, I found myself in an ambivalent state: besotted with my new son and yet terribly frustrated artistically. I wasn't prepared for the sheer workload that comes with mothering, and how little time was left for anything else. Motherhood also plunged me into a whole new relationship with myself and the world - it is the most intensely profound and transformative experience I have known - so I felt the need to write like never before. I kept asking myself if it was possible to be both a "good" mother and committed artist - to be fully engaged in both - and wanted to know whether other women felt like me, or if it was just my problem! As the book shows, I found this question of how to do justice to both your vocation and your kids a fairly universal and compelling issue in artists' lives - as it is for any woman trying to combine mothering with another passion.
Who inspires you? In an immediate sense, my partner Alistair. I find the way his mind works (which is so different to mine) incredibly exciting to be around. There is little gap between his intellectual or emotional response to something and his capacity to articulate it, which he always does with such insight. Every evening I look forward to hearing what he's been thinking about during the day. I believe there's nothing more important than having someone in your life who makes you want to be a better person. (And mine's gorgeous, to boot.) Alistair is definitely my muse.
What are you passionate about? Where do I start? I have a passionate opinion on just about everything! Right now, I'm very passionate about the role parents could and should take in leading the way on sustainability. We all have a stake in the future, but for parents it's very direct. I am hugely concerned about what my children might be confronting in 20 years' time, and I feel few of us are really taking proper responsibility for changing the way we live (myself included, though I am trying) or to demand change from our government and business leaders. I suspect mothers will prove to be significant leaders in this movement. Modern life can so easily become about consuming things - and this is where art and creativity can step in, I think. True creativity (from strumming a guitar to gardening) and a passion for ideas gives rather than takes. For me, they are the key to a life that's meaningful, and not merely caught up in the surface of things. Of course I'm also passionate about my kids!
What's the best lesson you've learnt? Apart from how to hang washing on the line in a way that minimises the need for ironing (something I try to avoid as much as possible!), it is perhaps the realisation that no one else cares as much about, or is as responsible for, what becomes of you as you are. It is a great loss of innocence when you discover the fact that you are ultimately alone - in the best and worst senses of the word. But this also liberates you to get on with making something of your life. My mum had the painful job of giving me the earliest lessons along these lines, and now Alistair (who is very independent) is around to remind me that it is not healthy just to collapse yourself into another person or to ask more of them than is fair.
Which person, living or dead, would you most like to meet? Ever since I saw a documentary about the life of writer, artist and mother Jini Fiennes (aka Jennifer Lash) I've wished I could have met her. She seemed just so fascinating and full of life. After publishing her first novel at 23, she was considered one of England's most promising young artists. Then she married and raised seven children, each of whom became extremely talented in their chosen fields. From the doco, it seemed she treated motherhood as her most important creative project, perhaps at the expense of realising the full extent of her own talent, though she did continue to create. Financially I think they struggled, but she managed to make life a big chaotic adventure for her family, imparting the joy in finding your own expression. She was one of my inspirations for writing The Divided Heart. In the film, her daughter Sophie says: "I think Francis Bacon said if he wasn't a painter, he would like to have been a mother. I always think of that in terms of Jini, because she did approach it in that way." It is a great reminder that parenting is in itself a very important (and challenging) creative act.
What are you reading? I am mid-way through The Steele Diaries by Australian author Wendy James. She kindly sent me a copy after reading The Divided Heart, as there are a lot of fascinating crossovers between the two books. So far, The Steele Diaries is a wonderful novel about three generations of women that asks big questions about the choices and sacrifices women make in order to live and work as artists. Before that, I read philosopher Damon Young's book, Distraction, which is the ideal book for our times - an intelligent and thought-provoking meditation on how to remain focused on what really matters and, and to cultivate a genuine independence of mind. He makes a great argument for how art and philosophy can liberate us from a distracted, unsatisfying life.
Images courtesy of Rachel Power and Red Dog Books