A Mother Who Is a Playwright / A Playwright Who Is a Mother
By Jennifer Berry
The two most empowering choices I ever made were choosing to be an artist and a mother. Against all odds and by sheer determination, I am both. It is a heavy heaven! I love both these identities. Mothering is vital. Creating art is vital. Children and art are the souls of any culture.
In between sticky plates, finger-painting collaborations, and a front lawn sprinkler disaster, it has taken me about four hours to get to writing. I finally get time for myself to think about the larger question of who I am and what art I want to give the world.
Mothers, unlike all the writers I learned about in English class, don’t get to Walden Pond. We have to manage inside the noise. Art and parenting require an intense amount of focus and attention. Most often, my attention is pulled between my two loves. I’ve learned to live with interruptions.
But full disclosure, PBS is babysitting right now. I will probably be interrupted in thirty minutes in which I will have to start again at another time. However, the interruptions can be motivational. I wrote a children’s book out of one of my daughter’s early morning questions. I got the image I needed for a play by watching my twins play on the carpet while another mother of twins and I picked up massive amounts of Cheerios. So at times it seems hard to separate the two: what is creation? What is parenting? My art and my mothering live side by side. It’s my life and I love it! I wrestle with it. And like my precious twins, there are days when they co-exist beautifully and there are days when each one wants more attention than I can give.
When I first became pregnant eight years ago, everyone said I would stop writing. “You’ll be too tired and drained.” But the opposite happened. I wrote my most personal play shortly after giving birth. While I was tending to newborns and in between nursing breaks, two characters started talking to me. So I nursed my babies, wrote, and then went back to sleep. Because of all the emotions I felt as a new mother, I had a well of creativity that wasn’t open to me before I became a parent. This wellspring has never ceased.
To put it bluntly, my heart broke open and I wanted more: more for the world, more for my children, more for myself. As my son and daughter discovered things for the first time, like a walk in the woods, I discovered things too. Had I really stopped noticing the texture of green moss and the lacy glisten of a spider web? I had to get down. Down with my twins, down with the weight of the earth, the gravity of duties and notice the joy. By doing that, poetry poured through my pen. When I gave birth, both my art and my life was never the same. I now write from a place of love and non-urgency rather than cynicism.
I cannot imagine not being a mother. I cannot imagine not being a playwright. Mothering and theatre both involve conception, a gestation period, birth, nurturing, and finally letting go what you cannot control. The way mothers and artists function in society is similar. To do both you have to be responsible, hardworking, resourceful, flexible, and disciplined. An artist’s work and a parent’s work are the same. The process goes unnoticed, but the product has to be outstanding. My son will never remember the hours of physical therapy I did with him every morning so that his body would be properly aligned. Nor will my daughter remember the countless research I did for her food allergies. Yet, the doctor expects them to be in good health, the teachers expect them to be well behaved, and society expects them to be productive.
Although my twins might be my best creation, they are not my only creation. They are beautiful, smart, sensitive, and bold, but they do not satisfy my artistic ambition. Therefore, I write at stolen moments on borrowed time. What I can get done in fifteen minutes now is what I used to accomplish in two hours. There are plenty of unreturned phone calls, missed opportunities, messes, and mistakes. Nevertheless, there is magic in the mistake. And several happy accidents have led me to finding unexpected resources and friendships. Because I really believe in my work, sometimes I have to say no to my children. My days are both internal and external—working out the plot of a play while waiting in the carpool line.
Sometimes the days hanging with small children are like going down a river slowly. Most days I love the river. I float gently with my twins avoiding the desire to paddle upstream. Motherhood is just like art—it takes all of your rigor and surrender. For a while I fought it because I wanted to cling to my old life before my kids. The life where most things go as planned and your productivity shows. Things are documented by output and completed tasks. But you can’t measure breast milk. You can’t measure memories. My life is a composition of compromise. There is repetition and rhythm. I find my rhythm and then lose it in the same day. I try for a perfect concerto, but settle for a groove. And guess what? I like having a groove with children on my hips, floating instead of flailing, and noticing things I would never notice if I was by myself.
Perhaps, mothers with one child can paddle a bit faster with their other hand. But I have both hands full. So I have to float, wait, and enjoy. I have a rich and meaningful life. I’m the luckiest woman alive. I’m a Playwright and a Mom! I’m a Mom and a Playwright.
Written by Jennifer Berry originally for HowlRound.
Award winning playwright and director, Jennifer Berry uses her singular brand of writing and directing to generate entertainment that is thought provoking and transformative. Berry’s noted play Big Pharma received rave reviews from LA Weekly, The Denver Post, The San Francisco Examiner and American Radio Network. Big Pharma was also featured on PBS. Hailed by the LA Weekly as Generation X’s Anna Deveare Smith, Jennifer is the author of several additional plays including Permanently Missing, which she also directed. In 2010 Jennifer had the world premiere of Ojalá at Casa 0101in Los Angeles, which was featured by The Los Angeles Times and received “Best Latina Play” by Revista Magazine. In March 2012 “Lost Belongings aka The Facebook Play” premiered in Washington D.C. with the experimental theater company: Dolce Revolution. In February of 2014, her play After, All was produced at The Pasadena Playhouse’s balcony theater. Her new play “The Maid’s Daughters” had staged reading at Moving Arts in Los Angeles, as part of The Playwrights Union First Peek Series in May 2015.
Her recent feature film was recently optioned by Atlantic Crossing Productions.
She has also been a featured writer and essayist in HowlRound, Ms Magazine, and several other women’s publications.
Jennifer is also a proud member of The Playwrights Union a network of Los Angeles theater artists writing for Television and Film.
For more, please visit her website.