We all remember what weekend this is, right? I got a kick out of seeing the woman at the counter at my gym yesterday – slyly wishing all the men who stopped by a Happy Mother’s Day weekend and watching fully a third of them stop in their tracks with an “Oh shit!” look. That woman knows how to have her fun, let me tell you.
I am sort of thinking that Toni will have a great Mother’s Day post because she both has and is a mother, so I will sort of work around the topic in a different way, because this has come up for me lately.
I often find myself being confided in by young aspiring authors that their parents don’t approve of their aspirations. Well, we all know that feeling, don’t we? Certainly there are some parents who do encourage art as a living (and some of them are scary, see “stage mothers”). Nepotism is a fact of life in Hollywood, and successful film actors, producers, writers, directors, have no qualms about encouraging their offspring toward the family business.
But that’s pretty much the size of it – “the family business.” That’s one aspect of the arts as a profession that makes other, non-artistic parents quail at the idea of little Johnny or Janey trying to write, or act, or paint for a living. For centuries, millennia, children were taught the trade their parents were in, and that’s the way it was, and largely still is.
There’s much more resistance than that going on, usually. And I try to tell these young writers that they’re not alone – no parents in their right minds really want their kids to go into the arts, because it’s so hard, and unstable, and financially shaky. I think parents just know that on a genetic level, and because they love us, they gently or not so gently try to steer us away.
And then on another level, some parents might not approve because, well, we’re all gypsies, tramps and thieves, not to mention homosexuals.
And then maybe on another level, some parents might resist the idea because deep down, they always had some aspiration… but adults just don’t DO that kind of thing, so they didn’t, and neither should you.
So there’s all kinds of STUFF going on that might make parents not so very supportive of the young artist.
So what do you tell these young aspirants whose parents are less than supportive?
Well, I tell them what I did, with my parents. I just didn’t make a point of telling them what I was doing. I didn’t lie, exactly, but let’s just say I left out a lot. I didn’t declare my major until I was a senior in college and I didn’t let on how much theater I was doing.
I think those of us who are driven to do this THING that we do figure out how to work the angles pretty early on. And just as I get confided in by young, aspiring authors, I get confided in by people in mid-life who say that they always wanted to write, but their parents were not supportive (sometimes that’s to say the least), and they’re now in a morass of regret that they didn’t pursue the dream. For those people I write down this Bernard Malamud quote: “We have two lives – the one we learn with and the life we live after that.”
And then I tell them that a lot of authors I know didn’t write their first book until after they were 40.
But I keep their stories in mind when I talk to the younger ones and tell them – “You don’t want to end up regretting anything because you were afraid to try.”
I know there’s a lot of pain involved for artists who aren’t encouraged and supported in their passion by their parents – but it’s the evolutionary imperative not only to separate from our parents, but to transcend them. That IS evolution.
And there’s a lot of joy when your parents finally realize: My God, she really is making a living at this, we’re not going to have to support her for the rest of our lives.
And let’s face it – that’s a pretty legitimate fear – I don’t blame parents a bit for THAT one.
And you know what? As a writer I use lessons my parents taught me every single day of my life. They taught me to love work, and do the work I love (even though they weren’t exactly intending it be THIS work) – because, they said, work is what most of your life is. They took me and my sister and brother to about a million museums and concerts and plays and taught us to love art, and along with loving it, they taught us to analyze it. Mom will talk to ANYONE – I grew up seeing her start conversations on the street, in a restaurant, on a pier – with anyone and everyone, and you better believe I use that skill every day of my life as a writer. And they both just assumed that I could do anything a boy could, only better, and so despite all the messages girls get from the world about what they can and can’t or should and shouldn’t do, I had my parents’ faith that yes, I damn well could.
My point is, if you’re an artist, your parents are preparing you for a life and career as an artist, whether or not it looks that way on the surface. They give you gifts that will MAKE you the artist you are. It’s up to you to find those gifts, and use them.
Here’s my most treasured gift from my mother. Remember all those art museums I told you she dragged me to (yes, at the time, it was dragging…)? She told me very early on – “I want you to be able to see artistically – not just art, but the whole world around you. Because if you can see the world around you aesthetically, you will always find pleasure, wherever you are, whatever your circumstances.”
Now that – is beyond rubies.
This is the weekend to think about it, so what are some of the gifts you got from your parents? Were they supportive of your artistic aspirations? Did it matter? As a parent, how do you feel about the idea of your child going into this godforsaken business? 😉
And Happy Mother’s Day and THANK YOU to all the mothers.