When Koh was doodling, sketching, or reading while nursing, she was engaging her default-mode network. Jung said that each person ne to find their own way to give their mind the rest time that is essential for creativity to flourish. For some it is a long bath, a walk, a nap. For Jung it is mowing the lawn. I try to kick the default-mode network into gear by listening to podcasts or audiobooks while driving to swim lessons, doing dishes, or mopping banana-crusted Cheerios off the floor. The mundane moments of my days were transformed after I discovered the Pocket app will also read aloud any article, essay, narrative, or paper that I save online. Reading always triggers ideas in me, but I have realized that listening has a similar effect. To get my internal editor working, I need time alone, like in my shed.
Privilege plays a role in generating creative work. Some of us can afford to pay for childcare during studio or shed time. Some of us moms can carve out time for creative endeavors (even if it feels like there is never enough). Which brings us back to the maternal rats. In Lambert’s lab, researchers have been studying “low–and high–socioeconomic status” rats. They have asked: What happens in the brains and behavior of the maternal rats who can easily find food, safety, or shelter versus the maternal rats who cannot? In the best world, once her pups arrive, the mother’s “cortex will get thicker, her neurons will become more complex, with more connection points,” Lambert said. “Having offspring can be enriching.”
But take away resources, and a mother rat’s world goes into disarray. “It’s not enriching, it’s incredibly stressful and traumatic,” Lambert said. Her lab found that under-resourced maternal rats were slower to respond to their pups’ ne, had less neuroplasticity (new brain connections), and were slower to learn.
For the next couple of years, I will pursue more story ideas closer to home. My writing may slow or change. My interests may shift. There will never be enough time. There will be many sacrifices. But my husband and I, both descendants of first-generation immigrant parents, refer to these as “first–world problems.” We live in a culture in which you are taught that what you do is who you are. But identity is far more complex than that, and like creativity, it exists in a state of revision and flow. The competition between raising children and creative output is real. It may be impossible to balance in the ways society expects us to. But I don’t believe that parenting is the enemy of the work.
Getting older and more set in our ways might be a more formidable enemy, since creativity tends to decline with age. Learning to look at the world through the eyes of my children is not a bad way to flex my own thinking. My family recently returned home from a road trip to see the solar eclipse in Oregon. My daughter woke up in her car seat on the way back and said, completely unprovoked: “Remember the day there were two mornings? And we saw a diamond ring in the sky?”
A long time ago, I would have told you I didn’t really want kids. Now I am so in love with my kids it is terrifying, because with that love comes fear of losing them, or losing myself. Ruining them, or ruining myself. My own creativity these days may come out in a thought tapped and autocorrected on my phone at 2 a.m., or it could come out in a method of bathing three small kids without anyone drowning. Biologically, this capacity and need to problem-solve and express ideas seem to stem from a similar place. I am looking at the universe differently now, and I am seeing new pathways for getting my most meaningful tasks done.