I'm always thinking about the creative process. And relationships. And how the two intersect.
The stereotype of the artist is the person (usually male) working on his own out back in the studio. Creating 24/7. Nothing else to focus on but the work. Then when the day is done, glasses of scotch in front of the fire while debating life with artist friends.
Maybe a critic or gallery owner stopping by.
Think Jackson Pollock in upstate New York dripping away while Lee Krasner looked after everything else. And gave up much of her career because it's a full time job being Dobby the House Elf for someone else.
But is that sustainable for either partner? Is that desirable? What about those of us who value art-making AND relationships. Who desire to create AND to have a life. Who make art AND make a family.
Who do we look to as role models for integrating art-making and life-making?
I've talked to a number of creative couples about this very topic and over the next few months you will meet them and learn about how they do it. (One of the many things that I adore about blogging - I get curious about something, I ask people for answers and there you go, we all learn a few things).
First up are the ridiculously talented and creative Aidan and Elan Morgan, known online as Palinode and Schmutzie. If I could have a smidge of their talent...
(Aidan's responses are first and then Elan in italics)
1. Who are you and what do you do? How long have you been together?
I am Aidan Morgan, known online as The Palinode. I do freelance writing, restaurant criticism, professional photography, and when the moon goes down I'm a Communications specialist at a tourism marketing agency. My partner is Elan Morgan, aka Schmutzie. We became friends in 1993 and married each other in 2001. One of our wedding gifts was a really big microwave oven, which finally conked out around a year ago.
I think the mark of a good marriage is the ability to outlast the wedding gifts.
My name is Elan Morgan, but it is also often Schmutzie, depending on where I am and who I am with. I am a blogger, designer and consultant, and speaker with a touch of iPhoneographer and poet thrown in. Aidan and I have been together for over 13 years.
2. What are your strengths? What are your partner’s strengths? How do they help you work well together when you are collaborating?
This is a tough question, because I'm never sure what my own strengths are (obviously self-awareness is not among them). Probably my chief strength is my ability to figure out a creative approach to my work and come up with stuff, even when there's nothing in the tank. My partner's strengths are an inexhaustible work ethic and dedication to creative growth. She doesn't believe in writer's block (whereas for me it's something of a credo). When we collaborate, which is something we plan to do more of, we work as a set of second eyes on each other's projects; we have similar but not identical visions, so it's fairly easy for us to complement and complete each other creatively.
I am creative and contemplative, and I am a self-starter. These strengths are also some of my greatest weaknesses, though, which is the double-edged sword that any of our gifts are. Aidan's strengths are mostly wrapped up with his combination of storytelling and humbleness. In both his photography and his writing, he is able to spin silk from wool, sometimes pulling fine threads out of seemingly nothing, and he is rarely compelled to insert himself into the stories. He is able to create stories about and for other people clear of his own ego, and it is a gift I envy, because this is what draw people to him and makes them feel important.
3. What have you learned from your partner?
That creativity is never exhausted: that it is an infinite cookie, growing larger with every bite you take from it. I believe it's a gingersnap cookie.
Our life together has taught me about the vital tie between love and creativity, creativity and love.
All growth, joy, and edifying creation come out of this spirit, and I would not be the creator I am today without him.
4. What are you most impressed by/proud of your partner?
I've watched Elan's creative output go from private journals and anonymous blogging to an ever-expanding platform of projects and ideas. It's immensely satisfying to watch person you love most grow into herself and exceed her own expectations. I'm also impressed by Elan's marriage of the creative and practical; to her, creative work is problem solving.
His photography is bringing out another side of his storytelling and personality, and I am so proud of him every time I see his work grow and change. The pitch of his voice is energized whenever he describes his thought processes behind each photo, and it's a joy for me to see his joy in making beautiful images.
5. How best do you support your partner and his/her goals?
My career made it possible for Elan to leave her stifling, completely awful dead-end office job and granted her the space to develop her own creativity and turn it into a source of income. It would have been more difficult if we'd both been freelancing.
Other than that, I support her by leaving her alone when she's working. Virginia Woolf was dead on.
I don't grumble when he buys a new camera lens. Seriously, though, when I hear that rise of joy in his voice, I decide to accept whatever that joy demands.
6. How do you split the day-to-day administrivia?
We're still working that one out. IT'S A RICH TAPESTRY.
We keep our home just barely out of chaos, give each other space enough to create what we need to, and pay our bills. It's really that simple. We do the laundry when it's dirty, eat when we're hungry, and hope for the best.
7. If you have children, how did you decide who does what/when re: childcare?
No kids in sight! But if we did have them, I think we'd adopt the Shaker strategy of hanging them from the walls at night to save on space.
We have three cats, but we don't have kids. I knew early on that the creative life I needed didn't have room for children.
8. Are you ever envious of each other and if so, how do you handle it?
Whenever I'm envious of Elan's ability to create, I realize that it's just dissatisfaction with my own creative output that's speaking. That's when it's time to sit down and start bootstrapping nothing into something.
I do envy Aidan quite a bit. I have wanted his clever knack for language for all of the 20 years we've known each other, and it's the first thing that made me fall in love with him. I also envy his work ethic when it comes to his photography. I am a lazy photographer by comparison.
9. How do you decide whose career takes priority at different points in time? Money earning potential? Goal achievement? Time required?
This is something that we've developed organically over the course of our marriage. My career is a bit more traditional than hers in the sense that I have a day job, so that determines certain things. For example, we live in a city that neither of us love, but I enjoy my job enough that we've decided to make this city our home base for the time being. Having a job also means that Elan's business has room to grow without worrying too much about her revenue flow. A bad month won't mean an unpaid mortgage.
I don't think that we've ever made a point of discussing the how, when, and why of our career decisions in great detail. Most often, our career changes have occurred fairly organically as finances, health, and interest have demanded. We are not naturally all that concerned with being wealthy, but our respective careers and simpler lifestyle have made our decisions financially viable, which means that both of us have had room to pursue our creative work as we go along.
I am incredibly grateful for the freedom our lives have granted us.
10. Are you a goal setter? And if so, how do you figure out how to balance your goals with your partner’s goals?
I don't even set breakfast as a goal for myself. Seriously, I had baked beans this morning.
Nope, I am not a goal setter. I used to be hard on myself for not being one to set goals, but I have come to terms with the fact that I am a person who plans things out in a terribly linear fashion. When I must do so, I can set goals on a project to project basis, but I actually like watching the future unfold as I move into it. This has driven many a person nuts, so I am lucky to have a partner who isn't panicked by this. We find our balance as we move through things together.
This might sound altogether too sappy, but here's how I balance my goals with Aidan's: love.
True creativity, at least for me, springs from love, and that must be nurtured first before anything else.
11. What advice do you have for other couples?
Give each other the appropriate time and space to flourish. You need that room to concentrate and create, especially in these Internetty times. Oh, and be Canadian. You don't need to fret about health insurance on top of everything else.
Each relationship is so individual as to have its own fingerprint, so it is difficult to hand down advice for a generalized audience. Hmmm. Give me a second.
Okay, here it is: before acting in any situation in which you and your partner are not truly moving in tandem with each other, ask yourself,
"What would love do?"
Think about how you would act if your actions were based out of love and acceptance. This has saved me from saying and doing many regrettable things, and it turns difficult moments into ones in service of gratitude and community.
I've never met Aidan and Elan in person but I've been reading their writing and loving their photography for some time. Don't you just wanna hang out with them?