In the years before my eldest was conceived, I had irons in loads of lukewarm fires, so to speak.
I was writing poetry, performing street theatre, dancing, running drama workshops and raw food workshops, acting in short films, part of a small theatre company, learning the accordion and co-authoring a novel.
Once she was conceived…? Things had to get a tad more focussed.
Once she was born…!? Everything GOT a LOT more focussed!
Suddenly, because I’d decided I would be parenting equally (as far as my lack of breasts would allow) my work and creative time was squeezed into only half that I had previously had, and in reality into a third, taking into account exhaustion, co-parenting emergencies (takes two to rock a screaming baby in shifts) or staring into space recovering.
Suddenly all whims and superfluous ventures, were whimsical and superfluous and had to go, and oddly, although her coming resulted in my losing a huge chunk of my work time, it sparked an internal revolution. A birthing of a new me. My serious actor and writer were fully born, and all else, dance, drama workshops, accordion, novel, street theatre all just had…. to go.
I became intensely focussed on writing one-person shows, (my first four all about fatherhood were included in “The Fatherhood Institute” website, & the first, about birthing, performed at the NCT National Conference) and my theatre company was born. Since, I’ve created plays for casts, a myriad of other formats, but it all stems back to having to make choices, very clear choices forced out of me by the new limitations on my time.
It’s said that we get most creative when we have limitations put on us. “Create something” is a bit broad. “Write something”: a limitation.. “Write a play:” More limits.
But “Write a one person show, set in your home town, about an estranged transgender (gender issues have exploded lately too!) librarian father”… and suddenly… something spurts out of you in the same way new shapes spurt out of a hose when you put your thumb over the end (as it were).
And having the squeeze put on my creative life worked wonders for it. Suddenly I had to decide, cut the faff. Time was now at a premium, and I had to do what I really loved in life, or waste it. I was 42. Death wasn’t round the corner, but I was past “half time”!
So my daughter although (sort of) robbing me of work time, gave me the gift of both focus and of clear and decisive new intention, and the inspiration of great subject matter.
Sure it’s nothing original for new parents to suddenly want to celebrate their new parent-hood through their work, and so it’s not… new, but it was to me! I’d never been a dad before, and I was bl**dy going to explore it, and all the feelings it evoked.
My 2nd show (Large Print Trash, earning me my first Best Male Performer nomination, Brighton Fringe) was particularly about the terror of divorce and losing custody (my parents split when I was 4 and my father had lost custody). One of my acting teachers had said: “Play with it (i.e. an issue) or it will play with you.” I knew that one of my deepest fears of having children would be that of losing them in any future separation, Fathers For Justice were dressing up and protesting a lot at the time, and I wanted to make a piece that both explored that terror and dealt with it creatively.
Here we are 11 years later. We now have two children, and earlier this year, my wife told me… she was leaving!
As it is… she too now has a busy life as a singer-songwriter (carved out in her respective free half-weeks) and thankfully she both would never want to put me (or the children) through the hell of separation nor, as she still firmly needs me to do half the childcare whilst she hits the music world, she definitely doesn’t want to lose my involvement.
So as I, in timely fashion, re-emerge Large Print Trash, we’ve found a way to split that is amicable, groovy and allows us both to stay in our creative work flows.
I can’t say I’m happy we split, but it’s the best separation (so far) one could hope for, the children continue to feel well-loved by us both, and we both have (vital-to-our-sanity) creative working lives that we can model to our girls.
Sure enough the eldest loves to dance, sing, act, paint, play guitar and write short stories, and we hope that through her art she’ll always have the skills to emotionally and creatively express pain, and joy, and find her own strength, self belief and inner power by transforming her material into her own spun gold. Fingers crossed.
Written by Jonathan Brown