MMO: Let’s start
with a little background on how you came up with the idea for this
Weissman: Four years ago, I was working as a professional film editor, and
just as the dot-com bubble burst, I had my son. Two weeks after
he was born, I was laid off. I was bummed. I’d been thinking
I might go back to work part-time, but, the decision was made for
me. So, I thought-Great! I can be with my kid. But, it felt like
something was missing, so I tried to get back to working. But, it
was hard to do freelance film work. I couldn’t always pay
for childcare, and childcare wasn’t always available at the
times I needed it. Film jobs often require unusual hour, or they
wanted me to suddenly pick up and go somewhere, and I couldn’t
I decided to rethink my career. I did a little bit of teaching
and started writing. I also listened to a lot of music. Some of
the singers, like Shawn Colvin, have kids, and I started to wonder
and think about how they got all that together— childcare,
going on tour, breastfeeding. Then, I got a freelance job editing
a documentary on a rock n’ roll camp for girls, and again
I thought maybe someday I could work on women and music. A couple
years passed, and I hadn’t done anything. I was frustrated.
MMO: Given this frustration
and the fact that you have a child, how were you finally able to
find time to begin working on the film?
Weissman: I decided I needed to get time away to write. So, I started applying
to artists’ colonies where everything was paid for. I ended
up at Yaddo for two weeks in early 2004, and my plan was to work
on a memoir. I also ended up writing a proposal for the film. The
time there was transformational. I had so many stimulating conversations.
I had two weeks to do whatever I wanted. In a way, two weeks is
not enough, but it was still great, and I got so much done. It gave
me time to get focused.
MMO: When you came
back after Yaddo, how did you move the documentary project forward?
got some money and equipment together. I got a corporate credit
card. I found people interested in working on the film through message
boards. I took a writing class with Ariel Gore. I interviewed her
for the film, and then she introduced me to Fern [Cappella], I interviewed
Fern at LadyFest in San Francisco. Through Fern, I met hip-hop artist
Ms. Su’ad, who has a son like Fern. Then I met Lisa [Miller]
of Lisa and Her Kin. Lisa’s the wise one about music
and family. She’s been doing this for a long time.
MMO: Caring for children
is very demanding and unpredictable, and so are a lot of careers,
especially artistic careers. In a way, it seems like combining this
type of career with raising children is like the immoveable force
meeting the unstoppable object. Is there anything these women have
Weissman: It seems like they exist by a force of will. They’ve figured
out how to be in charge of their home life, work life, and creative
life. In their day jobs, many of these people are managers or do
independent work, so they’re in charge.
MMO: In the film, you
show a lot of the women’s home life, scenes of them with their
children or just trying to get things done.
Weissman: The home is where their power center is. They deal with so much
minutia to get everything done. It’s draining and energizing.
They always have to be present to what is going on because something
could change at the last minute. I feel that’s part of these
women. They need to be creative, and they make a home life that
allows them to be.
MMO: Some people say
that creativity comes out of chaos.
Weissman: I’m fascinated by that. Their creativity is very
cathartic. You really have to juggle. You have to pick jobs with
flexibility or where you’re in charge. If you need insurance,
you have to figure that out. For example, Ariel [Gore] teaches.
Teaching is more flexible than other jobs. Ms. Su’ad doesn’t
work full-time, and Lisa [Miller] does the scheduling where she
and her husband work. Of course, living like this can cause problems.
You don’t always get respect for putting other things ahead
Talking to Corin
Tucker [Sleater-Kinney] was very eye-opening. She has a
successful music career and could hire people to help take care
of a lot of details, but doesn’t. It’s an issue of being
able to maintain control over her life with her child. In May, I’m
going spend a few days on tour with Kristen Hersh [Throwing
Muses] to see what that is like with kids. She has four children
she homeschools. Her husband is her manager, and they all travel
together on the bus.
MMO: Why do you think
it can be so difficult for women to mesh their personal and artistic
of it is our society’s values. In general, our society’s
values need to change. People feel they have to work so much, and
it can be hard to scale back or even admit you want to. Our government
pays a lot of lip service to mothers, but we’re not appreciated.
Mothers get no financial rewards. The time spent with your kids
can end up being a big chunk of your career path, and then you can’t
get back on.
One thing the film shows
is that even when resources are available, they’re not always
what you need. Artistic careers are not always valued. They involve
a certain amount of risk, and a lot of people are risk-averse. If
you need steady childcare at night or on the weekends, that can
be impossible to find. I’m hoping this film becomes another
way to look at this whole conversation— that’s negative
in a lot of ways— about mothers and children.
MMO: What are some of the ways people find to work around these issues?
Weissman: This lifestyle can be very unpredictable, so what people do is create
their own networks. They make their own communities. They arrange
babysitting swaps. They have people who will travel with them or
take care of things when they’re gone. They have to think
about what’s available where they live, such as schools and
whether or not things are affordable. They live in places, like
Portland, where I think it’s easier to have this kind of lifestyle.
I’m from New York, and it’s a lot different there. These
women are willing to take the risks to make this kind of life work.
They are always figuring out how to get what they need.
MMO: A lot of people say that they would like to do something
creative, but they don’t have time. Having seen some of your
film, I’m realizing that we need to look at artistic life
in a new way. The stereotype of an artist is usually someone who’s
male and has a lot of time to work. Not long ago, I saw Philip Roth
interviewed. He has a separate structure on his property where he
can be undisturbed for several hours. If you are responsible for
children, that’s not possible. That’s what we’re
trained to think of— the solitary artist. But in reality,
a creative life is possible in many different environments.
a way, our notion of an artist is middle-class. It’s the idea
that you “need a wife” to take care of the home and
to take care of the things that get in the way of being creative,
but that’s not necessarily the case. It’s also true
there is a dichotomy between female and male artists. There were
only three mothers at Yaddo, including me. If childcare weren’t
such an issue, there probably would have been more. There were tons
and tons of fathers. It was very telling and sexist.
What I’ve really
noticed from talking to these women in the film is that, in addition
to being able to organize your daily life, what you also need to
have for your creative life is a supportive person— your partner,
a friend, a family member. You need that one person, not just for
support, but also for self-esteem. These women are confident. They
can find a way to get things done. They believe in their art, and
even when they feel things are not going well, there’s someone
there who does, and that keeps them going. You need that reinforcement.
It becomes much harder if you don’t have that. One of the
women in the film, Fern, moved away from Portland, and it’s
not been easy for her to move away from the community she was in.
Seeing these women go
to school, go on tour, go to work, take their kids places, perform,
and establish networks of friends is very empowering to me. It makes
me see that anything is possible.
MMO: As a filmmaker, you work in a profession many people consider to
be a creative one. While making this film, you must have seen some
parallels in your own life.
Weissman: I’ve realized I
need to be working on something creatively and working really hard.
It’s not necessarily about being paid. I just have to be expressing
myself in some way. What you need to do that is time. But, just
a little bit of time. My son is in daycare 2-1/2 days a week, so
I do a lot of work then. I also do a lot of work at night, too.
You have to learn how
to work and write in chunks. Some days, I might only have ten minutes.
I’ve also had to learn how to juggle. I’m a much better
multitasker now. Becoming a mother was the best training for this
type of work. I’ve learned to do whatever needs to be done.
I’ve also met so many people who are interested in this project
and have given their time to it. I’ve gotten a lot of volunteer
help from other mothers and parents, so I’ve been able to
create my own network. In a way, this film is also my story. It
inspires me and keeps me going.
mmo : may 2005
Margaret Foley is a writer
and historian living in Portland, Oregon. Jackie Weissman can be contacted at firstname.lastname@example.org.
More information on Rock N Roll Mamas can be found at rockmamafilms.com. Rock N Roll Mamas is a sponsored project of the Oregon
Film and Video Foundation.