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Mama, you rock
Margaret Foley interviews filmmaker Jackie Weissman

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MMO: Why do you think it can be so difficult for women to mesh their personal and artistic lives?

Weissman: Part 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.

Weissman: In 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 info@rockmamafilms.com. 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.

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