“I have a tendency to overcomplicate my prose, and feeling a bit depleted forces simplification.” Featured artist: Amy Hammer

This week we’re featuring author Amy Hammer. Amy writes books that help readers celebrate and cultivate glorious flavors and meaningful lives. Through her website, she shares stories and recipes that bring both health and pleasure. Her previous work, the cookbook Happy Belly, is a celebration of food and a work of advocacy for the Down syndrome community. She has been a lifelong writer, and her backgrounds in teaching yoga and movement, journalism, environmental studies and cardiac intensive care give her a unique and dynamic approach to writing about wellness.

What is your art like?

I’m a writer. Writing allows me to synthesize my curiosities and experiences into a cohesive form. I love the idea that something crafted in isolation can act as a great connecting point to the wider community. This reality reinforces my belief that we all need quiet alone time to reflect and understand ourselves and then we can bring this more aware self into our communities. The process of writing and crafting stories takes my ego and self-righteousness and repurposes it into humility and respect for other people. I start writing on one path with an idea of where I’m going and it leads me to where I need to go. This process is grounding and essential and it takes a long time, but in this way writing is like walking. I am transformed by the act of doing it and I tend to feel different in the world after moving in it for a few hours.

My writing practice requires that I live all other parts of my life fully, otherwise my work lacks the essential substance of actually living. My jobs as a mom, tender of my backyard garden, nurse practitioner master’s student and writer live in a delicate balance. Together, these jobs make my life feel truly whole.

What are important motherhood contexts people should know about you?

My son, Holden, is 1 ½ years old and he is a vibrant and healthy little man. My brother, Bob, is 34-years-old and he has Down syndrome. He lives with me and my partner, Max, and we are his official host home providers through the state of Nevada. Bob fills many roles in our house. He is kind of like our child, since we get him to work and act as his caretakers, but he is also an amazing uncle to Holden. When I was pregnant, I started calling him Bobdoula because he would go on all my walks with me, bring me water, and he loves doing the laundry and vacuuming (seriously!). He is such an essential member of our family and so much of my identity has been built around being Bob’s sister, protector and advocate.

How has the practice of your creative life changed since motherhood?

My perception and use of time has changed since I became a mother. Where I used to have time
to meander through my creative life—whether it was cooking, writing or exploring something
new—I now use my time in a way that is more purposeful. When I have an hour, or three hours,
to work, I use them all. Motherhood has been a lesson in productivity and efficiency. I always
have too much to do, but now I’m able to prioritize and focus. I do almost all of my work during
the early morning hours and when my son naps (thank god for 3 hour naps!) and spend most of
the rest of my day outside, on walks, exploring the world with him. These walks and movements are part of my creative life. I get to help him learn about the difference between chocolate mint and spearmint growing in the garden and that the orange and red tomatoes are ready for harvest, but we should leave the green ones on the vine. My experience watching him live and move in the world is a daily routine that brings me a lot of joy and encourages me to ask new types of questions about how we learn and grow and what is truly important. Before and after motherhood, my constant companion has been walking long distances and spending time outside; these habits nourish my creativity and connect me to this place.

What has been most challenging about sustaining a creative life in motherhood?

Starting and stopping over and over and over again. Especially early on, I’d have 20 tabs open and I’d be deep into the research I was reading and writing, and then I’d have to just stop in the middle of a sentence and be present for my son. I’d come back to my computer and have to spend an hour just getting back into the right mindset only to be distracted and have to stop again. Or, I’ll be upstairs writing and my son will be downstairs with Bob and Max and I’ll hear him giggling and I’ll get distracted and leave my work.

Some days I’m tired in a way that makes it hard to reach for words and stories that fit together. I’m not sure if this is always bad for my creativity because I have a tendency to overcomplicate my prose, and feeling a bit depleted forces simplification.

As my son gets older I am either less tired, or I’ve learned how to function better with less sleep. The most frustrating thing for me with sleep and feeling sleepy is that usually my son sleeps quite well at night but I often still wake up likes he’s a newborn. Just the other night I was awake while he was sleeping next to me soundly and I was thinking about how I wanted to write and illustrate a specific section of my book about preparing for the fourth trimester. I couldn’t stop turning the pages in my head. Ironically, these moments of forced creativity during the smallest hours of the night both sustain my work and make it hard for me to sustain my work because of the tired factor.

What’s been the best surprise about having a creative life in motherhood?

To my great relief, ideas, inspiration and creativity didn’t disappear when I had my son. Sometimes, I’ll be on a walk with him and an idea will come so fast that I have to write it all down on my phone or in a notebook I carry with me. Motherhood requires creative problem-solving, intuition and acknowledging and expressing ideas. These same principles apply to writing and life in general. I am sure, despite the messages our culture sends us, that parents, both mothers and fathers, become more driven and creative after we have children. My partner often says he has no idea when I get all of my work done, or how it is even possible. I feel the same way about him and his work. I look at all that he does and think, when were there enough hours in the day to accomplish everything and be such a good papa. The biggest surprise is that there is enough time and space to accomplish so much in a day, not everything, but a remarkable amount.

What’s been the your most important source of  inspiration to continue having a creative life as a mother?

There are two things that are essential to my creative life as a mother. 1. The support of my partner and family. Without them I wouldn’t have enough space and time to work. I read an article about how when mother rats are stressed about food, safety or shelter they were slower to learn, developed fewer new brain connections and were slower to respond to their pups’ needs. Mother’s need support and time. When mother rats have access to the basic necessities in life, her cortex get thicker and she builds more neural connections. My life has been enriched and sweetened by having my son because I have so much support. 2. My son is a constant source of inspiration for my work, especially since I’m writing about growing healthy babies. Watching him move through the world reinforces the importance of taking care of each other, the soil and water, the food we grow, and living in a way that is connected and reciprocal with the earth.

Who are other artist mothers in your field that inspire you? Artworks that inspire you as a creative mother?

There are so many, too many to name them all. This list is a small snapshot. My bookshelf is lined with books written by my heroes. I’m inspired by other practitioners and writers who are working to improve the health of mothers and their babies through activism, farming, community involvement, movement, food choices and environmental protection. This list includes ecologist and writer Sandra Steingraber, chef and writer Alice Waters, ecologist and writer Robin Wall Kimmerer, biomechanist and writer Katy Bowman, writer and doula Erica Chidi Cohen, RD and writer Lily Nichols, writer and food advocate Nina Planck, women who write about the fourth trimester, including Kimberly Ann Johnson and Heng Ou.
I’m inspired by so many of my friends and family who balance being really good moms with their careers and creative life. I’m working on my book, Growing A Baby, with one of my best friends, Michelle, who is an incredible artist. She isn’t a mother (yet) but her illustrations are so beautiful and sustaining as we work through this huge project. Finally, my mom is my ultimate inspiration. She is endlessly creative, able to solve any problem and she maintains such a passion and joy for life, I am lucky to follow in her footsteps.

Learn More about Amy

Her book, Growing A Baby, is due for release spring 2021 through Roost Publishing.

You can find Amy walking through the mountains of the high desert, tending her garden and animals, including her 10 chickens, two cats and son, Holden, or at www.amyjhammer.com

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