Create Anyway by Ashlee Gadd

Create Anyway by Ashlee Gadd

“Both motherhood and creativity have taught me to be brave, to relentlessly seek beauty and joy among the mundane, to notice the remarkable grace flooding my unremarkable life.” — ASHLEE GADD, CREATE ANYWAY 

I write this cloaked in night. My little boy is finally asleep. Here’s hoping this rattling keyboard and the slanted shadows of my tiny desktop light don’t interrupt his rest. Here I am, writing in the margins.

I learned of Ashlee Gadd’s “Create Anyway: The Joy of Pursuing Creativity in the Margins of Motherhood” through social media, naturally, months before a due date of March, 2023. I can’t even tell you what made me click over, click through, read enough to invite teardrops, but I knew this book was written for me and that my heart needed it YESTERDAY.

The margins of my motherhood look like this: nearing mid-forties. A toddler who doesn’t nap. Evenings that extend well-past socially acceptable hours. Mornings that start at four am sometimes because I’m compelled, driven, called by something other than myself, to create anyway. To write. To make. To fashion with my hands, my mind, my fingertips; to weave a meaningful work of art from threadbareness, from thread-barren-ness.

The truth is, I haven’t been creating much. I want to, but I’ve forgotten how. I’ve forgotten how to be an artist. Before even a global pandemic permanently shifted the landscape of the world, I started to choke over my words, to wither up in my creativity. Perhaps years of feeling like an unwilling copywriter, as words and phrases were routinely lifted from my essays and newsletters and inserted into the websites and Instagram captions of others, or perhaps the old nemesis of futility (why bother? What’s the point?) and the horrid bully of perfectionism, along with a host of other things all served to paralyze me. Silence me. Intimidate me.

As a mama, I have struggled hard with an unhelpful, greatly undesirable idea that taking time to be creative makes me a bad mother. Writing, making, and designing all take time, energy, and attention that could be directed towards my son (or my home, or the Lord, or or or…) and therefore, as some finger-wagging biddy in my mind tells me, I am a selfish, self-indulgent woman.

I think back to my birthday, the day I turned forty-three. As one who loves to bake all things delicious and decadent, I knew what I wanted to create: something new, something I’d never tried before. A sculpture developed in my mind: my sister's spice cake, layered with caramel brought just to the cusp of bitterness, gently enfolded with layers of Italian Meringue buttercream, served with pears softened with an infusion of brandy, dark sugar, star of anise, cinnamon, black pepper, rosemary from outside my kitchen window, and clove.

Four distinct elements, each requiring serious, adult-like concentration and expertise.

I stood over my stove, guiltily tempering cinnamon, nutmeg and cloves in browned butter as my son sat in the other room watching Handyman Hal on YouTube. And later, I hovered over a steamy thermometer clinging to a pot of boiling water and sugar, waiting for it to reach 238 degrees so I could slowly pour it into a mound of fluffy egg whites and beat them with vigor.

My cake took over eight hours.

My husband was a portrait of graciousness; my son loved his time gazing at screens, yet still I felt guilty. Why? Why did I need to take eight hours away from my family? Of all things, to make a cake?

I think back to my own mother, an artist, and how I longed to see her create, how I wished she would have set out her brushes and pencils and watercolors when I was a tender young little girl, and shown me, just through being, an artist-mama’s life. Perhaps she felt as I do now. Perhaps creative mothers like us wrap up our vulnerability in sacrifice that may also, just a tiny bit, be cloaks of whitewashed shame.

However, counters Gadd, “creativity is one way I draw closer to my Maker, the same One who gave me these children and these talents. The same One who calls us to be good stewards of everything He places in our hands.” A few pages later she goes on to say, “If God is the first artist—and we are a walking, breathing reflection of Him—this means our desire to create is hereditary, a fundamental imprint of His Spirit in us.”

I'd have to write a memoir to share all the ways Create Anyway stirred up truth in me, sent tears streaming down my cheeks, awakened gently my heart's dormant hope. I have never felt so seen and understood by someone I've never met, who, through utmost tenderness, stretched her arms between paragraphs and gathered me close. Every quiet ache as a mother and artist felt witnessed and healed by someone who clearly gets it—all of it, and more. My only wish is that this book was ready now. God bless you, Ashlee. Your book is not only good and life-giving. It's a healing gift of grace and kindness from the One who made us and calls us to be like Him, the One who chose a mama for His first earthly home.

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