Judith Pierce Rosenberg learned the hard way that Virginia Woolf
was right about that room of one's own.
When Ms. Rosenberg, a writer, moved with her husband and
children to a three-bedroom ranch house in southern California in
the mid-1980s, she gave up her home office so her young son and
daughter could have separate rooms.
She moved her filing cabinet into her daughter's room and stored
office supplies in a bedroom closet. She arranged her books in the
living room and placed her computer on a kitchen table.
Her muse was not amused. The makeshift arrangement proved so
unworkable that it closed a chapter in Rosenberg's writing career.
Not until three years later, when the family moved into a bigger
home, did she regain an office and begin writing again.
"I was so naive that I didn't realize how important it was to
have my own desk," Rosenberg says. "I just assumed I could be a
kitchen-table writer. Most people can't."
That "career crisis," as Rosenberg calls it, piqued her
curiosity: How, she wondered, do other women carve out space and
time for creativity while the three C's of domesticity -
childrearing, cooking, cleaning - swirl about them?
Interviews with artists
To answer that question, she interviewed 25 women with
established literary and artistic careers.
The result is "A Question of Balance: Artists and Writers on
Motherhood" (Papier-Mache Press, 276 pp., $14), which "chronicles
the struggles and celebrates the achievements" of women who combine
families with careers in the arts.
"There's kind of a common assumption people have before they
have children that you sort of rock the cradle with your foot while
you're typing," Rosenberg says. "But children are not that
Instead, she found "real differences" between women who managed
to keep working in their field after they had children and those
who stopped, at least temporarily. "It had to do with different
conditions of space, time, and child care," she explains.
Whatever their differences, her subjects share common challenges.
Most need to be alone when they work. "I find it hard to work if
there are other people in the house," confesses travel writer Mary
Adds novelist Mary Gordon, speaking of her two children, "I can
write anywhere, but I can't write with them around."
Then there is the pervasive issue of guilt, a thread running
through many interviews. As photographer Bea Nettles says, "I think
a father could go in and lock the door and not be considered a bad
person. I think a mother doing that is still probably considered
neglectful somehow. It's going to take a long time for these
changes to occur."
Find balance before, after
Some women also admit difficulty in trying to work after the
birth of a baby. …