One Hundred, One

a hundred birthday candles

Today is an exceptional day for my family, because my father’s mother – the only living grandparent I have left – celebrates her 100th birthday.

An entire century of life! Can you imagine?

She was born in 1917, like the Russian Revolution, lived through two world wars and countless other political upheavals, gave birth to three children, and was one of the very first women to get a divorce as soon as it became legal in Italy.

One year ago I chose this date, my Grandma’s birthday, as the official beginning of my Artist Residency in Motherhood, dedicating it to her, wishing her to live to 100. She did, and I on my side have done my best to stand up to my self-assigned Residency goals.

Or have I?

One of the tasks I committed to in my Residency Manifesto was to write a yearly check-in post to share my progress, highlight my successes, and dissect what is not working out and why and what can I do to make it work better – so this is what I’m doing.

When I began, my main goals for my almost-four-years of Residency were:

  • To put effort into becoming more confident about my role as a creative mother.
  • To shift my perspective on my work and, instead of seeing only the limitations that motherhood puts on my creative practice, explore for ways to utilise this as creative fuel and make as much as I can with what I already have.
  • To embrace motherhood in the themes of my work, resist the urge to disguise the fact I’m now raising a small child as a little hobby I keep on the side.
  • To surrender some control over my own self-image as a creative and open to new ideas, angles, mediums, themes.
  • To write my first novel.

I wish I could tell you more about what sort of life my Grandmother had, but we were never really in touch, not even when we lived in the same city. Despite the fact she had three kids of her own and six grandkids, my Grandmother famously never had any interest in children, nor tolerance. What’s ironic is that, when she went back to work after the divorce, she was teacher in middle school. A peculiar choice for someone who was irritated by anyone not old enough to have an educated conversation about Dante.

The memories I have of her in my childhood are few and fuzzy… a summer afternoon in our backyard during one of her extraordinarily rare visits when she tried to teach my sister and me some needlework and became awfully frustrated that we, intimidated by her sole presence, were doing a lousy job at it. The few times she showed up for Christmas at our house, wrapped in furs and bearing one single present for the three of us kids – not because she couldn’t afford three presents. Because she couldn’t be bothered, or she forgot.

Everyone says my Grandmother always loved comfort and that she would pick a relaxed, sheltered life over excitement or adventure any time. If she was to go to the newsstand at the corner, she’d drive up to it because why walk when you can sit in your leather seat and pay for your newspaper through your Audi’s window.

Things I learned during my first year of Residency In Motherhood:

  • My life and my creative practice are in my own hands and if I am not the first one to display respect and commitment to them, no-one else will.
  • Working creatively while at the same time being a full-time parent is challenging to say the least, messy, and often quite disheartening – but is not something I should be self-conscious about. I’m a warrior, for fuck’s sake.
  • Motherhood as a theme of my creative work is not uninteresting – on the contrary. This is the season of life I’m dealing with at the moment, and it’s a kaleidoscope of intense, emotional, and exquisitely human experiences. A goldmine.
  • My creative practice has grown wings and a double jetpack on its shoulders since I decided to discover who I really am, what ticks me, what are my obsessions, and dive into that rather than forcing my talent to produce what I think “The Market” would expect from me.    

Despite what many can think, there are quite a few aspects in which I’m a lot like my Grandmother. For example, we both have thick wavy hair which are / will become completely snow-white without losing any of their presence and flare. Not even at 100 years of age. Also, we both absolutely adore being left alone without anyone bothering us with their well-meaning company so we can wallow in our fantasy and do our thing. Our blessed nothing.

Legend says that when my Grandmother was young, her dream was to become an opera singer but her father made it impossible for her, as he believed singing on a stage meant essentially being a prostitute with a voice. When I was young and used to sing in a church choir, I also had a time I dreamed of becoming an opera singer and in my case it was my mother who told me, “No way, kid. You’re going to be a doctor”.

That didn’t work out too well, by the way.

My Grandmother loved cinema to the point she’d much rather go see a film and take a beating from her Sicilian husband (my Grandfather) for being late for dinner, than not go see a film and stay put in the iron still of his domination. I love cinema to the point I left my home at 19 to go study to become a filmmaker and I’ve done almost nothing else for the 20 years that followed.

Also, both my Grandmother and I were born on the 11th day of the month, and – as anyone who reads the numbers knows well – this is not irrelevant.    

So as far as hard facts go, here is what I did actually accomplish in these first 365 days of Residency:

  • I started writing my novel. I really did. Currently, I have over 50,000 words of a desperate storytelling mess, but it is coming out, I’m working on it as we speak, and I still have two and a half years of Residency to go, so we’re looking good.
  • I wrote four essays about the intersection of my life as a mother and as a creative which I published on this blog – Breast In Peace is about body, dealing with pain, and how I let my son self-wean; My Pop-Up Studio tells the story of how I finally found the perfect place for my creative work, or almost; Dreaming By Numbers is the story of last November, the month where my son started going to Preschool a handful of hours a week, and I began writing my book; Berlin Liebt Dich is the story of the first night I ever spent away from my son, when he was 3 years old, to go on a trip by myself.
  • As soon as I let my fantasy run free, I was surprised by a few ideas for projects involving photography. Somehow, I had forgotten I used to have a passion for Photography, but I talked it out of me – I convinced myself I’m not good enough and can’t call it more than a hobby. Well, not any more. I’m working with photos on two projects about the passage of time, growth, metamorphosis, code – one deals with sleep, the other with laundry. YOU’LL FIND OUT MORE SOON!  

My Residency runs until December 29th, 2019 (my son’s 6th birthday). It would be fantastic to think my Grandmother could still be alive then, but that would mean she’d have to live to 102,5 and I’m afraid it’s a bit too much to ask. But who knows? One baby step at a time, they say.

Till then – happy 100th birthday, Grandma.

May you live to 101.

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Marta Parlatore is currently an Artist in Residence in Motherhood – find out more on the official ARiM website. Subscribe to this blog to never miss a post and follow us on FacebookTwitter, or Instagram.


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4 thoughts on “One Hundred, One

  1. Awesome! I love the resonances of you and your grandmother and also your projects, statements and what you’ve learned so far. I also think it’s excellent to take the long view and say for yourself this is a multi-year residency. I’m almost 6 months into my ARIM and I’m slowly realizing that even a year is too short a time.

    • Thank you Nia for your kind and supportive words! For me, it was clear from the beginning I needed a LONG residency as my main goal for my ARIM is to write a novel, and that takes plenty of time even without a Toddler always climbing in my lap. Besides, when planning my ARIM, I thought – there is always so much time pressure to do things fast, achieve goals in no-time, recover from postpartum in a week, become famous before you’re 23, you know… so, as I was free to choose my own terms for my Residency, I decided to give myself the gift of plenty of time.
      But hey – you can prolong yours! 😉

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