Trindad Escobar spoke with Meredith Hobbs about the nuances of creating art as a mother, how she has defined community throughout her life, wanting to take the Harry Nilsson approach to her career and the trouble of seeking approval from the Internet.
I am a lot less precious about finding the right setting in which to create. I feel like I am more laser-focused on what it is I want to produce when I do get a chance to sit down and work.
You’re a mother. Some people might read that and immediately, subconsciously fail to take you seriously as a musician and writer. What does it mean to be a mother in the arts?
Meredith Hobbs Coons
To be a mother in any realm other than the domestic is to have your commitment and ability constantly questioned. I mean, that happens to women in general, right? People assume that your mental load is at capacity and that you don’t sleep — they aren’t necessarily wrong.
At the same time, there is evidence to suggest that motherhood enhances creativity. The Atlantic ran this article by Erika Hayasaki in which she discusses how mother rats — who are neurologically similar to humans — capture prey four times as quickly as other rats. Their brains have changed. I have definitely felt that change myself (and I have seen it in you!)
I waste a lot less time on projects that don’t hold meaning for me. I am a lot less precious about finding the right setting in which to create. I feel like I am more laser-focused on what it is I want to produce when I do get a chance to sit down and work.
What has the experience of writing and practicing your music been as a mother?
Lately, most of my writing occurs away from my instrument and desk. More commonly, I jot down lyrics or sing melodic ideas into my phone. That I can get away with. When I break out my guitar, my kids love to bang on it. They twist the pegs while I’m playing. They want to scribble in my journals. It’s great to have a specific, creative ritual — and there’s definitely a place for that — but as a parent, things get in the way.
How do your children influence your songs and your process?
My children provide me a wealth of emotional inspiration for songs — and not just rapturous ones about the miracle of their being. I will also say that their construction paper stash has been an awesome tool for me. Nice big pages for writing and revising? Built-in color-coding for works in progress? Hell yeah. Thanks, kids!
I’m just trying to prove to myself that I’m still here. I’m still the person I was, with the same interests, abilities, and desires, before my children changed my world.
In what ways do you feel like you need to prove yourself to yourself or to others?
I’m currently whittling that list down. In the past, I’ve felt the need to prove myself worthy of love, the need to prove myself academically, occupationally, creatively, as a mother, as a partner. I used to care about proving that my music was worth listening to, despite my femininity. But I like my femininity. And I don’t care about those people. I guess, right now, I’m just trying to prove to myself that I’m still here. I’m still the person I was, with the same interests, abilities, and desires, before my children changed my world.
In what ways do you not give a shit about gender norms and expectations?
I really think people should just do what they do and like what they like, without feeling pressure to perform their gender. My son loves purple and the Avengers. My daughter loves Minnie Mouse and Hot Wheels. And I love that they love those things. I’ve noticed, though, that it’s much harder for a little boy to move through the world in, say, Anna and Elsa shoes than it is for a little girl to rock a boys’ Ninja Turtles shirt.
Fortunately, most people are very accepting of my son’s interest in things that aren’t typically “boy,” but it definitely illuminates some sad truths about our culture to see that some people are still so judgmental about things like a five-year-old’s favorite color. I have to stand strong and make sure my kids know that they’re okay, just as they are.
You live in an area of California that has a robust arts culture, including a solid base of women musicians and writers. Many feminist writers, including scholars like Audre Lorde, insist that women come together and resist thinking in androcentric or white-supremacist-patriarchal terms to imagine and live our most creative lives. What does community look like to you?
It takes many forms. I belong to a small community of moms whose kids are friends, which is valuable to me because we all understand the struggles of raising five-year-olds. My online community of distance learning classmates was extremely valuable as I obtained my master’s degree. Then, there’s my personal community — the friends with whom I have felt the strongest kinship throughout the years — that is most valuable to me and best embodies the Audre Lorde concept of community.
How did you create your own community?
My personal community consists of quality people that I have hung onto from different periods of my life; best friends I’ve known since birth, fourth grade, high school, college and beyond. Looking at the crew I’ve assembled, they’re all pretty badass women (plus my husband), each of whom are highly creative in their own right, and ambitious, too. And we all work to uplift each other, sharing details of our current projects and encouraging each other to take whatever the next step should be.
What do you hope to contribute and gain that you haven’t experienced already?
There is so much more that I could do to create a stronger sense of community. I’m pretty introverted, so I don’t really get out much, but I would hope to forge stronger bonds with other female musicians in the community most of all. Typically, I bristle at “female musician” being used as a designation, but I’m just being accurate here. The experience of performing music is pretty different for women than it is for men. Talking to women who get that is always nice.
What issues have you seen in your communities around forms of racial bigotry or non-intersectional feminism?
In terms of my local community, as in the people who live where I live, it’s not especially diverse and it is oddly conservative for California — even puritanical in many ways. What I see most often is an inability to understand or accept that people of color face different challenges than white people. Because things are fairly homogenous here, people aren’t often confronted with that reality. I mean, it’s hard for white people to recognize that regardless.
How do these issues help you envision a stronger community?
It makes me really wish that people would interact more with others who are different from them, that they would have real conversations.
If I spend too much time on social media, I notice it begins to affect my mood, too. Comparison is the thief of joy, right? Plus, some people just bum me out with their sad, fear-based opinions.
In my experience as a poet and cartoonist, often, I see artists fall in line waiting for their “turn” to be seen or for the approval of other established artists. I am of the mindset that one doesn’t have to ask for permission, especially as a woman. How do you create your own opportunities?
I believe that too. It’s fairly commonplace in music for artists to distribute their own music via cassettes, CDs, or platforms like Bandcamp; that’s what I have done, as well as every other musician I have known (at least at first). Establishment validation can be nice, but it isn’t essential.
In what ways has the community supported your networking and project/show opportunities?
In general, I think the artists around here are good about reaching out to each other when shows come up. Few people want to play a three-hour set all on their own, especially when that means being 100% responsible for drawing the crowd.
What do you feel particularly unsure or nervous about when thinking about creating your own opportunities?
The workload is certainly daunting, especially when my personal life feels so full of responsibilities. That’s really just a matter of utilizing my time better, though — even with that special enhanced mom-brain I talked about so much earlier, I still do meaningless things more than I should. There’s also the worry that whatever I create won’t be well-received or that people won’t want to collaborate with me, but I just need to get over that.
Why make your own opportunities in the first place?
For one thing, making the art itself should be the goal, not praise from some external source. When you create your own opportunities, you don’t have to wait for anyone’s permission; you just do what you need to do, and the work is set free to find the people that will love and appreciate it.
What projects do you have planned for yourself this year and how do you envision sharing your work?
This year, I would love to finish the album I’ve been working on, and at least release a single from it — probably still on Bandcamp, but definitely with more of a promotional push than I gave my last collection of songs.
What are some strategies that you have tried that don’t depend on social media?
Mainly just playing shows, getting people to hear my music in person. Then, of course, promoting those shows tends to involve at least some social media, so it’s kind of unavoidable.
What are the pros and cons of using social media as a self-promotion tool?
The amazing thing about using social media as a means of self-promotion is that, in theory, you have the ability to reach thousands of people without having to physically interact with any of them. That is a dream for someone like me, who would love to take the Harry Nilsson approach to a musical career — focus on writing and recording, don’t really play live. The downside is that you have to actually post things.
Then these posts, along with the compulsion to check each platform for “likes,” can be incredibly time-consuming, limiting your ability to be present in each moment and to get real work done. If I spend too much time on social media, I notice it begins to affect my mood, too. Comparison is the thief of joy, right? Plus, some people just bum me out with their sad, fear-based opinions.
What are some self-promotion challenges that have come up for you?
My main self-promotion challenges are my distaste for social media as well as, you know, raising children. Babysitting is not unlimited, and I don’t really want to be away from my children too much anyway. Still, I can’t ignore my desire to play music, so finding a way to balance the two is important. Like I said, I need to prove to myself that the “me” that I have known hasn’t bailed.
Curated by: Trinidad Escobar
Conducted by: Email
Edited by: Morgan Enos
Published: March 21, 2018
Total questions: 18
Word count: 1745
Reading time: Six minutes
ability, academia, ambition, androcentrism, appreciation, Audre Lorde, babysitting, Bandcamp, California, cartoonist, commitment, comparison, consumption, creativity, daunting, desire, downside, Erika Hayasaki, establishment, fear, feminism, fortune, gender, guitar, Harry Nilsson, homogenous, Hot Wheels, idea, Illumination, interaction, interest, journal, joy, kinship, laser, melody, Meredith Hobbs, Minnie Mouse, Nipomo, Oakland, occupation, opinion, opportunity, patriarchy, precious, promotion, puritanical, purple, ritual, robust, songwriting, stereotype, The Avengers, thief, Trinidad Escobar, utility, validation, workload
About the curator
Trinidad Escobar is a poet, illustrator, mother, bruha and educator from the Bay Area, California. She is an alumnus of San Francisco State’s poetry program, the Jack Kerouac School of Disembodied Poetics, VONA, and earned her MFA in Comics at California College of the Arts. Her forthcoming graphic memoir Crushed will be available summer 2018.
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