Trying to Accomplish Everything

INTERVIEW BY REBECCA DAVEY

My mom, Elizabeth Davey, is complex and intelligent. She’s kind but fierce, remarkable in so many ways. She finished her PhD at 63. She helps me with my kids every week. She has perfect pitch. She can play Happy Birthday on the piano in any key. You would like her.

Do you consider yourself an artist? (I certainly do!)

Sure! Especially as a musician.

What was the first creative act you remember?

Probably as a little child making roads and building little houses outside in a play area! I think we underestimate children’s play-making as creative. More directly, since I started playing piano very young, I remember making up songs and ‘arranging’ tunes—spent more and more time at it as a young teen.

How do you work creatively? What’s your process?

I dither a lot! A lot of time dreaming of ideas, soaking in the bathtub, thinking! Then I write down by hand my ideas before I head to a computer—for my writing or planning an event, etc. For the piano, I just play things over and over until ideas come.

What is your idea of perfect happiness?

I don’t have an answer. Not sure there is such a think as ‘perfect happiness.’ And a lot of the creative process comes out of angst and anxiety and fear and pain. I am happy when I have come up with a good idea and it works, but then the counter side takes over as I have to begin again. It is sort of like the end of a novel where everything works out. Euphoria for a few minutes, then the book is done and one feels empty!

What is your greatest fear?

Can’t decide—lots of little ones like fear of fire, fear of failure in work. Prefer not to think of fears.

What is the trait you most deplore in others?

Probably dishonesty—sometimes arrogance. I’m cautious with this one—the idea of one’s shadow side creeps in. What we deplore in others is what we deplore in ourselves!

What is your greatest extravagance?

Probably buying either books or art—I love beautiful things!

Can you describe your kind of feminism? (As in how are you a feminist?)

I believe I’m a conflicted feminist! I love to be taken care of, yet I recognize my efficiencies and want to be credited with what I can do! In our home we are surprisingly traditional, yet both of us would view ourselves as promoting women. I see more egalitarian practice in the next generation. Maybe it is because women like me have tired ourselves out trying to accomplish everything—career and perfect parenting and homemaking.

What is your greatest regret?

I don’t like these big words like ‘greatest.’ I have some regrets—not finishing my PhD sooner so I could get on to other things sooner. On the other hand, I did what I could! I don’t think I spend a lot of time thinking about regret.

When and where were you happiest?

Unanswerable for me! Lots of happy times to remember—love sitting around a table with all my family engaged in energetic conversation, happy to be together. Another happy experience is performing music well in a group! I loved the years when I was playing in a piano trio or singing in a college singing group—the actual performance, not the relationships.

Which talent would you most like to have?

I’m happy with what I have. Perhaps I would like to add the ability to write poetry or fiction to what I do, but I can also enjoy others’ accomplishments.

What do you consider your greatest achievement?

Juggling all the various balls in my life while completing some big projects—like a book and PhD. Having two talented daughters who have gone on to achieve.

What is your most treasured possession?

I guess my computer, because it has most of my creative projects on it. I discovered when I was studying in England that I didn’t have a lot of treasured possessions—I could let most things go. I value photographs, of course, of people and memories—and I love the art work we own, but again, I could let them go if I had to.

What do you most value in your friends?

Probably loyalty and faithfulness. I do like an interesting conversation, though, so some creativity and intellectual curiosity.

Did you expect me to be an artist?

I expected that whatever you did would involve the creative. Not sure I predicted your career path.

What do you like about the art that I do?

I like the humour and quickness and ability to see both the poignant and the quirkiness in situations and people. I like the compassion that shows through in the insightfulness.

Who is your favourite hero of fiction?

I thought about that for a while. I don’t think I have one! I’ve read a lot of fiction where there is a hero, of course, but I don’t have deep affection for any of them. I could answer heroines much easier. In real life, Abraham Lincoln!

Tell us about your progression from musician to writer?

In college I was scared off my musical track by the fierce competition. I always enjoyed reading so I switched to literature as a major. To my dismay, over the years, I realized how deeply competitive the academic world is, and have had to face that sense of challenge once again. I have to work hard to push the demons away! I held off writing for years—happy to help edit everyone else. Even taking the time to do this is distracting! Focusing on my writing has taken years of warming up to it. Now time is short—i.e., I’m getting older—and I need to force myself to work by myself and just write!

What is your most marked characteristic?

Perseverance? You tell me.

Who are your favourite writers?

C.S. Lewis, Toni Morrison, Michael Ondaatje, Annie Dillard, the 19th century female novelists like George Eliot, Jane Austen, Charlotte Bronte, et al.—sure there are a lot more, but this is a start.

 

In Interviews

From Who’s Yo Mama?

 

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