Anna, Anne, Elizabeth Ann, Jennifer Ann. The only female to female descendant of a matriarch who lived to 106 and passed away shortly after the birth of my first child, mothering has not come naturally to me. With strained relationships going back at least four generations, not to mention the countless like it beyond my family line, I could hardly hope to think I would escape a contentious relationship with the role.
In my previous work, Feminine, I explored the unspoken rules of femininity inherent to my family of origin. With the birth of my second child, a daughter and the 5th female descendant, the natural progression was to follow with the unspoken rules of motherhood. However, in contrast to my previous work, A Madonna in Redux explores the rules of motherhood beyond my lineage. By photographing mothers and their children, from diverse ethnicities, economic backgrounds, geographical locations, sexualities, gender identities, and religious affiliations. I reflect on the common threads uniting mothers as well as the perspectives that wound and alienate.
A Day in the Life as the Artist in Residence, from Jen Brown, July 2019
A gentle light weaves its way into the cottage as I start a pot of coffee and pause to hear the distant tune of songbirds and bleating goats out the window. Eli and Norah munch their cereal, swinging their legs from the oak bench behind the table and chatting about the day ahead. Shortly after that, it’s on with the shoes and backpacks before throwing open the front door and marching across the lawn with their dad on the way to daycare. For once, I am alone with time to create and think and be.
A year ago my partner and I moved to New York in order to get some perspective, experience new cultures, and rethink how we were living our lives. As our lease drew to a close, we started considering our next move. A few opportunities came to light, but when I came across the Unruly Retreat, I knew I had found something special. After applying and being accepted to the program, we put our belongings into storage and came to Virginia with our two kids for a summer long residency.
Coffee in hand, I settle into my desk to check emails before beginning my research for the day. After reading, taking notes, and sketching some photography concepts for a few hours, my brain starts to get a little full so I take that time to digest my thoughts and enjoy the farm. “Hi goats!” I shout to the three goats across the yard before easing into the hammock. After a little while, I might head out to shoot some images, or go back inside to keep researching, but this moment is pure heaven for me.
New York is amazing, but it’s loud and the landscape isn’t as varied as one might think. As someone who feels particularly at home amidst the smell of sweet grass and an expansive sky, this little patch of land is healing and restorative to my heart. It’s like I can hear my inner voice for the first time in a year. On the days I don’t want to sit in seclusion with my thoughts, I make the short trek to Uptown Coffee in Farmville, but that’s kind of the beauty of it. I get to decide.
After a few hours of photographing around the area, I go back to the cottage and whip up dinner for my family who walks back in the door at six thirty. We eat together in the kitchen with the kid friendly plate and utensils already in the cottage. Then we play with the toys upstairs, explore the farm, or let’s be honest, watch a movie and snuggle before it’s time for the kids to go to sleep.
As the sun lays long shadows on the grass, my partner and I sit on the back deck and look across the field ahead. Sometimes a bunny hops by, other times the rain pours down so thick it nearly obscures the far line of trees. When my son was born four years ago, my life had to pause as I moved through nursing, pregnancy, the birth of a second child, and more nursing. New York helped me find myself again, but the Unruly Retreat is helping me claim my space in the world once more. After four years the fog is lifting, I’ve got fresh inspiration, creative direction, and I’m even starting to entertain the idea of a Master’s Degree, something I never thought would be a worthwhile endeavor a mom and artist. Maybe it’s something in the well water, but this place is pure magic to me.
Laura Goode is the author of the novel SISTER MISCHIEF (Candlewick Press, 2011), and the collection of poems BECOME A NAME (Fathom Books, 2016); she co-wrote and produced the feature film FARAH GOES BANG, which premiered at the 2013 Tribeca Film Festival and won the inaugural Nora Ephron Prize from Tribeca and Vogue. Her essays have appeared widely in publications including BuzzFeed, Refinery29, ELLE, Glamour, The Cut, and Catapult, and her nonfiction work has received funding support from the Steinbeck Fellowship at San José State University and the Bread Loaf Writers' Conference at Middlebury College. She received her BA and MFA from Columbia University, teaches in the English and Feminist, Gender, and Sexuality Studies departments at Stanford University, and was recently appointed the new director of Stanford's Humanities Public Writing Project.
Crystal Schubert is a YA fiction writer based in Richmond, VA. Her short story "The Aviary" was published in the anthology Beware the Little White Rabbit out from Leap Books, and her other short works can be found in YARN, wicked alice, and more.
Amy Shearn is the author of the novels The Mermaid of Brooklyn, How Far is the Ocean From Here, and the forthcoming Unseen City, which will be published by Red Hen Press in the fall of 2020. She is New York fiction editor at Joyland Magazine, and teaches creative writing at Sackett Street Writers' Workshop. Her work has appeared in the New York Times, Parents, Real Simple, Coastal Living, Poets & Writers, and elsewhere. She has received support from the Sustainable Arts Foundation and Space on Ryder Farm's Family Residency. Amy lives in Brooklyn with her husband and two whimsical, hilarious, and time-consuming children.