By Amy Preiser
Like crossword puzzles? Here’s a fun one for you: what’s a 10-letter word for “running around like a chicken with its head cut off”, but also “checking things off your to-do list as fast as lightning.”?
Hilarious, right? Because when would a working mom have time to do a crossword puzzle?
Because working moms – and in this club I’m including full-timers, part-timers, stay-at-home moms who dabble when they can – are highly familiar with giving up indulgences (hi crossword puzzles) in the name of getting sh*t done. Which yes, is mostly necessary. But for me, at least, often leads to limiting my own perspective, and falling too deeply into routines, without ever popping my head up to see what else is out there.
Enter Annette Joseph. She’s a lifelong stylist (worked with Gwyneth, NBD), who lives between Atlanta and Italy (she’s currently renovating a Tuscan fortress – wha?). She’s raised two grown-up kids who are polite, funny, kind, and gainfully employed. She’s kind of like Sophia Loren, but if she was a Jewish mother, and could set a beautiful table with her eyes closed, while also cracking you up.
She hosts creative workshops around the world, and invited me to experience one in Italy last summer. There, in the seaside town of Alassio, I was immersed in possibility and knowledge. I improved my styling. I learned how to properly use my camera and tripod. We talked Instagram tricks. All the meals just magically and deliciously appeared, which made me feel like I airdropped into some wonderful healthy delicious adult preschool. I was in charge of nothing except expanding my horizons.
But the real magic comes when I least expect it and I ended up walking away from the experience with some invaluable tips that got my creativity back on track.
“The real magic comes when I least expect it.”
1. Getting better at one thing = Getting better at everything. I didn’t come to the workshop to upend my writing career and become the world’s top photographer, but that doesn’t mean I didn’t participate in every photo challenge and lesson with intensity and drive. Even though it’s not “my thing”, it did help me look at storytelling from a different lens (ha! Camera joke!) and I find myself thinking about my photo instructor Emily Followill’s instructions when I least expect it… like when writing this piece!
2. Your kid’s interests seep in more than you think – and that’s not such a bad thing. Annette has an incredible eye, but the workshop was more about recognizing each person’s point of view, rather than copying hers. Which means when we were walking through the shops in a small Italian town, and my classmates were shooting everything from street fashion to gelato, I was crouched in bakeries, capturing some Peppa Pig-shaped jellies, or out front playground structures I thought my son might enjoy. A lot of those photos came out, as you’d expect, quite boring. But when I found myself fascinating by a group of young kids jumping into the water, I wound up with one of the best photos of the trip.
3. Choose “interesting” over “pretty”. When you look at flatlays and styled vignettes like the ones we were practicing in our workshop, it’s easy to think that the end goal is to make something pretty. But? Nothing looks as good as interesting comes out. Annette and Anne definitely called me out when I styled scenes that I thought looked “sooo ‘grammable” but ended up looking like a bunch of pretty junk on marble. The solution? Whatever your creative pursuit is, make sure your goal is for it to tell a story or provoke a feeling.
4. Learn, absorb, practice, breathe, and look around. It’s an essential sequence that most mamas hardly ever carve out for ourselves.
“Your kid’s interests seep in more than you think – and that’s not such a bad thing.”
So here’s my big pitch to you, mamas: be a student for an hour, a day, a weekend. Immerse yourself in something new, or something you could stand to improve in, and seek out a structured way to get better that involves human interaction. A local parks & recreation class, a cooking seminar at your local kitchenware shop, a sewing class taught by some mom who’s always wearing some genius drapey creation she “just stitched up!” Schedule this kind of class like you would any other self-care activity, and then schedule yourself an extra block of time to let it all sink in as you take a walk, get coffee with a fellow student, basically anything but linking right back to your to-do list and phone.
I’d be remiss to not draw your attention to Annette’s next workshop, a weekend-long course in Los Angeles complete with Annette’s frequent collaborator Anne Sage spouting brilliance on her social media game. There will be delicious meals and soul-warming conversations, and the kind of inspiration that only comes from IRL connection.
Learn, absorb, practice, breathe, and look around. It’s fortifying and you know it. Because as hard as it is to make time to do it for ourselves, isn’t that what we hope for for our littles? Let’s lead by example.
“Be a student for an hour, a day, a weekend. Immerse yourself in something new, or something you could stand to improve in.”
Amy Preiser is a lifestyle journalist and branded content strategist. Based in the LA area, she writes for the LA Times, Martha Stewart Weddings, House Beautiful, and Sunset, among others. See more and follow along at amypreiser.com and @firstpreiser.