Meet Later Mom: Anna Fishbeyn


RESIDENCE: New York
Children: Tamrian 5, Eliana 11
RELATIONSHIP STATUS: Divorced

I’m a writer, actress, director and filmmaker.  Recently, my first novel, The Matrimonial Flirtations of Emma Kaulfield, was published by Arcade Publishing.  I’ve also written two plays, Sex in Mommyville, which opened at the Flea Theater and played at other New York theaters, and My Stubborn Tongue, which played off-Broadway at the New Ohio Theater and at Soho Theatre in London.  I love performing on stage and recently performed in my new one-woman comedy cabaret show, Anna on Fire and Uncensored at the Metropolitan Room in NYC.  In film, I’ve created and starred in a web series called Happy Hour Feminism, which has won numerous awards in film festivals. Recently, I directed two short films, Invisible Alice, and The Love Bathroom, both of which have been officially selected at film festivals.  My current pursuits include creating a TV pilot called Love is an Invention about single moms and online dating, and my first feature film, entitled How To Seduce Your Dinner Guest about an uptight dinner party that devolves into hilarious seductions, misunderstandings and New York-style networking gone wild.  Visit https://www.annafishbeynofficial.com/.

What was your road to parenthood like?  Very quick. As I was completing my Ph.D and my MFA in Creative Writing, my ex-husband and I decided to try getting pregnant, assuming it would take another six months. Instead, we conceived that very day.

How does being a mom influence your work?   Before I had children, I was in a rush to establish an intellectual career – I was completing my Ph.D. in Philosophy of Education at Columbia University, and working on a Master’s Degree in Creative Writing at New School University.  I wanted to graduate from both programs and finish the novel I had just begun before starting a family, but I got pregnant with my daughter and after her birth, I was transformed, not only physically, but also emotionally and ideologically.  Motherhood moved me, touched me, filled me with love and extraordinary empathy, changed my view of the world. I became more aware of the deep-seated inequalities between men and women in the home, and in the way society treated our parenting roles.  Motherhood was an unanticipated catalyst for my writing as well: when I finally understood how little time I had, I stopped procrastinating, I became more effective, I wrote without stopping, even if on some days it was only for ten minutes. I understood at last the importance of consistency and dogged persistence.  I thanked my daughter for sparking so much creativity and productivity, and completed my first novel, The Matrimonial Flirtations of Emma Kaulfield, six months after her birth.

The birth of my son gave yet another twist to my career. I was in the midst of an emergency C-section, when my pulse started to go down.  I was supposed to be awake but I felt as if an elephant was sitting on top of my chest and I knew in that moment that I was dying.  I couldn’t bear the pain in my heart. I told my husband: “I love you – take care of our two children. I’m dying. Goodbye.” I lost consciousness. I remember floating and chaos. I was told later that my pulse dropped below 30 until at some point it stopped altogether.  They had to revive me.  When I finally woke up and held my son in my arms, I said to him, “If not now, then never,” by which I meant if I had just died and had never performed on stage.

I had been a child actress in Russia, but like many immigrants in America, my family discouraged me from pursuing this career.  Yet when I woke up in that hospital with my son in my arms, it no longer mattered that I would be starting this career after I had children – I just knew that I needed to perform. While breastfeeding my son, I wrote a collection of stories called Conversations With My Breasts. I called a well-known New York venue in the village, called Cornelia Street Café, where I knew musicians and writers performed, and said, “would it be ok, if I performed like 10 min on your stage – I have these essays; one is called Conversations With My Breasts, another is called the Bad Parents’ Guide to Sanity and the third is called, The nuts and bolts of Espionage, i.e., Sex in Mommyville.” The man on the phone said, “with titles like these I’ll give you your own solo show.” My ex-husband videotaped that show, sent it around to small NYC theaters, and suddenly I started getting responses. Sex in Mommyville opened at the Flea Theater  – and a new life unfolded before me.  Sex in Mommyville was inspired by my children – it was an ode to my children.  They spurred my creativity, they awakened my new sense of humor, they were my muses and my bouncing boards. I remember practicing Sex in Mommyville in front of my toothless infant son, and saying to him, thank God you don’t know any swear words yet because this play has language.

 What inspired you to focus on feminist projects?  Motherhood was the number one reason that I became a loud, proud, unrepentant feminist. When I became a mother, I started to realize that New York’s married women with children were some of the most beleaguered women in the world, juggling husbands, children, schedules, Manhattan expectations, and unreasonable standards of perfection. The moms I knew from preschools and kindergarten commiserated about the same problem: no matter what we were trying to do in our professional lives, women were still expected to do all the caretaking for their children and their homes.  Parenthood brought out a pronounced feeling of inequality between the genders. Women were not having it “all,” not simply because “all” required a superhuman ability to multitask, but also because men were not expected or raised by society to become equal partners in the caretaking of our young – to be in essence hands-on-dads.

Articles on the Internet and in the media were daily hammering about the war between stay-at-home moms and working moms, inciting blame and finger-pointing, leaving women to battle it out amongst themselves. Yet no one was talking about dads; no one was asking the dads how they felt about their new roles.  No one witnessed high-powered banker or attorney dads with Harvard degrees dropping out of the workforce in order to take care of their children; these new dads were not “deciding” – their answers were predetermined.  Yet that is exactly what was happening to women – women with degrees and promising careers were deciding to drop out to stay at home with their children.  Sex in Mommyville is comedy about a mother artist who attempts to have sex with her husband and fails over and over again, but in the process she goes off on feminist diatribes about the social pressures on women to look good, be perfect mothers, and have sex in order to upkeep their marriages.

For my next feminist-inspired project, I created a comedy webseries, called, Happy Hour Feminism. I wanted to experiment with completely reversing gender roles. So I created a futurist world in Happy Hour Feminism, where women sit on top of a bar, and men come in with problems such aging, gaining too much weight, or suffering from their Wolf Periods.  Women wield high-powered positions, rule the media, the Internet and how men view themselves. In an episode entitled, Lipo-Draining Beer, we offered a diet beer to an overweight man and although he is instantly transformed into a lean hunk, there are brutal side effects.  In our most popular episode, War of the Dads, a stay-at-home dad battles a working dad – to decide who is “more” accomplished, and who is a “better” father.  Although the episode is thoroughly comedic – it won for best comedy short film at the World Cinema Film Festival Berlin – at the end, viewers are confronted with actual statistics about the low percentages of women in such fields as science, business and entertainment.

What advice would you offer to multi-tasking overwhelmed moms?  Keep at it, keep multi-tasking, stay focused on your goals, keep fighting for your dreams, keep following your passions, don’t let anyone tell you to rest or slow down. If you have to do it all, do it! We women don’t have the luxury of rest. We simply do more, by virtue of our biology, social expectations and ingrained inequity between the sexes.  Because of that, it is so much harder for mothers to pursue their careers and to still feel that they are “good” mothers.  Guilt is constantly fueled within us; guilt is the number one reason why we are overwhelmed and eternally multi-tasking.  Yet I cannot say to any mother, “do not feel guilty” because I feel guilty all the time, and I will never stop feeling guilty.  I always want to spend more time with my children, and yet I also want to pursue this career and if I can’t make it to my kids’ event or show at school, I feel the sharp burn of guilt in my chest.  Yet if mothers leave the playing field altogether, if we all choose to simply stay at home and drop out of the workforce, we will disappear from positions of political power, from cultural conversations, from the competitive world of banking, law, medicine, from the entertainment fields where there are currently so few women directing and producing. We need to press on, to find communities and villages that will support us and find creative ways to establish eco-systems to help raise our young and maintain our presence in the professional world.

I am a great believer in the idea that happiness only exists in the process of living out our passions, not in the process of seeking out happiness in and of itself.  Happiness in my profession has always revolved around the creation of art.  The path to that particular brand of happiness has been filled with struggle and obstacles and herculean determination to not lay down and close my eyes and just sleep when I’ve wanted to – but I wrote a five hundred page novel and a play while nursing one infant, and taking care of a toddler in diapers, and I never looked back.  I’ve never gotten that sleep back, it sits as a frown line on my forehead and I’m proud of it.

How do you achieve balance?    Who do you turn to for support?  I achieve balance through meditation and yoga. I practice hot-powered yoga, Kundalini yoga, Vinyasa yoga, a form of empowering dance called Intensati, and I meditate every night before I fall asleep.  My parents are extraordinary, and they’ve supported my career and moved to NYC to help me out so that I would be able to perform on stage.

Has anything about being a mother surprised you?  What do you love the most about it, and what is the most challenging?  I was surprised by the flow of unmitigated love for my children, surprised by my own sense of devotion to them and fear for them, and the sense that my life began with them – that I was in essence reborn together with them.  I’ve lived two lives: the period before children, and the period after, and the period after has definitely been my most significant one – the time when I discovered myself, my courage, my inner strength. After I had my children, I acquired the courage to get on stage and perform, something I could have never done before my children.

What do you most want to teach your children?   What have you learned from them thus far? To know what it means to truly love other people – to be compassionate, considerate, loving, caring human beings, to see themselves as part of an intricate multicultural community and to be able to truly see and listen to the world around them.

I’ve learned that there’s no real difference between adults and children – just time and experience.  Children are brilliant, insightful, and incredibly intuitive, and they are capable of tackling any problem or issue. The only thing adults have over children is more years of schooling, which can sometimes mean we overthink things while children respond naturally, spontaneously, instinctively.  I’ve learned that I can talk to my children about difficult issues such as divorce, and that they can grasp it in ways I never imagined, and sometimes their insight is illuminating and healing. I’ve learned from both my daughter and my son that children have an infinite capacity for forgiveness, and they have taught me to be more forgiving to myself.

(A young Anna with family.)

Do you have any particular memories from your own childhood that inspire you to make memories with your children? I was born in another country, in Russia, under the Soviet Regime, and when I was a small child, we fled to America as political refugees.  My stories of my childhood stun my children – stories of escaping the KGB, surviving in America when we had no money, being mocked and bullied as a child for being different and not being able to speak English. I tell my children stories about their own births, and make memories for them through storytelling.  My grandmother always told me stories about surviving World War II, Stalin, starvation, about her difficult youth, and she would always somehow interweave her past with my childhood in magical ways.  And even though we were born on different continents, I try to do the same for my children – draw a thread from their lives to my own to the lives of their grandparents and great-grandparents, in order to help them feel connected to their heritage and to give them a historical context for who they are in this world.

What words of wisdom would you like to share for someone contemplating motherhood over age 35?  Do it, it will change your life. Your age will help you be wiser.  Your body will be tougher to navigate, so focus on keeping your body healthier than you did when you were younger, and you will look better and feel better and have more energy for your kids.  Most importantly, forget your chronological age: think in terms of how you feel, communicate with your own body, listen to its needs, energize it – energy is youth.

  1. One Response to “Meet Later Mom: Anna Fishbeyn”

  2. Thank you so much for this nice interview.

    By smartykids on Jul 24, 2017

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