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Mammartist part 2: parenting my creative projects

What if we were to treat our creative projects with the same gentle loving kindness we treat babies? How would that transform our creativity? This Italian mamma/artist is telling you: you should try it.

Attention readers! This post is for anyone with a creative project. It’s not just for moms. Or for dads. Or for caretakers. If you’re proudly childfree, this applies to you too – carry on reading. I’m sharing some powerful lessons I learned while caring for my 14-month-old baby – which are helping my filmmaking and my photography. Tremendously so. These are pretty universal revelations that hopefully will apply to many of you – whether you’re a budding artist, someone well established in your career or if you have a creative hobby you’re passionate about. I wish I had had these epiphanies 15 years ago.

The power of gentle loving kindness

A few years ago I came across a quote on Twitter that said something along the lines of: “treat yourself with the same gentle loving kindness you’d treat a newborn baby.” I thought, “Wow! What a powerful concept. I should do this.”

For a while, I would think back to this quote often but to be honest, it was pretty abstract. There were no babies in my extended family or circle of friends and I had no babies of my own back then. So I eventually forgot about it, went about my life and I’m sad to say that most days I didn’t implement this advice.

The epiphany

Fast-forward to a few years later. I became a mom. And I suddenly remembered this phrase. As the primary caretaker of my baby girl, I am very familiar with the concept of treating my favorite human with gentle loving kindness. It’s been my default setting ever since she was born 14 months ago. I have endless amounts of love and patience when it comes to her. Thing is, in addition to being a mom, I am also a filmmaker and a photographer. And I had a powerful epiphany – thanks to my baby girl – that has transformed the way I create – and how I look back at my old projects.

The realization went like this: what if I were to treat my creative projects with the same gentle loving kindness I treat my baby girl? What if I treated my art the same way I treat my baby? With unconditional love, strong faith and optimism, endless patience and grace? How would my creative life be transformed if I did that?

And that’s when I decided to go Italian mom on my creative projects.

Going Italian mom on my art

Step 1: enthusiastic encouragement and optimism early on

My daughter has always been a really expressive baby – ever since the day she was born, she would regale us with blissed out smiles. Those occurred at random intervals but the first word she really reacted to was “Brava” (“bravo”). She would beam with pride whenever I’d tell her “brava” – starting at 4-5 months old. It’s the easiest, most natural thing to compliment her for her progress and achievements and it’s heartwarming to see her reactions to the positive encouragement.

Have I ever felt or demonstrated the same support and optimism towards ANY of my creative projects? Those on which I worked for months or even years? Nope, not a chance. I most certainly did not.

Sigh.

You know the inner monologue many of us have regarding our creative projects? The critic that lives rent-free in our heads spewing negative talk and criticism? Well, if anyone ever directed that negative babble towards my baby girl, I would go full mama bear on them and immediately get my claws out. I get angry just thinking about it.

It’s so easy and effortless to cheer on babies as they are learning motor and language skills. We are patient with them, as we know it’s only a matter of time before an infant will develop muscles and the ability to stand up… and eventually walk. And talk. We know every baby develops at his/her own pace. What if we showed the same grace and patience towards our creative projects, especially during their beginning stages?

It’s nothing short of a miracle to start working on a film, or a book, or a play, or any kind of creative endeavor. The default setting for many of us may be to compare ourselves to others far ahead in their creative journey and feel like we are failing… or to be petrified by the next steps. I say: think of your project as a baby and treat it with the same gentle loving kindness and patience, knowing things take time and every project is different and develops at its own pace. The key ingredient here is optimism and a blind faith in the process. Things will develop in their own time… especially if nurtured and loved. You just have to put in a bit of effort every day.

The Illusionists DVD MEF

September 2019: visiting my “babies” at the headquarters of my educational distributor MEF – where DVDs of my documentary The Illusionists sit on a shelf, ready to be shipped to schools

Step 2: growth and gratitude

One of the most miraculous aspects of this motherhood journey for me is that I get a front row seat in observing the progress and growth of my tiny human. A year ago she could barely hold her head up and couldn’t grasp objects yet. Now she is a real tornado, moving at the speed of light through our apartment, with so much determination and drive, grabbing everything in her path.

I have been tracking my girl’s milestones – things small and big – in a document. It’s something very simple, with a bullet list of items in chronological order. For example:

February 2022
– Feb 02: clearly said “acqua” this morning while grabbing the bottle with water
– Feb 16: we dance (first time) to Louis Armstrong’s version of La Vie en Rose
– Feb 21: J. taught her to say “cucù” – it’s the most adorable thing

I often like to revisit this list of milestones – it always brings a smile to my face.

What if I were to do the same thing with my projects? Tracking progress and positive milestones?

In the past, whenever I received positive feedback to one of my films, I would file it away under a “gratitude” label in my inbox. Sadly it’s a cumbersome task to go find them and read through them. It’s really time consuming and not that efficient.

Well, today I am organizing all my new projects in Notion, with a special page dedicated to each one… so whenever I receive a nice comment or positive feedback, I can see it at a glance under the project’s page.

You don’t have to use Notion to do that, you can build a similar system elsewhere, too, just trust me: keeping track of progress and small moments of gratitude can do wonders when you need a boost of confidence. Moreover, you’d feel so much pride and joy towards your project, seeing how it’s growing and progressing.

Step 3: Release & let go of expectations

At the risk of oversimplifying things, the role of a parent is to provide a nurturing, loving environment for your child, doing your absolute best to accompany them in their growth and prepare them for the real world. And then, when they get older, you need to be ready to set them free.

What if we did the same with our creative projects?

We would give our absolute best, do all we can to maximize their impact and chance of success, and then we would release the projects and be ok with whatever happens.

We have no control over how the world will respond to our offspring – the same way we have absolutely no control over the reaction to our creative work. We just have to let go of expectations or else we would go mad.

Being able to let go of expectations may be the most transformative thing that has ever happened to me, vis-à-vis my work. I wish I had had that mindset when I released The Illusionists back in November 2016. I was so focused on external results, comparing and contrasting it to famous documentaries, that I failed to appreciate all the amazing things that happened since its release.

Every child is different and can’t be compared to others… in the same way that every creative project is different and deserves grace, acceptance and the release of expectations about how the world is going to react to it. Because caring deeply about things we can’t control is a recipe for frustration and disappointment.

So, how do you parent your creative work?

First off, be patient and hopeful at the beginning of your creative journey. Give your absolute best and make a bit of effort every day. Track progress and moments of gratitude. And when your project is ready for its launch, let go of expectations about how the world is going to react to it. Treat your creative project with the same gentle loving kindness you’d treat a baby. Creativity will feel like pure magic.

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