By Samantha Bryan
I remember years ago when I was nannying for a beautiful family, experiencing the joys and not-joys of their daughter coming into toddlerhood. She was such a precious dumpling as a baby, and somehow she had sprung into an agent of chaos, destruction, loss of hearing (mine), and potty-training nightmares. I had a day where I remember sitting at the kitchen table hoping for five minutes of peace (that never arrived) and feeling overwhelmed by the guilty thought of, “omg. I don’t like you.”
Bothered by this, having established that I did feel unconditional love for this child, I asked one of my friends who is a mother to two young children if she ever experienced similar feelings. She laughed and threw her hands up exclaiming, “OH GAWD YES! There are days where I completely dislike my children. You don’t tell them that, obviously, but that’s a well-kept secret among mothers. We all talk about it. You’d be surprised how common that is, especially when they’re toddlers.”
PHEW. Great, I wasn’t a monster. Or if I was, I was at least in good company.
Life, death and rebirth apply to the creative process as much as they do to the larger natural world. Winter in the creative process is crucial for letting things rest, assessing our previous work, and contemplating where we want to go before implementing a plan in the creative spring.
Producing and directing The Scarlet Tongue Project has brought out similar feelings for me over the course of the past three or four years. I remember the gestation period, feeling scared and excited, dreaming about what her personality was going to be, how I would be as an art mommy, imagining all the playdates with other artists and art parents in town. Then I went into labor, breathing and screaming through the pain of contractions, feeling frustration and fear of the nurses- some helpful and some harmful. I remember the vulnerability of not wanting anyone else to touch my baby, of just wanting to hold her to my chest where she would feel safe and bonded.
I remember how deeply and fiercely I fell in love when she began opening her eyes and making sounds. She was the most precious thing in the world to me, and I wouldn’t let anyone hurt her. The rest of the world disappeared, and it was so hard for me to focus or find equivalent joy in anything else.
Then the insecurities of being a new art mommy set in. I doubted my abilities, and my exhaustion from trying to navigate this new territory had me questioning everything. Everywhere I turned there was information telling me that I was doing it all wrong; that if I made the slightest error I would damage my art baby for life, and maybe even lose her. I constantly reached out to loved ones asking for assistance, afraid to be left alone with this tiny, vulnerable creature. When you have a new project and you’re a new producer, suddenly everyone around you is an expert and wants to tell you how to do your job; particularly folks who have never been producers before. You begin to wonder if you made a mistake, and if you should give your project up for adoption to someone more competent. Other times, you pour yourself a glass of wine and tell them to eff right off because it’s your kid and they can go mind their own beeswax.
I was in awe as I watched my art baby grow. She began to take on her own personality, making friends, forming opinions, and developing a stubborn side that I couldn’t budge for the life of me. I adored that about her. I was so deeply in love.
But every once in a while, I would wonder if I made a mistake. She was so hungry, and the bigger she gets the hungrier she is. She developed her own voice, and while there are so many laughs and moments of deep wisdom that make me think she’s an old soul, she also loves to scream. Her favorite thing to do is scream, just to know she can. What and who she loves one day she hates the next. Sometimes she decides that what was previously her favorite food is disgusting, and will go on a hunger strike until I guess what she likes, because she won’t actually tell me. Sometimes I’ll put her in the bath and then run downstairs to grab a book quickly, and when I come back up she’s turned the water all the way up, screaming because it’s too hot and the tub is overflowing all over the floor and leaking through the kitchen ceiling below. Sometimes I think she’s getting dressed to go run errands with me, but instead she’s put on her roller skates and is three blocks down the street by herself with nothing but her lightning bolt undies on. In winter.
On those days, I don’t like her. I don’t want to be an art mommy.
When my health issues crop up, physically or mentally, I don’t want to be an art mom that day.
When I have no clue how to delegate because the beginning stages of this project left me with massive trust issues, and now I’ve taken on way too much for one person, I don’t want to be an art mom.
When I receive yet another rejection letter from the millionth grant or residency program I’ve applied to, I want to quit.
Everytime someone says, “so wait, I don’t really get what you’re doing, it’s so confusing” or “so like, is Scarlet Tongue even happening anymore?” I just want to go full-Britney, shave my head, and start smashing the street up with my umbrella.
Everytime someone says “oh, my sister is into feminism and stuff and she likes to draw. You should interview her”, I want to crumble into a pile of feral cats and scatter into oncoming traffic.
There are days when I ask myself why I took on a project that isn’t as flashy or “fun” as my other artist friends. Why am I so heavy? Why am I such a downer? Why am I so weird, but not in a way that’s cool?
There are days when I don’t know whether to punch or charge money for the next person who tells me that anger is bad, and why don’t I focus on a project that brings love and joy?
There are days when my heart breaks, because everyone likes the idea of womxn’s anger in theory, but when actually confronted by it they simply regurgitate the same toxic oppressive mentality that’s left us in this place to begin with. I’ve lost track of how many times “yes I believe in this, PLEASE LET ME HELP” has turned into “you’re a bad mommy. How dare you be angry with me.”
There are days when I feel lost, because I am holding the weight of so many people’s heaviest emotions and darkest secrets, and I feel pressured to keep smiling and do a flashy dance to make it all seem sexy, because sex seems like the only thing that sells if “womxn” is mentioned in your mission statement. Either that, or a complete exploitation of my artists’ trauma, which is a hard no.
There are days when money issues are gutting me, and I’m afraid to ask for help because I fear I’ve overtapped my resources.
There are days when it looks like for one every step forward I end up taking ten steps back.
Some days I’m not sure if I’m actually a better person since doing this work or not.
Those days, I turn my face away and mutter “I don’t fucking like you” under my breath, and secretly look up boarding schools in the middle of the night. When I’m around a small handful of friends I really trust, I’ll confess that I don’t like this project anymore and am ready for it to end.
But then, something beautiful happens. The act of saying how I feel out loud invites a feeling of surrender, and that surrender creates space for me to look at this project with fresh eyes and see her wholeness. Sure, maybe in certain moments I’m ready to tap out. But in a way, that’s good. It means I care, and I welcome emotions in this project.
Sure, there are parts of this project I’m ready to wrap up, and not being able to complete that on my desired timeline makes me cranky. Not because I think they suck, but because that is the healthiest choice to keep things moving forward. I’m not going to start feeding my child solid foods because I resent their baby years; I’m going to feed them solid foods because it’s time to grow and move to the next step.
Despite my hair-pulling moments, the reality is that when I really dig in and try to visualize not having this project, or never having started it, I feel panic and then a full-body resistance. For all of the frustrations, ups and downs, I believe in this work so hard, and I am completely dedicated to the path.
I have visited parts of the US and the world that I’m not sure I would have ever seen otherwise. I’ve had the absolute fortune and blessing to gain both wisdom and knowledge, collaborate with, and share space with absolutely brilliant creative minds, both past and present. I’ve lost track of how many “holy shit, this is my life??” moments I’ve had, and that number only continues to grow. For every moment I’ve doubted myself, just as many people have taken time to tell me how much this project and this work means to them, and how it’s influenced their lives, whether as contributors or observers. On a personal level, the work I’ve done to heal a lot of my own trauma and anger issues has been profound, and the effects of that have had incalculable influence on my personal relationships and in my blood family. This project has shown me, through peace and through fire, how tirelessly obsessed and dedicated I am to making something happen if I really want it. Hearing “no” might bum me out for a minute, but you find solutions and move on. Being bummed out isn’t a death sentence.
Two years ago I was sitting with friends in Mexico, chatting with them about their experiences as mothers, contemplating if I wanted to have children of my own one day. One thing they said really stuck with me– as a parent, you don’t own your children and they’re not extensions of you. They are their own people who will develop into who they need to be, and they will ultimately inform you about who they are. A parent’s job is mainly to love them, provide resources, and keep them safe.
This is a regular reminder for The Scarlet Tongue Project. I brought her into the world, gave her some form, and now she’s taken on a life of her own. Rather than being the owner or queen of this work, my job is far more service than glory. I’m trying to be better at asking her, “who are you today? What do you need to thrive?” Sometimes I have no clue what she’s trying to tell me. Sometimes we need to explore that a little bit to figure it out. Sometimes we take one or two wrong turns before getting back on track. But I trust the friends and caregivers she’s called forward to help on this journey. It’s a constant balance of appreciating growth while remaining present, and frequently reminding my ego to step out of the way. In moments of absolute frustration, I simply ask myself, “have you tried absolutely everything?” and the answer is always no. There is always more to do and more to learn. I can’t justify giving up when there is still infinite potential available.
Our relationships always flow in cycles. One day you’ll be super in sync with a friend or loved one, and the next you can’t seem to jive with their energy. Life will happen, circumstances will change, and then days, weeks, months or years later, you’ll fall back in harmony. In long-term romantic relationships, you cycle through periods of absolute infatuation, then wanting to murder each other, and sometimes being platonic roommate besties. I don’t have actual children, but I do believe there are so many different ways to live the archetype of Parent. It’s no secret that with parenthood comes doubt and overwhelm, along with joy and love. One minute you can’t get enough of your babies, and the next you’re hoping someone will take them away for a month so you can get some sleep and remember who you are outside of them. While love remains, inspiration and interest come in cycles. Life, death and rebirth apply to the creative process as much as they do to the larger natural world. Winter in the creative process is crucial for letting things rest, assessing our previous work, and contemplating where we want to go before implementing a plan in the creative spring.
The work my team puts into this project continues to stun and humble me in gratitude. Every single person who takes a moment to tell me how this project has helped or inspired me has given me fresh life. Watching this whole thing come to life is surpassing my wildest dreams, even with the path being full of twists and turns. I don’t have to always like this project, and it’s liberating to admit that. But I love her on both an intellectual and soul level, and that’s what allows me to push through. This project is all about rawness, authenticity, and speaking your truth. It would be hypocritical if I encouraged everyone else but myself to be in that energy.
I wish you all creative spring through your moments of wanting to light it all on fire and send the ashes out on trash day <3