I Wish I Could Play There (Artist’s Way Week 3)

“Oh look. A playground. I wish I could play there.”

According to my parents, that’s what little girl Justine used to say in a pitiful, long-suffering voice whenever we drove past a playground. My ploy rarely worked. My parents would usually just grin or roll their eyes to themselves and perhaps agree that yes it did look like a very nice playground didn’t it. And then we would keep on driving.

I’m not a little girl anymore, but I still find myself using this tactic from time to time.

When someone posts a YouTube video of an up and coming musician doing an impressive cover of a current hit song, the little girl whine pipes up again. “Oh look. Another person who is more talented than I am. They can sing AND play an instrument? I wish I could do that.”

That’s just one example of the wishful thinking that sighs its way through my daily life. There’s nothing wrong with wishing, but it can get awfully heavy when it’s laced with a kind of “oh woe is me” passive aggression–as if someone else might pick up on my pain and somehow fix it. But it doesn’t work that way.

Julia Cameron (author of The Artist’s Way) talks about how everyone has an artist child within them–a playful, young-at-heart being that yearns to be creative. And, as we sometimes do with children, we often ignore it or consider its whims silly or unimportant and then wonder why it rebels inside of us. We wonder why we are plagued with this unfulfilled sense of longing or missing out. I’m about to wrap up Week 3 of the Artist’s Way, which focuses on recovering a sense of power–the power to open ourselves up to opportunities and to take charge of the things we want.

We might all have an artist child inside of us, but we also have what Julia calls a “Censor.” It’s the voice that undercuts every positive thought we ever have about ourselves. It’s the qualifier or disclaimer, the “but” or “never” that sabotages us. “I’m so happy I actually made time to write today,” our artist child says gleefully. “But what you wrote stinks,” the Censor cuts in. “It’s not like you could ever publish it or anything.” And then we tear our work to pieces or stuff it in a desk and try to forget that it ever brought us joy.

To combat the Censor and all of the nasty things it has to say, Julia suggests that artists work with affirmations. Take the negatives and flip them into positives. It might seem corny, but I’m telling you from experience that it works.

These days, I’ve been turning to a simple affirmation to help combat the Censor that tells me I can’t or shouldn’t have some of the things I want. These two words come to the rescue when I find myself listing off all of the things I wish I had, did, or could do. It might go something like this:

I wish I could go to that ukulele jam session I’ve heard about, but I can’t go.

Why not?

Because it conflicts with my fitness class at the gym and I can’t miss it. Because it might mess with my baby’s bedtime routine. Because $15 is a lot of money to pay to hang out with strangers and attempt to play an instrument with them. Because I’m scared to try something new and it might just remind me that I still stink at playing my ukulele even though I’ve had it for three years.

Ah. So that’s what’s really going on. All of those reasons (excuses) that I so easily come up with really mean one thing; I’m scared. Acknowledging that a lot of my excuses stem from a fear of failure has helped me to cut through some of my creative obstacles more efficiently. At first, the “why not?” helps me recognize my excuses and the real power behind them. Then “why not” becomes a shield between me and my excuses if I ask it before I even give the excuses room to breathe a single, “but.”

I wish I could go to that ukulele jam session…

Why not?

I can miss a gym class once in a while, especially if it’s for a very specific and creatively-fulfilling reason. My husband can handle putting the baby to bed even though she’s used to me doing it. $15 is manageable if I plan on spending it in advance. The first hour is designed for beginners, so no need to worry about looking like an idiot when I go. 

And lo and behold, the wish becomes a possibility, simply because I asked, “Why not?” and realized that there wasn’t really a significant reason.

It’s not always that easy. In fact, it’s usually not that easy. But using the affirmative “why not?” has proven an effective way for me to detect whether my excuses for not reaching toward a dream have any weight behind them or if it’s really just me getting in my own way. Sometimes it’s easier to trick ourselves into thinking that the things we want are impossible than it is to realize that they are possible, but we’re just too scared to make them happen. But we can start to take that power back little by little. Eventually I would love to be able to compose songs using my ukulele–or at least be able to hold a strumming pattern while singing. But for now, I will keep going to that ukulele jam session once a month and get some beginner’s help.

And who knows? The next time I drive past a particularly enticing park and the artist child in me pipes up, “Oh look. A playground.I wish I could play there.” maybe I’ll pull over and say, “Why not?” Grownups need to play too.

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