Imagine you are 10 years old again. You peer into the future and see yourself now. What do you think about who you have become? What does your 10-year-old self perceive as your strengths? Your weaknesses? You might consider your physical health/condition, where you live, or what you do and how you do it. This is the reverse exercise of “what would you tell your former self.” Instead, think like a child. What does your child-self see in you as the adult they envisioned becoming? What surprises them?
This exercise was a prompt in a week-long writing intensive last week—virtual, of course.* The purpose was to get us writing, creating new material. It’s also an opportunity to revisit goals and reflect on who we are and who we want to be. Does your 10-year-old self like what they see?
I found these prompts reassuring. Well, one of them. When I was 10, I wanted to be a poet (oh the beauty of words!) or a minister (I think because they spoke with authority, not because I loved the church or doctrine). I was told that poets don’t earn a living and only men can be ministers. So I went into nursing, a career that blended the science of knowing with the art of caring. I designed, carried out, and reported research on how people face and overcome illness-related adversity. I wrote and I spoke.
Then my 10-year-old self illuminated my weakness. “I love to PLAY when I create,” she said. “Where is the fun in all of your discipline? You remember, don’t you, how many skits we created in the neighborhood and then performed on stage in fifth and sixth grade? Remember what FUN it was? Sure, we liked it when the audience laughed, but we did it for the fun of creating it and being on stage. Don’t you remember?”
My 10-year-old self and friends had reveled in the joy of creating art just for the fun of it—without expectations or reward. She saw my current creations—my writing—as work, not play. That’s a child’s thinking, of course. But I had to fight the inclination to justify or defend why I write and what purpose it serves. I wanted to say to her, “COVID interfered—who feels joyful now? Besides, writing gives meaning and purpose to my life right now. I want to write to share.”
I envisioned her standing outside in the alley (where lots of creating happened), legs apart, hands on hips, head cocked, listening to my defense. She didn’t need to say anything. I felt the difference in our approach. I wanted to feel the joy she felt when she created. I wanted something more than just the reward of finishing something. I thought about what gave me joy in my writing: a poetic sentence that unearths wisdom or an idea from my subconscious, something I could never manufacture by intention. It had to bubble up from within. Going there requires escape from the thinking mind. That’s joy in the doing, the process of creating from a deeper place than my mind. And it’s fun.
What are you “working” on that is fun and brings you joy?
Our day two writing prompt was to write about a favorite sweet treat from our childhood. I wrote about the first of the season berries and juicy peaches, nectarines, and cherries my mother would carry home in those starch-like brown paper grocery bags every Friday. My siblings and I would surround the kitchen table and dig for the soft and juicy, never mushy, rainbow of colors from local Midwest farms. It was a different treat each week. My mother’s canned peaches and pears were yummy winter desserts, but nothing compared to the joy of discovering—and devouring—coveted annual treats, juice dripping down our chins.
The fruit disappeared almost as fast as the one bag of candy or the one box of sugar-frosted cereal. I can still hear the aluminum candy dish cover clink on the crystal bowl—an alert of competition from a sneaky sibling. The four of us watched cartoons and ate almost the entire box of cereal on Saturday morning while Mom and Dad slept in. We didn’t argue or fight or even compete. We shared freedom and independence and kept it fun. It wasn’t about the sugar high after all.
What’s your favorite childhood sweet treat? Why? Escape and play along with me.
*Thanks to Dinty W. Moore for the trip back in time