Giving Ourselves a Chance
by Jennifer Paros
When I was five, my mother put me in a class called Creative Ballet and I loved it. Then, the next year I told her I wanted to continue my ballet studies and she enrolled me in a new class for six year-olds.
I remember putting on my tights and leotard and being funneled into a room with other little girls. We all sat on the floor in a small circle while the teacher spoke and the next thing I knew we were lined up to practice leaping over a pair of ballet shoes. When the class was over, I met my mother with unambiguous negativity. This was NOT like the other class. Where were the drums? Where were the tambourines? WHERE was the marching?
My impression of what was called ballet was that it involved these things. My thoughts had already concretized around my personal definition whether it was technically incorrect or not. And that definition was now infecting my new experience. I had expected that but got this and I didn’t know how to reconcile the difference. But most importantly was that I was unhappy – not because the class wasn’t the same as the other one – but because I thought it should be. And with all these thoughts that it should be different than it was, how was I ever to enjoy what it actually was?
When I write or draw and don’t accomplish what I want or what I think I should, I can find myself feeling awful. In the past, I saw feeling lousy as an inevitable outcome of things not going “well” – which really just means, “The way I want.” But now when my work is not going as I think it ought, I perceive a choice. My choice is to persist in the demand that my experience be something other than it is, which is inherently stressful, or to see myself in a creative process and get curious about what new might come. Because many of us are in the habit of immediately railing against that which we do not think we want, the latter takes a bit more effort. But it’s effort well spent, because, in the end, the work comes together and we aren’t miserable during the process.
Even in the writing of this essay, it has not come together as easily as I thought it should. When I invest in this perspective and
judgment, I feel rotten. From this vantage point, it would make sense for me to go around telling people how badly my writing went today. But I have a choice: hold to my original perception, or let go and see what else might come. As I decide to do the latter, and open a new blank document to freeform random ideas for the article, I find myself happier in the process of discovering What Might Be than pushing against What Is.
Years ago when my son was no more than six himself, he had created an imaginary world called Demondonia. One day he was distraught about the destruction occurring there and I suggested he change the events as he was the creator of this world. He argued virulently that it just was how it wasand there was nothing he could do about it. He had ceased to notice that that world and those thoughts only had life when he breathed life into them.
He didn’t understand he was standing in opposition to his own perception and that that perception could be changed.
Sometimes it’s easy to forget our sense of power correlates with intentionally working with our thoughts or habitually reacting to what comes up. Whether it’s a pretend world, a ballet class, or what we’re writing that’s seemingly got us, our choice of thought is always the determining factor in our experience.
If it’s Creative Ballet we’re expecting and we find ourselves in Ballet I, we may want to keep up the fight. But what about the value of Ballet I? Giving something a chance is really an act of opening our minds and allowing ourselves to think differently about our experience. It is giving ourselves a chance, a chance to adjust, a chance to see more, a chance to discover what can be gained, different, perhaps, than what we expected but still valuable and maybe even ultimately - better.
Jennifer Paros is a writer, illustrator, and author of Violet Bing and the Grand House (Viking, 2007). She lives in Seattle.