The earliest memory I have is watching the 1992 animated film of Aladdin at the cinema. At the time I was the smallest member of my parents not so small entourage of Small kids. The scene where Aladdin is riding the magic carpet as the Cave of Wonders collapses into lava around him etched itself onto my brain at a time when creating long-term memories wasn’t really its strongpoint. Obviously it was a dope scene, so it does make some sense.
Today, over 26 years later I sat in a cinema by myself and watched the live action version of Aladdin. It was the first time I’ve ever been to the movies alone. It was also the first time I’ve been to a movie at 10am. And it was pretty freaking awesome.
On this same day, after reliving my childhood at the cinema, I rode a skateboard to a meeting. As I pushed one foot on the cement and felt the other at home on the grip-tape, a part of me felt a small twinge of embarrassment. Adults don’t ride skateboards to meetings! It's not very ‘professional’! But another voice inside my head chimed into the conversation. It was the voice of my ten year old self. He told me this was everything he could have ever hoped to grow up and be. The ten year old version of me would be proud of me (let's face it, neither of us can skate, but we're having fun anyway). Maybe it wouldn’t be such a bad thing if I tried to win his approval a little more often, rather than avoiding the perceived disapproval of those who don’t ride skateboards to meetings?
If catching a remake of your fave childhood flick before lunchtime, and then skating to a meeting to talk about creative content you are being paid to produce is not living the dream…then I really don’t know what is.
But, it does seem pretty dang decadent, doesn’t it? It seems like there’s something wrong with this. As awesome as it was to go to a 10am movie on a Tuesday morning by myself…the journey there was paved with guilt and self-ridicule. Dude. It’s a workday. You’ve got responsibilities. You’re not supposed to do things like this.
So, what was I doing?
First, I was following my own advice. I regularly run sessions teaching people how to unlock their inner creativity and how to overcome their inner critic. One of the thoughts I offer is to consider the advice of Julia Cameron in The Artist’s Way — develop a daily practice of getting thoughts out of your brain and onto a page, and develop a weekly practice of taking your inner artist out for a date. She calls this part 'filling the well'. I tell people this stuff all the time. But, do I really believe it for myself? If I’m honest, whilst I ‘believe’ it at a head level, acting it out in my own life is still really difficult! Like most of us I’m pretty programmed to buy into the hype about work, productivity and self-worth being one messy bundle of ‘never switch off’ work-aholic tendencies. Benj and I have been speaking a lot about this on Season 2 of the Inhabit podcast, and it’s been a constant, personal reminder to make a conscious effort to move in the opposite direction in weekly and daily ways.
Second, I was following my wife’s advice. She did the same thing last week. Different movie, but same scenario of first ever time going to the movies solo. Same journey through a sense of guilt into one of liberation. Same sense of childlike wonder as she gave herself permission to be comfortable on a date with herself. I encouraged her to do this, so she kindly insisted I do the same. We used to go to the movies all the time together. I even worked in a movie cinema when we started dating. Since having kids, it's probably been about once a year. Whilst it may be trickier to do this together at the moment, we had the realisation that we can create space for each other to still experience this shared love of ours in a way that matches the season of life we're in right now.
Third, I believe that my ‘professional’ success as someone who writes, speaks, thinks and makes stuff is absolutely tied to choices like skating to meetings and sitting in a cinema during ‘work hours’. Creativity comes from having open eyes, being aware of breath in lungs, moving through the world with a sense of wonder. Connecting with your inner kid and remembering that in a world full of things to be cynical about (like reboots of movies from your childhood that are bound to make plenty of money from nostalgic suckers like you)…there’s also a time to leave the inner cynic grumbling somewhere else and be grateful for joy where ever you find it. Here’s the proof in the pudding. I’m a writer. Words are the thing I do for work. And my ‘date and skate’ is responsible for these words right here. The experience sparked my creativity and nudged me out of any potential procrastination and into a creative space. Living a creative life is not about trying to churn things out like a machine. It's about opening your eyes and ears to the world around you and then joining in the conversation.
On a final note, I recognise there is a very generous helping of privilege/luck involved in my circumstances so I don’t want to come across all braggadocio about my trendy, creative life. I get to do some cool stuff for work, partly because I’ve put in hard work and sacrificed things and made some kinda-nuts decisions to live out of creative faith rather than following my fear where it tries to lead me…but at the end of the day I also am aware there are a million things beyond my control that I can only be grateful for. I'm not entitled to them. And so if this is difficult to read because you're currently feeling stuck in a job or circumstances that you strongly dislike and the idea of taking yourself to the movies at 10am on a Tuesday morning seems way too good to be true...then you may have to get creative with how you apply some of the principles here. But I reckon there's at least one question worth asking, where ever you find yourself right now:
What could you do tomorrow that would make your childhood self proud?
How about you do that?
I double-dog dare you.