Time travel coffee.

What if you could go back in time — and talk to an earlier version of yourself?

Let’s say that after years (decades?) of struggle and self-denial, you have finally allowed yourself to be creative. After all that self-flagellation, you have started drawing, painting, writing, singing, tap dancing … just as you have always dreamt of doing for years.

Think back on the person you were when all this self-defeating behavior began.  How you felt about yourself and the world.

Think back on all those things that prevented you from getting to where you are now. All the ways you sabotaged yourself.  All the classes you signed up for but never attended. All the money you wasted on art supplies you never used. All the sneers, the indifference, the judgement. All the vile things your monkey muttered in your ear to prevent you from starting a creative habit.

Next, think about the things that made a difference in your turnaround.  What lit the fuse? What helped you blast through all those obstacles you’d arrayed in your path?

And finally, how do you feel today, now that you have finally given yourself permission to be the artist you truly are, that you were all along, but couldn’t see?

Next, create a time machine and travel back in it.  Go to that person you were and take him or her out for a cup of coffee.

What will you say?

(P.S. And, if you don’t yet feel you have made it to full-fledged, liberated-artist mode, tell us what you’d say anyway.  You know what you need to hear.)

Please share your conversations in the comments area below.

38 thoughts on “Time travel coffee.”

  1. So happy you kept showing up to the page, even after spurts of abandonment. Thank you, I feel so much better when you honor the creator in you. You are so much fun! So alive! So genuine! So joyful and playful! Others see it in you. Showing up is all it takes to be you. Huge hugs!

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  2. This is a well-timed post. I sold my art work back home in Scotland but moving to another country appears to have knocked my self-confidence with my creativity as well as other areas of my life. I have been contemplating selling my art work online, since I don’t have a local network here, but I cannot seem to build the confidence to give it a try. So I need my future self to travel back in time, make me a pot of tea and some scones, and give me a stern talking to. I guess I need someone to remind me that we tend to regret the things we didn’t do and that I should at least try. But a push – or maybe a good shake – from a future self who is more self-assured would certainly help.

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  3. Another great question which my monkey does not want me to answer. He won’t listen anyway, what is the use of arguing? If you tell him there is no free lunch he will not believe you. Buy good pens or materials because you will get more mileage out of them. Above all, practice regularly so you can enjoy your materials as you learn to use them. Listen to what your insides are telling you. Write things down, your memory is not that good. Illustrate your journal and use your journal. Read it from time to time. When your surround yourself with good people, good things happen. Read a lot and often. Danny I could go on and on. Oh and be careful with drugs such as sugar, caffeine, meats, fats, alcohol, and smoking.

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  4. Come on, Let’s go have a diet coke. I’m going to tell you a huge secret. One that I hope will change your life. Your art is not about the finished product. What is truly important is the acting of creating.

    I know that is not what we were told growing up. If we are going to do something… it has to be done right and perfect or near perfect. All of that was a big lie. It’s not about doing it perfect…

    It’s about, enjoying the process. It’s about trying something new and stretching your wings just a little bit each time. It’s about having fun.

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  5. I would say “don’t waste another precious minute. Open up. Say what you need to say and get moving.”

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  6. I can’t think of anything worse as a monkey than being married to an alcoholic. If I were to go back in time, I would change that and not marry my ex. My ex used to call me the crazy artist and was totally the antichrist to artists, I have no idea what I was thinking when I married him. Fortunately, I changed that and my second husband is a big supporter to a point where he pushes me to create art.

    In the first marriage, I was totally unsupported, my ex never saw any of the shows my paintings were in….and since I had no spousal support , I had to take my daughter with me when I painted….so I did. She was very young and fortunately well behaved….If I took a class or workshop he would become verbally abusive and I can tell you that was a tough time to be an artist for me…..if my situation was different I would have painted more, it took a divorce to really give me the peace of mind that it was ok to be who I am.

    The past few years have been great because the evil troll was removed and now I have no excuses not to draw and paint, so I paint. I sketch or paint or do something creative every day, even if it means staying up past midnight.

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  7. I recently published a book of poems that include copies of Mail Art cards and spreads from altered books (collage, watercolor, ink) and I am struggling over promoting the book. This is really not like me, those who know me well would be surprised. I promote my private practice psychotherapy business. I promote the retreats that I lead?!?! But somehow my art and my poems has knocked me off my regular game. Need to keep giving myself a stern, and at turns, gentle talking to about being in the moment, doing today what would move me forward in promoting this book that I think is wonderful and good!

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  8. I think I might say, over a milky latte: Y’know, Dawn, do what you enjoy doing. Make art you enjoy because it’s your truth that will shine through art you love rather than art Picasso or O’Keefe or Kahlo does. They did the art they loved and look how that turned out. Now. Please pass the sugar.

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  9. I think I’d tell myself don’t do this for anyone else, for any approval other than my own. And don’t expect perfection on the first try. I will love it, I will do more and all those fears I had at the beginning will become smaller and smaller.

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  10. Honestly? I’d say, my dear friend, I know you had a hard time giving yourself the permission to finally try and be the person you wanted to. It took you quite some time but in the end you dared taking that step. And that is all that counts. Who knows what the seemingly wasted time was actually good for? Maybe the time was necessary for the inner development?
    I’d try not to blame me for being who I was but to approve of myself for the direction I have finally taken.

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  11. WOW. Great exercise. Years ago,
    Had completed a drawing. Thought: That doesn’t look right. Then: I don’t know how to make it look right; I can’t do it. SO I just stopped drawing. No big deal. No emotional trauma. Just stopped.

    Several years latter, I tried oil painting at about age 19 or 20. An oil painting class. Told to bring paints, brushes a canvas and a picture. I thought I would get some instruction. None given. My intellectual brain could not accurately figure out what how to put on paper what I was seeing. I got some direction from a relative who was a professional artist. That experience made me realize I absolutely did not have a clue of how to go about capturing on paper what I wanted to. Thought: I can’t do it, don’t know how. Need to go to art school to paint or draw decently. Materials were set aside.

    ME NOW to ME THEN: What did you just say? You can’t? Sure you can. You can draw that the way you want it to look. You just need a bit of help. Draw it again; this time do it with your eyes closed. Then do it again. This time draw the same thing but don’t include any straight lines.

    ME THEN: It won’t look right.

    NOW: it will look different, but you might surprise yourself. You may like it. As you have fun doing your drawing in different ways, you will find that you enjoy what you have put on paper.

    ME NOW: Did you know that everyone who draws comes to times when they tell lies to themselves? Lies like: I can’t do that? I should be able to do it and do it better and do it faster? Slow down, enjoy the process. Enjoy YOUR outcomes. Give yourself time.

    Ah-h-h. One more thing, Kath. I know your saying: Think yourself empty, read-look yourself full; paint and draw from the overflow. You’re pretty full, so go ahead and do, do, do do. Do fast, do slow, do good, do bad, no matter. Just do. No judging, just doing

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  12. I start doing photographs in college and was very fortunate in just going my way with my work, helped by wifely patience, a tad of early starvation (medical intern at Duke), great mentor, John Menapace, who was art director at Duke Press. After a long, long time of working at it I am beginning to understand the heart of taking photographs and continue to have a hell of a lot fun with it. I am also now making wee sketches at breakfast of cups, salt shakers, etc. I still fight off a sense of competitiveness but so are most of the photographers I know personally. My current mentor is turning out to be Sam Wang, retired Professor of Photography at Clemson University.To anyone doing art, keep on keeping on and damn the torpedoes.

    Cheers,

    B

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  13. I’d tell myself to ignore the art teacher who said I wasn’t talented enough to go to art school, then with a huge smile, and a knowing wink, I’d say, “Don’t let someone dim your light simply because it’s shining in their eyes!”

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  14. I would say, “bravo for sticking it out, for becoming a commercial artist to make a living. However and more so, congratulations for coming back to “real artwork”, what makes me feel good about myself and a more engaged human being.” I would also say to my mom, “thanks for all the art classes, music classes and Hebrew lessons”. She helped me mold myself into the seeing artist, the feeling person.

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  15. “Way to go Woman! It took you 30 years to go back to art school after leaving feeling like you didn’t have a creative bone in your body. And now…YOU are going to KICK ASS!”

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  16. This is the advice I’d give my younger self, I’d say:
    “I know you’re really tired, that having kids is harder than you thought it was going to be, that you didn’t realise you just couldn’t keep working as a freelance designer and look after the kids yourself. I know you have a new house and it needs work, and being in a new area you are keen to make new friends. I know you feel you have no time for yourself….but really this is procrastinating. If you keep waiting to start drawing again, waiting until next week, or waiting until after christmas, or waiting until the kids are at preschool, or primary school, or waiting until the new term starts, or perhaps waiting ’til the house is clean, or the loft is sorted, or the bathroom is done or the lawn is mown, well then… If you keep waiting til there is a better time, you will find that 10 years have gone by, and you will have drawn nothing. You will lose the respect and encouragement of your husband, you will lose your confidence and self respect, and your new friends? well, they are now old friends, and they still don’t know what you are capable of.”
    “I know all this will happen because I’ve lived it.”
    I’d also say:
    “Eventually you will notice that some of your friends treat you with no respect, you will notice that you are bored, and dull, that you still refer to illustrating that book you wrote on a course 5 years ago, and your only income is pocket money selling stuff on ebay. Finally your husband makes it clear that he resents your “apparently” frivolous life and you will resent him for his lack of understanding… all this will annoy you and make you angry and negative.”
    “So to end..your anger and resentment at the person you’ve allowed yourself to become, and the monkey that got in your way and allowed 10 years to drift by, will finally lead you to start drawing again, maybe to prove something to the world? You’ll be nervous, and overwhelmed, but in fact when you sketch you feel an overwhelming sense of enjoyment and of pleasure and pride. I wish you had not forgotten what makes you happy….so one piece of advice? Don’t do it again!”
    Phew, sorry that was so long 🙂

    Liked by 1 person

  17. “And, if you don’t yet feel you have made it to full-fledged, liberated-artist mode, tell us what you’d say anyway. You know what you need to hear”

    not really; i don’t really know what i need to .. or maybe i do .. but that is “vanity ” (as excessive pride in him/her self )
    omg, why everything has to have more then one or two meanings,
    you would think..
    anyway, thanks for posting your thoughts Danny!

    i’ll try to catch up with .. everything that i’m falling behind.

    how is possible from the last klass i haven’t done any homework and your new book that i so happy got it, i haven’t open it. my priorities are hard to established those days .. :0)

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  18. Girl, love yourself . You must draw every day. You are busy, but you deserve one thing for you. Everything will work out . You have always been an artist even as a child. Don’t set aside that gift. Embrace it.

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  19. I started this year with a word..”fearless”. What that means to me is that I will live life fearlessly. Part of that means putting myself out there by posting what I am doing. I’m not going to spend a lot of time looking back. Instead, I am going to continue doing what I am doing and more. I’m hoping to retire by end of year. So thankfully, I will have even more time to create. Thank you, Danny, for the opportunity to express my thankfulness,

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  20. I would tell myself: “Fio practice a little everyday, don’t do it for approval or to prove you have talent, do it for yourself, for having fun. You don’t need much to explore and sketch, just a pencil, an eraser, some paper and a bunch of color pencils, start small, maybe some canson paper and a nice watercolors 🙂 you don’t have to invest in professional art supplies, just practice, watch youtube tutorials, online classes are a blast, search for sketchbook skool and practice, practice, practice equals to play, play, play. Now let’s eat a lot of chocolate cake!”

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  21. One day, pretty much like any other day, I put down all the books on art and artists I was reading, and surfed thru their internet pages, and landed on Sketchbook Skool. I signed up. We had downsized our home and I retired a few months before that. And, when we moved in, I slogged thru all those art supplies and commandeered (well, my skeptical husband is very indulgent of my art inclinations) the biggest, sunniest room for my studio already. And commandeered all those shelves from the garage and basement, along with boxes and clear bins and . . . just sorted thru and organized all my art and craft supplies. I’d begun making jewelry, finished making some kites (yes sewing too). And stacked up all the blank and half-used sketchbooks and just began to fill them. That child who was given crayons and a little table in the corner of the living room woke up and started using all that stuff. Every day. Whether the bathrooms were cleaned or not. Now, I don’t even cook some days–just a microwave box of something or all those frozen left-overs from the first days of retirement come in handy, now that I can’t seem to leave the studio. Winter helped with that obsession. Now that it’s above freezing, every sunny day is spent in my car scouting likely sketch haunts and my sketch bag is at the ready and goes with me everywhere. I had worked and sold paintings at a co-op art gallery 20 years ago, between full-time administrative jobs and this week started discussions with a few other local artists and crafters who want to open a new co-op. Childish enthusiasm is invading my retirement, and I couldn’t be more excited!

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  22. I would tell my younger self that art SHOULD be part of my life no matter what I was being told. Spend just a little less time on serious stuff and a little more on doing something that is fun. I would probably also suggest that all the stuff that seems so important will mean nothing later. Oh yeah, and I would get the younger me to dump the boyfriend who became abusive later on! LOL

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  23. You are unique and your own happiness is very important. Work for yourself. Follow your bliss. Stop worrying . You can’t take it with you. Enjoy and appreciate where you are. no regrets. Don’t give up so easily to get what you want . Draw and write more. If you aren’t happy then you are affecting those around you so put your happiness front row and center.
    It took some health problems and a divorce to get to where I am happy with who I am and good enough asi am. Simplify is my new mantra. I put away my painting and now draw and enjoy my journey. Thanks for the article Danny!

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  24. Two sides of the same coin here:

    First, I would go back to when I was 16 or 17 and tell myself that I should not let my parents define me and what I would do for the next 20 years, but instead have the courage to stand up to them and work in the arts as I always wanted to do. Instead, I was a US diplomat, then a full time mom, now starting in my late 40s self-employed as an art quilt artist, teacher, author.

    But second, Danny, you wrote: “Think back on all those things that prevented you from getting to where you are now. All the ways you sabotaged yourself. ” It seems like a lot of the time you talk about the monkeys and self-sabotage. The thing is, not all people, maybe even a majority, don’t self-sabotage or have that particular monkey. We have a LIFE. It is a good thing to have a job, be able to pay the bills, have a spouse and children and a house and all the attendant responsibilities. That also means that you are tired, and there are only so many hours in a day and sometimes art is what doesn’t happen. That isn’t self-sabotage, it is life. It is reality.

    Sometimes, what you write puts MORE pressure on, as if we/I weren’t good enough because we don’t sketch every day or even every week. That doesn’t mean I am not creative–I am. Very! I am a textile artist. All my life I have worked with cloth, starting with clothes for my trolls as a child, clothing as a teen and young adult. Then I found quilts. I began with traditional quilting, which has its own creativity, then moved into what I knew all along I wanted to do: art quilts. So what are art quilts? Textile art–paintings made of cloth, thread and a lot of other stuff including paint, rocks, once even feathers. I draw and paint with an electric sewing machine needle.

    I don’t need to be convinced to engage in art–I think about it every day and do it as often as I can. But as a self-employed artist, author, teacher and quilter, there are only so many hours. Some days have to be dedicated to promoting myself (UGH, my most detested task, followed closely by bookkeeping for my tiny business) so I get hired by groups to teach (or write articles/book) so I can afford the art supplies and the occasional new appliance for the house and comfortable shoes. Yes, I’m that old. Comfortable shoes!

    So for me, there IS NO monkey, other than a lack of hours in the day. Some day (soon alas), my youngest will head off to college. As soon as I earn enough to pay for needed work on the house, I’ll quit the traveling-teacher gig and make art full time. But–well–I kinda challenge you, Danny, on the assumption that we all have a monkey that must be cast off before we make art. We’re just living our lives, and life is good, and I wouldn’t give up a minute of that life which takes time away from art. God willing, there WILL be time for more art. And if there isn’t and life ends sooner than I’d want, so be it. So now I’m going to go work on final preparation for my new series of workshops which debut in April, then I’ll work on my creative photography class, and then maybe sketch, too. And sorry this got so long.

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  25. Note to a younger me: You know what? We should be friends. Life is so much easier with friends. I know you have something inside to say, so just Get It Down! Write down a passage from a book you can’t get over, write a few of your own words, paint a small picture, doodle something, color, take a picture, look around and marvel at the light in the sky. Do it because it makes you happy. That alone is reason enough.

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  26. Thank you for sharing your thoughts on this, Danny. I am unsure what I would tell my younger self because I am currently struggling with this. I have started (not finished) countless journals because I don’t like a certain page I’ve drawn in it. Rather than pressing on, I stop because I’m afraid of making a mistake. I have that same fear when I buy a new sketchbook. I’m tired of being afraid all the time. I just bought “Art Before Breakfast” and it has helped. I learned that I can go back to those pages I don’t like. If I want, I can draw some more on them or I can collage over the whole thing or just leave it as a lesson of what not to do in the future. So I guess if I was to tell myself anything, it would be:

    Don’t worry about the “mistakes”; there are none. Some pages may require a little more, that is all. Also, don’t be afraid to make a mark. The sky isn’t going to fall just because the line you drew isn’t perfect. Breathe. Most of all, have fun! Let your journal help you find the way to an artful life!

    (Sorry this reply turned into a bit of self-analysis rather than a comment. Thanks for reading it.)

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    1. P.S. I just made a “mistake” in my latest sketchbook. I skipped an entire page! It’s okay. I got this, now. 😉 I’m sticking with this sketchbook to the end. Thanks, Danny!

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  27. I apologize if it seems I am adding further pressure. If you don’t need my goading, I understand. I find, however, that some (some) people don’t look for the time they need to be creative because they have monkeys that stop them. I’m glad that’s not you.
    And I certainly don’t intend to appear insistent that you draw every day. If another form of creativity is satisfying to you, then I am delighted.
    If, however, like many people who write to me, you find you need a push to overcome your creative block, then I hope my words are helpful.
    We all have a monkey. Yours just seem to be under control — and I’m glad for you.

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    1. No need to apologize, Danny! Just wanted to let you know there are others of us who are out here happy but slammin’ busy! I agree there are those out there who are afraid to even try. I find that with my teaching—people want to be spoon-fed a lot, and want instant results. That won’t happen…you have to do the work. As one woman I know says, make a lot of crap. Throw it out. Make more crap. Eventually it will improve and you won’t want to throw it out!

      So here’s to art, no matter what form. And being willing to make mistakes. Be open to learning. Above all, TRY.

      A favorite quote from Michael Jordan: I’ve missed more than 9000 shots in my career. I’ve lost almost 300 games. 26 times, I’ve been trusted to take the game winning shot and missed. I’ve failed over and over and over again in my life. And that is why I succeed.

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  28. I have begun the habit of being creative, after days, weeks, years, decades, a lifetime of struggling to do so. I didn’t trust myself to create anything of value, nor did I trust that life would to allow me the time to make art. I convinced myself that my time would be better spent earning money.

    What finally made the difference?

    I just started.

    Now I do my work first, before moving on to working for others. I even gave up puzzles in the newspaper in order to have a little extra time to draw and paint. The outcomes aren’t big and showy, just expressions of my own thoughts and feelings and talents. The first hour of the work day for me. If I were to put it in spiritual terms (which I try to avoid!), it’s kind of a tithe to the god that lives in me.

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  29. After my 2nd grade art teacher dismissed my still-life painting, by saying, “Nothing on that table is outlined in black! Don’t outline things in black!”, I would tell that 8-year-old self, “The opinion of one person is NOT the opinion of the world.” Art is as limitless in possibilities for expression as there are infinite variations of individuals on the planet.

    Oh, and I would show her some of Danny Gregory’s sketches and other pen-and-ink drawings, and say, “You know, it can be perfectly lovely to ‘outline in black.’” 🙂

    Thank you Danny, for all that you do!

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  30. The main catalyst for me was fairly unrelated to drawing. I developed, for the first time in my life, the habit of regular exercise. I learned a lot about habit change and eventually decided to apply those ideas to keeping a sketchbook. I ended up obsessed.

    Once I started viewing drawing as a skill you can learn rather than some magic power I found I progressed quite a lot. And as I progressed I was more inspired.

    What would I say to past self? Just pick up the pen and start drawing. Start small, just make a little picture of an everyday object. Make another one tomorrow. Seek out the artists who inspire you. The skill of being ok with making disappointing pictures is one of the most important. Make friends that make art. Make hard drawings. Enjoy yourself. Share your work.

    Oh, and disconnecting the modem will give you plenty of time for drawing. 🙂

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  31. Hello Me-From-Then,
    Keep in mind that developing a “process” for your work isn’t just a flashy and self-serving way to carve out a space for yourself within the realm of art theory, it’s actually a way to separate (both spatially and temporally) your Creative Self from your Editor Self. You will need this separation in order to be productive. Otherwise you’ll be editing when you should be exploring, second-guessing when you should be playing and frantically piling on more material out of fear when you should be editing with a keen eye and a cool head.

    Your Critical Voice isn’t something you need to banish or overcome. If you can just divert the force of that Critical Voice a fraction of an inch and then harness it when you need it in Editor Mode, then you’ll have discovered a near endless supply of fuel that you can use for the benefit of the work created by your Creative Self.

    Oh. And p.s., life is short. You will get old and your faculties will change. So hop to it!

    Hugs and kisses,
    Me-From-Now

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