just do it!

playmeThis weekend I walked by a guy playing music on the street in Cambridge. Street musicians are a common site in Harvard Square, but the difference this time was that it wasn’t guitar or violin, or even that famous urhu I heard, but a piano.  The piano was part of the “Play Me, I’m Yours” project by artist Luke Jerram, an installation that’s been travelling internationally since 2008 putting whimsically painted pianos in public spaces for anyone to play and enjoy.  There have been 75 pianos around the greater Boston area over most of the past month.

I really love this piano project–I mean, pianos! In random places! Outside! What’s not to love!? And I really loved seeing and hearing this guy play, and not because he was particularly impressive or exceptionally talented. He was about 30, on his way to or from somewhere that required the backpack at his feet. His eyes were closed, he was smiling, and he was playing a tune. Nothing I recognized, but some tune. He wasn’t commanding a crowd of admirers, but he was totally into it. And it totally lit up my day. I loved that this guy was playing in a very public space just because he wanted to.  And it got me thinking about how there’s not enough of that kind of “just do it” spirit, particularly among us adults.

When our kids were little, we encouraged almost everything creative they did–plunking out notes, tapping out a rhythm, mixing colors with paint, drawing pictures of family or favorite animals–and being “good” at these things was simply not relevant. We applauded the effort, and we were able to see the joy they got simply from the exploration and expression.

But somewhere along the line, for many of us, artistic pursuits became connected to talent, tethered to achievement. If you weren’t good at something, couldn’t produce something worthy of sharing or display or admiration, it was just kind of embarrassing to keep at it. Why play if you couldn’t draw a crowd? Somewhere along the line, for so many people, they get the message that it’s a waste of time to continue to play.  And that is really, really sad.

We play because it’s therapeutic, because there’s something inherently important and healthy in different kinds of expression. We play–or paint or draw–because it is fun, which is it’s own reward.

So I’d like to thank that 30-something dude for reminding me to think about things worth “just doing,” where engagement alone brings joy without the need for particular talent or set goal. And from the parent perspective, I am grateful for the fine reminder about how to think about our kids’ activities and interests, and where value lies. -t


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