Posted by: mew | September 21, 2009

nothing left to wish for

“If wishes were horses, beggars would ride.”

— English proverb


“Courage is being scared to death – but saddling up anyway.”

— John Wayne

I cannot decide whether I hate it or love it when everything in my life seems to be falling in line with a certain theme.  Perhaps it depends upon the theme.  This week, I was rather grumpy about it as this is the moment in The Artist’s Way when I start to growl (subconsciously, hopefully not yet aloud) at Julia Cameron and her precious naïveté.

Sometimes I feel like she is a bit too fairy godmother-ish for my taste.  I don’t object to fairy godmothers on principle — just to the ones who don’t deliver.  I mean let’s face it:  most of those, “Dream it and it will come to you,” gurus are just trying to make a buck.  They’re all talk, no action.

At least, this is how my ego sees it.  My ego has, of course, been conditioned by its earliest experiences.  Here is an example:

My mother would often complain about how terrible and financially precarious our lives were.  As a small child, I was convinced by her dramatic way of phrasing these worries that we were perhaps days from losing our home, and I would pitifully memorize the details of my bedroom or the kitchen or my backyard in an effort to hold on to them somehow.  For a reality check:  my parents have now been in that house almost 35 years.

Mama would then state how she would have arranged things if she were Ruler of the Universe, and then sigh and meet my eyes with this brave, but somehow hollow and sad — oh, so sad, I cannot possibly describe how sad — look deep down in her own pretty hazel eyes, and say, with a forced and rueful little laugh, “Oh, well, if wishes were horses….”

Ah, yes, then beggars would ride away happily ever after to their castles in the air.


I have no idea when I learned the last part of the phrase, but I knew it well enough not to need it by the time I was in grade school.  I also knew well enough not to start wishing out loud if Mama was in the room, as I was liable to be interrupted mid-wish with the sigh, the little laugh, and the half-a-proverb.  It was pretty predictable, although I don’t think she even realized she was doing it.

And not that I like to quote the Wikipedia very often, but here’s part of what it has to say about that:

“The proverb may be used to mock a wishful attitude by pointing out the uselessness of wishing. It may be also be used with a more serious tone as an admonishment, for the same purpose.”

But wishing was not just useless in my home.  Wishing was downright dangerous.  At least, my extended family thought so — and Mama seemed to agree.

There is a whole lot of material there, so I’ll just keep it short and explain that the larger family conception of the Divine was not as a benevolent power, nor anything near the Father of Jesus Christ they professed to believe in.  If spiritual beliefs go on a sliding scale, our collective vision would have to come in somewhere in the range of the Ancient Greek pantheon.  Capricious, violent, tricky, jealous, frivolous, sometimes downright cruel, always ready to put you back in your place — and intensely interested in the pettiest little details of our lives in particular.

Because, of course, our family was special.  We had been chosen to be cursed by the gods.


If you think I’m exaggerating, I’m so happy for you that you cannot imagine a family where this is the literal foundational spiritual belief.  As Tolstoy put it, “Every unhappy family is unhappy in its own way,” so it might be challenging to picture if you come from a different kind of unhappy family — and nearly impossible to comprehend if you came from a happy one.  I thought this family curse thing was, well, obvious, indisputable, rock-hard truth.  (Isn’t conditioning amazing?)

But I was cursed. Believing you are cursed is a curse of its own kind.  Talk about a paranoid worldview!  That effed-up idea of God is probably the worst curse you could give a small child.

I grew up thinking God had it out for me.  Even to say what you planned to do out loud was taboo in my grandfather’s house, because apparently that was precisely the act of naked hubris that invited God to take you down a peg or two.  Looking happy was a bad idea, too.  I mean sometimes you couldn’t help it.  But you’d better keep it under control, or you would just be inviting more negative attention from Above.  All-seeing Being?  Perhaps — except God couldn’t see what was in your head, and so saying it out loud or wearing it indiscreetly on your face invited censure and the kind of booming ha-ha-ha-we’ll-see-about-that-you-ridiculous-mortal response that seemed perfectly normal for me to expect by the time I was a teen.

It took until my mid-20s before I seriously re-examined this notion.  By then, I’d been angry at God, gone on sabbatical from God, and was so sure God’s job was to hinder and trip me up that I secretly thought it was useless to try anything.  No wonder I was depressed.

And even when I was convinced that my beliefs were wrong and that I wanted to change them, that’s only changing your mind intellectually.  The conditioning and the preprogrammed emotions linger on.  It’s a lifelong job for me to learn to step out on faith and declare what I want — and then act on it.  It takes a heck of a lot of courage to take steps toward things I want with my whole heart.  And Julia Cameron wants me to make frivolous wishes???  She wants me to freewrite using “I wish…” almost 20 times in Week Five.  (18, to be exact, plus an extra special wish at the end.  So it’s 19 total.  Yes, I counted.)

When I got to that page, I shut the book rather forcefully.  My artist child sighed, then pouted a little bit.


Yeah, like that.

But I pretty much ignored her.  I am far too skilled at ignoring my artist child.  However, I did decide to soldier on with the Artist Date I had planned for her.  (Which is a two-part date, by the way.  This ridiculously long essay is part one.)

When we did our detective work in Week Three, I’d written that the best movie I ever saw as a kid was Escape to Witch Mountain.  This was obviously the 1975 version.  They’ve got a newfangled one out now, I see.  Anyway, we rented it, and it came in the mailbox on Friday.

Now, the part I failed on with this Artist Date is that F. was with me.   In Week Five, I learned a valuable lesson:  do not expect to watch a movie at home alone.  We have a tiny, two-bedroom apartment, and F. loves films.  It’s not gonna happen.  Besides, he’s curious about the things I watched as a child, as I’ve mentioned before.  Still, even though I didn’t follow the Artist Date rules to a “T”, I got a lot out of re-watching this old film — and that’s in spite of the vintage-style special effects and bad acting.

I enjoyed the 1970s clothing, for one thing.  I got a glimpse of why small me held tightly and stubbornly to the idea of following her intuition — in the person of the heroine, pouty, whiny, teary, but capable Tia.  And even though I’d forgotten almost the whole film, there was one scene I’d remembered with clarity all these years.

TONY:  Tia, what’s the matter?

TIA:  Oh, everything.  And nothing.  I mean, maybe it’s because we’ve gotten everything we ever wanted.  More, even.  It’s … I don’t know.

TONY:  It just doesn’t leave us anything to wish for.

(If you’d like to see that clip, it’s at 3:29 on this youtube video.  This is an 8-1/2 minute excerpt of the original film.)

I have to admit, that really got under my skin.  Of course, the children don’t get what they really want until the end of the film, when they locate their long-lost tribe and find a place to call home, away from the meddlesome humans.  But as far as wishing for material things, with toys, horses, pets, an ice-cream parlor, a mini-puppet theatre, and the installation of a carousel underway, it’s true there’s not much left for them. And when I was a kid, I did love it when they got it all, nearly as much as I enjoyed reading the scene in The Little Princess when Sarah wakes up to find herself in luxurious comfort after living like a drudge for all those months.  (Notice that’s another impossible-wish-come-true story.)

As I tried to fall asleep that night, I was remembering reading about a Native American tribe who considered wishing a sacred act, a co-participation with the Great Spirit, with the implication that the world could not continue to reinvent itself every day without our wishes.  It was a religious duty, really, to keep wishing.  Tossing and turning, I kept thinking of all of you who are in my cluster and follow Jamie Ridler’s Wishcasting Wednesday — I mean a lot of you put it out there every week — and nobody’s been struck dead yet (“that you know about,” adds my ego).  Phrases from Shakti Gawain’s Creative Visualization kept popping up as I was coming to the conclusion it was going to be impossible to drift off, all about how we create our own reality, etc., etc., about how I have wished for things before, I just never allowed it to become a habit.

In fact, I remembered that I’d written out about 20 visualizations to put in my “god jar” — really a shantung-silk covered box — a few years back when I was doing some spiritual work.  When I was cleaning my house to get ready for this move to South Carolina, I went through the box.  (I’d forgotten all about it.)  In there was a visualization that pretty accurately describes F., with the confident assertion that I would find him and fall in love.

Final result:  I got up and wrote out the wishes.  I felt scared and stupid and quite daring — and just a little bit relieved when the wishlist was done.

Artist child was pleased.  (I’m going to have to name her.  She’s becoming so clear to me lately, she deserves her own name.)

And I finally could go to sleep.

(All these photos courtesy of morguefile.)



  1. I grew up in a family who God had cursed too.. good things didn’t happen to people like us.. so I was told. I am still working through that one.

    or the other one: No good wishin’ for something that won’t happen…

    and on those voices flow.. on and on..

    I didn’t even do the wish list.. but now you have me intrigued. Yes, wishes do come true… Faery tales say they do and according to Clarrissa Pinkole Estes in Women who run with the Wolves.. Faery tales are true to life tales.. and in faery tales people certainly wish for the stars!!
    what a fantastic post. I hope you have kept this in writing somewhere!!

    • Haven’t got it in writing — unless you count the scarred piece of paper where it all started. I think I might make a print-out, now that you mention it. It was a relief to let it out, actually, and I want to save that.

      Thank you for your kind words, Robyn.

  2. ps – are you going to share your wishes?? or was your family like mine in that too?? if you tell someone, then it is bad luck.. 🙂

    • I think I will get up the courage to share some of them in the coming days… but we also had that belief. In fact, I think it may be cultural, that one. Americans teach our children not to share the wishes they’ve made when they blow out their birthday candles or wish upon a star or spread some dandelion fluff or blow away an eyelash. If you say the wish aloud, it won’t come true, I’ve always heard. Maybe we ought to change that. It seems more likely to materialize if you say it.

  3. Wonderful post, Meredith! I was lucky that my parents never stifled the dreaming and wishing of a young child and now, I probably wish too much….is that possible? lol I have been comparing my answers each week to the previous two times I have completed the Artist’s Way course and I was pleasantly surprised to see that quite a few things I’d asked for back then DID come to fruition. All things are possible. 🙂

    • You are very lucky! And I’m glad you appreciate it and have passed that attitude on to your talented daughter, too. We need more artistic sanity in the world.

      I am so glad to hear that you’ve seen some wishes come true. It gives me more courage. Thank you.

  4. I too went through some mid-20s awakenings. What is it about that time in one’s life that stirs up so much?

    Never saw Escape to Witch Mountain . Or From Witch Mountain. Saw On The Other Side Of The Mountain. Cold Mountain. Brokeback Mountain. The Sound Of Music.

    Never finished Julia Cameron’s book either. Whatever actually happened to it, I have no clue. Stolen, I think, along with book by Sylvia Plath’s husband. You know he’s still alive?

    But I ‘way digress.

    Seek and ye shall find. Where there’s a will there’s a way. Get up on your horse, pardner!

    There is always much more going on at any given moment that we are aware of. Tap into it.

    • I don’t know what it is about the mid-20s. Hmm… I wouldn’t go back if you paid me a million dollars. No way, no how. People think I’m nuts when I say I like aging, but I do feel the gains in consciousness are so precious, they make life so much more beautiful.

      Like your platitudes. 🙂 If I ever have kids, I hope I use that idiomatic horse expression instead…

      Good to hear from you, pardner.

  5. I absolutely loved reading this post! While I was fortunate that I never got the angry god thing from my parents, I do live=and have lived in the south for quite some time. So I get it.

    But angry god or no, I was also given the firm lesson to not wish for anything, that life was hard, that wishing was wasteful and foolish and… you know.

    actually writing down wishes was a hard one for me too when I did artist’s way and I commend you for getting past that.

    • Aw, brandi, you make me blush. I’m glad you loved reading — it came from the heart, and some of it was hard to put out there, you know?

      And I’m thinking lots of Southerners got the same lesson, that wishing was bad juju. I was reading the blog of one of my fellow Artist Way journeyers today, and she has done the course twice now, and found her old notes for this exercise, and about 40% of what she wrote back then has come true, without her even realizing it! A lesson for me in the power of setting my intention. How crippling to tell someone, implicitly or explicitly, not to cast their heart’s desires out into the universe… I’m glad we’re both moving past that now.

  6. you know, when I set goals and discover them later, I find that I’ve accomplished quite a few of them too. It’s funny how the universe works like that 😉

    • Don’t you think this is incredibly inspiring? It means that right now, the quality of my consciousness does affect my future, whether I’m focused on it or not. It definitely motivates me to get off my butt and move in the direction of my dreams…

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