I’m fairly sure most thinking humans have an internal, mostly unsaid list of Can’ts. The list of things we have cemented a certainty that we can’t do. They are way down there in the subconscious, deeply rooted, and often adrift from the experiences that formed them.

Mine? They are not always big ones, but they rattle around.

I’ve had the I can’t sing, I can’t play music, I can’t draw, I can’t bake bread. I can’t build things well. I can’t fix my car engine.

There’s more if I sat here long enough.

You want to know how to deal with them? It’s so freaking obvious. You try. You do what you have long wired in your gray matter that you can’t do. I’ve sung, played music at open mic, drew, recently made bread from scratch, built firewood bins, got under my truck and manually changed the gears when my cable busted.

With nearly all of these, I had help, support, or just looked ______ how to stuff up on the web.

What’s yours? Toss away the obvious ones like flying or playing pro ball or walking on the moon (well, technically all those are possible).

I come to this as both looking at myself for my own experience. But more so, for teaching, in those cases where students bring their own can’ts.

I can’t do Math. I can’t write poetry. I can’t do science. I can’t do pull-ups. I can’t create media.

Of course we aim to counter those, and I will skip the cliches of “Just Do It” or “You Can Do Anything” even if it sounds like I am. But I’m always interested in the subtle ways we can turn people’s cant’s into cans. It’s no formula, and its got to be as individualized as you can. But I’d love to know how you deal with your own and the ones from others.

Canning the Can’ts was always the magic of the long running DS106 Daily Creates and it’s spawns I’ve also set up for other projects via the Daily Blank WordPress theme. It’s a nice sideways approach for people just to try doing stuff, at low to no stakes of failure, just to express something creatively.

It works because it’s not a Big Assignment. It works because there is no wrong or right way to do one; you can use any tool or any interpretation. It works because it’s done adjacent (virtually) to others.

It gives people a small taste of doing something as a creative work they think they might think they not be able to do.

When I taught DS106 before, I always knew in the beginning, when I asked students about what media they were comfortable with or were looking forward, almost universally I got comments about them looking at the schedule and dreading audio.

In media classes, I heard (hah, a pun) the most I Can’ts about audio. I gathered it was because (a) there was the “I Hate House My Voice Sounds” line (which I use); and (b) they never really had any experience doing audio editing beyond recording.

They are familiar with cutting, pasting, moving text around a page, applying styles and effects. Once they had some activities doing this in an audio editor and learning about the weird world of Foley Artists, seeing that wave forms were like words that could be edited like in their text processor, when they got an understanding of using layers to create a space in sound… well, often at then end it was audio they raved about or said they were able to use their skills in other projects.

I by no means have any magical recipes for guiding students to get over their cemented I Can’ts but always am trying to find the ways to chip away at it. I am not the one to turn their can’ts into cans; it’s on them. I just have to make some footholds for them to step over the barrier.

Oh, I hang on firmly to one Can’t and you can call me hypocritical. I am not budging.

I Can’t Eat Them.

This is my second of nine posts for the Ontario Extend 9x9x25 challenge.

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An early 90s builder of the web and blogging Alan Levine barks at CogDogBlog.com on web storytelling (#ds106 #4life), photography, bending WordPress, and serendipity in the infinite internet river. He thinks it's weird to write about himself in the third person.


  1. Alan,
    Did you have “I can’t be a motivational writer/speaker” as a can’t? Because you’re so over that now!
    I was definitely “I can’t drive on the wrong side of the road,” but I just drove 1000 miles Edinburgh to London the zigzag way. It turns out that if I was willing to be uncomfortable, REAALLY REALLY uncomfortable for about ten days of driving, I would eventually actually learn and be comfortable for the next couple of weeks of freeways, byways and sheepfold driving.
    Si, se puedes!

  2. No one would accuse me of being resilient, but occasionally I am also driven—rather than driven away—by the “I can’t.” In my case this meshes with the example of audio because I also hate the sound of my voice…but somehow that just motivates me to keep making voice things, maybe in the (likely doomed) hope that I will record something *I* listen to and think, “that was pretty good.”

    Until then I just keep trying and somehow making those few things, even if every time as I start again I have no idea what I am going to do and am unsure I can do it at all. I wish I could find a way to that approach in more areas of life 🙂

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