Monday, December 1, 2008


"You can't wait for inspiration. You have to go after it with a club." Jack London.

Not being a fan of Jack London's work, I was surprised when this quote caught my attention. And, while I reject his muy macho, blood-thirsty image, it has got me thinking about the nature of inspiration.

According to the Online Etymology dictionary, the word inspiration comes from the ideas of breathing in life or animating with an idea. This life/animation can take many forms and come from unlikely sources. It also depends on the disposition of the receiver. So, it would seem, that inspiration is that point where the external possibility joins with internal receptivity to create something new.

I believe London was correct that passive waiting for inspiration to arrive is useless. But he was wrong in his attacking analogy. It is more akin to farming than hunting. It requires a fertile ground on which to fall, a welcoming climate, and careful cultivation and nurturing until the fruit springs forth.

One of the components must be time. While I have had the occasional poem spring, seemingly, fully formed from my mind or heart; most of my writing comes from taking the time to write, manipulating words and thoughts until the result bears some resemblance to what inspired it. But beyond the actual time spent writing is the time taken to notice and observe what is around me and within me, hoping to catch sight of what will inspire me next. Always turning things over, looking for unexpected facets and ideas.

Another piece is the rich compost of everything around us. There are lofty ideas, heroic personalities and jaw-dropping beauty which offer insights for creativity. But those things may be too limited. There is a much larger crop of the so-called mundane around us that offers new possibilities for the mind that is ready to receive them. They are more accessible and immediate to us than the Elgin Marbles and offer new windows into the beauty that exists all around us. No less than their more magnificent counterparts, the daily-ness of these things offers us the opportunity to step beyond what we might otherwise overlook.

A few years ago, I was at an Arlo Guthrie concert. And Arlo was talking about how he came to write a particular song. He said that he believed that songs and ideas were floating all around us. He said that this song was written during a time when he and James Taylor were sharing a house. He believed that it sounded like a James Taylor song, but when it floated past Arlo was the one who had the pencil. I believe Arlo was right and inspiration visits those that are ready for it.

And it is not only the artistic or officially creative among us that these things can enrich. This cultivation of inspiration requires only that we show up and open a space within ourselves to receive it. How it will then express itself is limitless. Some will write or paint or compose. Others will concoct a perfect salad or create a welcoming home. Still others will create an inspiring lesson or a beautiful garden. In a very real sense, it doesn't matter how it expresses itself, so long as we allow it expression in our lives. Whether it be small or large, the result will enhance its moment and place in our lives. All we have to do is watch for the opportunities all around us.

1 comment:

Chris Tolomei aka alicethelma said...

Very well said. I believe experience plays a big part in the creative process. We are not born great artists. We have to practice, practice, practice. Like the person who becomes an "overnight" success after 20 years of practicing...