Inspiration is a tricky, capricious thing. Or is it? There are those who’d argue that inspiration isn’t capricious at all–that it hovers “out there,” waiting to be actively courted, waiting for any of us as writers (or artists or musicians, etc.), to grab hold and begin to use it. We just have to see that little sparkle that alerts us it’s there.
Sometimes, it eludes our notice. Sometimes the sparkle hits us in the face like a baseball–though I can’t say I’ve taken too many baseballs to the face in my life, and certainly not lately. (I’ve taken my share of tennis balls to the face–but that’s beside the point. This is not a post about sports injuries.)
I’ve always said I’m not an ideas person. I don’t see possibilities and connections the way I wish I did (the way geniuses seem to). Inspiration might stare me in the face sometimes, and I’m off looking at a bird that’s soaring by, or a tree whose branches waver on the wind in some melody I can’t quite catch. (Hello! Inspiration yells, why do you think I put that bird and tree in front of you? You dummy!) My point is, I’m not paying attention.
So inspiration, I think, is really about paying attention to your surroundings, getting caught in a rhythm, and adapting yourself to what that rhythm means. How do we do that? As poets and artists, we’re supposed to be hypersensitive to our surroundings anyway. Aren’t we supposed to feel more deeply than the rest of society? Aren’t we supposed to notice the certain play of light through the leaves on the cherry tree outside our door and be moved to lyricism? Well, maybe.
Maybe for some people, that actually works. For myself, I think being in tune with that rhythm means to cut out a lot of extraneous noise from my life so I can actually hear that rhythm, see that sparkle. Of course, everyone always says this. And it’s hard.
For me, disconnecting with the world means disconnecting from the news, and Facebook, and stupid binge-a-thons on Netflix, and my Sudoku habit. It means reading more–whether it’s new journals that have arrived in my mailbox, or reading the other authors’ works (fiction and nonfiction too, not just the poetry) in the journals that my own work appears in. It means allowing myself the pleasure of reading a Phryne Fisher mystery (thank you, Kerry Greenwood, for giving us Phryne) so I can indulge in language used well, and fall in love with a place and characters who are real.
I know this is not new. For heaven’s sakes, Wordsworth was saying the world was too much with us back in 1802. But the world is hella more complicated in 2015, which makes it all the more essential to get away from it if we want to be true to our art. (Or at least, if we want to recharge our flagging art.)
I’ve been thinking for a quite a while that I’ve needed to go to a writer’s residency somewhere. I had actually even applied to one for the summer–and mistakenly believed I’d get in–and of course, everyone knows, throwing all your eggs into one basket is the surest way to making scrambled eggs. But even if that didn’t work out, there are other residencies, other writers conferences that can help me to reconnect with writing.
I think a residency is one way to actively court inspiration. Meeting with new writers, inhabiting a new space for a while, getting out of the routine of our daily existence–this is all about finding that new rhythm. Certainly not everyone can afford the luxury of a writer’s residency (I mean, I can’t really either, but whatever)–but those rhythms are all around us. We can hear them when we disconnect. We can hear them when we start reading one of our books from our never-ending “books to read” pile. We can hear them when we sit on top of Stone Mountain, or if we’re taking a walk on a wooded path. We can hear those rhythms everywhere if we give ourselves a chance.
Inspiration wants us to find it. It does expect us to work a little, of course, to get outside ourselves a little, so we can see it, and benefit from what it has to show us. Inspiration wants to include us. It wants us to get into its rhythm. We don’t have to be “ideas” people to get access–we just have to be a little more open-eared and flexible.
And maybe that seems harder than it really is because we’re too tied to our devices and routines. But I for one am going to try to slip into that rhythm, because it’s calling me.