The Nature of Inspiration

bulbsThere was a plan this morning, an idea for a thought to explore inspired by a Facebook thread earlier in the week, but I woke up still in that funk I talked about the other day. I went to make coffee only to use the rest of what was left in the can, so that tomorrow there’d be none. I decided then to just sit on the couch and watch the last Hobbit movie instead and let the world pass right on by today as I did for so many years as a hermit. I was pretty much done, and I’d only just rolled out of bed.

But there’s a woman I am fond of, one I chat with pretty much every morning (and evening), who, despite herself, inspires me, and she did today. She is a poet and a playwright with some measure of success, and last night we talked until the battery in my wireless headset died on stuff of literature and timbre, and dropped names like Coleridge, Beckett, and Plath, like these people were part of our own inner circle (which in some ways they really are). She also has fibromyalgia, and this morning it had flared up some. When she said that everything would be good after she gave her joints some time to loosen up and become fluid again, I told her she was an inspiration.

“You’re really kind – I prefer to think of it as being damned stubborn! Why should I give in when I have so much I still want to do?”

Inspiration comes from the oddest places, at the oddest times, and can lead to the oddest things. It’s almost a form of borrowed energy, as often lent without knowledge of the lender and meant to be passed forward in lieu of repayment. Perhaps it’s not the full amount we need to complete whatever it is we’re moved to do, but it is certainly enough to jump-start us and get us past whatever latent inertia is holding us back. It is an amorphous blob that moves faster than we think it does, gone on to someone else if we don’t throw a net around it when the thing comes in range.

Elizabeth Gilbert, author of the “freakishly successful” memoir Eat, Pray, Love, once did a TED Talk called Your Elusive Creative Genius in which she describes ideas in the same way. I adore TED, and this one in particular because it resonated so profoundly with me. They come to you, they tap you on the shoulder to get your attention, but will only wait a short little while before flying off to someone else. She related a story that Tom Waits once told of being caught in traffic when one of these blobs came in the car, specifically at a time when he could not do anything with it. He actually spoke out loud, addressing it like an errant child with no sense of timing, suggesting it either come back later or get the hell out, because he could not deal with it at the moment.

There’s never any obligation to take the inspiration when it passes by, and nobody will judge you if you choose to let it go except perhaps for yourself, later on, when it’s been lost and you try to call it back. Harpooning it with a line by jotting quickly into a notebook or some voice dictation app on your smartphone might help, but it’s a tenuous thing even then. The next one is never all that far away, though, so there’s some solace in that when it does slip back into the ether like a thief in the night.

Last night, as we spoke over that Facebook audio telephony thingamajig, this woman I am fond of pointed me to an online collection of her poetry that I had not seen before and I read a few, skimmed over others, and made a plan to spend some quality time this morning savouring them properly without the author on the other end of the line listening to my every hmmm, and oh my. She’s really quite good, but more than that, probably, because I am so fond of her.

And she inspires me.

Your Elusive Creative Genius, Elizabeth Gilbert at TED2009

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