I thought I would take a moment to talk about inspiration. Inspiration is that mechanism that gets the brain working and chewing on an idea, allowing the inspired to spit out – something, ultimately leading to some creative result or product. A person can be inspired by something experienced or witnessed, merely imagined, or it could even be from a random thought. In any case, the creative process can begin and if a person pays attention, takes advantage of those beautiful mental interruptions in the mundane course of everyday life, great results can be the reward. Sometimes inspiration can be an overwhelming sense that something has touched you. Ideas swirl and gather coherently, and something is formed that does not seem to require much work; it simply flows.
Personal experience, it might seem, would lead to some of the easiest compositions. If a writer lived it or witnessed it, then he or she has an easy ‘in’ to the thoughts and feelings…, but it’s just not that simple. Sometimes, the closest a person is to a subject, the more difficult it is to either tap into those thoughts and feelings, or to – and this is tough – be honest about them. However, I do agree that this is where some of the greatest works have come. Neil Diamond, in his introduction to the live version of the song “Brooklyn Roads” (The Greatest Hits 1966-1992) said,
“I remember reading somewhere a long time ago that if you really wanted to truly write meaningful music, you had only to – to dig into your own experiences in your own life to find something that you felt passionate about, and so I decided for the very first time to write something about my own life, and my own experience…”
I find “Brooklyn Roads” an excellent example of honest writing inspired by experience. In books, we have the recommendation, write what you know, show up in “Little Women,” by Louisa May Alcott, or in L. M. Montgomery’s, “Anne of Avonlea” where imagination reigns supreme.
An imagination, the greatest gift a parent can allow their child to develop, allows for inspiration when experience does not, or cannot exist. It is an empathic concoction, questioning, “What if…?”, where the writer imagines a place, a time, a feeling, or a complete experience, without ever physically enduring or enjoying the experience. Done carefully, this kind of imagination inspired writing can be as beautiful as those works that stem from experience, but where experience can only benefit from truth, imagination, if not kept in check, can ring as equally false.
The most frustrating and entertaining form of inspiration stems from the random thought. Speaking from experience, today in fact, I can attest to how bizarre an experience the random-thought form of inspiration can be. This form falls somewhere in between experience and inspiration; it is neither and both. As an example, while at work today, I was in the middle of something that allowed me to listen to music in the process. A good, or at least an engaging, song came on and, much to my embarrassment, I began to play the ‘air-drums’. Normally, the air-drums and I, well – it’s not good. But today for that brief moment before I realized what I was doing, I was doing pretty well. When I stopped, and quietly laughed at myself – a random thought entered my mind, and it was this:
“I could have been a drummer if I had only learned.”
It had a sort of cadence, so I recorded it. The annoying thing for me is that this sentence churned in my mind off and on all day, and guess what…I was composing in my head. When I got home, I let out my dog and grabbed the computer. What started as one sentence turned into the following:
I could have been a drummer
If only I had learned
I could have been a painter
If only I had tools
I could have been a singer
If only I weren’t shy
I could have been an actor
If only I had tried
Okay, I never said it was good. My random thought turned into a collection of ideas, at first it a good-natured way of poking fun at myself. However, and I have already said that this was not the inspiration, but I started thinking about the bigger picture. For example, public school funding for the Arts – and how, if there are no classes, there is no learning; if there are no tools, it is difficult to paint. I thought of how shy I had been in school – wishing, but ducking my head. That, to me is the magic of the random thought. It can start as something simple, and become something. This is nothing yet, but that is just it. The random thought work, to me is like a lump of clay – a chunk of nothing much, but with potential – and with a little removal here, and a little addition there…something from nothing.
In this time of too much electronic noise, it is not easy to allow the brain to pick up on the sometimes subtle, sometimes not, moments of inspiration. Lately I am trying to take advantage of those moments. Trying to pay attention to the things that make my hair stand on end, or grind my teeth, or smile, or laugh. Jot down the thoughts that amuse me, confuse me, and even piss-me-off. I know it will be worth it to let life touch me just a little bit more than I have allowed in the past; let it inspire me, one word at a time.
This turned out to be a little more than a moment. Little did I know that I was sitting down to write an essay tonight….