Psssst. Got an inspiration problem? You say your battery is fully charged, but your starter is dead? And all those plots and plans in your head are wilting like hothouse roses at the North Pole on account of no one around you understands what you were meant to do in life? And you’re so down that you’re starting to fantasize delusions of adequacy. You say that your children’s release The Pop-up Book of Birth Control sold only two copies and that was at a truck stop in New Jersey? Is that what’s troubling you, Bunkie?
Well, don’t just lie there growing barnacles! Drag your sorry soul into the light! Rise and shine for Revelry! Get some perspective! Resize yourself!
This is entirely within your power to do. I do it every day. I do it whenever I feel myself shrinking, retreating. Four walls related to each other by berth [sic] just kill me. I need air — more than a lung full. I need a soul full. I need prima fascia evidence that the universe still exists with all its galvanizing wonders and instructive insights waiting to be discovered. Every day. Accessing that can be a problem in a modern world of routines, obligations, and networks of unmotivating and uninspiring people. So make some new friends. One friend. Your muse. Forget the phone book; your muse is probably as close as your shadow.
Now admittedly my disconnect with inspiration is made worse by the fact that I’m easily seduced by isolation. This is bad for me, and I know I should escape being alone, even though I love it in a bittersweet way. It’s a family weakness — isolation, privacy, secrecy. If my father hadn’t somehow found the single soulmate he needed (it lasted nearly 70 years), I wouldn’t be here, of course, but even in that there was a tendency toward isolation. Pater was something of a secret agent when we lived in South America, gathering intelligence and almost assassinated at least once. I didn’t put it together until I found a commendation from the Secretary of State in his papers after he died. But the privacy went deeper than that. What I learned about him when he supervised ATF for the Treasury Department later in life I learned from his agents. My parents were secretly married for over a year before they told anyone, and my sister used to swear I was two weeks old before anyone informed her she had a brother. With me the isolation started early. I was born in the lobby of the hospital, as if to avoid checking in, and I’ve kept more or less to peripheries ever since. I love deserted islands. Thus there is a pointless propensity for being a lone wolf that is in my blood as well as learned from my father. Because of my career(s) I’ve had to learn to hide by getting in people’s faces. Make a lot of noise and you can deafen people to your silence; show some color and you can slip into the shadows while your audience blinks away the flash. So, like I say, maybe that’s not the kind of shrinking or suffocation that describes everyone in search of inspiration. If you’re a writer, or for that matter anyone who tries to generate illumination in their life, you are more apt to struggle with a different cause of stagnation. Because the thing that’s even worse than isolation is having its opposite. I.e., having your life cluttered with dead ends and decay in the form of too many comatose connections.
I think that’s the dilemma most people with light coming out of them have. They not only have omissions that need to be filled, they have to clear the playing field before they can begin. But I’m talking about really hard-core addicts of inspiration, creative people who like to think and want to understand everything. People who don’t fit the norm. People who feel like they are searching for rainbows in a black-and-white world. Writers are at the top of the list — those who write for relief as well as those who write for a living — but not just writers. Recreational users of inspiration need not apply. They just need to be temporarily distracted. I’m talking about restless people who claw for air all the time, who stare at closed doors and hear clocks ticking loudly. Quite often their story is that by the time they discovered who they were in life they had already made choices that impeded them. In order to embark on meaningful fulfillments they have to remove obstacles, undo false starts, renegotiate wrong turns, eliminate bad choices, recognize unacknowledged endings, remove excess baggage, and cast off deadweight. Like the physician’s creed says: “First do no harm.” If you are encumbered with things that kill creativity and inspiration, you are harming the essence of your nature.
But having a renaissance of the soul can be difficult and complex. Still, I like to think that being the best you is always the only choice at any time of life, because not being yourself becomes even more difficult and complex. Life isn’t a dry run, and if you try to be anything but the real and total you, you will inevitably run up against conflicts within yourself and with the world that thinks it knows you. So it’s a no-brainer for me. “To thine own self be true, and it must follow, as the night the day, thou canst not then be false…” Yay, verily. Sacrifices? Of course. What goal is worthy that doesn’t demand sacrifices? Sacrifice confirms, melds by fire, tempers and strengthens unique final outcomes. It creates value. So, if you’re serious about who you are, then you will get past the stage of clearing obstacles. You won’t piddle with your life. The false you will be lost — but, hey, it was false — and everything around you will ultimately be better for it. So now you are living for real, and while that’s exciting, it raises the bar and poses the problem with which I started this column: Where do you get daily inspiration?
You start by asking yourself what it is that resizes you, makes you look at new perspectives, excites you, grows you, intrigues you with questions, fills you with amazement, triggers all your emotions, makes you think and feel! Is it a place? Is it a person? You could wait for it to come to you, of course. You could wait for a million copies of The Pop-up Book of Birth Control to be sold at that truck stop in New Jersey, too, but if you want to live life while you are still above room temperature then cut through the geography and go to where your inspiration is.
You’ll know it by what it does to you. Does sensory stimulation light up your circuits and start your mind racing? Does physical activity open up your doors? Do you need serenity in order to set the table from the pantry in your own heart and mind? Do you need a catalyst person whose prism on the world gives you a gateway to things you want to see and feel? All of the above? Whatever combination turns you on starts the domino effect you need to launch the HMS You — H(eart), M(ind), S(oul). So put yourself into it, next to it, around it. Let it into your veins and merge with its aura. Follow it to its lair and once you have its address visit it every day, move in with it, put it on a leash if you can.
It’s actually better if it is slightly inaccessible — that is, if it makes you work a little to get there. We all like our comfort zone, but that’s quicksand for the soul and the mind. Make yourself take a step beyond comfort and convenience and you are halfway to inspiration just because you have gotten off the dime.
I promise you it is not far away. In fact, if you think it’s on the other side of the planet, or shimmering in the next exotic vacation, or that you have to spend a lot of money to buy it or dumb down your senses to fill the void or cram it all into desperate weekends here and there and now and then, you have gotten lost. It is closer than that. Let your eyes adjust to the dimness of hidden things, niches, borders, crevices and seams, for there you can see how life is cobbled together. And when you delve the secrets there, your eyes will have to adjust to the brilliance of insight and inspiration. Blink once, like the shutter of a camera. Click! There. You have committed it to memory and knowledge. Now you can carry it into your mood, tone, day, relationships, work. By analogy, metaphor and association you can travel poetically and musically through the rhythms of expression, and perhaps yourself become an inspiration. Or maybe you just want to live it in private and mark its passing silently, like a shadow or footprints. Either way, you’ll now have that inspiration at your beck and call.
And here’s a secret: inspiration is a duet.
It is never a solo act that performs on demand while you sit passively like a spectator. You have to partner with it. You. You’re not in the audience, you’re on the stage — or should be. It may be a private stage, but it’s your show to star in. This Is Your Life. So open your eyes to the shooting script, go on location, ask “what’s my motivation?” and then do improv with what you find at hand. More than anything, your role is to be open-minded, open to possibilities, because more than anything, inspiration is a way of looking at the world. It requires your imagination and lowering the barriers, expanding the narrowness, and removing the borders. When you stop resisting truth, it will appear all around you.
As those of you who read my newsletters and columns know, my particular stage is nature in the raw. Somewhere, somehow, I find a way to get off the beaten path every day. I can be alone in a crowd, if I have to be, but I usually go for the woods or water or snow or even the chiaroscuro world of a drive at night. Give me moving air in all those interacting dramas of the seasons and my inspirations become limitless. What nature doesn’t teach me firsthand, if confirms from what I learn elsewhere. The universe really is in a grain of sand or in the flower in the crannied wall, as some poet once penned. And it’s always new and exciting. I had to discover that. I had to quit resisting change and learn to flow with it. For me, the most inspiring thing of all is the newness every day as nature frees my imagination.
An example in kind to make the point: last spring, in a place I call the Golden Meadow, I stuck a white feather in the ground next to a tree. I did so for no other reason than to mark an anniversary. But as the months passed and it survived hailstorms and huge weather that brought down branches and flooded the area, it became an object of fascination to me, as if it had a strategy to remain upright. The strategy was to not resist. The weather passed through it, combing out its barbs, but failed to bring it down like it did the inflexible and rigid branches. The seemingly vulnerable white feather remained upright if transformed. And that’s precisely how you use the world in your work (and how, parenthetically, you survive rejection as a writer and a person). You don’t fight it, you assimilate it. You merge with it and use it. Winter will come soon, and my white feather will doubtless itself merge with the elements, but I have its inspiration forever now. Only I’m thinking as I’m writing this, what the hell, go check one last time. And practice what you preach, Sullivan. Do it now. Excuse me, please…
… hello, again. Back. And, of course, I found infinitely more than I went looking for. But then, if inspiration was predictable, it wouldn’t be inspiration. The Golden Meadow was taller than I’ve ever seen it. I made a prow of my hands and knifed through the reeds like a schooner, golden tassels bobbing in benediction, the chaff touching my face like spray. I lost sight of the tree until a skein of birds wound through the reeds and swooped up above the tassels. It is a lone tree, and I knew the birds would be heading toward it. The reeds suddenly thinned to a spot where I have sat many times on a blanket and felt a peace that can only exist at the center of the universe. And there it was. The tree and the white feather. Like a pair of prayers vying for eternity. Ah, yes, inspiration is a duet. Amazing…simply amazing.
I’ll put a photo or two of the Golden Meadow in my newsletter this month. Your thoughts are welcome, your attention valued. If you’d like to see more of my writing, please check out a free sample chapter from THE WATER WOLF on my website. My free monthly newsletter is separate from this column and the mailing list is growing by leaps and bounds. I’ll be happy to add you if you email me at: email@example.com Past newsletters are being archived at the website below, and the photos are now included!
Thomas “Sully” Sullivan