My sister reposted a quote on Pinterest a few weeks ago. While I don’t remember it word for word, it was something like: What inspires you isn’t random. Follow it.
Well, I googled that quote and found the thing to the left there. Pretty much what I'd remembered.
Though this quote says "things that excite you" I'm still going with "inspiration," which is maybe a bit of a buzzword lately. Many of us 20 and 30 somethings grew up with the idea that we should do what inspires us, we should follow that inspiration and do what we love. It’s become such a cliché and has been so watered down that I’m a little nervous to jump straight into writing about inspiration. So first, I want to think about my own negative ideas associated with the word. I’m not sure that these are stereotypical, but this is what I think people might associate with inspiration given its hyped status in popular discourse:
The positive thing about inspiration though, the thing that I think got it so hyped in the first place, is that when you find it, it feels amazing.
Now, I don’t know how inspiration works for other people, but for me it’s not that hard to find. I feel inspired by so much in life, and as I’ve worked on being mindful I’ve come to appreciate the beauty and possibility in so much more of my surroundings, particularly nature. I’m not fighting to be inspired, but rather deciding what inspiration to follow. That’s why that quote my sister posted really reached me. Many times I’m inspired by things that I feel are outside of my capabilities, like music. If I become inspired by music I think that means I should make my own music, but I know I’m not a musician so then I just let the inspiration fade away. If what inspires us isn’t random, though, then there is something I can take away from music outside of the musical craft, like lyrics, for example. I’m a writer, after all, that’s not beyond my capabilities.
Of course, not all inspiration I gather has to be inspiration for my own creations. It could be inspiration to simply be a better human or inspiration to slow down and truly appreciate whatever is inspiring me. Sometimes inspiration is a fleeting thing, but that doesn’t mean it’s not valid. Maybe I hear a lyric that sits with me well for the duration of the song and reminds me to be grateful or reminds me of my own story and that’s all it does, and that’s okay.
While all that kind of inspiration is great, I do often get inspiration for writing ideas. Like, I'm at the grocery store and see an eccentric person and I want to write them as a character. Or, I'm watching a documentary about something historical and I want to explore that time period in writing. Maybe I see an odd house and I want to imagine what that house is like, what are the decorations? Who lives there? How has that house shaped their lives?
I never write these ideas down. I think I get too focused on my current project and I worry if I write down other ideas I'll stray from the piece I really want to get done, or maybe the piece I need to get done for school. I think that I resist what inspires me sometimes because I'm too afraid to go after it.
I recently came back from Minnesota, where I was taking part in a biannual residency, which is a part of my hybrid distance/on-campus MFA program. While I was there, I had this moment where I followed my inspiration, even though it may have seemed odd to others. I noticed a dead bird outside the window. Death caught it next to a flower pot, and I wanted to take a picture of it. So I did, even though there were tons of people standing by the window, which is a situation that would often deter me from following inspiration. I don't want people to notice what I'm doing or ask questions about it, particularly if I'm taking a picture of a dead bird.
I did it anyway. No one asked me anything.
I didn't let my thoughts get in the way of that moment either. I didn't bog myself down with my own questions like "why would you want a picture of a dead bird? what good will that do you?" I can ask myself those questions now, and really, I don't know the answer. Maybe it's because my current writing project (sometimes it feels so daunting to say novel) is about a boy who is beginning to think about death. Maybe it's because in the last two years I have been thinking a lot more about death. Maybe the reason is terribly banal. Maybe taking the picture was simply an exercise in freely following my desire. If that's all it was, I"ll take it.
I'm not entirely sure what my conclusion is. I guess I feel that I'm a bit cowardly when it comes to my own desires and interests. I'm afraid of them and what they might mean or what attention they might grant me. I'm also afraid that if I find inspiration in something but don't pursue it past "oh, that's inspiring," then that means I've given up. It means I've failed. It means I'm being lazy or quitting. When I think about inspiring things like sunsets or delicious cups of coffee, though, then that fear seems absolutely silly! What else could I do with such inspiration, other than just enjoy it?
Okay, my conclusion is this: inspiration is not random, but it does not have to result in some sort of creation or product. We can learn from our inspiration, even if we don't follow it to fruition. Inspiration can be a scribble for an idea in a notebook. It can be an uplifting moment. Inspiration might be a one-time tug at our heart that we follow because we wanted to.