My favorite feeling in the entire world is inspiration.
I love to be in love. I’m thrilled during days when I feel excitement. And I’ve even been known to thoroughly indulge in immersing myself in red-hot moments of anger … But if I could only feel one feeling for the rest of my life, I would choose inspiration every single time. Inspiration is that hard-to-capture feeling of being simultaneously aware of your complete interconnectedness with the world around you and yet sure that your voice matters in the big scheme of things. It’s that feeling that you have been so touched by something in life that you are compelled to find a way to channel it through yourself and back out to others, to act as the prism for the light of creativity that surrounds you.
Inspiration is why I get up in the morning and work.
And some days, I don’t “work” much at all. But for artists and writers, days off aren’t really days off. Sure, you may take a break from writing. (You may even take an unfortunately extended break from writing.) But if you’re living life, you are collecting material. Most writer’s books or art guides that you’ll read (and I can say “most” because I have a penchant for such books and have read many of them) will tell you that you need to consistently replenish your creative well. That particular term comes from the wonderful Julia Cameron of The Artist’s Way books, but I’ve heard it described in dozens of ways.
What it boils down to is that it’s perfectly okay to give yourself permission to not work and to just be … because for someone whose life work is creativity, just being is the same as working. As long as you’re tuned in to what’s happening around you, rather than tuned out, you’re refilling your well. Because when you are out observing and absorbing the world around you, you are placing yourself in a position that allows for inspiration.
For example, I wrote poetry on the insides of my eyelids the other day as I wandered around SFMoMA. There was art of all kinds on the walls around me … urban drywall installations covering entire rooms, photographs of dancers captured in the height of their movements, sculptures by painters and paintings by sculptors … but I didn’t look too closely at any of it. Instead, I just wandered, meandering through the crowd that fills the museum on free admission day. People-watching. My eye was caught by an older woman dressed in bright blue, with a scarf to match tied around her hat. The hat was yellow straw, but she could’ve been a member of the red hat society if her vibrancy was any clue. I eyed her for only a moment, lost her in the crowd and moved on.
The flecks of paint swirled around me on canvases encased carefully on the walls of the museum and crusted onto the jeans of the art students who critiquely walked the rooms. Momentarily, I met eyes with the strikingly bold irises of a student writer who was gathering material for the character for his next book. Or so I think he told me in the brief glance that connected our gazes before one of us turned away. I don’t remember anything about him other than the brightness of his eyes, made brighter by what seemed to be natural eyeliner rimming the bottoms of his lids. The funniest things will make impressions on you if you’ll let them.
So I sat and I walked and I stood and I watched, soaking up what was around me without planning to turn it into any kind of writing. I was simply allowing myself to be filled up with impressions. I was refilling the artistic waters of my creative well. I was opening the door of my writer’s mind to the inspiration that I am always hoping will walk through it. And that becomes fodder for so much writing ahead of me.
Not all days are good days, creatively speaking. But all of them have the potential to be.
This post was originally featured on my old blog, Real Words, back in 2007. Since that blog is no longer alive, I’m re-sharing some of the posts I most liked from that time here.